I sat on a hard wood bench under the shelter attached to a hut in (the appropriately named) Pretty Valley in the backcountry behind Falls Creek.
I stared at the water slowly drip, drip, drip from the icicles lining the edge of the roof, intensely willing myself to fight back the tears and swallow the lump in my throat and hoping none of the amazing volunteers around me would notice.
Drip, drip, drip.
The hot chocolate I was drinking was nice; just what you want on a cold winter’s day surrounded by snow in Falls Creek. But it was hard to get it down past the lump in my throat.
I had just withdrawn from the Big Foot Snow Trail Marathon, Australia’s 1st snow trail event held at stunning Falls Creek. To make matters worse, my friends who ran the event, generously invited me to be an Ambassador for the race and I couldn’t help but feel I had let them down. (I wrote about my experiences at the training camp for the event back in July).
It’s been 11 years since my first fun run (at the City 2 Surf in 2005). And while I’ve entered but not started numerous races over the years, I’ve never had the dreaded letters DNF (did not finish) next to my name - until today.
And while my friends tried to console me with stories about how you aren’t a real runner until you have a DNF or that the letters really stand for “do nothing fatal” (rather appropriate given it was -8 when the race started at 6am that morning), it still bites you know.
There are two questions I ask every client after a goal race:
What did you learn? And what are you most proud of?
The reason I ask these questions is because you often realise you successfully executed lots of small components of the race; perhaps you nailed your nutrition, stuck to your pacing strategy or stayed mentally positive and focused throughout the whole race. This reflection allows you (and me!) to remember that “success” does not require you to execute the perfect race.
And it helps you walk away from a race feeling satisfied even if you were initially disappointed by the result.
So I thought I would “walk the talk” and answer those questions for myself:
* I’ve learned the sun will come up tomorrow (ok, I knew that already). And, in the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not a reflection on who I am as a person, what I stand for or even how “good” I am as an athlete. That’s racing and shit happens.
* I would rather experience the disappointment of a DNF than miss out on the memories of the training camp and the event, the scenery, the community spirit, the stunning backcountry and the wonderful friends (new and old) I shared my weekend with. Disappointment fades but those memories will last a lifetime.
* There were many small successes in my race: my gear selection was perfect (IO Merino rocks). I can now do just about any race in Australia because I’ve got all the gear I could possibly need (LOL!). My snowshoe technique was refined and efficient. (Besides at the start of the year, I certainly couldn’t have imagined I would be the proud owner of a pair of snowshoes!). And I stayed mentally positive, continued using my mantras (the longer I go, the stronger I get) and enjoyed my day - even as my race went to shit.
* To be constantly on alert for the stories you tell yourself - both before the event, during and after. Because sometimes you don't even realise what you're thinking or the impact those thoughts have on your mood, mindset and results. And as a coach who is constantly preaching about these stories, it was a powerful reminder.
* I’ve learned to say yes to an opportunity that lights me up - even if I have no frigging idea how I’m going to do it at the time!
* And finally I’ve learned there is nothing that mulled wine, laughter and time with great friends doesn’t fix.
As I wrote back in July:
"If I had listened to my doubts when I was offered the chance to be part of Australia’s first snow marathon, I wouldn’t know what it was like to stand in that absolute isolation and silence of the backcountry at Falls Creek and not see a single person (like I do now). I wouldn’t know how incredibly blue the sky is in the Alpine region at that time of the year - I’ve seen it in summer, never in the middle of winter (like I do now). I wouldn’t know the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally got the damn snow-shoes not to clack so loudly (like I do now). And I wouldn’t know what it’s like to snowshoe across freshly fallen snow that no one or nothing has walked across (like I do now). FYI, it’s freaking hard!"
If I re-wrote that paragraph today, I would also add:
"I wouldn’t know what it’s like to navigate through a white-out when you’re directionally-challenged, ok lost (like I do now)." 🙂
One of the best pieces of advice I was given before I got married was not to get so swept up in planning the wedding day that you forget to plan your life.
Too often we get fixated on one event, one race, one day, one experience and forget about the big picture.
In life, love and relationships, you take the good with the bad. The bad days, the loss, the disappointment and the sadness is the price you pay for the good times.
And if a little temporary disappointment is the price I pay for a fantastic weekend with dear friends, navigating through a white-out, drinking hot chocolate in and exploring the backcountry of Falls Creek, seeing old friends and making new ones, laughing until I cried, mulled wine with pizza and everyone thinking you’re slightly mad, then I’m in. All in. Take my money and sign me up.
Life is too short to let the fear of failing, or disappointment, stop you from having a fun, adventure-filled and wondrous (as in “I wonder if I can”) life.
This experience reminded me that each race is just another step on your journey. So whether the experience is what you wanted or not, learn your lessons, find joy in the experience and keep moving forward. I know I will 🙂