How to Handle Failure: A DNS Story

Ironman 70.3 Boise has continued to plague me for the third year in a row. I’m not sure what evil anti-triathlon demons have got it out for me, but 2014 was the third year I paid and signed up for that race and failed to start.

Frustrating doesn’t scratch the surface.

Injuries are always a danger any time you plan to race. However, being injured from… and this isn’t a joke… being injured from sitting too much just increases your frustration. It wasn’t from a fall, it wasn’t from over-training. I was unable to race Ironman 70.3 Boise because… I sat too much.

Hard to believe, but the wonderful seats designed for airplanes have little or no ergonomic consideration, and the airlines are rarely willing to spend the slightest to fix what little lumbar support might be found in a pilot’s seat. This means we are often required to sit – behind a bullet-proof door – for 6, 7, or over 8 hours with little chance for movement. For those of us with issues in our back, this is just a breeding ground for potential problems.

And so it was with me. A week before the race, I was fine. However, when I awoke in Chicago, I began to feel the tickles of a lower lumber back problem. Unfortunately, I then strapped myself to a 150,000 pound rocket unable to move for about 8 hours.

The next day I could barely walk. For me, this wasn’t the first time. Those who have followed along in my social media know that “niggles” have “niggled” me a lot this year. First it was the “Hell” Spur in my foot,  and now it was the back.Powerful-quotes-we-can-learn-from-bruce-lee_6

In order to race Ironman 70. 3 Boise, I would have to sit in my car for a 12 hour drive from Las Vegas. Sitting was painful (the cause of the problem) and sitting for more than an hour caused pain. By driving to Boise, I would aggravate the issue beyond measure.

By Monday before the race in my heart I knew it was over for me. I stayed in denial for awhile, however,hoping Epsom salts, stretching, and staying off my feet would perform a miracle.

By Thursday I knew it was over. On the one hand, I’m glad I didn’t race – my back is recovering nicely. Sadly, by  the day of the race, my back almost recovered, and I even managed a very slow, very easy run.

If I pushed the race I may  have finished. But the result would have been poor, and I would have forced a prolong recovery period I simply couldn’t afford.

Because I sat too much. Yes, that’s what the chiropractor said to me.

It’s heartbreaking because I swam. A lot. I even got my first swim coach. My swim drastically improved. Even my wife was stunned at my swimming improvement (she couldn’t pick me out of a crowd anymore).

My coach put a lot into my bike and run. I had goals. I had things to prove. I had a fellow triathlete going to Boise and I didn’t want to embarrass myself..

And then I was reading all the wonderful social media about races and events and successes on race day and I was stuck in front of a computer.

Writing this.

So how do you handle it when all that work and all that time you put towards success suddenly comes crashing down?

defeat-learnHow to Deal

Learning to deal with a “failure” can be tough. But there are ways to accelerate through the steps of grieving. Everybody pretty much goes through these phases:

  • Denial. I stayed in this stage for about 3 days
  • Depression. Hit this one for an entire day.
  • Anger. Good thing Airbus couldn’t hear the expletives in France. This one hit for about 3 minutes.
  • Acceptance. I started writing this article.

That’s a long time to go through the various stage. Upon reflection, I realized there must be better way.

So how do you get through the stages quicker than I did?

Sign Up for another race

funny-pictures-cats-will-not-raceOne of the first things to take the sting from not starting a race is to sign up for another one. Sure, you just suffered a financial loss, but any race is always a gamble. Never use funds to “race” that you wouldn’t mind losing in Las Vegas. So you lost this bet. Use the savings from hotels, eating out, and your celebratory dinner to sign up for another race. (I haven’t decided which one I will sign up for, but I have several options!).

Rest, but not too much

Don’t aggravate the problem by pushing too hard, too soon. Rest can be good, but remember to ease back into your routine slowly. After injury, if you used to run for an hour a day, start with 15 minutes (or less!) and gradually build from there. And don’t start too soon. Learn to listen to your body.

Set Mini-Goals

We all want to bounce back immediately. But we can’t. We have to rearrange our priorities to reality. We’ve been injured. We’ve been out of our sport. We can’t dive back in where we were before. Set goals to start at 10%, 20%, 30% of your routine time before your injury and build slowly (no more than 10% a week) from there. Learn to listen to your body. Pull back when you must.


Look at the positive

Focus on the positive aspects. In my case, I saved money from the drive, from the food, and most importantly… I saved my body to get it ready for more important races in the future. Sure, Boise was important to me. But in the fall, I’m running races that are far more critical.

  • The SF Marathon I’m running with Goldilocks Training in her first ever 1/2 Marathon and I can’t possibly let her down.
  • The Pikes Peak Marathon  is my “A” race of the year and everything has revolved around that.
  • Finally, a potential Full Triathlon in Palm Springs with HITS Triathlon, one of the best Tri organizations on the planet. The next day, the girls of Goldilocks Training will be doing a relay and I must be there.

So although I didn’t race Boise, I’m far better recovered today than I ever would have been for Boise. And that’s a good thing, because it puts me in a far superior position for my races later in the year.

Your Body Speaks. Learn to Listen

listen-to-your-bodyLately a lot of articles have been posted that scientist have realized an amazing thing: That you should drink when you’re thirsty (many thought by then it was “too late”. Recent studies say… maybe not).

You know, our bodies are amazing things. If you’re injured, look back and find out all the little signs that should have warned you before you got injured. In some cases, you’re blind-sided in an accident. However, in aviation, we learned that no accident has a single causal factor. It’s not different when it comes to injuries.

Take time to look back and reflect on what put you where you were. In my case, I felt the tickle in my lower back starting before I got to Chicago. But I was so enslaved to my workout plan that I ignored it, which I’m sure only aggravated the nerve so that, being forced to sit for 8 hours, finally caused it to give way. The majority of the problem lies with my sitting, but potentially a rest day might have been better for me. Also, now I know that when I feel that tickle in my backbone, even if the training calls for a 3 hour bike ride… Maybe I’d best cut it short if I have a long flight ahead of me. The bike ride will not do me in – but the painful working conditions that expose my back to additional stress is something I must consider.

There is a lot of noise in our world. Once, runners ran without music, and in those moments they began to get in touch with their body, and hear what it was telling them. Today, that constant noise and music makes it more difficult (not impossible! Even I run with podcasts!). But we have to learn to listen through the noise. We don’t have to lose our favorite songs, but we can’t let them distract us so much that we fail to hear the warning signs our body is giving.