What to do when you fail at your goal
Setting goals and working towards them is the most fundamental part of my approach to training. I’ve been training for over 24 years now and most of it has been at very high intensities such as Division 1 Football workouts and CrossFit Games training. Having a goal to work towards has always allowed me to keep motivated, maintain higher focus during training, and keep my lifestyle in check (nutrition/sleep/entertainment). Much like our philosophy with the New You Challenge
THE BACK STORY
About 4 or 5 years ago, while I was still training every year for the CrossFit Games, I became fixated on the goal of entering (or creating) the 500 club. To do this I would have to squat 500+ pounds and run a mile under 5:00 in the same day. Both of these feats are impressive and take a tremendous amount of training and capacity, but neither is out of reach. There probably isn’t a College Football team in America that doesn’t have multiple guys squatting over 500lbs, and I’m sure every Cross Country and Track team has guys and girls running sub 5:00 miles.
The real allure of this goal is that the two tasks are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. You picture a runner and you don’t picture someone with tree trunk thighs squatting a bunch of weight. On the flipside when you imagine someone who can squat 500lbs you probably picture the massive guy who needs to stop and catch his breath after walking up a flight of stairs. Well, my all-time best squat is 525lbs and around that time I could also clock in a 5:30 mile run. That was about 4 years ago but I decided that at some point, before I got too old, I would train specifically for this particular goal.
OK, there’s also 1 other reason…most men can probably relate to this one. My Dad’s all time best mile run is 5:14 when he was a 18 year old freshman in college, so beating the old man’s mark would definitely be icing on the cake. Haha
I set out in January with a loose time frame of checking this off the list by the end of summer. I wasn’t in the best shape to start with…in fact my first 1 mile test I came in around 6:25, almost a minute slower than my personal best. Progress happened slowly to begin with and there was a huge setback early on when I partially tore a hamstring tendon doing a set of heavy deadlifts (stupid training mistake on my part). The hamstring injury discouraged me but I took it as a blessing in disguise because it only limited my sprinting and heavy lifting. I was still able to run at slow and moderate paces, so I basically spent 2 months re-building my aerobic base and acclimating my legs to higher mileage training runs. By April I was hitting 35 miles per week every week and squatting over 400 pounds pain free. I even hit a 48:00 10k mark and a 1 hour 55 minute half marathon (13.1 miles) along the way. Progress was good.
Sometime around mid-May my track workouts started to come together. A typical track workout would be something like 4x600m run with 3 minutes rest between efforts. The 600’s would be a little faster than race pace, so hit them at 1:49 versus 1:54. Early in my training I would start out hitting my paces but slow down on my last couple intervals. Once I started hitting my paces start to finish in May I knew I was close to being race ready. At the beginning of June I decided to push up my deadline from the end of summer and set a date of June 17 to go for the glory. That would give me about 2 more weeks to prepare, and the date had significance because it was Father’s Day and I wanted to achieve this goal of mine with my family there to support and my 4 kids watching.
Three of the 4 kids, they were all about staying in a hotel room, getting them to actually sleep was the hard part.
I planned a weekend trip to Los Angeles with my family for Father’s Day, hoping that running down at sea level would give me a little boost. On June 17 my family arrived at my good buddy Dusty Hyland’s gym, Dogtown CrossFit, in Culver City. I warmed up for about 20 minutes and then started building up in weight on the back squat. Weight was going up easy, I did 5 at 265#, 2 reps at 355#, 1 at 445# and then 1 at 485#. Next up was 505#, because just in case one of the weights was a little on the light side, I didn’t want to leave any doubt that I could squat 500 pounds. Down and up, in about 4 seconds I had checked off half of my audacious goal, with a back squat of 505 pounds. The time was 11:40am and so we headed out the door and into the car. I hoped to get my run in before 12:30pm to complete the challenge in under an hour.
Bottom of the 505# squat in borrowed shoes. After the drive to LA I realized I only brought running shoes so I warmed up barefoot for the squat. A client at the gym was nice enough to offer his shoes for me to borrow. Luckily they were Reebok Nano’s, same shoes I train in.
