Failure to achieve? Or Failure… to achieve!

Success is good and failure is bad, right? You’re a get things done person. You set a big goal, lay out the plan, implement the plan and consistently succeed in meeting the goal. “Failure is not an option” and all that stuff.

But what if failure was actually the KEY to even greater achievements? What if, instead of the phrase “failure to achieve” being seen as a knock on someone for their inability, it was instead the strategy for ultimate success? What if we added a pause to the phrase and created “failure… to achieve (even more success)” across various areas of our lives?

Let’s make this personal. In terms of endurance pursuits, 2015 started out with the perfect plan for the ultimate season. At the age of 49, I planned to run a PR (targeting sub 2:45) and easy Boston Qualifier at the Phoenix marathon in early February, which would then provide almost 5 months to prepare for the Race Across America cycling event. We’d knock that out while doing a little running and swimming along the way so the transition to Ironman would be smooth. Ironman Tahoe would be the ticket to the ’16 Ironman World Championship and then we’d wrap up the year with the NY Marathon as a celebration of a memorable year.


Everything was perfect. The plan was put into motion. And then the failure ensued.

  • A foot injury caused me to pull out of the Phoenix Marathon without even making the trip to the starting line. Ok – no problem. We still have NY on the calendar at the end of the year. Focus on RAAM prep.
  • 6 weeks before the start of the Race Across America, I was involved in a crazy wreck (hint – it involved a goose) that resulted in 8 fractures and a concussion. Fortunately I was eventually cleared to get back on the bike in time for RAAM and we were able to win the 2 person division. However, there was obviously no swimming or running to provide early Ironman prep with fractures in my pelvis, multiple broken ribs and a plate in my clavicle.
  • After a few weeks to transition from cycling to running, the late Ironman prep went well. Ironman Tahoe was the dream day through mile 127, where I’d moved up into the top 15 (overall – not age group) spots and was running smoothly toward the top 10. Then a fueling snafu (my own fault) suddenly put me laying on the side of the road for close to 2 hours, eliminating any chance for the targeted World Championship slot in Kona.
  • So far we’re (barely) 1 out of 3. And then #4 got nixed. We found another Ironman option, but it was about the same time as the NY Marathon. So we pulled the plug on the marathon, thinking that IF the Ironman went according to (the original) plan, I could finish the BQ/KQ/RAAM single year trifecta somewhere else just before the calendar rolled over into 2016.

So I failed to achieve, right? 4 amazing events, lined up perfectly for success. 3 of the 4 either didn’t happen or completely blew up in my face and the 4th only happened by the grace of God and some very supportive surgeons. Failure to achieve – no doubt about it.

Or – was it failure… to achieve?

The marathon, which was supposed to happen under perfect conditions coming off several months of focused run training, ended up being snuck into a little 2 day window on a somewhat hilly course that involved 16+ hrs of driving and only about 4 training runs in the month prior to the race due to a lingering ITB issue after Ironman.  The resultant 2:59:48 on this tough course on very limited training provided an intriguing insight for future running events. It was 15 minutes slower than my original goal, but still 25 minutes under the Boston Qualifier target.

Ironman Tahoe was an absolute failure… to achieve. Read my journal immediately after the event and it was clear I was done with that distance. Instead, the experience clarified a gap in my race day fueling that once solved, would benefit me in every endurance event in which I’ll participate the remainder of my life. We saw a small glimpse of that at the “make-up” Ironman, where things went smoothly, earning a ticket to the World Championship by over 25 minutes at the high end of the 45-49 age group (the triathletes out there know what I’m referencing). The only change was the fueling adjustment.

In event after event after event it was a clear case of failure… to achieve.

So keep setting big goals. Dial in your plans. Implement with every ounce of passion and energy you can devote. Sometimes you’ll succeed. Sometimes you’ll fail. Just be certain that when it’s the latter, you fail… to achieve.

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