Monday, June 10, 2013

Failure, Attitude & Adjusting to Adversity - San Diego 100-mile 2013, Carnage 1 & 2 Aid Station Recap

Objects in photo are more overheated than they appear.

"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment."
-Mark Twain

I am a failure.

I will say that again, for emphasis, then ask you to think about the San Diego 100 in relationship to it.

I, Jimmy Freeman, am a failure.  I have failed as a coach, I've failed as pacer/crew, and I failed as an Aid Station Captain.  In some cases, I even failed to be a good friend (to many).

*pregnant pause*

Notice this: the moment I say (well, in this case write/type) the word failure, it brings up all sorts of thoughts and emotions for you.  It's a super-charged word (especially in our society).  You'll immediately feel a tendency to debate me ("No Jimmy, you are wrong, I have many reasons to prove you are indeed a success in these areas and here's why...") and some of you may agree with me wholeheartedly (which begs the question, why are you even reading this blog? Then again, maybe you heard through the grapevine that I was acknowledging my failure as a human and you wanted some emotional validation).

Consider that I don't sustain a normal relationship to the word/experience of failure.  Me and failure are way outside-the-box.  I love to fail.  Failing means I'm challenging myself to the point that failure is a possibility.  Many people avoid failure, and in turn fail to have epic life experiences because they keep themselves in a very tight box in life, relationships and athletic endeavors.  So, those who fail (to complete a goal) have my deepest respect.

Now for what I intended to say.  Know that I say the following while dealing with considerable concern (see: fear) for what may prove to be an unpopular opinion, as I'm taking aim at some general commentary I have heard for the last 2 days.

San Diego 100 2013 will be long remembered for many, many reasons.  First and foremost, it was one of the lowest finishing rates in years.  At a race that typically sees 65-70%+ finish, more than half DNF'd (178-starters, 96 DNF's 54%, 82 finishers 46%).  Some may suggest "heat caused the high number of DNF's" and to each of them I would say bluntly and directly, "negative, dear friend, the heat had little to do with it".  Think of it like this: if I showed up to a 100-mile race in the snow without a jacket, DNF'd from hypothermia, and cited the cold as the reason I didn't finish, while that would be an accurate statement, it would fail to reflect the full scope of what happened. A great many people failed yesterday, not because they weren't fit enough, not because they came from cold areas of the country or didn't heat train enough, and most certainly not because of the record heat for that race.

Life, and especially running 100-mile races, is all about adjusting to adversity. We can rarely anticipate what unique challenges life will throw our way, and how successful we are is relative not to the specific challenges we face, but how we face those challenges.

As the Aid Captain of the hottest section of the course in it's hottest year (on record) for this race, I saw people in all stages of disarray, dealing with those challenges in many different ways.  As I examine the splits, and as I recall the many conversations with more than 50-athletes either 31 or 36 miles into that race, I was surprised to learn more than half the people in the race were drinking less fluid than I'd drink on a 60-degree day in the mountains, replacing less electrolytes than I might in a cold 30-degree mountain race, and most certainly not getting enough calories for the body functions to perform at an optimal level.  Every mistake in a 100-miler, whether from lack of experience or pure strategic/tactical error (for example, having a great hydration/calorie/electrolyte strategy and failing to follow it), each of those mistakes is exacerbated by extreme distance and tough conditions.  I saw very few adjustments being made to pacing plans and fluid/electrolyte/calorie strategies until much of the damage had been done.  The heat was unusual, but not unprecedented for the area, it was just coincidental that it happened the exact day of the race.

Another major aspect of success (in life and racing) is attitude.  What was common among San Diego 100-mile finishers was an unflappable attitude. While some were lamenting the heat, most of the 80-ish people who crossed the finish line made mid-race adjustments, put their heads down and did the work.  I didn't hear a single complaint from a finisher about the heat.  "Everyone had to race in the same conditions" was about the closest I got to an acknowledgement of those conditions from a finisher (and I talked to dozens of finishers).

Not everyone who DNF'd "did something horribly wrong" and likewise not a single person who finished "did everything right", so don't misinterpret what I'm saying here.  100-mile mountain running is at best, a messy activity filled with small and large (and sometimes horrifically ugly) mistakes, falling apart and putting ourselves back together (as quick as possible).  Heat, altitude, mountains, distance are all separate challenges to be respected, equally, if one wants to be successful in this category of extreme endurance sports.  Also, another little disclaimer below about how you should interpret my commentary here (thanks to Robert Harris for an awesome reminder of one of my favorite quotes)...