We arrived at the track around noon. I had Ally and the 4 kids with me, as well as Dusty, and 2 other friends, Kenny Kane and Hunter Macintyre. I jogged 2 laps then put on my track spikes to stride out a couple 100 meters. Body was feeling good and I was starting to get butterflies in the stomach. I was so close, months of training under my belt, and confidence was high.
I started to stride out 100m and about halfway into it my right calf was feeling really achy. I had started wearing the spikes 2 weeks prior for my speed work. I felt much faster, lighter on my feet, and knew they could give me a nice advantage in the final stretch of the run. The downside was that I didn’t give myself enough time to acclimate to the spikes and my calves had been really sore for about 5 days leading up to the weekend. I decided at the last minute to take off the spikes and run in my regular running shoes. I was freaking out a little on the inside but didn’t say anything to my crew, I was terrified to let them down.
3,2,1… GO the first 200m felt great, only a slight ache in the calf. The decision to take off the spikes had been a good one, breathing felt great at sea level and I was feeling more confident. After the first lap I heard Kenny yell out my split time of 1:19, this was not good but I could make up the ground. I usually start out too fast so the plan was to be a little conservative at the start. On the second lap in increased my pace a little and then things got bad. The calf started hurting more and by the midpoint I was feeling a twinge of pain with each stride. My lungs felt good but I knew I wouldn’t have the kick I need to finish with a hurting calf. Instead of risking an actual injury I pulled up at the 800m mark and said I was done.
Devastated, I felt like a complete failure and fraud. I had wasted my family’s time and my friends time. A whole flood of thoughts crept into my head all at once. What had I done wrong? Why did I think I was ready when I clearly wasn’t? Why had my calf felt okay 2 days before and then flared up all of a sudden right then? Some questions had answers, but most didn’t. Second guessing wouldn’t help and hindsight is 20/20. No point in dwelling on what had already passed. I thought about the clients I’ve trained over the years and the people I’ve met through the New You Challenge. How would I coach them in this situation? One of my biggest frustrations is when people let one setback, one small failure, define them and give up on a goal. I thought about what I would say to a client and this quote came to mind, “I never Lose; I either win or learn!” ~Unknown.
I may not have won but I’m still smiling because I “learned”
With a clear head, I decided to learn from the experience, re-evaluate the next few weeks of training and plan for my next attempt. The failure wasn’t going to define me, and it surely wasn’t an accurate portrayal of the 6 months of hard work leading up to that day. It was one disappointing training run after a great squat workout in the gym.
The fog of negativity in my head had cleared just like the “June Gloom” of southern California weather was beginning to burn off. The day was still young and I was thinking much more clearly. I looked around and was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. I had 3 of my good friends show up just to cheer me on and watch me. They are gym owner’s and athletes like myself and have busy schedules but still took time out of their day just to support me. I was surrounded by my 4 children, ages 9,8,2 and 7 weeks and a beautiful wife who makes me the happiest man in the world every single day. After we left the track my family spent the remainder of the day riding roller coasters on the Santa Monica Pier and playing by the Ocean in one of the most beautiful places on this earth. What a fantastic way to spend Father’s Day.
If I achieve my goal at a later date it will not be in spite of my failure, but because of my failure. I truly believe that each time we miss the mark, we have an opportunity to gain something very valuable that will help us hit the mark on a later attempt. I believe in failure as an important part of life, something that should be embraced and examined. Become familiar with failure, rather than fear it. Those who are afraid to fail usually never get anything started.
I am so incredibly blessed to have friends like Kenny, Dusty and Hunter, because they’ve all made me a better person in so many ways. I still own a gym in Salt Lake City, UT and I truly believe that our product is not our 4 walls, rubber flooring and gym equipment. Our product is our trainers AND our clients. We offer an environment where a person can be surrounded by like minded individuals working toward a better version of themselves every single day. What better way to spend that 1 hour of your day, your “ME” time, than to be surrounded by positive, hard working peers. I’m so thankful for my hurt calf because it’s only temporary, and because it gave me the opportunity to be grateful for my blessings. I’ll come back stronger, both mentally and physically, and I’ll have a lot of fun in the process!
To be continued…
The woman of my dreams who supports me like no other (and sweet baby Niko).