Failure is not a bad thing Pt. 2: No puke, no glory

My humble little blog has seen quite a spike in traffic over the past week!  If you found your way here from The Beheld or Cranky Fitness or this post over at Jezebel or Chris McDougall’s Twitter feed – all of who gave me shout-outs in the past week, wow – allow me to welcome you to my tiny little nook of the interwebs.  It’s nice to have you, and I hope you’ll consider staying a while.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the bogeyman known as failure, how the mere threat of it is terrifying to most people, but how when you actually face it, you see it’s not necessarily as bad as you think it is:

Failure has helped make me resilient.  After all, you can say you are tough all you want, but if you get knocked down and refuse to get back up…well, how tough are you really?  Adversity is a necessary component of strength and power.  Without it, you’re just fronting.

Lest you think I’m just faking for the sake of the internet world here, let me tell you about this past weekend.

One of the local running specialty shops has organized a series of races that take place on a nearby trail that I just happen to love.  Much of the trail is shaded with trees and it has hills and it includes boardwalks that cross wetlands.  It’s one of those unexpected little jewels that Pinellas County has tucked all over the place, the kinds of parks you would not expect to find in a county known primarily for being one of the densest populated counties in the United States.

Brian and I signed up for all of the races, and this past Sunday was for the 10K.  The 10K is a distance I’ve been working hard at, because I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement.  You don’t push yourself as hard as you do when you run a 5K, but you can’t take it as easy as you would during a half-marathon.  It’s a challenge, and I like that.

Anyway, I had this goal in mind, to break the 50-minute mark. It was my ambitious goal, considering that my PR in this distance is 51:32.  I’d done my speedwork, ramped up my short runs, done long runs on the bridges around Clearwater Beach.  My shit was all ready to go.  I was going to destroy my goal.

And for the first three and a half miles of the race, I was on pace to do exactly that.  We had just made the turn-around and we were heading back to the finish when I started feeling the most wretched sensation in my stomach, like a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong.

I immediately knew what happened.  I’d skipped my usual pre-run breakfast of a banana, a granola bar and a hard-boiled egg in favor of…cereal.  With milk.


The last time I had problems during a run, I’d eaten yogurt, only to find myself spewing all over the gym toilet thirty minutes later.  I told myself this would be okay, because I’d have at least an hour of digestion before the run, but my stomach?  Gave approximately zero fucks.

You know the scene in “Princess Bride” where Wesley and Princess Buttercup are walking through the Fire Swamp, and the imminent arrival of the flame spurt was announced by a popping noise?  That’s kind of what happened with me.  I was the Fire Swamp, and my Cheerios and milk were the flame spurt.

I pulled off to the side and retched a couple of times, then tried to keep running.  It was not to be.  I ran far off the trail, leaned against a chainlink fence and proceeded to morph into Reagan from “The Exorcist,” minus the head-spinning and Satanic possession, of course.

Brian ran back to get me, but stopped short when he saw just how hard I was puking.  When I finally finished, he gave me the rest of his water to rinse out my mouth.  A couple of teenage boys ran past and asked if I was okay, and Brian said, “She’s leaving it all out on the course.”  Even I had to laugh.

I told Brian to go on without me, and he left, but not before telling me that it was okay to walk if I wanted.  And that’s what I did…for about twenty seconds.

It occurred to me that my stomach felt a lot better, even though my teeth still had that weird acidic ick going on, and I figured that if I walked, I’d be out on the course for at least another hour.  But if I ran…

So I started running again.  I’d given up on the idea of making my goal, or even setting a new PR, so I decided I would just run for the fun of it.  I’d enjoy the scenery, listen to the music I’d put on my iPod last night (btw, Felix da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is perfect for running, as is Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”) and just have some fun.

When I hit mile five, I started feeling all sparkly and tingly, that unmistakeable sensation of pleasure mixed in with this overwhelming sense of well-being that some call the “runner’s high.”  It was hard to believe that, not ten minutes earlier, I was pretty sure I was going to puke up my lower intestine.

I’d nearly caught up to Brian, who was surprised to find me so close behind, so he decided to stop and wait for me.  We ran together for the next mile, and then we kicked it up the overpass over McMullen Booth Road, down the hill and into the finisher’s chute.  I caught a glimpse of the time as I sprinted the last 100 meters to the finish: 53:16.  My third fastest 10K ever.

I was stunned.  I was downright shocked later when I realized I’d taken third in my age group.  I sat on the dirty tennis court, covered in sweat and grime, my white running top covered in god knows what, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t meet either one of my goals.  What mattered to me was that I had been so down, that I had felt so terrible, and instead of quitting, I kept going.  When I ran into this same problem three weeks ago, I didn’t take that attitude.  I washed my face and cleaned off the rim of the toilet and said, fuck this shit, I’m going home.

I felt like I had been defeated, like I had invited failure to come sit on my back and pound on my head for a while.  I hated the way it felt, and I would be damned if I let that happen again.

So I didn’t.  And it feels great.

5 responses to “Failure is not a bad thing Pt. 2: No puke, no glory

  1. This is awesome! Funny how the body finds a pre-run meal that it likes, and woe unto you if you stray.

    I am training for my first half, due in two and a half weeks. Its at night (I think the slow corral lets loose closer to 11pm, but damn if I am not going to be eating a scrambled egg and a biscuit about an hour before the race, after I’ve had an early dinner.

    • Whoa, a night half-marathon? That is nuts! I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of such a thing. That’s kind of cool!

      And yeah, our bodies can be so finicky about food. Normally I can eat pretty much anything and not have untoward effects, but if I’m going to run? That shit needs to be bland and not acidic or greasy and it needs to have protein. I swear, I’ve learned my lesson this time.

  2. Hello, I am a happy new reader! I have recently taken up weight lifting again and am in my second week of Couch to 5k program and find your zine so insightful.

    It gives me things to chew on and a framework on how to articulate to my girlfriends why I am becoming more active (to feel like a badass). Also, how it affects my self-esteem and overall mood (pumps it up/ alleviates my anxiety).

    So, thanks!

    • Hey Michelle, I’m glad to hear it! Good luck with your weight training and your C25K program – you’ll have to let me know how it works out for you.

      And yes, I love being physically active for all of the same reasons as you. I also like feeling like a bad ass and I also like not being all anxious and irritable all the time. There are about a bazillion reasons to care about this kind of thing, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be all about focusing on appearances.

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