"It is not the [aid captain] who counts; not the [coach] who points out how the strong [runner] stumbles, or where the [100 miler] could have [run it] better. The credit belongs to the [runner] who is actually in the [race], whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to [finish the race]; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends him[/her]self in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his[/her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt (w/slight JDF 100-mile variation)

No matter how this weekend went for you, no matter what reasons had it be a tough day for you, ultimately, I'm impressed by anyone who attempts to do something so silly and profoundly challenging in the first place.  Mad props and serious respect to the 178 of you who started, no matter where you ended up by Sunday morning!

David Villa-yotes on b-day run (following Frank) completing his 1st hundo
Particularly proud of the many people I knew out there, especially veteran 100-milers Josh Spector, Amy Berken-Chavez, Tiffany Guerra and rookies Anton 'Tony' Smith & David Villalobos.

The most moving story of the day that I know of (and one of the most impressive I've ever seen/heard of) was the race of Tina Ure, who walked with a guy (to protect his identity I'll call him Brian) for the better part of 3-hours, then sat with him for a long while at our checkpoint.  Brian was having severe heat issues and was brought to the care of medical personnel where they treated him for over an hour.  Tina didn't leave his side until his condition greatly improved and we notified her of course closure in a compassionate, but 'last call for alcohol' sorta way.  She started doing the math on the splits to stay ahead of cutoff times and I could tell she was about to run herself straight into the ground.  After we talked about the cutoffs, she was pleased to hear she was a full hour off in her calculations.  She ran the rest of the race like she ignored my suggestion that she take it easy and not run like a bat-outta-hell (even though she was indeed running outta hell).  At Mile 36, she was 15-min post "closing time" and she finished the race in 29-hours, 1-minute with nearly 3-hours to spare.  Super, duper, uber mad props to you Tina.  I'd be lying if I said I won't be using your compassionate performance as inspiration in a future race when I'm struggling.


Scott said...

I left Penny Pines 1 (23.6 miles)with two bottles and an empty one in my pack. I arrived at that aid station to find in my drop bag a stick of Body Glide that had turned to liquid and a Clif bar that had the consistency of a bowl of oatmeal. Hot out? That empty bottle might have been the proverbial straw. I left thinking that it was only 7.7, mostly downhill miles to the next aid where I would fill the extra bottle. I needed that third bottle way before Pine Creek 1 (Mile 31). I drank 20oz of water at PC1 and 60oz as I traversed the 4.7 mile loop. I arrived at PC2 (Mile 36) past "closing time" with no hope of making it to Pioneer Mail 1 (mile 44.1) before the 8 P.M. cut-off. Was it the heat? Indirectly. Poor decision making at mile 23.6 is what did me in. Thanks to you and Kate for the care at your aid station and the ride back to Al Bahr.

Shawna Barlette said...

Yes, you captured the essence of endurance racing. Oddly enough, for ms, endurance racing is merely a metaphor for my life. It is indeed, adaptation that sets us humans apart from the rest of the pack. Well said Jimmy.

AJW said...

"Life, and especially running 100-mile races, is all about adjusting to adversity. We can rarely anticipate what unique challenges life will throw our way, and how successful we are is relative not to the specific challenges we face, but HOW we face those challenges." Couldn't have said it better myself. Nice piece. AJW

Jay said...

Nice writeup and I have to agree. Everyone ran in the same weather. Bottom line for me is that I just didn't want it bad enough. No guts, no glory, right James? Thx for all your help out there!

Tiffany Guerra said...

"the heat had little to do with it." You just blew my mind. But you are right! Thank you guys again for all the help... just seeing you guys at the station and knowing you were there was a huge comfort, as well as your help after the race. And thanks for these reflections, as always. You guy are always the best.

Robert Harris said...

I agree that the term failure gets a bad rap and heat is but one of many elements of a race. On the other hand, does any individual that toes the line to face the physical, mental and spiritual challenges of such an event ever truly fail? I suppose it's in how we define the term. They may not reach the finish line but, to paraphrase Mr. Roosevelt, credit belongs to those in the arena such that"...if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never tasted victory or defeat."

Jimmy Dean Freeman said...

In saying the HEAT had little to do with it, I'm not saying that it had NOTHING to do with it. There are a handful of athletes in SD this year that may have fought off cutoff times in perfect conditions. You sound like you had a great plan with some unexpected things that went down. Drop me a note and let's talk "drop bags" sometime.


