Turning Failure Into A Win

Failure – there is no good in this word. It is filled with disappointment. We may have escaped the dust and grit of the lava desert but I have struggled to brush it off and move forward. When we set out to run across Iceland in June 2018 I was prepared for hardship and pain but I was not prepared for failure. For every bad situation in my life I try to find positives. How, I asked myself, could I look at our attempt and turn our failure into a win?

In the end I decided to tell the story in two parts. Using the notes I made whilst on the run to diarise our trip and writing this article to explain the importance of using mental power to learn and move forwards. To read my diary of our Run Iceland 2018 challenge click here.

Six months were spent planning our challenge – to run across Iceland from east to west. Many hours of my life were devoted to planning, researching, discussing, buying and training. It was a big focus in my life at a time when I needed just that. When you put that much energy into something you always know it is going to be a hard hit when its over. The end coming without the joy of victory was a shock and a bitter pill to swallow.

I realised that to move forwards I needed to ask my self some key questions:

  1. What good has come from the experience?
  2. What have I learned?
  3. How can this positively influence what I do next?

Firstly, it was important to separate the experience from other things going on in life. At any one time we have multiple issues to deal with. It can take time to segregate the emotions surrounding each issue. Emotions make us reactionary. My reaction can be to dramatically decide I need to change my whole life – where I live, job etc. I needed to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

What good has come from the experience?

One of my fellow runners in Iceland spoke of living life without regret. Taking the good from each situation, even if the outcome is not what you wanted. Whenever we lose something which was precious or important to us we must celebrate it being a part of our life. We must appreciate that for us to be sad it has gone it must have bought us happiness.

The entire experience around Iceland made me happy. It bought me new levels of fitness and friendship, an ability to focus through tough times and a wealth of experience and knowledge. I never thought I would be someone who happily got up between 5 and 6am to go running but loved the experience of getting more from each day. A colleague became a good friend as we shared our hopes and fears for the challenge.

We may not have completed the run but we did cover 130 miles over 6 days, with 20kg packs on our backs. Those days were incredibly tough but they still bought gains. I found that I’m more resilient than I had thought and just how much your mind influences your physical ability. I also discovered muscles I have never had before! After just 6 days of running with heavy weight, using running poles to assist me, my arms and shoulders changed shape dramatically.

I also got to spend time in stunning surroundings whilst worrying less about my personal appearance than I have since I was a child. There are no mirrors in the wilderness. No make up, no shampoo or conditioner, no straighteners or nail polish. We had one set of clothes to put on each day. Life was bought down to a more basic level and in that there is great beauty. We could focus on exploring parts of a beautiful country that few who visit ever get to see.

What have I learned?

The challenge may have bought good things but with any situation in life where there is failure it is important to accept and assess. We didn’t complete our run because one of the team fell ill. That couldn’t be helped but other factors were influencing our strength. To turn the situation into a win I needed to discover what I had learned:

There’s no such thing as over planning and plans need to be adaptable

Time was spent on every aspect of our trip; from mapping on paper and online to meticulously choosing the right gear and calculating food weight and calorie allowances. But we still could have planned more. Once out there we had to take circumstances into account to adapt our plan when issues arose. At times there was no water where there should have been water and we roasted under blazing sun, where there is usually rain. If something is important to you in life, spend time on it…then spend a little more.

A good team is important

From the moment we hauled our packs onto our backs our mental and physical battles began. It took us a couple of days but we really started to work as a team. Taking it in turns to support each other. Discovering each others strengths. Telling each other how we were doing. Discussing bodily functions at great length! All these things made us a strong unit.

Looking after yourself is essential 

We always tried to camp near water to make eating and washing easy. But after 12 hours of walking and running it is far easier to sit and do nothing than head to a cold river for a wash. Some of the team wanted to go to bed without eating (not me – I always want food!) but that would have weakened them the next day. After food and a wash we always felt better. My blisters were getting pretty nasty and could well have stopped my run. I needed to care for them too. Time taken on caring for yourself gets more important the more stress you are under.

To know when it’s ok to ask for help and to stop

The morning before Sophie fell ill my blisters were the main team concern. Pictures were sent to friends and colleagues with medical knowledge and advice promptly came back (sorry and thank you Ed, Gary and Tim!). The risk of infection was a worry but at that point we chose to carry on.

That evening Sophie’s stomach pains, which she had been running through, turned into something more serious – blood in her urine. We were a three day walk/run from civilisation and about to head further away. This was the time to stop. It was still not an easy decision for Sophie but it was the right one.

How to forgive yourself

When you feel you have failed it can be hard to forgive yourself. I’m not sure I’m there yet but that is based around worries of others expectations or judgements. Do people understand why we stopped? Do they think we gave up too easily? Why does that matter? Why was I nervous about walking back into work?

This one is still a work in progress but I am trying to learn that it is not about others. I know I achieved something by saying yes to the trip in the first place. By putting one foot in front of the other when others would have never started I should be proud. We all have failures in our life; hold your head high, forgive yourself, move on.

To keep saying ‘yes’

The biggest and best lesson I learnt! Saying ‘yes’ to this challenge was one of the best things I had done in a long time. I have discovered a love of multi day running and new depths in my desire to push myself. I will never be afraid to keep saying ‘yes’.

How can this positively influence what I do next?

The final stage of turning failure into a win is to take what you have learned, let go of what has happened and keep moving forward. It’s important in life to have something to aim for. When our trip was first aborted we had a huge amount of messages of support. They were wonderful and just what we needed. But we all grimaced and swore (we got quite sweary during our time in Iceland) when the messages ended with words such as ‘you can always try again another time’. The last thing we wanted to think about then was going back into the lava desert – see my trip diary to understand why! These words were only meant as consolation but they felt like a pressure of expectation.

I don’t think I am the only team member now who is gradually changing their mind on our profanity strew vows never to go back. With a support vehicle at a slightly different time of year, I think our run could be done. I would need to learn how to manage my blisters better and work on a stronger upper body before setting out. One for future consideration!

For now I need to keep my fitness up and plan a new challenge for the near future – perhaps a multi day run with Brew Dog. I like where I am physically. Despite being ribbed mercilessly by my fellow runners about my age (all ribbing was thoroughly paid back) I am fitter than ever. My endurance, if not my speed, is on the rise. I plan on enjoying that while I can. 

How to turn a failure into a win?

Discover the positives, learn from your experiences and keep moving forward. The win is your attitude.

To read my diary of our Run Iceland 2018 challenge click here.

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