I am a recovering triathlete. Between 1995 and 2014 I completed over 50 triathlons and other multi-sport events ranging from sprint to half Ironman distance. In my prime, I was pretty competitive, frequently placing in the top of my age group and overall. In February of 2012, shortly after my 49th birthday, I had emergency surgery to repair a ruptured disc in my lower back. Undaunted, I pursued physical therapy with a vengeance and was able to resume training and compete in the summer of 2012.
In February of 2013, I had another episode of low back pain that sidelined me from running and eventually led to a second surgery in June of that same year. Once again I went through physical therapy and tried to resume training, only to find that running and biking caused flare-ups and near-constant pain. Reluctantly, VERY reluctantly, I decided to quit running altogether, effectively ending my 20-year stint as an amateur triathlete.
Fitness minded and achievement oriented, I increased my swimming training and began participating in the Minnesota and National Senior Games swimming competitions (one of the many perks of turning 50!). I continued to bike on occasion but mostly for recreation and at speeds far slower than my customary 20 mph and up, given my commitment to avoid further injury (including possible bike crashes!).
This past weekend, my husband and I were driving in an area where I used to ride—a beautiful rural expanse of gently rolling hills and long stretches of fast, flat road with wide shoulders. I became nostalgic and vowed to pull my bike out again soon. Sunday morning dawned, cool and relatively wind-free—perfect for biking. I suited up and pulled my now-vintage Cervelo into the driveway and hopped on. As I clipped my right foot into the pedal, I looked up and noticed a newspaper at the end of our driveway. It was just enough distraction to take my mind off my bike, and I tipped over. Yep, I crashed my bike in my driveway, going zero miles per hour.
I lay there for a few seconds, determined that I wasn’t seriously hurt (just my pride and a little road rash), unclipped from the pedal and shoved the bike off my body. I got up and leaned the bike against the garage—frankly, it was all I could do to keep from throwing it down the hill into the back yard. I was angry. Angry at the bike. Angry at myself. Angry at the injuries that kept me from training and racing. Angry for failing. Angry at failure.
As I stood in my driveway, looking at the bike that saw me through all of those miles of training and racing, I realized that it was my choice how to respond to this failure. I could hang it up and go for a walk. Or a swim. Or a nap. Or I could get back on the bike and try again.
When was the last time you failed? How did you feel? What did you do in the aftermath of that failure? What did you learn? How did you apply what you learned as you moved on? How did it feel to try again? How did you mitigate risk of failing a second time?
In the end, I got back on the bike and had a nice ride. More importantly, I recognized that the most significant thing about failing isn’t about failure at all. It’s what we do in response to failure that matters most.
Get back on the bike.