The 3 Things That Separate Failure From Success in Ultrarunning

We had a training blog ready to go for today, and then we got an email that changed everything:

Koop,

I’ve been dreaming of finishing Leadville for over thirty years and I’ve failed seven times. That’s right… seven times. But then I came across your book, hired CTS and was connected with John Fitzgerald. I entered the race this year knowing it would likely be my last attempt, no matter the outcome.

My day at Leadville started slow and I was chasing cutoffs even at Winfield. Had John not been at Winfield, I would have been practicing my hitchhiking skills. John greeted me with a smile, watched over me like a protective parent and was the most perfect pacer God ever created. For the next seventeen hours I was cranky, often despondent, and I tried to bail a few more times. All the while, John just kept feeding me calories and repeating over and over that we were “going to get this done.” He told me to believe in myself and finally around Turquoise Lake, I did.

John willed me to finish Leadville in under 30 hours. In doing so, I was able to keep a promise to my mother and fulfill a lifelong dream. Even more amazing: for a brief moment my preteen kids thought I was cool.

I’ll write a full report and circulate it to you in a few weeks. In the meantime, I had to drop you this note. I am not often at a loss for words but I am now. I am because of your book, all of CTS, and most of all because of the selfless act and inspiration of John Fitzgerald.

It was also great to spend time with Coach Corrine Malcolm and even see you and Adam St. Pierre on the backside of Hope Pass. I’m honored to be part of the CTS tribe.

Hope you and your team have a great time in a France and I look forward to jogging with you all again soon.

Cheers.
Jason Bousliman

We have the greatest job on earth. Like any job it comes with its frustrations and not every day is sunshine and roses, but on some days… On some days we get to witness athletes achieve more than they thought possible. On some days we get to watch an athlete cross a finish line he failed to reach seven times. Those are the golden days.

For those of you who have repeatedly failed to achieve your dream, we want you to know there is a path to success. When it comes to epic endurance challenges there are three components that make the difference between failing time after time and finally succeeding: Preparation, Belief, and Support.

 

Preparation

To succeed where you have previously failed you need to take an “all-in” approach to preparation. The time for half measures is over. Many times the reason athletes repeatedly fail is because their goals are so ambitious they stretch the limits of their physical capacity. That is often the very thing that makes those goals so enticing and fuels the passion to continue the pursuit. Never shrink from those goals.

In “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”, Coach Jason Koop encouraged athletes to choose events they are emotionally invested in. Despite seven previous failures, Coach John Fitzgerald didn’t try to talk Jason Bousliman out of returning to Leadville. He didn’t suggest trying an ultra with less elevation gain or at a lower elevation. There are other events Jason could have finished without flirting with cutoffs, but Leadville was the event he was passionate about, and that emotional investment was crucial for the ability to go “all in” with preparation.

When everything has to go right in order for you to reach your goal, you have to train everything. This is where many athletes fall short. Superior fitness solves a lot of problems, but it’s not enough to just be fit. You also have to train your gut to handle a greater volume of food and fluids. You have to train your feet to handle the abuse of training and competition. You have to train toughness and the ability to cope with the unexpected and work through difficult problems. Sometimes the athlete who finally succeeds is no more fit than he or she was during all the failed attempts, but the successful athlete is always more prepared.

 

Belief

Coach Andy Jones-Wilkins gave an impassioned speech the night before the 2016 Western States Endurance Run, in which he told the many athletes before him that to reach the finish line they first had to stand on the start line with the unwavering belief they would finish. You go to the start knowing you’re going to finish. Not hoping to finish. Not trying to finish. Not playing it by ear. Start with the unwavering belief you will finish and you are already part of the way there.

Believing in yourself and that you will finish does not mean it will be easy or that you will not experience doubt or the desire to quit. But that underlying foundation of belief is necessary for getting through those rough patches. Belief in your preparation, in the work you’ve done, and the reason you are there are what build a foundation that won’t be washed away by a flood of doubt.

 

Support

Though its exact origin is unknown there is great truth to the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The journey to the finish line of an ultramarathon is far longer than the race itself, and not even self-sufficient competitors (no crew, no pacers) can say they reach it alone.

Jason Bousliman made the 2017 Leadville 100 a family affair. Everyone was in on it. There was a team uniform and three generations of Bouslimans out at the aid stations. They were joined by CTS Coaches, including Jason Koop, Corrine Malcolm, and Adam St. Pierre. And then there was John Fitzgerald.

