How to Fail Gracefully: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Ultrarunners
On July 25th, 2018, I ran 53 miles on technical single track through the Elkhorn Mountains. I climbed a total of 12,000 feet and descended an equal distance. I wanted to quit more than once, but I didn’t give in to my human desires. I am now an ultrarunner. Over the six months I trained and through the grueling challenge of the Elkhorn Crest 53, I learned some extremely precious lessons for life and business. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll give you a little bit of insight into what entrepreneurs could learn from ultrarunners.
“Fail Early, Fail Often”
In ultrarunning, especially at the longer distances of 100 miles or more, failure is highly probable. Anything could happen in the 24-48 hours you’re in the woods and scaling canyon walls.
You could break an ankle, get euhydrated, or go into kidney failure. Even taking a wrong turn, like ultrarunning hero Jim Walmsley, could cost you a major win.
When ultrarunners forfeit a race and receive the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) on their record, do you think they go home and cry? Yeah, maybe. But they don’t stay home forever.
They take their failures and learn from them. And then they pick themselves up, sign up for another race, and begin training again.
It took Jim Walmsley three attempts at the coveted Western States 100 course record. This year, he finally broke it handily. If he had given up when he made the wrong turn, he wouldn’t know the glory of winning.
It was late in the race when I realized how dehydrated I was. I hadn’t urinated all day and I was ten hours into the race.
I could have quit at that point. I was at an aid station and they had ATVs, after all. Plus, nausea came over me any time I tried to eat or drink.
Instead, I accepted my situation and decided to change it. I loaded my water bladder with ice, poured water over it, and chugged some electrolyte solution. This rejuvenated me enough to regain the six place points I’d lost and enabled me to finish 15th when I would have finished 21st out of 40.
Coach Koop’s A.D.A.P.T. system is what allowed me to asses and change my situation. One of my favorite quotes in his book is from Mike Tyson. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The A.D.A.P.T. system goes like this:
The first step is the most important. If you took out a small business loan in your name only and suddenly your business partner abandoned your venture halfway through. The business won’t succeed without their skills.
At this point, you will have to accept the fact you’re saddled with a loan and down a business.
The next step is to diagnose. How bad is it? Do you have the funds to pay off the loan saved up? Could you borrow from a relative or someone you trust to pay it off without interest?
Next, analyze. What are your possible next steps?
Make a plan from those steps. You are going to borrow from your rich uncle, pay off the loan and then work hard to pay back your uncle as soon as you can (hoping he just forgives you anyway).
Then you take action. You do what you said you were going to do. And then you finish the race if you can.