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Ominous clouds - Barry Hayes - The Ocean Rower

Failure Analysis: Lesson’s From an Ultramarathon Gone Wrong

As I stood with my friend Nathan on the startline of a 100 mile ultramarathon in Chester at 6am yesterday morning, being found lying unconscious on a road 14 hours later by some good Samaritans at mile 50 was not on my itinerary. That is what happened though, and it’s time to face that.

The startline of the 2019 Chester 100 mile Ultra Marathon

I’m not very good at failing. I much prefer to succeed; you get to put a tick in your bucket list, and it’s altogether more convenient. Failure is infuriating, it’s on nobodies ‘to-do’ list, so as I lay in a village hall, surrounded by medics, swaddled in blankets, hands blue and swollen from hypothermia, irregular heartbeat, but now with much of my awareness regained, I desperately tried to think of any positives. Initially it was challenging to find these positives – I wasn’t very well, I was acutely aware that I was causing a scene, I looked like a jacket potato in the space blanket and, as it transpires, the worst part was that it made my long suffering fiancé miss the Eurovision Song Contest on the telly to come and retrieve me…heavy stuff.

Not my healthiest look…

So what went wrong?

After looking at my hydration bladder I realised that I’d only consumed 400 ml of water from it in the entirety of those 50 miles. I’d replaced the bladder with a new one that morning and unbeknownst to me until about 10 minutes into the race, the valve was faulty, so sucking water out of it was a real challenge and only gave tiny amounts at a time. To save time and fuss I’d not checked it properly at each checkpoint, I’d just given it a shake, could hear that there was plenty of slosh left in it, and carried on running. This was almost certainly the cause of my problems, and as dehydration set in after mile 38, I spent 2 hours vomiting and producing an endless amount of diahorrea (don’t go into any of the woods between Delamere and Peckforton for a few days please), and as this slowed me the initial effects of hypothermia started to set in. It’s a lesson though, and the extreme effects of that lesson mean it’s one I’m not going to forget, ever. From this one failure I know I ate too much of the wrong stuff, that I drank far too little, that admin cannot be skipped, and I learnt not to swap kit out on race day without testing it.

Improvised crutches for Nathan

Success is great, it means progression, it means positivity, it gives you that nice warm feeling that has no descriptive word that comes with accomplishment. It’s definitely the aim.

Actually though, I got most of those things from this failure.

Despite sitting here typing this in total pain struggling to move a muscle, and with none of the glory that should be associated with such pain, I have already resolved to have another crack at it, and if necessary repeatedly do it, until I succeed. It’s progressed my drive to work harder, to be fit enough to not succumb to smaller issues. I have more awareness of what it feels like to be part of something like that, I know what kit I would swap, I know what food I will take.

I’ve come away from this race with a weird feeling of clarity and positivity: Perversely, pushing myself to collapse made me happy, or at least comfortable, that I couldn’t have pushed any further, and that if I manage my fuelling better in the future then I will absolutely be successful.

Kit inspection - Barry Hayes - The Ocean Rower
Kit inspection – Barry Hayes – The Ocean Rower

Endurance events are supposed to be tough, but in that way they do a good job of reflecting life in general: Success comes at a price, that price is time, conviction, sacrifice, having the strength to bounce back from failure…but the most important part is change. If I go back next year, make no changes, but give every part of my mind body and soul to that race. I will find myself, once again, face down on the tarmac, being bundled into the back of a Vauxhall Corsa by nice strangers, and being taken off for medical aid at mile 50. Calculated change, after analysis of failure, and sense checking by a knowledgeable third party, catapults you closer to that success. It may not be the complete combination to success, but if each failure is analysed properly and acted upon in this way, then very quickly that combination will align and success will arrive.

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