You’ve seen it before, someone rising from the ashes to come back after they have been knock down for the count. This was the story in the making in Death Valley. One of the harshest environments on the Earth knocked me out without mercy.
It seemed it was all over. I thought this was the biggest fail of my life. All the time, money, training, and support from other people and sponsors were all for nothing. I failed, and I failed miserably. A lot of people tell me that I didn’t fail if I learned something. It is a phrase that I would spit out with regularity to encourage people to continue forward and to soften the blow.
This time I failed and I am okay with that. In fact I love the idea that I failed because it means I put it all on the line. I didn’t just talk about it, I went out there and did the Badwater Solo SSC ultramarathon and I fell flat on my face (kinda literally in this case). Check out this Michael Jordan Nike commercial that explains it well.
I am comfortable with failing because I know that if I am not failing, my goals are too easy and too small. Was Badwater SSC beyond my reach? Was it ridiculous for me to think that I could finish one of the world’s toughest challenges with only a few years of running experience? Could I make a come back by next summer?
It was depressing to put my cart away in the van and walk off the course. We went for breakfast but I still wasn’t hungry. Jim, the paramedic made me force down a small breakfast. Then we went into the lobby for Internet service to announce to the world that I pulled the plug on my Badwater Solo SSC attempt.
Sometimes an athlete has an off day. A day when nothing cooperates and your body says no. This was that day. The environment was unforgiving and his body refused to adapt to the challenge of a 146 mile ultramarathon through Death Valley.
Just a few hours after quitting my Badwater Solo crossing, I was starting to feel … well, normal. I went into the pool at the Stove Pipe Wells hotel to cool my core. I rested and sulked in my failure. Then Josh and I headed back to Las Vegas and Jim and Cherilyn headed back to the west coast. Josh had been giving me a hard time about getting back out on the course that day and finishing as a supported run. He berated me about being the guy who always preaches to audiences to never give up and never give in. To get back up no matter how many times you’ve been knocked down. “Where is that guy? Where is the guy that never gives up?” I refused to go back on the course and I didn’t have an answer for Josh. Death Valley had won on this day and there was no going back. And I struggled for an answer.
But, five hours later and a couple hours of silence on the ride back, I am starting to come back to life. So I asked Josh, “What if I come back in a few days and do this again? Win, lose, or draw, I can’t give up like this. I didn’t come out here to make it only 45 miles. That is pathetic and I know I can finish.” I checked the weather, we talked about it a bit and agreed that I would decide in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
The next morning came quick. I called Marshall Ulrich (He set the Badwater solo record 13 years ago) to ask his opinion to get back into the race so quickly after such a tragic failure. His response was to do it. I thought about the times where he would run one insanely hard 100 mile ultra marathon and then drive to another and run that one too in the same weekend. Something nobody has even done before or since. That gave me the courage to say yes when Josh said, “So … are you in? Are you going back to do Badwater Solo?”
Immediately we started making plans to get back to Badwater. I need to arrange hotels, massage, food, water, and to find a crew because Jim and Cherilyn had to catch their flight home.
Cinder Wolff came over and did some amazing body work to get me ready. Cinder crewed for me when I did a test run from LA to Vegas in January. She happens to live in Vegas and is an incredible massage and bodywork professional. She was voted best in Hawaii when she lived there.
Those I called to crew were not available on such short notice. Josh said he would do the whole thing himself, but I knew that would be too much work for one person, especially the guy who will be shadowing me to the summit. My friend and colleague, Jennifer Matties, who is the promotion manager for my upcoming LIFExDESIGN Live event in Las Vegas this Nov 9-11 stepped up and agreed to meet Josh and be the crew. She would bring her awesome kids Calli (15) and Carson (12). And with some fast work, I was ready to face the brutal environment of Death Valley again. Even I was in disbelief that I would be going back so soon. With only three days rest, I knew my chances of success were much less than if I had the proper amount of sleep.
I’ve been asked several times at my keynotes and seminars, “Is there ever a time to quit? And if so, how do you know when you push forward and when you stop?” Prior to Badwater my answer was never give up – never quit. And it still is, but now I have a new understanding of the question and a more complete answer. You never quit. Not ever on anything important and never on your dreams. Stay focused and stay in the game until you win. And if a time comes that you can no longer go on, take a breather, regroup, adjust your plan, refocus and get your ass back out on the field until you achieve your goals. Sometimes you might need a new plan but you never give up.