I failed at two 50 milers. Here’s how those failures turned me into a badass.

Autumn Aspen Grove - A unpaved hiking trail, curving through a d

In the moment, I was absolutely convinced that quitting was the right decision. There was no way I was going to go on.

And nobody would fault me for dropping if they knew the battle that was raging in my mind. The first 20 miles of the Gnaw Bone 50-miler had chewed me up, and I knew this wasn’t going to be my day.

It felt good to quit. I was at peace with failing.

But that all ended when I couldn’t get an Oreo.

As soon as I told the aid station volunteer that I was dropping, she tore the race bib from my shorts, stamped a giant DNF on my forehead (at least that’s what it felt like), and told me to go sit down.

No, I couldn’t have an Oreo from the table. Not even one. The aid station food was for runners, and at this point, I was no longer one of them.

For the days, weeks, and months following that DNF, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I had failed.

I wore that DNF around with me everywhere I went.

If only I had pushed through.

If only I had stopped the doubts.

Eventually, I decided that one DNF wasn’t going to define me any longer. It couldn’t define me any longer. Instead of accepting failure, I did something else.

I worked with my coach to build back confidence, strength, and a determination to get back out on the trails.

One year later, I was back running that same 50-mile race. This time, I stood at the start line and thought “This is exactly where I belong.” I took off down the trails, crossing miles off my “to-do” list, believing fully in myself and my capabilities — even when the going got really, really tough. I fought harder for that race than I had ever fought before.

But “hard” was what I was there for.

And guess what?

I missed a timing cutoff and couldn’t finish that 50-miler.

Yeah I failed again — but this time it was different.

I came up short, but with the way the course was set up, I was able get an official 50K finish. I got a medal, I got my beer, and I went back to the campground filled with pride. Not pride that I had succeeded at what I originally set out to do, but pride that I toed the line again, and that I didn’t give up at any point.

Sometimes we fail because we don’t start.

Sometimes we fail because we give up.

And sometimes — most of the time — it takes a few tries to accomplish something really big.

On Going Badass

I’ve learned a lot through confronting this particular failure.

I’ve learned that failures are opportunities. They help us grow and improve. And I have slowly learned to not be ashamed of mine.

But I don’t want to be a failure.

Instead, I want to be… A badass.

We all know a badass… that person who seems to always be pushing harder than most other people? The one you hear stories of or see around the trails and think…

Whoa. Look at her go.

I’ve known a few, some in real life, some only on the internet.

And, man, some days all I can think about is how I want to be as badass as they are. It’s not a terribly practical life goal. It’s not really measurable.

But dammit, I’m going to get there.

And I want to share with you some of the big things I’ve learned through this process of failing, including what I think being a badass is all about.

First, let’s give this a little bit of a definition so we’re all on the same page:

Badass (n): An individual who lives just outside the barrier of “practical.”

It’s simple, really.

Practical is easy. Practical isn’t scary. Spending early morning hours of your weekend on the trails or taking your lunch break in the gym isn’t practical — it’s badass. It’s you pursuing a goal that others may not think makes much sense. But you — you badass, you — know that what’s practical — what’s easy — won’t give you those same nervous, excited butterflies that come with knowing you may fail.

Maybe you know that having failure nipping at your heels is what motivates you toward your goal like nothing else.

I think we all have this quality inside us. We may tamp it down and ignore it from time to time, but it’s when we make way to the ambition of badass that great things can really happen.

Here are a few key elements that are helping me find my inner badass, and that hopefully will help you find yours.

1. Give yourself permission.

After failing x2 at Gnaw Bone, it took me a little while to figure out what was going to make me tick. I could sign up for a dozen races, but nothing was feeling motivational. I think I was a little tired of the strictures of race life: start times … mandatory cutoffs. I mean really. I knew I had it in me, but “they” kept me from my gold star.

So I decided to do something completely different: self-supported runs of Indiana’s two longest trails, the 40-mile Tecumseh Trail and 50+-mile Knobstone Trail.

I made plans, I bought maps, I set a general date to start with Tecumseh … and that date came and went.

Finally, I thought “What am I waiting for?” and put a plan in place that would have me working hard and running far.

I gave myself permission to do something no one was asking me to do and that no one I knew had any interest in doing.

I finally ran the Tecumseh Trail, and it’s hard to put into words how life-changing it was to spend so many hours out on a trail completely alone — with no motivation except what was inside me. It’s been a few months since I ran it, and I’m still finding out what barriers I broke through that day.

I hear from a lot of people about their limitations. “I could never run that far. I would go vegetarian except I love fried chicken too much. I don’t know if I could commit to the kind of lifestyle change that vegan requires.” (That last one was me just a few years ago. Actually that first one was me too…)

If you’re waiting for someone to say, “Yeah, you can get started now.” That someone is you! Write a note on your mirror or on your shoes that reminds you to work hard. Get started today in one way or another. A life change happens at the source, and you are ready.

2. Set, or accept, your big ass goal.

I’ve found that in order to reach full badass potential, one needs a big ass goal. One that’s more crazy than “practical.”

And… more likely than not, you already know what that goal is for yourself. You’re probably really familiar with a little, nagging voice in the back of your mind saying something wild like, “I’d like to qualify for the Boston Marathon.”

But you’ve been pushing it aside for a while. Maybe you’re saying “After I get through with this,” or “Maybe after the weather clears up.”

