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.
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.