February 5, 2012

Failed: Fast, Early, Better (Working on often)

E and I were discussing the roots of the "Fail early, Fail often, Fail better, Fail fast" meme of Silicon Valley tonight.

I suggested that it must have started with Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -- Westward Ho, 1983.

E suggested it was a riff on the storied political phrase:

Vote Early, Vote Often.

The truth is likely somewhere in between. E had no idea of the Beckett quote, and my only exposure to the political phrase was thanks to Gangs of New York.

We are a good sample for the edges of Silicon Valley (him, on the super-techy-bleeding-edge side, me on the blend of semi-related fields with tech side).

The fact that a combination of both of our suggested sources is necessary to get to the full meme hints at how we much we need seemingly unrelated intellectual neighbors to get to the heart of the mash-up hack-it 'til it works culture of Silicon Valley.

But, to bring it back to the completely personal level, I just want to talk about my failure today. I failed early and fast. I was supposed to run the Kaiser Half Marathon. My training hadn't been fabulous, but last weekend's 10-miler with several long mile-plus track intervals in the middle convinced me that a 2-hour-ish half marathon was not going to be a problem today.

It started well (aka fast). 8:55 for the first mile. 8:44 pace for the second (this felt too aggressive, so I hit the lap button at 1.8 and backed off, telling running buddy H that I'd see her speedy self at the finish and letting my breath come back to me).

Unfortunately, once I slowed, I realized I needed a restroom, stat. Typically, this is something race organizers have planned for. But not this race. I'll spare you the details, but after 15 minutes of hoping the next corner would have an aid station with bathrooms, I had to re-route my course. Once that was done, I realized I needed to get to the finish in an unreasonable amount of time to keep my other social obligations for the day.

So, I accepted failure somewhere around 4.6 miles in (early). I ducked under the tape and jumped into the 5K lane. My 4+ mile loop wasn't included in their course, so I had about 2 miles to go to hit the 3.1 goal. They were all walkers. Mainly families with children, either in strollers or toddling along. Some families pushing elders in wheelchairs. It was a side of the running/walking community I've never interacted with and I couldn't believe how awesomely supportive they all were of one another (yelling back and forth as they zigged and zagged between running and jogging). Also, many of them cheered for me as I passed them in my constant run. In particular, parents encouraged their children to try to keep up with me for a couple of minutes.

I felt so lucky to experience such a gorgeous day in Golden Gate park with such a supportive group of people. Middle of the pack runners who don't fail never see this.

I ran those short few miles at approximately my goal half marathon pace and crossed the 5K finish line with the *slowest* officially recorded 5K I've *ever* completed (I was surprised to see that they didn't count my first loop on the electronic chip and just tallied my start and finish times for a 5K time).

In short, I totally failed. And it felt awesome.

Plus, I was able to cheer all half marathon finishers for the first 2h15m. Watching the winners and early finishers struggle was inspirational. The pure physicality of the men running 1h07m half marathons and the women running 1h18m was impressive. Come to think of it, the reason I couldn't tear myself away 'til 2h15 is that *everyone* was inspirational, from the age group leaders to the eldest healthy folks with their altered gaits but triumphant "I am still a finisher" arms held high to the skinny young men and women kicking past 5 competitors on the last 100 uphill yards -- all of it, was inspirational beyond belief.

So yeah. I failed to reach my goal today. But in allowing myself to do so, I learned more about the running community (particularly the bay area running culture and its various historic races and running clubs) than I'd over known.

And, truly, my body made it very clear it didn't want to do the half today, so while I could have forced it, if I had, I wouldn't have failed early or fast (you know, the graceful kind of failure, when, as soon as it's unavoidable, you admit things aren't going in the right direction and you do something else).

Had I not listened to my body, I might not have failed at all. I likely would have just finished slowly, which means I surely couldn't have failed often (as today is only the Second time I've opted to DNF, and I'm led to believe often requires at least 2 or more.)

And, most importantly, I *definitely* wouldn't have failed better.

I am so grateful for my experience today. The weather was perfect. 4 miles on the half course with dedicated runners opened up a great workout for me. 2+ closing out on the 5K course showed me parts of the running community that made me feel proud and grateful, and watching the finishers was irreplaceable.

Meeting up with H at the end (congrats to her on the 1:48!) and walking back to her car for 2.5+ miles while chatting and catching up reminded me that sometimes, regardless of the failed goals, showing up is all that matters for true success. So, I failed on some metrics. If only every one of my failures could come alongside lessons and alternate successes like these (all beneath perfect weather while walking through one of the most beautiful parks in the world)...

To more failure! Onward!

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