“You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try – you don’t take the risk.”
I’ve been posting all kinds of stuff on my instagram feed about this upcoming marathon I’m running in South Africa. While running a half marathon in Burma last November, I overheard a number of people talking about it and that it was super hard. I’m not sure why I didn’t actually look at the elevation graphic before agreeing to run this thing. Or, you know, before three weeks ago. But I didn’t. I wasn’t overly worried about it either because, I thought, “I know I’m not fast, but I have endurance and strength on my side.” Well, endurance and strength are great things…but when there’s a time limit, they may not be enough.
Over the past three weeks, since discovering both the difficulty and the time limit, I’ve seriously contemplated just running the half marathon. And please let me be clear when I use the term “just” accompanied by the words “half marathon.” I realize that a half marathon is still a long distance and I am both blessed and amazed that my body (a body that I often dislike, sometimes loathe, and is between 60 and 80 lbs overweight, depending on the chart you consult) can complete a half marathon. In fact, during the Tokyo Marathon, the body carried me, running, the entire first half without a single walking break. But, the point is, I signed up for a marathon. I set out to run this marathon. So, it would feel like a “just” to me.
But here’s the thing. I do not like to fail. Well, nobody likes to fail. I suppose that’s not news. But I rarely do. And you want to know why? (That’s rhetorical. I don’t actually care if you want to know. I’m going to tell you.) Because I rarely (and I mean, I can probably count on one hand the number of times) try to do anything if I’m not 95% confident that I will be successful.
I was much better about trying things when I was younger, not because I wasn’t afraid to fail, but because I had a mother who would say, in response to my fear, “Well, if you don’t try, you definitely won’t make it (in reference to cheer tryouts, choir auditions, etc), so why not try. Worst case? The outcome is the same as if you hadn’t have tried. Best case? You make it.” This little thought got me to audition for one of my college choirs and I’m so glad I did (incidentally, I almost failed…I have serious audition anxiety), because I made it. But it hasn’t always worked that way. And while my mother was absolutely right, there is pain in failure. More pain, sometimes, than not trying. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s disappointment. It is not fun.
And the risk, with this marathon, if I can’t finish under the time limit, is that I will not be a “Finisher” of anything. Doesn’t matter that I will have completed at least the half marathon in the process. There’s no medal at the end. And there will be massive amounts of disappointment. So, you can see why the half marathon is tempting. It still is.
In an effort to prepare in what little time we have left before this race, my friend, Anne, and I took to the mountains outside of Tokyo to do some hiking. (For a minute, we thought about “running”…and then we started up the mountain…and laughed heartily at the thought.) It took us 6 hours to go 10 miles. To be fair, we were not racing and we made three longish pitstops. But still. 6 hours. I have 7 to complete 26.2 in Africa. At elevation. With almost a mile long hill (a full mile!) at a 22.3% grade. And before we got up that hill, we have to come down it, which, while easier on the heart, is killer on the knees, ankles, quads, and toes. If you aren’t sure what 22.3% means, to put it in context, most gym treadmills max out at 15%. This is not minor.
Am I building the case for why I should probably opt for the half marathon? Yep. Am I crafting my defense in case of the very real possibility that I don’t finish? You better believe it.
But I am determined to try. I might fail. I really and truly might. And I do not like failing. And I’m actually pretty scared. Everyone I know (basically), knows that I’m going to Africa to run a marathon because I’m completely addicted to social media (I like to justify that it’s how I stay connected to America and my former life, which is true, but I was pretty addicted before I moved to Japan) and have posted a gazillion things about bit. (I’m sorry to those of you who are not at all interested.) And as a slow runner, it’s really hard to know that there are people I know (not talking elite athletes, but people from my normal life whose job is not running) who can finish a marathon in HALF that time, and that I might not make it in 7 hours. Never mind that I’ve not once worried that I couldn’t finish the distance without stopping (which is pretty incredible). The point is, I have a choice.
As I said in an email to my running buddy for this race (race against the clock, that is) in an email last week:
“I’m trying to not be too stressed about this marathon, but I’ve realized that what I decide is really a commentary on the person I want to be…and I want to be the person that’s willing to take the risk when there’s a possibility of failure vs. playing it safe and always wondering. So I’m planning to go for it with this marathon.”
Here’s hoping. Well, more than hoping. In my fear, I’ve created a pretty solid race strategy and, if I can follow it (which is a big “if”), I think I might make it. But if I don’t, I can always try again.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”