When Failure Isn’t (and the Best Stuff I Read Last Week)

Two weeks and one day from now, I’ll be running the Boston Marathon.  I love how that sounds, so let me say it once more: In two weeks, I will be running the Boston Marathon.

If you’re new here, you might not know the story, so I’ll repeat it.  Because I’m proud of it.

Qualifying for Boston is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Harder than running 50 miles, harder than college, harder than having a real job (more fun, though).

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like qualifying for Boston is some superhuman feat.  There are naturally gifted runners out there who qualify in their first or second marathons.  But I am not one of them.  Not even close.

For me to qualify, I had to run a 3:10:59 marathon (now it’s a little harder).  But do you know what my first marathon time was?

4:52.  Or maybe 4:53.  Yep, that’s an hour and 40 minutes — about four minutes per mile — too slow.

And yet something about the thought that I was too slow to be allowed to run Boston brought me back for more.  In fact, I can honestly say that the only reason I ran a second marathon after that is because I was dead set on qualifying for Boston.

In my second marathon, four years later, I took a whole hour off my time and ran a 3:50.

Great.  But utter failure at getting into Boston.

Next time, I would surely do it.

So a year later, I ran a 3:36. Failure.

Then I intentionally made myself so completely certain that I would do it next time.  Every time I ran, I played out in my head the scene of crossing the finish line in with the clock saying 3-0-anything.  Sometimes I got so into it that my eyes would well up while I was running and picturing it.  A little embarrassing, but true.  This time, I would surely do it.

3:25.  Failure.

But next time, I’ll surely do it.

3:20.  Failure.

Next time, though, I’ll surely do it.  Nevermind this knee injury.

And then, nine months later, I did it.

Going vegetarian was the big spark that got me across the line in 3:09:59, but that’s not what’s really responsible for it.

The real reason I did it is that none of those failures were really failures.  In my mind, I was going to qualify no matter what, so it didn’t really matter whether it happened on a given race or not. Sure, at the end of every single one of those marathons I was a little ashamed at “failing” by so much when I had been so sure that I’d do it.  But the next week, when I started training again, it didn’t feel like failure.  It just felt like I had a huge head start over last time.  And this time, I would surely do it.

Anyway, I didn’t get to run Boston the first year after I qualified.  My son was born two days before the race, and of course I didn’t consider missing the birth (though I did write an April Fool’s post about it that way too many people didn’t get).

But this year, I will be running Boston.  The weekend will be one gigantic reward for all that work, and all that failure-that-wasn’t.

I can’t wait.  My training recently has been abysmal, but that won’t hamper my enjoyment of the marathon.  I will enjoy every minute of it, and the more minutes there are of it, the better.  And if a college kid offers me a beer during it, you’d better believe I’ll drink it.

If you haven’t done so, you can read a lot more about my Boston qualifying journey in a series of posts I wrote in the midst of it.  My favorite is the letter I wrote where I said I would do it, only a little while after running the 3:50.

The Best Stuff I Read Last Week

Alright, well that was supposed to be my little bit of “flavor” before I posted weekend links.  Since it was long, I’ll be brief here.  But read these; they’ll make you want to do something.

What Man Understands That He Is Dying Daily? (This is Your Life) — The Art of Manliness

Sounds heavy, and it kind of is.  But it’s really, really good and will kick your ass into gear.  Parts of it completely echo the thoughts I’ve had recently when I’ve been hanging out with my son and I realize that once my dad was hanging out with me exactly like this.

Why You’re Disabled, and What to Do About It — Johnny B. Truant

Also really good.  I’m in it, because Johnny mentions how he hurt is foot during the run we did in Austin.  But the post is really about much more.

Where’s the Beef? — via Get Fit Slowly

Interesting video about what happens to gorillas when they get off of the junk the zoo is feeding them and start eating actual plants. Surprisingly, there’s no mention here of the fact that gorillas eat so little protein to support their massive frames.

How to Start — Zen Habits

Recently, I’ve been big on the idea of starting rather than sitting around waiting for things to change.  This post just sums it all up, and encourages you to just get started, no matter how small.

And last but not least, I read an advance copy of Courtney Carver‘s new ebook, Simple Ways to Be More With Less, last night.  I loved it.  The ebook isn’t out yet, but I’ll let you know when it is.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

P.S. If you’re on Twitter, don’t forget to join us for #nmachat on Monday, April 4 at 8 PM Eastern!



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  1. Heather says:

    Good luck at Boston Matt! You’ve worked so hard for this and you deserve it. Soak up every minute of it and enjoy the experience!!

  2. I’m a new-ish reader and really enjoyed reading this post!! It’s amazing that with patience, persistance, and believing in yourself you can do anything you want. I want to qualify for Boston so bad! I only have to take 20 min off my time (darn new standards) and that seems difficult. I looked forward to reading through your posts about your Boston journey. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Can’t wait to root for you at Boston. Should I bring a beer to help you fuel midway through? Vegan of course.

    I doubt I could ever run a 3:05 marathon but that you cut 100 minutes off your time is encouraging. The thought of doing that though is just exhausting.

