Of Mileage and Mindset: The Squamish 50 and a Search for Failure

The seconds continue to tick by, each one bringing me closer to a decision I wish I didn’t have to make at all.

At 10:00 am EST tomorrow morning, registration for the Squamish 50 ultramarathon will open.

As one of the most sought-after races in Canada with increasing popularity throughout the Pacific Northwest, spots will fill up within hours. And so, the ultimate choice must be made now, not later: Will it be 50 kilometers? Or 50 miles?

For the past three weeks, I have thrown myself into every facet of this question. The exact opposite of my regular impulse registration regime, I have read race review after race review; I have asked opinion after opinion; I have analyzed each peak and each valley between the two elevation profiles.

Within each of the hours of those past three weeks, I have gone back and forth between the two distances like the needle of a metronome. Tick, tick, tick. 

Tick, 50 miles. Tick, 50 kilometers.

The only thing the extensive research has anchored within me is intimidation in the face of the 50-mile race: 11,000 vertical feet of elevation; steep hills on technical terrain; and, most dreaded, an aggressive 17-hour cutoff.

Throughout our lives we are fed with the idea that goals are positive; we are raised on the belief that achieving them means accomplishment and that accomplishment means happiness.

But what if the opposite were true? What if we were to detach ourselves from the idea of goals completely and, instead, throw ourselves into what we find most meaningful? According to the Minimalists, happiness can be found in goalless living.

Their argument is compelling: instead of working toward ticking things off of a list, we could instead embrace the people, items, and actions that provide our lives with value. As rumour has it, by doing so we have the potential to become more productive, and even more content.

I will counter these two ideas with an alternative of my own: setting goals that have a high likelihood of failure.

In Goal-Setting 101, we learn that these sought-after achievements should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Realistic.

Attainable.

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So I will then ask the question: by working toward something we know we can achieve, are we selling ourselves short? By knowing the item can be conquered, we may challenge our discipline, but are we challenging our limits?

We have heard the phrase time and time again that bigger risks reap bigger rewards. I will challenge that with a replacement: that regardless of outcome, a greater opportunity for failure brings a greater opportunity for growth.

As human beings, we go to great lengths to avoid failure, somehow believing that it makes us lesser than having never tried at all. In some ways, this can be positive: it keeps us motivated and compels us to work hard to achieve the task at hand.

Counter to that, however, is that the prospect of failing could also act as a deterrent to step up to deep personal challenges. It can prevent us from taking risks, and can instill doubt whether we harness the capabilities or not.

And so despite the dread that the Squamish course and its elements stir within me, I cannot seem to tear myself away from leaning toward the 50-mile goal.

Tick, tick, tick.

With each passing day, the needle weighs more heavily toward the longer distance, the bigger challenge.

In following through, I then wonder if this is an opportunity to prove that failure, as opposed to being a deterrent, can actually be a tool?

The one simple piece of machinery that can help push personal limits, explore psychological depths, and overcome a deep-seated fear of stepping up to something that, perhaps, cannot be achieved at all.

The piece of machinery that will force detachment from result in the pursuit of challenge.

The piece of machinery that will help shift the perception of what it actually means to fail.

As my confidant, wise ultramarathon advisor, and 2017 race partner stated when I once again sought her sage race advice: It’s not about success. It’s about what you’ll learn in the process.

So with fingers crossed and all of the anticipation that a race registration can bring, I hope that 10:00 am tomorrow morning will introduce a flurry of emotion, a cascade of adventures, and kickstart another year of hardship, challenge, friendship… and growth.

This is what it will mean to fail. To laugh. And to learn.

Running, Climbing, Squamish, Squamish50, ultramarathon

 

5 thoughts on “Of Mileage and Mindset: The Squamish 50 and a Search for Failure

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  1. Bobbijo! Allow me to be the voice on your other shoulder. You’re exploration of the idea of challenge vs reward, self-doubt vs self-accomplishment; is very well articulated. Yet, the sheer amount of suffering is not the only determinant of accomplishment. Transcending our own boundaries can also mean mastering. It can mean pushing the limits of what we can run strong without going into survival mode. Be wary of the distance game! The Squamish 50k is an incredibly hard race worthy of all the dedication that you put into every challenge you take on. Embracing failure is a very interesting concept to choose as a compass for decision making. It’s been interesting to follow where it has led you. Today I ask you: Should it be your only point of reference? There. I hope I succeeded in making this choice even more stressful for you! 😉 See you in Squamish!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Etienne, you have proven to be exactly that! The voice on my other shoulder this morning.

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything that you’ve said. And it’s funny… because you echo exactly what I’ve said out loud about my own running career: that I don’t want to run 200 miles, but I do want to refine the space found under 100k.

      I thought about your question as I got ready, it was still with me as I got myself to the trail, and even still as I ran among them this morning. Over the course of the three-or-so hours (you were on that shoulder for that long!), I always came back the thought that ‘it’s not about the suffering. This year, it’s about the work.’

      I want to throw myself into this race with everything that I have. I want to work really, REALLY hard for something. And for 2018 at least, I think the 50M is what I want to work really, really hard at.

      Thank you – SOOO MUCH – for challenging me to think about this in yet another light. You really are the best… As always 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If there was ever a post to pin at the top of your blog, this would be it. I feel like it really encapsulates what I’ve always understood your blog to be about. It’s awesome. I’ve always gotten and understood the not being afraid to fail thing, but you positioning failure as a tool really has me thinking about it in a different way. I think I’ve always used failure as a tool for growth WHEN I happen to fail and have to change my perspective, but I never look at the opportunity to fail as something to go after. It’s kind of life changing though, looking at it that way—or at least, I am starting to see how it could be. Think about how many things we would go after if not only were we not afraid of failing, but we welcomed it. And I mean, why shouldn’t we? We’ve got evidence, we know the fruit of failing, the knowledge and growth and self awareness it can bring.
    As always you’ve given me a boatload to think about girl. Thank you. Oh, and anxious to get confirmation on the final decision —either distance is pretty major in my book 😘.

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    1. Dear Cat: I have struggled to come up with words in response to a comment that has meant so much. Perhaps failure as a tool can be the other challenge for us this year?

      Thank you for reading and, as always, for your beautiful and insightful response.

      We got in – looks like I’ll be working toward my first 50 miles 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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