The art of failing – Part 2

Part 1 of The art of failing can be read in the link.

Failing can hurt. It can hurt you physically and it can hurt your pride. It can be devastating. Therefore it is also one of the most powerful tools for learning if we use it in the correct way.

  • Step one is acknowledging that you have made a mistake.
  • Step two is acknowledging who is the only one responsible for the mistake
  • Step three is acknowledging who is the only one who can do something about it

I have seen failure to acknowledge the steps above countless times in triathlon (and other parts of life), and have been a sinner to not follow them myself too many times. I have heard people blame the weather, the bike and on-course nutrition for not performing well. I have even heard other competitors drafting as the reason for a DNF.

Something goes wrong, and you immediately find others to blame for the fault. The case is closed, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. If that is your normal reaction then there is a high probability that you are prone to more “bad luck” than others.

If you find truth in the steps above, however, you will also effectively look for the solution in the right place. You know who is the captain of the ship and who is the only one who can prevent the mistake from being done again and again.

Let’s take the example of a flat tire. It’s a typical case where many people fall to the conclusion; that’s bad luck. While I do agree that you cannot guarantee to never get a flat tire, it’s far from a matter of just good or bad luck. Have you chosen tires with good or bad puncture resistance? Are the tires old, well used or damaged? Do you have sealant inside your tubes to fix a puncture? Can you avoid riding close to the far side of the road where there often is more debris? If you still get a flat tire, what is your plan? Do you have a spare tire? Do you have two? And have you trained changing it? Personally, I have opted for the solution with a fast rolling tire with a medium grip and medium puncture resistance. I don’t have sealant inside since it reduces performance and I have only one spare tubular tire. I could have chosen two spare tires, but I don’t find the reduced risk worth the cost of bringing an extra set of tires/CO2-cartridge. That is, however, my choice, and I have to bear the risk of my choices.

This is from Ironman Regensburg 2012. Right before the race, I changed to a new back tire. I did a short test and everything seemed fine. Well, it was not. The new tire was 1 mm wider than the old one. When I was pushing harder, especially in the uphills, the tire was rubbing against the frame and giving me a serious resistance. It felt like bad luck, but it was poor technical preparations.
Ironman South-Africa was also a race where «everything went wrong». A broken shoulder a couple of  I had a flat on the bike and the front brake actually got completely loose due to bad road and heavy vibrations. That made me unable to brake properly coming into T2 where I crashed. The fault was that I did not go over all the bolts in advanced and did not take the loss of braking power in account good.
To my big surprise, these brakes did to function very well when being on the aerobars 😉
Swissman 2016 – After passing the San Gottardo, I started my descent, down the old road. Compared to the new road, which was the correct way, the old road was filled with cobblestones and stopped in a dead end after a long way down. I could, of course, try to blame the organizers because I did not see any signs or anyone showing the way. But a triathlon event is rarely perfectly organized and it’s my responsibility to know the course and maybe use a second or two extra to ensure that I am on the right path.
My first start in Ironman Hawaii – It should have been an amazing experience, but it was the most horrible experience as a triathlete. After being kicked in the face, swum over and started to hyperventilate, within the first 5 minutes, I was ready to call to throw in the towel. I could blame it on the others who did the kicking etc. It was not their fault, it was my own. I positioned myself too far at the front compared to my swimming abilities and started too hard. Lesson learned.

Making it a habit looking inward instead of outward, when you are searching for the one to blame, makes it so much faster and easier to improve. Blaming yourself can be difficult, especially if you are an overconfident, stubborn Besserwisser. A category I admittedly can put myself in. Then it helps to turn to the Socrates Paradox and say; I know one thing, that I know nothing. Or my version; you are an idiot that knows nothing. Of course, you would not actually believe it anyway. Still, it might just be the factor that makes you able to lower your overconfident shield and see the solution in improving yourself, instead of others. Note that if you have low self-esteem and have a “sorry-that-I-exist”-altitude, then the advice above should not be applied by you.

It is not a shame to fail. Admitting that you are wrong does not make you stupid. Showing vulnerability and weakness does not make you a weak person. It is all part of being human. The earlier you acknowledge and accept it, the easier it is to learn from the mistakes and improve. It also makes it easier to stop beating up yourself for not being perfect.

  • Step one is acknowledging that you have made a mistake.
  • Step two is acknowledging who is the only one responsible for the mistake
  • Step three is acknowledging who is the only one who can do something about it

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

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