Outdoor Diary: What Failing My Race Taught Me About Having a Growth Mindset

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When Amy headed outside to run again in January following a rehab time from her September surgery, she had one goal: get ready for the Resurrection Pass 100 ultra trail race. Crazy? Maybe.

The race was July 30, and while it didn’t go exactly as Amy hoped it would, she learned plenty about herself, nature and doing hard things along the way.

Some of the good stuff:

[:26] Amy’s slightly neurotic, yet productive, schedule

[1:25] Trying something new

[2:20] The race

[6:00] A different achievement

[6:49] The small wins

Connect with this episode:

Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Do you have a growth mindset when you head outside?

I’m one of these people in the world that does the same thing all the time. I know — you’re thinking “surely that’s an exaggeration.” But it’s really, really not. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day and basically the same thing for dinner and lunch, too. I drink black coffee. I get up and go to bed at the same time on weekdays. I like going to the same favorite spots, ordering the same thing off menus and doing the same challenges year over year.

I mean you know I go outside every day for at least 20 minutes. That’s the same thing day after day, too.

I credit/blame my parents for this. I say credit/blame because while I know it comes off as a little neurotic, I actually love being this way. I feel like it makes me more productive. I feel like it helps me live my best life.

But there are downsides. Trying new things and setting new goals for myself is hard. I tend to only take on tasks that I feel certain will be successful. You won’t catch me taking an advanced math class, for example. It’s hard for me to step outside my comfort zone even if the task or adventure in question sounds fun in theory. I really have to push myself to do something I can’t guarantee I’ll like or complete.

That’s why deciding to train for and run 100 miles was a really big deal. Not only was I coming back from surgery and had basically stopped all running for five months, but I had never run anything longer than 33ish miles. I did everything I could to prepare. I hired a coach. I worked with a single-minded focus since January. And I apologized profusely to you for my endless stream of running photos since so much of my outside time over this summer was focused on race prep.

Race day was July 30. We drove the two hours to the course start and I nervously wandered around the parking lot, prepping my bags and gear.

The Resurrection Pass 100 is largely self-supported, with my husband meeting me at two trailheads along the way at the 42 mile and 70 mile marks. That meant I had to run 42 miles with only the support on my back, followed by another 30ish miles until the next time I saw anyone or restocked. The race started at 3 p.m. and went over a mountain pass, so that meant running in the dark in a place with plenty of bears. If you want to encounter a bear on a bushy trail at prime bear time, the Resurrection Pass racers are the perfect time to do it. I had a few friends who I thought I might be able to run with, but when you’re trying to run 100 miles, keeping your own pace and running your own race is super important.

We set off and hit the trail. The first 34 miles or so were downright amazing. I was running with my friend, Rachel. The wildflowers were out of control — it was like moving through a dream. We stopped at streams and refilled our water. We ran and chatted. We walked big hills. It was completely amazing. Then we turned on our head lamps and kept going, shouting “woooheeeee!!” to warn the bears that we were on our way. At this point it was sometime around midnight, and we reached the 42 mile mark at about 2 a.m. Bags repacked, a change of socks and some snacks consumed, we set off again.

But now it was getting cold, and over the next 8 or so miles we went from happy and moving to slugging and freezing. And of course it’s the middle of the night — and had I ever in my whole life before right then stayed up all night before? No I had not.

And this is when the mistakes started. I didn’t layer-up enough or right away, and I got cold. And you know how I get when I’m cold — grumpy and brainless. And then because I was cold, I was slower. And because I was slower, I ran out of caffeine pills. Rachel started to have stomach issues, and hung back. And I trudged on, willing myself up the pass to the turn down into the next checkpoint.

The turn was at about mile 60 and by the time I got there my attitude was not great.

I don’t know what happened over the next three miles for the wheels to come flying off my bus, but at some point I went from hanging in there to sobbing that I just wanted to go home. I was barely running if at all — choosing instead to walk grumpily and crying down the trail. I met some people on the course offering trail support via horseback and they fed me fruit snacks. I met other runners who were doing the 50-mile course, and a few of them gave me a hug because they could see I was crying. It was not my finest moment.

By the time I stumbled into the aid station at mile 70 where I found my husband and sons in the beautiful late morning sun, I was the world’s biggest sobbing mess. Luke tried to convince me to go back out, but I just couldn’t fathom it. Even now I don’t know what I could’ve said to myself to pull myself out of that mental pit. Nor do I even understand why I was IN the mental pit other than I was sleep deprived and previously cold – since I wasn’t even cold right then — and hadn’t done a good job of keeping up with food.

So I quit. I quit the thing I had been training for since January, devoting 800 miles of run training – who even knows how many hours that is — and almost 80 hours of other cross-training too. I slept in the van on the way home. I spent days trying to get the swelling in my legs to go down.

And I learned an important lesson about growth mindset.

This felt bad to me because I don’t do things I might fail. And when I quit and the next day — it all felt like a failure. Why did I even bother?

But this hard thing? This was not a failure. No, I didn’t run 100 miles and 10,000 feet up mountains. I ran 70 and over 7,000 feet. No, I didn’t finish the thing I trained for. But I finished something else.

I learned here that finishing The Thing is only part of success. It seems like the biggest part of success. But what if when we only focus on that part of success, we miss all the other successes doing hard things outside can give us? What if we are walking by the wins along the way because we are so busy focusing on the finish line?

Among my smaller wins here, for example — I learned that I can totally run overnight and it’s only bad at 10 a.m. if you don’t have enough caffeine. I learned that I have what it takes to learn new skills and try new things that really are very hard, and that I can absolutely do that with other subjects.

I learned the value of surrounding yourself with people who know you and care about you — my husband, who stayed up all night helping me and other runners and then drove us all home and Rachel, my best friend who made it back to the trail head, also dropped from the race and talked me into admitting that I was done, something that until she showed up I couldn’t decide to do, even though it was clear that it was what I needed right then.

I learned that even when you don’t hit your goal, there’s so many joys along the way. I wish you could see in person the beauty I witnessed out there — Wildflowers and vistas that are so beautiful they look completely fake. They filled my brain and soul in a way that I can’t put into words.

I saw the importance of the people I have in my life — and I hope you have friends and family who take care of you the way mine took care of me during and after that race. I felt the value of having and chasing big goals, even when you won’t for sure be able to do them.

I’m not sure I’ll be attempting that 100-miler again soon, not because I don’t want to but because the training load and hours and hours I spent running this summer meant giving up other things I love, like long camping trips, and it was hard on my family. But I’m not definitely not done doing hard things outside. And when I find them, you’ll see them as part of my daily photo on Instagram.

I want to see your goals and outdoor experiences big and small, too, so share them with me on Instagram at #humansoutside365. Until next time, I’ll see you out there.

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