Earlier this month, the same day I was presenting on failure and radical candor at the Northeast Judge Conference, Riki Hayashi was running in a marathon. While I was talking about my past experiences coping with rejection, Riki was struggling with the prospect of failure in real life. Let’s hear what attempting the marathon taught Riki about overcoming failure in judging! — Bearz
On November 12th, I ran the Anthem Richmond Marathon, my fourth attempt at a marathon, notably after failing to finish my last attempt in April. My previous finishes were in Harrisburg in 2015 and Portland in 2013.
Heading into Richmond, I was feeling really good. I had upped my monthly training mileage from 120 miles to 130 for a few months. Since July, I had also done all of my running outdoors instead of on a treadmill, meaning that I was far more prepared for the elements. During my unsuccessful marathon back in April, weather had proven to be my Achilles’ heel, when the wind chill did me in.
The first half of the race went according to plan. I ran the first half-marathon at exactly 1 hour 45 minutes. Given that my goal was to run the whole thing at 3 hours 40 minutes, this was a great pace. I slowed a bit over the next stretch as I hit the dreaded “Wall,” but I still felt that even with a drop in pace, I could finish strong and hit my goal.
Then, at mile 23, disaster struck. My quadriceps seized up badly. The quads are the most important muscles for running, and if they go, it becomes impossible to push off the ground and get any speed going. I had to decide whether to continue or quit.
I had a similar decision to make in April, although the circumstances were quite different there. For starters, in that race I cramped at mile 20, twice as far from the finish line as in this one. Second, both my quads and my calves cramped. I think the main reason this didn’t happen in Richmond was due to the compression socks I wore. Finally, the weather in Richmond, while cold, wasn’t unreasonably so.
The decision to press on was not an easy one. I could no longer run, jog, or even do a power walk; I just couldn’t get any push. All I could do was walk. My pace would be 15+ minutes for three miles.
For a moment, I thought about quitting. When you’ve already been running for over 3 hours, 45 minutes is an eternity. On top of that, people were starting to pass me en masse, which was emotionally draining.
I had flashbacks to my April race in Fayetteville. Would I quit two marathons in a row? Was this my limit? Would I ever be able to finish another marathon? What does all of this have to do with judging, which is what this post is nominally about?
Well, one forced segue later, this post is about failure and how we deal with it. While the Judge Program likes to tout itself as the “cult of self-improvement,” I think it actually does a poor job of engaging people when they fail. This is how I engaged with my failure in Fayetteville, strategies that ultimately helped me finish in Richmond. And they can help you overcome failures in judging.
- Evaluate options. In Fayetteville, I retired from the race because I still had 6 miles to go, the weather made things much harder, and both my quads and my calves hurt. If I had continued, a major injury was a real possibility. In Richmond, I felt that I could safely finish the race, albeit with a much slower-than-expected time. Every situation is different. Just because you were successful at Team Leading once doesn’t mean that the next time will go so well, and vice versa.
- Seek support. When I run into trouble at races, I text Sarah, my fiancee, to let her know. She is super supportive no matter what decision I make, and more importantly, she reminds me of what my priorities should be. During the race, Angela Aliff was also keeping track of my progress and was sending me messages when I passed checkpoints. I saw those messages when I stopped to message Sarah, and they provided me with a motivational boost. Running is about as lonely an activity as you can do, and yet we still rely on the support of our loved ones. Judging can be an incredible collaborative endeavor, and yet too many chose to go it alone.
- Change the bar. Yes, lots of people started to pass me. I had to be emotionally okay with that. Success was no longer measured by my time. For me, my new bar for success was to finish the race, and I rededicated myself to accomplishing that goal. Similarly, “advancing to Level 3” is a common bar for people. But when they hit any kind of stumbling block towards that goal, they just drop the entire thing with a “ho hum. I guess I’m not good enough for that.” Maybe not…at least not now…but find something new that you can work towards. Shelve that bigger goal without giving up on it. I’m already planning how to make my target time at my next marathon.
- Don’t lash out. One of the great things about races is the number of people standing on street corners cheering you on. Wallowing in my defeat, it would have been easy to feel like the cheers were no longer for me, but for the people passing me. Heck, the people passing would also say things like “Only two miles to go. You got this.” In those dark moments, messages of encouragement can sound sarcastic or derisive. Don’t let those feelings win. In judging, this is about how you react to feedback. These people have your best interests at heart, and are often unaware of your inner struggles. Thank them for their earnest efforts to help you.