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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Malani

Fear of (public) Failure

A couple of months ago my running coach told me she wanted me to find some local 5k or 10k races in July and August. I don't have any races on my schedule until October, and even that one I'm learning towards doing more for fun. So, she didn't want the next time I toed the line to be several months away and the solution was shorter, local races. The only problem to that solution was that it's summer. In Florida.

Running itself is hard. But running in summer is like, super duper hard. Now make that summer RACING and I have literally zero desire to do such insane activities. Seriously, WHO wants to do that???

My coach assured me that I was fit enough and strong enough to handle a hot 5k, it wouldn't be a long race obviously, and I could do this. I needed to practice racing and all the elements that come along with doing that. (If you're not a runner, there are a lot of logistics that go into a race morning, but I'll spare you those for this post.) I reluctantly agreed to look for some races and found one in July that was very close and very affordable. Before I could talk myself out of it, I signed up and told my coach. This is why I have a coach in the first place right? To help me get better as a runner and hold me accountable to things I'd otherwise talk myself out of.

Time came and went and before I knew it, that hotter than heck 5k date was approaching. I was nervous. Why would a marathoner be nervous for a 5k??? Seriously, I really, really, really do not enjoy 5ks. It's a painfest from start to finish. There's no time to warm up (that's done before the race, duh Melissa), there's no time to find your groove or recover from slower paces or segments, you just haul butt from the start and pray you can hang on for dear life for 3.1 miles. This is not the type of 'positive' mindset that one should have to prep for a race - no matter how far or short the distance. Now that you know where my mind was at, I had things in life that were making it so it would be sooooo easy to back out. My husband was out of town so I'd need to make arrangements for my boys to be looked after. Work had been extraordinarily stressful and I hadn't been sleeping much or well, so I was very tired. The forecast was basically the same as the surface of the sun, so I knew trying to actually run a personal record time was not really in the picture.

I wanted to back out so badly. I mean it's just running. Who cares if I show up or not? I can still do a good run, but I could do it like a normal Florida runner in the the pitch black of the wee hours before the sun tries to literally fry your skin from your bones. It's just running. That's the thought that actually made me show up for the race. It's JUST running. Go.

So race morning comes and I do go. It's a small race, the course is about 50% shaded. I am still trying to talk myself out of racing. I'm thinking, I'll just run it as a workout. I'll get my heart rate up and I'll push a little, but I won't race it. It's too hot. It's too sunny. It's too late of a start. I won't set a time record. Why bother? It's just running.

As I'm listening to myself say these things to a friend that was also running, I am disappointed in myself. I'm not a quitter. I'm not a half-asser. I'm not an excuse maker. But I was afraid. I was afraid of the pain, afraid of the hurt, afraid of being less-than, afraid of trying hard and not reaching a good clock time, afraid of FAILING PUBLICLY.

That's when I made a decision to face my fears. It's just running. If I race a horrible race, it's of zero consequence to anyone, including me. It's a race. We have good ones and bad ones. If it's a good one, great, celebrate! If not, there's likely something to learn from it and we live to see another race on another day. But if I quit on myself before I even try, there's zero progress, zero growth, zero learning...nothing but a quitter. All that said, I'm also a smart runner so I do know that given the weather conditions and how my body works in the heat, I can race but I can't go full throttle too soon or I'll end up passed out on the bueno.

So I tell myself as I line up at the start that I will race. I will do my best and I will push, but I will race smart given the weather. I raced a 5k in April when the temperature was similar but the humidity and dew point were better. I decided that I would race smart, but I would try to beat that time (it was 22:42). I go out of the start chute and like most races, many runners take off in a full sprint. It is hard to not go with them, but I stick to my race plan. (I know to do this because I've learned this approach never works!) I end up picking up the pace steadily, and at the halfway mark I really start to pick it up. With less than half of race to go, I want to start increasing speed every quarter mile. With less than half a mile to go, I pass a runner (a man) that I had trailed the entire race. Dang that felt good! Now I don't want HIM to pass ME, so I keep the pedal to the metal and just run my heart out, hoping the finish line comes up before my breakfast does. I finish and have a final time of 22:26 - that's 16 seconds faster than the 5k in April! My watch beeps that my last mile was 6:57! I'm super excited, but also doubled over on the side of the trail trying to gather my breath. I take some ice and drop it down my crop and on my head. After I caught my breath I headed out for a one mile cool down.

I'm feeling so happy with my performance and I'm almost crying I'm so proud I didn't quit on myself. As I finish my cool down I find out that I placed 4th female and 1st in my age group. It's a small race, but I'm shocked nonetheless. I make sure it's ok to stay late as my boys are home with my mother-in-law, and enjoy celebrating with friends before and during the awards ceremony.

Afterwards, back home, I'm reflecting on the race and processing the day. I was so afraid to put myself out there and try. I was so afraid of failing. Failing who? Failing at what? I think the thought of my coach seeing a time that was slower than my personal record, telling people I raced but I wasn't faster, possibly bonking and having a really bad time was so much pressure in my head that it was easier for my brain to try to talk me out of it altogether. I mean, that's our brain's job after all - to keep us safe, avoid stressful situations, find the easiest route, and keep us comfortable. Overriding that innate desire to stay comfortable is one of the best areas of growth that has come from running, but it's one that consistently requires attention and work. It doesn't ever really get easier when you make moves outside of your comfort zone. I hate to say it, but it's true. On the flip side, that area of growth is the home of dreams-come-true, of elation, of pride in yourself. It's always worth it to get there, even if you stumble along the way.

It was a very timely reminder for me to experience this and remember that discomfort is growth. Fear of public failure is all in my head. The only person that I'm 'hurting' by quitting is myself. The same goes for you, no matter what goals you're chasing, if you quit, you are only quitting on yourself and all the amazing things that are on the other side of that discomfort. As we get into the last half of the year, take some time to reflect on goals you may have set for 2019. How are you doing with progress towards them? If you're not progressing, and it's due to fear of failure, let me be the one to encourage you to seize the moment TODAY and do something that will put you into action towards those goals. You only fail if you quit.

I'll share some of the pics of the day. The running shot is from the race and is the only action shot I have of the day. The rest are during the awards ceremony. None of which I would have, had I quit on myself and taken the easy road on race day.

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