“It’s failure that gives you proper perspective on success.” Ellen DeGeneres
Being unsuccessful in the task at hand or in achieving ones goal.
Or simply, to fail.
Failure can be viewed in many ways, but more often than not we tend to berate ourselves as soon as a goal we have set for ourselves isn’t achieved. But I believe that in our failed attempts we can always find some measure of success, because it is ultimately our attitude and perspective that defines whether what you have attempted can truly be defined as a success or failure.
No great success has been achieved without some sort of failure. This could be one epic failure or a series of failed attempts. Failure only occurs when we don’t learn from our mistakes and do not grow through the process.
In the last 5 years I have completed two rowing challenges; rowing for 24 & 36 hours. The 24 hour row in 2015 was brutal and took me weeks to recover from. It was something I swore I would never do again. But as the story goes, I then decided to complete a 36 hour row in 2018. I learnt from my row in 2015 and was better able to manage my training and nutrition in the months ahead as well as on the days of the row. During both attempts, my goal was simply to complete the designated times on the erg in one piece. I wasn’t worried about the distance I covered, I just wanted to make it to that imaginary finish line in the 24th and 36th hour.
Over the course of the 36 hour row I covered roughly 375km. So, when my friend sent me the link for the May Concept 2 Century challenge (https://log.concept2.com/challenges/marathon)I immediately jumped at the chance to get involved. The challenge includes a series of distances that you could choose to cover and it had to be done without any real breaks. The other distances were a half-marathon (21,097m) a full marathon (42,195m) a half-century (50km) or a century (100km) row. Without hesitation I decided I would do the 100km distance and did not give it a second thought. After all, if I could row for 24 hours and 36 hours, how difficult could the 100km challenge be? I also decided that I not only wanted to complete this 100km row, but this time through I would want to finish in under 8 hours.
No big deal, right?
Further variables to consider include that during my 24 & 36 hour challenges I was allowed to be off the rower for 10 minutes every hour and it would still count as a continuous row. However, the May Challenge had to be done as one continuous effort with breaks lasting no more than 2 minutes. I was literally off the erg either to run to the toilet, rehydrate or consume some fuel (bagels if you’re wondering). And, despite being off the rower for a mere minute or two, based on my previously completed challenges, I didn’t think there would be a problem. But man, retrospect is a beautiful thing.
On the 9th of May, 5 minutes after the VE Day minute of silence, I began my 100km attempt. I had aimed to complete 12.5km every hour and rehydrate regularly. It was approximately 20 degrees c at the start so I kept to the shade as much as possible as the day progressed. All was going to plan more or less until the last 40km.
By that stage, I was starting to cramp up through my left leg and so I would spend a few minutes rowing with just my right leg in the strap. Following this my forearms began to cramp up as well. But with some minor adjustments to my form I found a way to carry on. In my head I was still working towards a sub 8 hour row and that became what success looked like for me at the start of the challenge and even with less than 40km to go.
With just 15km to go things only got worse, it didn’t matter how much I was drinking, I was still thirsty and had to start breaking down my row to 1000m intervals. For every 1000m completed I would stop for 30 seconds, take on some fluids and this felt like it was helping me break down the remaining distance into small manageable goals. At this stage the thought of failing to complete the 100km in under 8 hours was not even an option, I was going to complete the row and in the time I wanted. By the time it got to 10km I had to break down the intervals even further. My target now was a mere 500m and these too were barely achievable. I took a quick toilet break with 8km to go and ignored the dark orange colour of my urine (sign of severe dehydration) and just kept saying to myself I would be okay and finish the row. I thought I was being mentally resilient, not stubborn.
I got on for what would be the last time, rowed 300m and then had to collapse off the rower and throw up. My immediate thoughts were “okay I won’t do it in under 8 hours but I will get it done”, I was already going to fall short but I didn’t want to be a complete failure. When I tried to get up I immediately had to lie back down. It became very evident that I would not be able to get back on the rower no matter how much I told myself I could get the task done and failing was not option. Instead of worrying about my health, I immediately thought of what people would say because I had failed, how I would feel because I had failed and that I completely wasted 7 hours of a perfectly good bank holiday Saturday.
I probably spent another 2 minutes battling with my thoughts about getting back on the rower. I still wanted to finish. I had made myself believe that this should be a walk in the park and I had to prove myself to my friends, family and DISTRICT Members. But what, in fact, was I really trying to prove in those last 8km that might cost me a trip to the hospital? I couldn’t give a definitive answer.
And that’s when I knew that I didn’t in fact need to prove anything whatsoever, to anyone.
So, I gave up. And I turned the rower off so there was no chance of me getting back on.
In those moments of “failure,” I had actually accomplished something I had never done previously; I accepted that it would be ok not have completed a challenge and that it was even more ok to be human during the process. It soon became a beautiful realisation and so did the slow understanding of what the days successes actually were. I didn’t waste the day; I very much learned the hard way that in the hopes to be perfect or super human, is not just ok, it’s a relief to not have to be. It’s ok to have given your best and accept that’s all you can ask for or expect from yourself.
Winston Churchill once said “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”, failure is not the end of the world… There are opportunities to grow and develop through failure and we only truly fail if we don’t pick ourselves up, learn from our failure and be brave enough to try again.
That being said, I won’t be jumping on the rower for a few days, and don’t tempt me with another erg challenge for the foreseeable future.