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Failure Redefined

In racing, the goals are usually black and white - finish or bust; finish in such a time; finish in such a place. The success of racing - and the emotions that are tied to that success are measured against these concrete goals. So what happens if you come up short? So much time and energy invested in that one day, that one race and the ability to go faster or further. It's easy to view the entire event and the build up leading to the race as a failure based on the final outcome. I didn't reach my goal, therefore I failed. It's the most common reaction.

And most of the time, the wrong one. Yes, the goals weren't met or the race wasn't finished. You fell short of the objective and did not succeed. But not succeeding is different from failure. Any time a race doesn't go as planned, it's important to review the training and preparation for the race as well as performance in the  race. A race becomes a failure if you don't learn from the process building up to the event and then the race itself. A race only becomes a failure if you repeat the same mistakes, expecting a different outcome.

It's not something that's easy to do right after a poor performance or a DNF. This is the hard part - separating yourself from the emotions tied to the event and the performance. But after the emotions of the event have settled - the anger, disappointment, and frustration - it is time to review. In order for the race to not be a failure, you have to learn from the experience and grow as an athlete. You have to be able to objectively analyze the entire event and identify areas where mistakes were made. Here is where a coach is important - it's hard to be analytical when there was so much invested in the event.  Everything about the event has to be reviewed. The training leading into race - finding the balance between intensity and volume - quality and quantity - and still being able to have a life. Race specific training - was there enough training that targeted the complexities of the goal race? The gear and the equipment used for the event - from something as simple as sidewall thickness on a rocky race course to the method of packing for a week long bikepacking gear. The strong areas, the weak links and the eventual break point all need to be addressed.

In the case of the CTR, Judd was feeling great leading into the race.  We'd reviewed bike and gear briefly and he'd done several shorter bikepacking trips of 1-2 nights to practice with his gear. Mentally and physically he was ready to finish this year. Once the race started, he was moving well. The pace was strong and he was on pace to finish and finish under his goal. But when I got up on the fourth day of the race, and his blue dot hadn't moved, I knew something was wrong. It wasn't a catastrophic mechanical, nor a mental breakdown. It wasn't his legs giving out from the hours of pedaling and pushing. It was something as simple as a sunburn. Yes, a sunburn - something neither of us had even thought about while preparing for the race. But this wasn't just any sunburn - but a second degree burn along the top of his shorts, from his shirt riding up under the pack on the long detour around the Lost Creek Wilderness. From what Judd told me, it was a blistered mess on day two, which quickly turned into open sores and an infected mess. Not something you want to head across HWY 50 into the most isolated sections of the Colorado Trail. While scratching wasn't what he wanted to do, it was the only option for him at that point. Continuing on would have had lasting effects that would have impacted his goals for the rest of this year.

The post-race review focused on his gear as that was the weakest link in the CTR attempt. In races like CTR, Arrowhead 135, and the Vapor Trail 125, gear plays just as much a part as the physical and mental training. Carry too little and if things go wrong, then you are in trouble. Carry too much and the pace will be slower, meaning you will be out there longer and will need more gear. With the Vapor Trail 125 coming up quickly, having the right gear - and then training with that gear will be key for a strong finish. We may not have had the outcome that we wanted, but learning from the event will redefine our preparation for races next year. Taking the lessons from the CTR and implementing them for future races will mean that CTR wasn't a failure.