Out There: BQ or Bust!

Illustration: N.C. Winters

As far as dumb decisions go, this is the smartest one I’ve ever made.

I’m not exactly known for making wise decisions. Since childhood, I’ve been apt to jump, head first and screaming, while figuring out how to build a parachute on the way down. Some might call it reckless, but those people, in my opinion, are pansies.

When I ran my first 5K, I decided it couldn’t be that hard to do a 10K, which led me to bypass the 10K altogether and register for a half marathon. For some reason, before I even finished that half marathon, I signed up for an Ironman triathlon. See? I told you I made questionable choices.

But a funny thing has happened as a result of every single one of those dumb decisions—they ended up being the smartest things I have ever done. There’s something incredible about setting a goal beyond your current abilities; where some people are scared of failure, I’m excited to see if I can meet the challenge. The possibility of failure doesn’t even cross my mind.

That sentiment changed when I announced in a column last January that I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Yes, me—the girl with who used to be thrilled to finish a marathon in four and a half hours. As soon as the column was published, I froze: What the <bleep> did I just do? I’ve done a lot of really dumb things in my life, but announcing such an ambitious goal in a very public forum definitely makes the top ten.

RELATED: Boston or Bust!

With this goal, the possibility of failure is very real. It’s easy to look at the people who qualify for Boston and automatically assume they got there because of natural, God-given talent. But now I can speak from experience: they didn’t get to Boston just because of sheer luck. It’s work…really, really, really (did I mention “really?”) hard work.

It’s also failure, and lots of it. Most people who qualify for Boston don’t get there in their first marathon attempt. It takes many months, sometimes even years, to get there. The road to Boston is not smooth and well marked. Everyone who gets to Boston takes a different route, it seems, but almost everyone will tell you they hit a few detours and speed bumps along the way.

That alone is enough to stop most people from even considering trying to qualify for Boston. Failure isn’t fun. It leads to heartbreaking, frustrating and embarrassing emotions that most people will go out of their way to avoid.

But Boston Qualifiers, I’ve discovered, aren’t “most people.” They’re a special breed, with a pedigree in gall and ambition. They’re the ones who understand that one failure isn’t a dead-end, but a detour. A marathoner can read every single book on how to BQ and follow a coach’s training plan like a doctor’s prescription regimen, but the most powerful lessons don’t come in a book—they come in the form of failure. A runner can’t learn from her mistakes unless she actually makes them, and most Boston hopefuls have a lot to learn. In its own strange way, a BQ time is a Ph.D. in Failure—a validation of all the times a runner screwed up, fixed it and kept on going.

In the nine months since I’ve begun training for this goal, I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I’ve bonked, pulled muscles, and had complete emotional meltdowns. But hidden in every mistake, there’s been a lesson learned and a reminder of how far I’ve come while working toward this goal. This is is why I’m convinced the Boston Marathon is a perfect goal for me.

Taking on the goal of qualifying for Boston was a huge leap (some might even say reckless), and I’m still stitching my parachute. I don’t know how long it will take me or how many mistakes I’ll make along the way, but I do know this:

As far as dumb decisions go, this is the smartest one I’ve ever made.

This column first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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