A couple of years ago, I had this realization that I wasn’t failing often enough. Yes, that may sound weird to you, that I wanted to fail more? For me, failure means trying something challenging, pushing your limits, and falling short, and I feel that it is in these moments that we develop new strength, skills, and capacity.
These days, I feel that times have changed and I have successfully carried out lots of failures! After the recent Rainshadow Running Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Oregon, where I trained really hard to run with the best women in the US and ultimately dropped from the race, I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of my favourite personal failures to date in running & adventures. (Speaking of which, even finishing this blog was hard.)
This was the most hilarious disaster I’ve ever experienced, and my first big case of hyponatremia (severe case of too much water, not enough salt!). I was hoping to run a PB, and because I’m a local runner I was able to get into the elite field, with a 3:01 time, which is very soft for women’s elite marathon standards. This meant I had fancy priviledges, like having my own bottles all along the course. (This makes the epic failure even funnier.) I heard the race was going to be hot, so I loaded up on tons of water all week. Unfortunately, I never drink water, and I didn’t realize that I was effectively washing all of the electrolytes out of my body before the race. At 10km in I realized it wasn’t going to be my day so I waited for Tara, who was doing it as her second long run of the weekend. And suddenly, I felt drunk. Very, very drunk. That kind of drunk that you never, ever want, the really, really painful kind. My brain wasn’t there. All I remember, is feeling as though I had consumed 10 large glasses of vodka.
Suddenly I was lying on the seawall, literally on the side. Then I would walk/job for about 200 meters, until I could lie down flat again. The funny thing is, I would pass my “elite bottles” station every now and then, which was hilarious given my state. Tara loyally stayed with me for the entire time, sacrificing her own race for my bullshit. I was determined to finish, no matter what the time. Thankfully Tara called my dad, and he came and found us, and helped me get into a little golf cart headed off the course. At the finish line, someone asked me if I had run a long distance like that before. I just smiled, and laughed a lot inside. I’m pretty sure that was my last marathon.
Zion Traverse… 2014
This one is too funny…
In January 2014, I needed a big, epic adventure. I had never been to Utah before, and I had never run more than 100 kilometers, so apparently what I needed to do, was run 100 miles, unsupported, in Utah: the Zion Traverse, out and back. I was captivated by the idea of running 100 miles and I couldn’t wait for an official race, so I just thought I’d make it happen. I immediately booked a ticket, and started planning for my run. I was planning to do all of this solo. Thank the lord, my friend Meghan noticed my Facebook post about heading there, and asked if she could join. She wanted to join “just” the first 50 miles, and she would meet me at the end of my 100. Fast forward to mile 30 on the first direction of the traverse. Up until this point, I noted interesting trees along the way, and felt confident that I could navigate myself back to the start on my own, in the night. Then we hit the canyons. It was open, endless, and only the rock cairns pointed in the direction. The night was freezing and suddenly, I felt really stupid to attempt the return all on my own at night, without really knowing the trail. Thinking of my mom, I did the responsible thing. I decided I would finish with Meghan after 50. And then, stupidly, I stopped eating, thinking that we were almost done.
Without any fuel, I had nothing left, and poor Meghan had to suffer through my walking the last 10km, which was extremely flat and actually, quite a few nice downhill sections. It was freezing, with frost on the ground, and we had to share my set of gloves. Meghan kept telling me to eat but, after my Vancouver Marathon experience, I kept telling her it was just electrolytes. By the time we finally made it to the trailhead, I shrivelled into fetal position in the ditch, while Meghan ran the final mile down the road to get the car. I don’t want to know what would have happened if Meg hadn’t joined on that trip!(Side note: It wasn’t clear to me that Meghan was right until we got back to the hotel, and I had a huge pile of un-eaten foods, which was supposed to have been gone. Hah!)
Mount Rainier Communication Disaster… 2014
A third failure, is the misplacing of my boyfriend in Mount Rainier National Park. Similar to my ambitions to run 100 miles alone in Zion, the next summer, I wanted to do the same thing in Mount Rainier National Park. Even though everyone told me not to, saying “just wait, your 100 miler at Cascade Crest is just one month away!” there was no talking sense to me. I had to do it, it didn’t matter that I was slightly anemic at that time, or that I would be completely alone, or that my best friend, mom and boyfriend all thought it was a dumb idea. I was enamoured with the idea of running solo around Mt Rainier at that very moment and I had to do it. Cascade Crest, which was one month later, could be sacrificed for this dream.
The plan was that Julien would meet me every 50km around the mountain with more food, and I would just keep going, running as far as I really wanted. The first meeting point was Reflection Lakes. After running alone for 7 hours, I was so excited to see him. I ran into the first meeting point in the middle of the expected timeframe, and expected to see him all comfortable, lounging and reading beside the lake. But he wasn’t there, so I waited ten minutes. He was never late for anything, so I started to panic. I ran to the next lake. Still no sign… after thirty minutes of running around and searching, I realized… he must have been in a serious car accident somewhere on the mountain! I immediately started looking to hitchhike the ~3 hours to the other side of the mountain, to the hospital.
Thankfully, a couple of hikers convinced me that would be a dumb idea, and convinced me to hike out with them and they would drive me to the nearest ranger station, to gather information. Two hours later, we arrived at Paradise, one of the most beautiful mountain lodges, but they hadn’t heard anything that would be helpful. I was convinced my boyfriend was dead or at minimum, severely injured; it wasn’t like him to be late.
By now it was 9pm, I found some beer in Paradise and decided to hunker down for the night in their lobby area.In the beer line-up, a girl asked me “are you Alicia?” and I said yes, wondering how I knew her. The hiker told me that a man was looking for me, the “runner in a blue Hawaiian skirt”. Lucky for me, I chose to wear something ridiculous for the run that day, and we eventually reconnected, around 11pm, simply thanks to that. Now close to midnight, and after the emotional rollercoaster of thinking my boyfriend had died, I was not in the spirits to complete the remaining ~100k around the mountain. I was only 1/3 of the way around…
Although quite painful, I think these failures serve a great purpose. For me, an appropriate amount of failure can mean that I’m in the process of challenging myself to jump for a new bar. And when I do eventually succeed somewhere, there is this hard-earned kind of satisfaction I get, which makes it that much sweeter. More importantly, I find that failures are often the events that bring me closest to my friends and family, because in that vulnerable state I rely on them so much just to get through. If nothing else, these challenging days can go so badly that they make for hilarious memories. Sometimes when I’m running around Stanley Park I think, Really?! I was lying down on the side of the seawall right here?! During a road marathon?!
I expect to keep failing at things as long as I keep challenging myself. And hopefully, some loyal, sucker of a friend will be around to help me through!