The role of a pacer is part pack mule, part counselor, part cheerleader, and part drill sergeant. In the back half of an ultramarathon athletes are on an emotional and nutritional roller coaster. Out in the darkness of the trail the baddest of bad asses sit down and cry, and when you fall to pieces the right pacer is essential for putting you back together. As such, the best pacer may not be the strongest runner, but rather the person you want by your side when you are your most vulnerable. Choose wisely. John Fitzgerald ran, walked, cajoled, and shepherded Jason Bousliman for 17 hours, not to claim his own Leadville buckle, but to see Jason earn his.

Jason Bousliman failed seven times. We have all failed at some point, and maybe several. But no number of past failures precludes you from future success. With Preparation, Belief, and Support, anything is possible.

Jason Bousliman and his coach and pacer, John Fitzgerald.

13 Responses to “The 3 Things That Separate Failure From Success in Ultrarunning”

  1. Jeroen Hulscher

    Well done Jason, your determination is an inspiration!

    Reply
  2. Tom Norris

    Two years ago, while running the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, my headlamp failed in the pitch darkness somewhere around 2 am. No problem, I had a backup lamp that was pre-tested & ready to go. Fumbling in the dark, I found the backup . . .and it too didn’t work; a spirit-breaking scenario crashing down at the worst possible time. But ten minutes later a miracle . . .John Fitzgerald and his pacer, a great friend of his from back east, were the next guys on the trail, coming toward me through the night as John was competing to win. After a brief hello, John immediately handed me his own headlamp . . .”Tom, don’t worry, we’ll be fine with one lamp.” They wouldn’t take no for an answer & off they went. Someday I hope to repay that kindness on a trail somewhere, when someone else is in trouble. John represents the best of our sport & Jason, your story was no surprise . . .congratulations!!

    Reply
  3. Mary Kay W

    We all lead such hectic lives these days that a great coach, like Mr. Fitzgerald, is a gem to have in our lives. John loves his work with athletes and understands that each athlete is different and unique. There is no cookie-cutter program of one-fits-all. John takes an interest in his clients both on and off the trail.
    Another amazing thing about “Fitzy” is he has a knack for keeping it in perspective. He doesn’t just teach skills, technique and strategy to win the sport. There are other life lessons of sportsmanship, honesty, integrity and so much more that comes with the ultra-experience. Kudos to our coaches and families all around.

    Reply
  4. Mike H

    Congratulations on the finish!
    John’s a great guy, always a fun and solid competitor in races. Last month, John and his wife were volunteering at a remote aid station at the Never Summer 100k. He quickly helped me out and dialed in everything I needed. It was an aid station we visited twice, so he made some suggestions the second time around to help pick me up. Basically had things ready for me before I even asked. This is definitely a reflection of his personality that makes him a great coach!

    Reply
  5. Neal

    Great Post! It was fantastic seeing Jason K, Adam and John out on the Leadville course. Shows the dedication they have to their athletes. I was speaking with the woman I was pacing about her less then stellar coaching she received and the coach had very little to offer other than a cookie cutter plan, and no connection with the athlete. Quality coaching begins with the relationship to the athlete. Seems as if you all walk the walk. Good to see.
    Great job Jason B. for your perseverance!

    Reply
  6. Jon

    I only see one DNF at Leadville on Ultrasignup, but good story nonetheless.

    Reply
    • Cristin Heyns-Bousliman

      I assure you, as the wife who has watched his heart break all of those times, this story is 100% true…

      Reply
      • Scott

        Cristin

        Although I’m not a “crazy” as you husband charging after the Leadville :), I have my own athletic pursuits, and continually struggle with my preparation due to a variety of reasons, business and 7 year old twins being my biggest distractions. It’s only when I ask my wonderful wife for support that I start to succeed again. I strongly suspect that without your support at home, Jason would be 8-0. I think he owes you a European holiday.

        Reply
        • Cristin Heyns-Bousliman

          Scott, thank you! I certainly like the way you think! Good luck in your athletic pursuits – it is much harder with a family, but giving your kids the experience of seeing their dad at the finish line is priceless.

          Reply
    • Jennifer

      My 2013 Leadville DNF isn’t on Ultrasignup either. Shh… 😉

      Great post and very timely for me. It’s hard to get that Belief part right when you’ve had a few DNFs. Another way to put AJW’s advice is to have Commitment: You have to commit to stay in and give it ALL you’ve got for 30, 34, 36 hours. However long they’ll let you stay out there. Quitting is simply NOT an option.

      Reply
  7. Aaron

    I read every CTS post, this one is my favorite! Failure isn’t often talked about but it’s the only path to success. Awesome job Jason!!! Wahoo!!!!!

    Reply

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