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Failing Forward

About five months ago, one of my clients announced, “I signed up for an aquathon with a friend.” I soon found out that an aquathon was a swim and a bike, which seemed perfect for non-runners. This was a big step for her, which left me both stunned and excited. We had a lot of work to do.

We slowly progressed in swimming and cycling and she ended up being able to do both for an hour each, seperately. Week to week we adjusted her fitness plan to suit her body’s appetite for challenge. I’ve been a trainer for over 10 years and I’ve never had anyone progress so quickly – both mentally and physically. Her strength continued to surprise me with each progression. In the beginning, resistance bands were challenging. Now, she demolishes mountian climbers, burpees, battle ropes (muscle ropes), and every bootcamp-style workout I giver her. On the nutrition side, she has gone from not knowing what to eat as healthy fuel, to knowing what should be going into her body for fuel and making that happen more often than not.

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When she started cycling on her own, for enjoyment and for a workout, I knew she had reached a new personal height. She had developed a new space of strength within her and I knew it would be a game changer for our partnership. For me, it signified that it was time for me to start letting go a bit. Maybe work with her only two days a week instead of five and give her homework for the rest of the week? After her event, I had it all planned out for the new athlient (athlete-client) she’d become.


On race day morning I met her in the parking lot of her event. My body was feeling like I was racing; the nerves just surged through my body making it hard to get a good breath in and I was just pulsing with adrenaline. My tip for her nerves for the unknown, “You know how to swim and bike. It will be uncomfortable at times, but who cares, it’s good. You’ve done the work so there’s nothing to be worried about.”


The horn blew and she was off on her swim. I knew she was a strong swimmer, so I raced ahead to cheer her on a bit further down. I looked. I narrowed my eyes to read the numbers on the swim caps. I couldn’t find her. I thought that I missed her so I raced down to another view point closer to the finish. Again, I couldn’t pick her out of the crowd.

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Finally, I decided to wait at the transition area to cheer her on her bike challenge, the part of the race she was most worried about. I waited. I waited till there were two bikes left, hers and some other competitors. I was getting progressively nervous, like something awful had happened to her. I ran down to the river, she wasn’t there. I ran back to transition, still not there. A few minutes later, I saw her walking to the transition area from the direction of the start. Her wetsuit was off and she was talking to her partner. She told me that she had gotten herself too anxious and pulled out of the race. When I didn’t see her at my first check point, it was because she had already pulled out. After we chatted, we said our goodbyes.

I was full of mixed emotions, so I went for a jog. I have an achilles injury, but I needed to go for that jog. I was trying to understand it all. I’m an athlete and have been for over 20 years. I don’t know the world she was experiencing. For two days I grappled with this event in my mind, and honestly I still am. I came to the realization that although her body was prepared, her mind was not. I thought I had done the job of coaching her mentally for this race, but in retrospect, I gave her positive feedback and examples of how she was ready, but I failed on the sports psychology aspect that I am typically so mindful of.

I don’t want to call this my first failure as a trainer, but in a way it is. However, as Lauren Fleshman says, “When you recognize that failing doesn’t make you a failure, you give yourself permission to try all sorts of things.”

Our next event is on August 15th. It’s a fun walk/run that she won’t have to do solo and can run as much or as little as her body will allow. The plan is created and will be put into motion tomorrow. So we are moving forward from failing.

Do you have any experiences with events that didn’t go as planned? What makes you keep pushing?


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