Well, let me tell you there is no time like exactly right now to focus in on that little voice, accept that big goal, and take the first step toward crushing it: Tell everyone.

After you’ve decided to take that crazy thought from the back of your mind to the forefront and out into the world, get ready for something weird: your friends and family just might think you’re crazy. And that’s totally okay because you’re not doing it for them.

This is entirely about you.

  • Do you want to run really far?
  • Do you want to run the farthest you’ve ever run?
  • How about ride your bike from one side of your state to the other?
  • Maybe you want to break from your family’s tradition of meat at every meal — or of having meat at all.

It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else, and you don’t even really need to explain it or put it into words. You know what that little voice in your head says every day when you get up. “Run.” “Eat more veggies.” “Go farther.”

Best of all, you are the type of badass that can pursue and reach that goal.

3. Repeat after me: I’m a badass.

When you’re working toward a goal, no matter what it is, you’re going to have really, really great days when you feel unstoppable.

But you’ll also have days, weeks even, that are just major crap.

While it might feel like these days are the worst… they’re actually the most important.

Why?

Because this is when you build.

Maybe you’re not building something you can easily measure, but you’re accumulating: strength, endurance, mental acuity.

So what do you do during these rough days? How do you power through a run that you’re hating? How do you even lace up and get started at all?

You do it by reaching down deep and accessing your true motivation. Tell yourself every day and during every workout that you are the person who achieves your goal:

…I’m a half marathoner.

…I’m a trailrunner.

…I’m a vegan athlete.

…I’m a badass.

You get the idea.

This type of practice — the mantra or meditation — might seem silly or pointless when you’re struggling. It’s during these dark times that positive self-talk is the hardest to do. It’s so easy to point the finger at yourself and figure out where you went wrong, but that’s really only going to make it worse.

Multiple studies have shown that giving yourself a pep talk can actually improve your endurance.

It will seem weird at first: When you’re working toward your first half marathon, and you can’t make it through a “simple” 4-mile run, and then you start repeating to yourself “I’m a half marathoner” — it just doesn’t feel right.

But soon you’ll start to not only believe that you are what you’re striving to be, but you’ll start to feel it in your bones even when you’re not working out — in a meeting, washing dishes, playing with your kids.

You Are a Badass, Now Prove It

Definitions, steps, personal stories … these are all great, and you can find them almost everywhere you look these days. There are so many people who have achieved great things, you can find motivation and advice easier than you can find clean air to breathe — but it only starts to matter when you act on it. Sharing, reposting, and liking on social media may feel pretty good sometimes.

But imagine, just imagine, you’re the one finding epiphanies during an early morning run.

When you accept your big ass goal and take that first tiny step, I really hope you never meet failure. It’s not so much fun.

When we work hard, we can fail very hard. But when all is said and done, we will win really hard — and that’s what being a badass is all about:

Pushing past failure — pushing past what’s practical — again and again.

Yeah maybe you’ll fail. But that’s not the end. You’re a badass. You’ll get it next time.

About the Author: Andrew Carter is a vegan trail and ultrarunner and editor for No Meat Athlete. You can read about his adventures on the trail at Infinite MPG.

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Comments

  1. Loved this article! It was just what I needed. I am a wanna be badass! I’m always in the shadow of my badass sister and would live to qualify and run Boston with her, not to mention commit to a plant based diet like her. I’m digging deep to find the badass within me! My daughter is laughing at me right now because we are Christians and would ordinarily not use that term, but I told her it just fits right now!! Thanks for the laughs and the motivation. I’ll let you know WHEN I accomplish my badass goal of running Boston plant based!😃

    • Andrew Carter says:

      WHEN you accomplish! Yes!! Maybe a little bit of mild language is just what you need to get you to your next victory 🙂 . Keep up the badass work, Kay!

  2. Megan Vaughn says:

    That seems awfully wrong to not let you have an oreo (I know, wrong thing to get hung up on.) But seriously? I can understand not letting an athlete come back hours later or take lots of food but it seems a little cruel to deny someone who is unable to finish a single oreo.

    • Andrew Carter says:

      I may have been a little dramatic in this section 🙂 I’m sure they would have let me have an Oreo if I had asked nicely!

  3. Wendy LaPointe says:

    I needed this. I’m putting my shoes by the door with a note that says, “Run!”

  4. A very positive and necessary note. Thks

  5. Ian Davey says:

    Great post, thanks Andrew. I’m going to forward this to a couple of friends who are feeling defeated at the moment.

  6. Your article is super inspiring. You hit on so many points that made me realize I need to be a badass too. I’ve been struggling to be vegetarian, would love to be a raw vegan, but my self talk stops me. I think negative self talk needs a foot in the face. We can all be badasses with your encouragement. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world.

    • Andrew Carter says:

      Hey Lori, thanks 🙂 I hope you’re able to push aside that negative self talk. A foot in the face is exactly right! Start small and go big. You got this!

  7. A metaphor for life. Thanks Andrew!

  8. Thank you for this! I DNFed my first 50 mile attempt this summer. Like your experience, I made the choice to stop 20 miles in, then regretted it for weeks to come. After much soul searching, I decided that I was going to bypass another 50 attempt and go right for a 100k because I love how scary that distance sounds. Taking my time to carefully plan my training so I can feel fully prepared when I go after my goal next year.

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