Be Proud to Come Up Short Again (and Again)

Post written by Susan Lacke.

I’m headed to the Deuces Wild Triathlon tomorrow. I really, really, don’t want to do this <bleep>ing race: it’s at elevation, with 60-degree water, monster hills, and now, 20-mph winds. <Bleep>. <Bleep>. <Bleep>ity<bleepbleepbleep>. I DNF’ed last year, and said I was going to come back and make it my bitch. <Bleep>.

If I die, please write a very nice memorial on the site. Lie if you have to.

Matt saved this little gem of an e-mail I sent him a few weeks ago. As you can see, I was really looking forward to that race.

Walk out or be carried out

When I wrote about the experience of my first DNF (“did not finish”) at the Deuces Wild Triathlon 2010, I conjectured that almost every triathlete has taken a DNF at one of their races, whether they chose to walk off the course or had to be carried out on a stretcher.

Last year’s Deuces Wild was the former. I got involved in a 4-bike pileup, but my body and bike were both intact (albeit a bit scraped and bruised), so I pushed myself to finish the challenging bike course before I got to transition and decided “No more.”

I could have gone on, but it was too hard, and I was in too much discomfort from the combination of crash + hills. I’d come back in 2011, when I was better prepared to deal with such a race.

I don’t like failure, and in that circumstance, not finishing was a failure. The circumstances of the crash were out of my control, but the decision not to go on was very much my choice. I took the easy way out.

And I almost quit the sport.

The experience forced me to contemplate whether I wanted to continue with triathlon. After all, if it was this easy to quit, it must have meant I didn’t care about the sport that much.

A decision needed to be made: either quit triathlon altogether, or log the DNF in the books and move on. Though I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to continue, I shifted my focus to the rest of my season. Each race completed gave me more confidence, and my season went out on a high note with the successful completion of Ironman Wisconsin.

But Deuces Wild was always in the back of my mind. I needed to come back in 2011 and replace that DNF with a finisher’s medal. I needed to dominate that race course in such awesome fashion the organizers would have to rename it after me.

Like I told Matt in the e-mail above — I needed to make this race my bitch.

The comeback

In my quest for redemption, I focused on hill training on the bike, knowing that was my weakest discipline. I learned to accept that crashes are sometimes inevitable, and I shouldn’t fear them, but instead ride defensively to avoid them whenever possible. I learned that my body and mind will argue often; if the body laments, the mind needs to have a rebuttal already in place.

Though I was terrified, I returned to the race this year, ready to redeem myself. DNF was not an option. The only way anyone would get me off that course before the finish line was if I was in the back of an ambulance.

I REALLY wish this story had a happy ending…and one that didn’t involve an ambulance.

I crashed, and I crashed hard. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my bike didn’t survive. I’m happy I did — albeit with battle scars.

There were no finish-line flashbulbs. Instead, there were sirens. My post-race nutrition was not a taco buffet, but an IV. The only hardware I took home from the race that day was a pair of crutches, not the finisher’s medal I was so hoping to earn.

Failure 2.0?

Initially, I was bummed. I sat on the couch for a week (literally), humiliated to have made such an embarrassment of myself in the same race, two years in a row, and wondering how I was going to show my face at my next race. In my mind, people were making fun of me, pointing out what they would have done differently had they been in my circumstance.

Then it hit me — I still wanted to be at the next race. In all the self-pitying taking place that week, quitting triathlon altogether never even revealed itself as an option.

A lot of people quit when something gets too hard or makes them look foolish. I know a lot of people like that — you probably do, too — but I’m not one of them, and I bet you aren’t either.

A DNF (or…ahem…two) doesn’t define who we are or what we’re capable of. It’s the fact that we get in the water, on the bike, or in our running shoes — even when it gets hard, and even when we’re scared of making asses of ourselves.

Especially when it gets hard and we’re scared of making asses out of ourselves.

Every endeavor — whether it be your first half-marathon, teaching a child to ride a bike, cooking a complicated recipe, or running a marathon for the 30th time — has the potential for failure. Yet we commit to such acts anyway, because the act of simply trying to be successful at something provides lessons, growth, development, and change. The success itself is just the icing on the cake.

If we fail, all is not lost. Choosing to try again (and, sometimes, yet again), allows us to grow even more…and, someday, when achieved, success becomes that much sweeter.

Don’t believe me? I’m not the first person who’s said it. There’s a plethora of quotes out there about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again. But now, after all I’ve been through with Deuces Wild, I’m adopting one quote in particular as my new philosophy.

If you’re looking at a past failure and thinking about trying again, consider this:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Be proud to come up short again and again.  While it might not be as sweet as victory, it’s far better than whatever’s in the middle.

About the Author: Susan Lacke, No Meat Athlete’s Resident Triathlete, likes long walks on the beach, rainy days, and cool mornings. Ironically enough, she lives in the 118-degree desert of Phoenix, Arizona. Check out her monthly column in Competitor Magazine, weekly blog on, and random thoughts on Twitter: @SusanLacke.