    • You’ll be at Boston? That’s great! We should hang out over the weekend sometime if you’ll be there before the race and don’t mind hanging out with old folks. You could meet Erin and my son. Finding a vegan gluten-free restaurant should be easy, right? 🙂

      As for doubting you could run a 3:05, I’m not going to say “of course you can,” but if that’s what you really wanted to do more than anything else, I think you’d be surprised at how much faster you could get.

      • I would love to meet your family in Boston as old as you folks are. As crazily limited as our dining options are, I think I know a few places around town that would work.

  4. Not to nitpick, but gorillas don’t need to eat much protein because they can synthesize it.

  5. Excellent reminder that we can do more than we think we can. I haven’t given up on my Boston dreams.


  6. What a great post! Its nice to see the people that I consider really fast didn’t start out that way. I think the harder you work for it, the more it will mean to you. Running the streets to Boston will be AWESOME for you! Good luck!

  7. It is so amazing that you improved your time by soo much! I’ve only run one marathon, I can’t believe that it was almost 8 years ago… I’m hoping to do another one this fall and beat that first time! 😛

  8. The only thing that could make this post better is if I wasn’t already vegan – then I could tell myself that I would magically get a lot faster once I cut out the meat ;).

    But seriously, thanks for a great post. Just the inspiration and encouragement I needed going into this next week 🙂

  9. Matt, your story is such an inspiring one and your posts are always informative and thought provoking. As a local Boston girl and I am hoping to come out to watch the marathon and cannot wait to see you kicking ass in it!! Best of luck 🙂

  10. I like that so many of the links you post are inspiring. I like a good kick in the pants every now and then.

    Earlier this week I saw the movie “My Run.” It’s about a 57 year old man who runs from Minnesota to Atlanta to raise awareness for single parents. He essentially runs a marathon every day for 75 days. Watching that really moved me. I thought, “If he can do that, I wonder what I am capable of.” You should check it out.*

  11. I’m excited for you! I remember the qualifying post so well.

    Loved the video about the gorillas.

  12. Danielle says:

    Strange timing for me to have this post show up. I just attempted, and spectacularly failed, my second marathon on Saturday and it just felt like the most ultimate in letdowns. I ended up dropping out at mile 15 with an electrolyte imbalance and my muscles siezed in protest. The worst part was I wasn’t even tired. And the next day I wasn’t even sore from the portion I did complete. It’s so frustrating to spend so much time training to be failed by something totally preventable, but I am even more determined now because I know I had it. So I’m going to go out in a couple days and just run the 26.2 on my own for redemption, take that failure!

  13. Good luck in Boston. What an incredible journey you’ve had. This was one of your best posts ever. The blogs you shared helped me a lot. Thanks.

  14. A life well lived is one that we push ourselves…… I have many friends in many stages of the journey to Boston. That they keep trying and they keep focused inspite of set backs (some say failures) amazes me. Congrats on Boston and congrats on a life well lived!

  15. Zuzanka says:

    Hi Matt, you have no idea how well I understand your thoughts and feelings about running Boston. My journey was different, but the end result strangely similar. 4 knee reconstructions and way too many well-meaning doctors ensured that I believed I could no longer play pro basketball or do any high impact sport. But I really really wanted to prove everyone wrong, especially myself, so I started running. It infuriated people who care about me and cracked up those who don’t. In a two-step-forward-one-step-back type of fashion I made it to marathon training, but got nasty tendinitis 3 weeks before the race and hurt like crazy the entire 3:57 it took me to finish it. Fail. I recovered, got back on the road and found out I will be leaving US for good in a month, so had to pick an impromptu race and run sub 3:35. The only option was San Juan Island, brutally hilly and rainy, but I qualified for Boston ( and ended up being the first female finisher, as hilarious as that is). Not much has changed though, I still irritate the hell out of my loved ones by hobbling around on swollen knees and inflamed tendons. I’m still hurting, under-trained, frustrated, but so freakin stoked to run Boston in 2 weeks. After that, I’ll listen to the physical therapist, doctor, mom and my body and will stop distance running for good or until advances in medicine allow me to grow a pair of new knees. So Boston is the last run and I’ll hate and love every mile of it.
    Sorry about the long comment, but I don’t get to talk about this to people who would even come close to realizing why the pain is totally worth it. I think that maybe you or some of your readers can understand why marathon running is the best mistake I’ve ever made.
    I really hope the race will be everything you wish and hope for, enjoy the experience, and then some.

  16. You sure have the determination and focus on your goal. Congratulations for running the Boston Marathon! 🙂

  17. Thanks for this, Matt. I needed it today. I’m still stuck in the “next time–epic failure, next time–not-as-epic failure” stage and have been seriously contemplating why I figuratively continue to bang my head against the wall over and over again. I too imagine what it would be like to cross the finish line with a BQ time and it makes my eyes moist as well — no shame in that I don’t think. Have an enjoyable trip and run in Boston.

  18. That’s such a great story. I read the Runner’s World story about the new Boston qualifying times and felt, at least until I’m 50, my chances are slim. Your story makes me rethink it. I’m curious what you feel other than heart, other than being vegetarian, helped you speed up so much.

  19. Rebecca Martin says:

    I’m running Boston too! I’ll be over there with the Hoyts! The beauty part is that I live, literally, a block away from the starting line. So excited! See ya there! T-12 and counting…

  20. I really enjoyed reading this and i am very happy for you! Go you! I wish you all the best to you 🙂

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