Jimmy Dean Freeman said...

Shawna & AJW,
You're both people I've learned from in LIFE and 100-miling. Thanks for commenting (and reading)!


Jimmy Dean Freeman said...

I'm impressed with your finishing 4-consecutive SD100's. The first 2 times I tried to complete a 100-miler 2-years in a row I DNF'd the sophomore campaign. I finally finished my 3rd/4th attempt at AC100 to get back-to-back years finishing. This year I ATTEMPT to get my 4th finish in 5 tries (and 3-in-a-row). I will keep YOU in mind for inspiration.


Jimmy Dean Freeman said...

I updated my BLOG and added another modified variation on that Roosevelt quote. THANKS for your comment, it was a necessary button!


Jay said...

Jimmy, you know I will be following so....

nancyl said...

Much appreciated commentary from a non-100miler whose longest distance to date is a 50K. And I missed my goal time by almost 2 hours because I didn't eat enough on the course. I've got another 50K in mind to get past that one kind of failure, and look forward to another!! Thanks Jimmy!
PS Did you know that Nixon was obsessed with that quote?

Anders Dahl said...

It was hot out there and I tip my hat for all the runners, who showed up that morning to race.
I have yet to run anything longer than a marathon and it was my first time helping out at an aid station (Pine 1/2) and I was impressed with all the runners, not only the finishers. I told several DNF's that they just ran a hard trail marathon, not what they wanted to hear perhaps, but I think it helps to keep things in perspective.

Helping out also reminded me for when I want to try my first 100. Attack it head on, with a well working head. ;)

balmore flores said...

Wow great piece of writing. You forgot to say "There's not such thing as bad weather, only soft people." Just saying. Adaptation: suvival of the fittest. Running 100 miles is pretty much like a nascar have to fuel up, need a crew, make pit stops, change shoes instead of tires, need tools to repair yourself when you break down, need a pacer, you wont see caution flags but you will feel them, you can crash too, At the end of the race you will need a new engine or at least an overhaul. And a beer or two. Yup prety much like nascar.

Olga King said...

Well said. I hope I was one who "faced it" the right way - in fact, I know I did. Thanks for being there.

adam hewey said...

Many people blow out of Hardrock "because" of the altitude. I agree with your point whole heartedly. I also think failure is a personal thing. If I DNFed a 100m I wouldn't feel like toeing the line was a victory in itself. Pay the entry fee, toe the line. Toeing the finish is the goal, falling short is failure. Failing to learn from the blow up is real failure. Having JDF at the bottom of Hell's canyon means you can't blame the aid station.

Kim Elliott said...

Jimmy, your unique attitude toward failure has changed my running and my life. I remember my first LA Marathon with you as my coach, when I missed what I thought was an easily obtainable goal by 11 minutes. I felt a pit of ice in my stomach about telling you because I was so afraid that a) you would be disappointed, b) you would feel like you had failed me as my coach, c) you would change the way you coached me, and/or d) you would look at me differently. That day, you floored me, when you became happy to hear about my "bad day". You told me that I was LUCKY! Ever since then, my failures could no longer "positively reinforce" my low self-esteem, if you see what I mean. If success was good, but failure could be better, my low self-esteem might now choose success.

RunnerChick said...

Very well said. The one and only race I DNF'd, I failed to adjust my expectations mid-race when conditions dictated that I should have. That failure to adapt ruined me, and I dropped out. Afterwards, I paid the price for that decision and have since learned from it. I will never, ever, drop out again for non-life-threatening issues. Failing in that race was the worst I've ever felt in my life and no matter how bad I feel mid-race, it will never compare to those feelings of disappointment.

And since I'm also a fan of motivation... here's a couple more for you.

"The only runner who has never truly enjoyed success, is the runner who has never failed." (from Ultrarunning Magazine)

"Don't let success go to your head, or failure go to your heart." (Meredith Kessler)

Doc said...

Jimmy your aid station was the craziest aid station I have ever seen and the heat was decimating good runners. You guys kept it together even with bodies littered everywhere. Even though I dropped at Mile 59 I only made it that far because of the ice sponges you supplied. I dropped even though the temp was dropping. I did not succeed because i did not want it bad enough.

iso said...

Thanks for letting us all know that you are a FAILURE, Jimmy Freeman.