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  1. YES! Susan, I was so happy when I hit the last section, to see that you want to do this again. OF COURSE you want to do this again. When the going gets tough, kick its ass.

  2. I’d like to remind you of a post I sent you before Deuces Wild:

    DFL is greater than DNF, which greatly trumps Did Not Start! Remember, you’re a role model for many of us who aren’t even brave enough to sign up!

    I’d like unanimous consent to amend my comment, though. The statement, “You’re definitely one of MY role models!” should follow the last sentence.

  3. I know exactly what you are saying about conquering the dreaded DNF. I started triathlon doing the LoneStar 70.3 2010 as my first triathlon. As my first race for the 2011 season and the first step in the journey to Ironman Florida November 2011, I wanted to better my finish time. Unfortunately, at the north end of the bike on San Luis Pass, I had a very nasty crash which finished with the bus trip to UTMB. With that monkey on my back, I registered for IMKS 70.3 the very next day. While I managed a finisher’s medal, I still have that DNF in the back of my mind, and will be back next year…

  4. Since starting to do triathlons this year, I’ve wondered many times if I’m the only one whose training includes a metric ***-load of picking myself up and continuing the ride. In the literal sense, I can’t tell you how many rides have included a bloodied calf/hip. In the figurative sense, I’ve had to let go of an identity as a pretty competitive runner and instead spend lots of time training stuff that I’m not very good at. For me, triathlon is one big lesson in perseverance and humility. Thanks for sharing your (painful) experience! 🙂 It’s good to know this is a common struggle.

  5. I haven’t had a DNF but my last race was the first really tough one I’ve done and I thought I would have to quit halfway through. I finished but it was my slowest half. It left me questioning myself as a runner. But one bad race shouldn’t get me down. Thanks for the inspiration! (And I agree with Timm about being brave to sign up for what so many of us would be afraid to do!)

  6. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Susan,
    This is probably one of the most inspiring and truest posts I’ve ever read on this site (Sorry Matt). I have the following quote on a bumper sticker on my car and I remind myself, my wife, and our friends when we are about to take on anotehr race of the immortal words of John “The Penguin” Bingham: “The Miracle isn’t that I finished. The Miracle is I had the courage to start.” The thing to remember is we’re doing great even when it feels like we aren’t, because we are doing our best at that moment. Every race and every training activity and every day is a new experience and although it’s hard, maybe we shouldn’t try to compare the current day’s activity to the previous one. I recently finished my 3rd straight Vermont City Marathon and each year I’ve been slower than the one before. I got bummed but then my wife reminds me of the differences in weather,(stupid hot and humid this year, diet (too mnay chips and salsa during training) and all the other factors that can play a role. But we all live to tell the tale and try again and again.
    Keep kicking ass Susan!!!

  7. Thank you Susan for sharing your experiences in this post. The visual image created in my mind by the Theodore Roosevelt quote certainly fits the profile of a committed athlete. It is a good reminder to reflect upon our reasons for doing what we do in the first place. Having a solid “why”, backed by other desires and motivations helps to remain consistent and focused. Thank you for the inspiration.

  8. Wow, so this post is very inspiring and uplifting, but at the same time it makes me want to not do triathlon… I hate being injured.

  9. I totally agree. My first attempt at a half marathon ended in the hospital and an MRI with temporary loss of speech (very scary.) I have since finished 5. I finished my first Marathon, but I pulled a hamstring and limped for the second half of my second marathon, wanting to quit. I finished… no where close to my goal. 4 weeks later, I’m proud to say I have completed 2 marathons. And you know what? No one but me cares about the times. Way to go Susan!!!! You done good!! You’ll get the bitch next time!!

  10. Andrea Campos says:

    Funny I should find this article: I am racing at Buffalo Springs tomorrow and feel woefully undertrained, hilly course and I live in flatland. The only thing that gives me some hope is that it will be hot, very hot, but I usually do well in the heat and know how to handle myself…. Wish me luck, here’s to ” by ambulance”……hopefully, I’ll just be slow….

  11. After today’s “blah” long run, this was great to read. I hope you’re recovering from your injury. I have no doubt that the Deuces Wild Tri will eventually be your bitch. (Let’s face it, you are hardcore.) Thanks for telling it like it is and continuing to inspire me.*

  12. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for this article and for the inspiration. I recently attedmpted my first 70.3 and DNF’d around mile 9 due to heat stroke on the run, but it was enough to make me question my ability as an athlete. As someone who is usually very confidant, and a hard worker at training and everything in life it shook me. Hard. Everyone keeps asking me when the next race is, and I haven’t had an answer yet. My confidance is rattled to say the least. I really admire you’re ability to get back out there, and I’m SURE you will crush deuces wild next year!!

    Best of Luck,
    Lindsay Mac, fellow DNF’er – who isn’t letting it define her.

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