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There it is again.

Someone making the ‘ol “learn from  your mistakes” claim.

I know, it’s nothing new. Bloggers, teachers, your parents have been forcing the idea down your throats for as long as you can remember.

“Don’t let that mistake get you down, learn from it.”

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.”

“Failure is part of success.”

Somehow every smart-ass person you know suddenly loves mistakes when they happen to you (and not them).

Well, today I’m that smart-ass. That guy trying to comfort you when all you really want to do is punch him in the face.

Only I have good news. You didn’t make the mistakes.

I did.

I could chalk up my recent running of the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Ultramarathon as a total success. After-all, I did reach my goal of 100 miles and actually won the thing, making it one of my most successful races ever.

But it was far from perfect.

Acknowledge and Accept: The First Stage of Mistake-ing

Whether your run, race, or train cycle was a success or complete failure, acknowledging and accepting the mistakes that were made is the first step to learning from them.

And even in the best of circumstances, mistakes happen.

I’ve been known to battle something I call post-race depression. After a big race, which has usually consumed a major portion of my energy over several weeks or months, I spend the next week or two days down on myself and what to do next.

Even if the race goes more or less as planned, I fixate on mistakes and struggle to motivate myself to keep growing.

Well this time that didn’t happen. All last week, as I waited to crash my way towards the post-race funk, I couldn’t quit smiling.

So the last thing I wanted to do was force myself to visit the failures. But I knew I had to.

If I want to improve and grow even more, I need to acknowledge my struggles, and accept my mistakes.

The first step for me was putting together a list of lessons from the race, which I discussed in detail in last week’s episode of the Trail Talk Podcast.

You can listen to that episode here, or download it in iTunes or Stitcher.

The next step is to not only think through and write down lessons, but also my straight up failures.

My mistakes.

Today I want to share the 3 greatest mistakes from that race with you. The lessons that grew from these mistakes aren’t just applicable to running a 100 miler or for 24 hours. I’ll be applying this learn-from-failure knowledge towards every future race, long run, and training cycle, regardless of distance.

Mistakes From the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Ultramarathon

1) Something small will turn into something big

“Can you hand me a paper towel?”

I probably yelled those 6 words at Katie a dozen times during the race. Always promptly after a bare-handed shoving of Vaseline deep into each crevice beneath my shorts.

At some point about mid-way through the night, I brushed a little chaffing off as no big deal. Well, fast forward a few hours and I’m doing everything I can to mask that now very big deal with greasy lube.

It’s easy to pretend that something small will remain small.

Things like:

  • Dry mouth
  • A gentle knee pain
  • Rubbing on the back of your heal
  • The first signs of overheating

But they won’t.

Over time that dry mouth, which is a simple sign of the need for water, will turn into dehydration, and that pain in your knee will lead to weeks of rehab.

Stay on top of all potential issues while they’re still potential.

2) Heat is a bigger factor than you think

Most of us in the northern hemisphere have been training for spring races throughout the winter. We first adapted to the cold, then the warming Spring temperatures, but most of us haven’t had to deal with the heat just yet. In fact, I don’t think I ran in anything over 80 degrees leading up to this race at all.

But of course, race day has its own agenda. In my case that included 85 degrees in the afternoon with high humidity.

Not crazy by some standards, but far warmer and more uncomfortable than I was used to.

There are several strategies for dealing with the heat. None of which I had prepped for or thought through before experiencing them on race day.

Never underestimate the power of weather, and plan ahead for the likely challenges.

3) Never give up on yourself

By the time I reached mile 75, my only goal was to run 100 miles. I knew that if I could just keep moving, it was well within reach.

The truth is, had I been on the top of my mental game, going several miles further than that 100 mile goal would have probably been manageable.

But I had already given up on anything more than 100 miles. The nice, round number meant I could sit and drink a beer, even if hours were still left on the clock.

So that’s how I treated most of the last 5 hours of the race. Get it done and quit. I took it easy when I could have pushed, and stood around the aid stations longer than necessary.

It wasn’t until the final hour and a half, just 2 or 3 miles from my 100 mile goal, that other people convinced me it was worth it to keep pushing. With the extra support, I was able to push through to 102.3 miles, and win the race.

But what if I had the drive all along?

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” – Man, I’m full of cheesy motivational quotes today.

We’re capable of doing amazing things if we put our minds to it. Amazing things made possible by all the hard work and dedication put into our training.

When things get tough, we can’t give up on ourselves.

We have to hold on to that will for something amazing.

Failure is Part of Success, Whether You Like it or Not

Come on now, let’s be real.

As much as you hate that smart-ass guy as he’s telling you that a devastating mistake was actually a blessing in disguise, you secretly know he’s right.

So what are you hiding from?

Quit pretending like mistakes don’t happen, or worse, hiding from them through some post-race funk, and embrace them.

It’s that simple.

Today I’m sharing my mistakes with you in an effort to help you avoid making the same. And I expect you to do the same, because let’s face it, I know you’ll make mistakes too.

And when you do, turn the smart-ass attempting to comfort you and say “thank you.”

He’s right.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “3 Mistakes to Avoid During Your Next Race (As Learned From My 24 Hour Ultra)

  1. Good read buddy and hits home on a few things I’ve experienced in the past, especially when running abroad, in unfamiliar territory and a heck of a lot hotter climate than Bonnie Scotland! 😉

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