Failure is an Option

I remember going to my first baseball game that was not coach pitched. My young baseball career was pretty good, and I loved the sport. We watched the opposing pitcher warm up at the top of the 1st and knew we were in trouble.

This kid had an arm. I can’t remember his name, but I think it was Thor or Zeus. Anyway, I was batting second, so I stood in the on deck circle and watched him strikeout the leadoff hitter on three pitches. Deep breath, then I strolled to the plate. The first pitch was faster than anything I’d ever seen. I was starting my swing as the catcher was throwing the ball back to the pitcher. A tad bit late. Two wild swings later, I was on the bench.

I failed and wasn’t happy about it. While the boys in the dugout kept talking about how awesome this pitcher was, I watched him. I watched every move he made while he struck out each of my teammates. No walks. No hits. Barely a mark on the a fouled off ball. But I was watching for anything I could use to get a hit off this guy.

When I went to the plate in the top of the 4th inning with one out, I got close to the plate. See, I noticed a pattern and had a plan. Thor apparently didn’t like me that close to the plate and threw a fastball inside and I hit the deck. As I was getting up, the ump said 0-1. What? How is that possible, that thing nearly hit me. “It hit the bat kid, foul ball.” Must be Thor’s lucky day.

The next pitch was on the inside corner and I just watched it. I knew what was coming next. Thor went in, in, out. Low and outside. All I had to do was put the bat on the ball and I’d have a hit because the guys behind him were either digging for nose gold or playing rock-paper-scissors. They were bored.

Sure enough, low and outside and I went with the pitch down the right field line. Fair ball! I went into second base standing up. Thor was there to greet me. “Nice hit.”

“Thanks. You really should change up your pattern.”

“Won’t matter. Your team is terrible.”

True enough. We were bad that year. What he didn’t know was that I was in his head now and the next time I faced him, I would hit everything. If I hadn’t failed, I would not have taken the time to watch him and wouldn’t have figured it out. I would have taken my natural ability to hit a baseball at a slightly higher rate than the other kids and coasted. I needed to fail, and I carried this lesson to every game I played thereafter.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot about this lesson. I lived in a world where failure was not an option. This caused me to either pursue what I wanted with reckless abandon or to cover up failures to hide my weakness.

Running is a great equalizer. Even the most talented runners have bad days. Those bad days still put the necessary blocks in place to succeed in the future if you do the work. That’s the key – you have to do the work. If you fail doing the work, you can learn and grow. If you fail because you didn’t do the work, then you have to regroup and get your ass in gear.

Not every run is a PR. Not every run is good. But every run is a chance to learn and grow. Every damn one. These are the runs that will make the ache or pain on race day seem much more tolerable. These are the runs that will make that missed water stop seem much smaller. These are the runs that take your character from “I want to finish the race” to “I cannot wait to conquer this race!” And if that race doesn’t go well? There is another race coming up and you have just learned to use that failure to be stronger next time.

Failure is not only an option, it is a necessary part of life. Failure is a tool to be used, not feared. Embrace failure, wrap yourself in its fleecy warmth and bring it with you everywhere you go.

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