Learning From Failure: Always Have a Back Up Plan

Runner BonkWhat do you do when you fail? The trite answer is to learn from your mistake and apply your lessons in the future so that it doesn’t happen again. That’s easier said than done; especially when you’re in the middle of failing.

That’s what I was thinking about two weeks ago as I was standing in a McDonald’s parking lot soaked to the bone in my own sweat and waiting for my parents to come pick me up because I was too exhausted to run any more. This was the first time I can recall ever starting a run that I could not finish myself.

I’ve had bad runs before, but, I adjust my runs based on conditions on the ground. I could always make my way back to where I started before. That was true even for the infamous 2007 Chicago Marathon. I didn’t finish that race, but I could still walk back to the finish area. This time I couldn’t do that because I was too far away to walk myself home. How did I get myself into this situation?

Overly aggressive goal

I’m signed up for the Chicago Marathon again. That race isn’t until October but training traditionally starts in June. When it comes to running, I’m not a person who procrastinates and I wanted to get off to a strong start.

My goal was to run 17 to 18 miles for my first ‘official’ long run. This may sound excessive, even to seasoned marathon runners. Most marathon training plans start off with long runs of 10 to 12 miles, but that’s where my head was. It certainly was not my smartest idea ever, but that alone didn’t cause my problem. I probably could have handled that mileage when the temperature was 50 degrees and it was cloudy. Could I do that in more extreme conditions? That’s a different question.

Inadequate adjustments

Heat WaveWe’re having an early heat wave in the Midwest. That Saturday was the first time we had hot weather in 2016. The high temperature went from 70 degree to mid 90s in a day. That’s a big jump, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I’d run in hot weather before. The only adjustment I made was to start an hour or two earlier than I normally would.

When I headed out the door at 7:00 the temperature was already in the 80s with 80% humidity, and the sun was hot. I started to realize this was not a great idea, but I figured that I could adjust on the fly. If things were really bad out there I could always run a shorter distance by turning back earlier than planned. That’s what I’ve done before and things always worked out fine.

At around mile 6 I decided it was too hot and humid to stick to my original plan. I turned around and started to head back home. 12 miles would be good enough for that day. As it turned out, even that was too much because within 20 minutes I couldn’t run any further. I was still 4 miles away from home.

No back up plan

The most sensual of the salted cure meats

I had not accounted for this situation. I had literally gone too far and this was the biggest contributor to my problem.  Like Icarus I had flown too close to the sun and my wings of wax/pastrami were melting. Walking home would probably take 90 minutes and frankly I’m not sure I was hydrated enough to even handle that.

So I swallowed my pride and called my parents for a ride. Luckily I started carrying my phone in a spibelt last year when joined the 2010s and tracked my runs using Strava. Also, fortunately I caught my parents before they had breakfast at the Courier Cafe.

Correcting for the future

OK, so that’s how I got into that mess. Things happen. It’s not the end of the world. There are worst things in life than having to call your parents unexpectedly for a ride home. With that being said, I don’t want to make this a regular habit.

The easiest thing to correct is the absence of a back up plan. As a matter of principle I want to have aggressive goals in life. There’s always going to be new conditions and sometimes you simply can’t trust yourself to adjust on the fly. However you can have an explicit back up plan to anything that you do.

In this particular situation that means I don’t go too far away from home on my long run. My planned course was basically to run in a straight line away from home, turnaround, and run back retracing my steps. That’s a decent plan for Hansel and Gretel and not getting lost in a foreign city, but it’s hardly needed for a town I’ve lived in for 20+ years.

McDonalds BathroomInstead of that, I now run in multiple 4-6 mile loops where I never get more than 2 miles away from home, which in case of emergency is a more manageable walk home. The added benefit is that I can plan out my bio breaks at home a lot better and not have to be that weirdo sneaking in the side door to use the bathroom at McDonalds.

Thanks for reading and allowing me to indulge in shameless self-deprecation.



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