“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.” – Thomas Watson, IBM
I just came across this quote in a blog post called Failure Club, by Eric at Roc the Run. The post is about Eric’s dedication to qualify for the Boston Marathon, no matter how badly he has to fail in order to get there. For me, it was an incredibly moving post to read.
The best part? Eric is not even close to qualifying right now.
You know that please-let-this-be-over-before-I-puke feeling that it takes to run a 5K PR? Well, to qualify for Boston, Eric would need to hold his current best 5K pace for an entire marathon.
But you know what? I think he will do it.
How can I say this, when I don’t know anything else about him? Because his post grabbed hold of my soul and shook it, the way a piece of music, a line in a favorite book, or the smile of your child does, when you recognize in it something that is purely, unmistakably you.
This is the mindset that it takes to BQ
A lot of people have asked me how in the world I qualified for Boston, when my early marathon results showed nothing that could be mistaken for even slightest bit of natural talent for running.
What takes much, much more explaining — and without which the other stuff wouldn’t have ever had the chance to happen — is the mindset that was required.
The hardest part, I tell them, was to actually believe, after I finished my first marathon in a painful 4:53:41, that somewhere I still had a 3:10 in me (the Boston-qualifying time that I had naively penciled in as my projected finish when I registered).
I told myself that I was slow because my training was weak due to injuries. “Once I figure out how to keep my shins healthy and complete a full training program, then I’ll qualify.”
Three and a half years later, I figured out how to keep my shins healthy, and I ran my second marathon — a full hour faster than the first. Finally, I felt like I had really “run” my marathon.
Reality struck when I realized I was still 43 minutes away from Boston, and my ace had already been played.
Where the heck was I going to find another minute and a half per mile to shave off?
Be willing to fail, again and again
In a way, it was like those cults you hear about every so often, the ones who publicly predict a doomsday date in the weeks ahead. They fully believe what they’re telling everyone — but then what happens when the date passes without so much as a thunderstorm, and they’re proven indisputably wrong? They simply find a miscalculation, revise their prediction, and go back to believing again.
That was my trick too: with each subsequent marathon, I found another reason to grab onto, in order to convince myself that this one would be my Boston qualifier.
What’s different between this mental sleight-of-hand of mine, and that of the end-of-days cult, is that my evolving belief was backed up by slow, but steady, progress. Real progress, the kind that comes from “being doubled over on my knees, sucking wind at the end of another 400 meter repeat,” as Eric correctly imagines his qualifying will require.
And so I put everything I had into qualifying for Boston. I read books. I learned new ways to train. I incorporated more speedwork, more hills, more tempo runs, better nutrition. I told all my friends that I was going to qualify, and that they should come watch me to do it.
Not someday, but this time. And I believed every word of it. What happened?
Then I failed again.
And then I failed again.
And finally, one time, I didn’t fail. At the Wineglass Marathon in October 2009, I ran my BQ, after seven years of trying.
Five failures, one success. But that success is what I’ll remember when I’m 70 as one of the biggest victories of my life.
Eric’s post resonates with me so strongly because, in just a few lines, it captures perfectly what it felt like to be so determined and so focused on one thing — to know that this huge goal, which should have seemed impossible, was instead inevitable.
If running Boston is on your bucket list, then I suggest you read Eric’s post and adopt that mindset too.
If you want to run your BQ…
Announcement time! For the past six months or so, I’ve been working on a project with my friend Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Running. In that time, we’ve put together a huge resource we’re really proud of, and one that’s entirely devoted to helping runners qualify for Boston, like I did and like Jason did. (As a 2:39 marathoner, he had a little easier time with it. )
Our project is called Run Your BQ, and we’re really close to finishing it up. In a couple weeks we’re going to accept our initial group of members. Registration will only be open for a few days, so that we can get in there and help our first members make progress towards their own BQ’s.
If that sounds like something you’re interested in, and you’d like to sign up for the list to get updates about Run Your BQ and be notified when it’s about to open, you can go here to do that.
P.S. Jason wrote a great post yesterday on his blog, called Qualifying for Boston: The Thrill of Running BQ Marathon. He also gives a few more details about Run Your BQ in it. Go check it out!
Photo by Susanna Bolle.