Lessons From Losing

Reflecting on success feels good. In fact, the lingering feelings one experiences from success are in part what attract athletes to sport. It’s human nature to seek feelings of happiness, accomplishment, and success. Athletes are goal-oriented people. The essence of goals is founded on the premise that if you strive to achieve something at the edge of your potential and succeed, you will be rewarded by personal growth and accomplishment.

But we don’t often talk about what happens when success eludes you. It turns out most (can I presume all?) athletes, adventurers, and goal setters experience real-life failure. I’m not trying to be dramatic when I say failure. I’m not referring to a catastrophic, life-ending failure. I’m just referring to not meeting a goal…the opposite of success.

In outdoor education, there is a theory that we all need failure. We need it to contrast success and provide reality checks (imagine a world filled with humans who only succeeded…what a pompous population we would have). Some consider the role of failure to be so paramount in human development that outdoor educators will allow or (debatably) set a group up for failure.

Photo credit Christophe Noel

I set goals, return to the backcountry, and ride my bike for the opportunity to push myself, experience uncertainty, and learn. It is easier to succeed, but the more important lessons may come from failure. Everything we do as backcountry explorers and athletes is transferable to “real” life. That is why those activities are so important. 30-day backpacking trips and bike races aren’t important because of what they immediately accomplish; they are important because of what they facilitate within the participants. Those who challenge themselves, tolerate adversity, cope with uncertainty, are vulnerable and experience failure are those who become stronger humans more capable of creating a better world.

So why is failure important, aside from keeping the ego in check? It stimulates reflection. What went wrong?  Failure provides one with the opportunity to either take ownership and embrace honesty or be dishonest with the self and community. It stimulates the development of patience. It affirms motivations and/or reassesses motivations. It makes all ensuing success worth it and well earned. It offers an opportunity to put failure into the greater context of the world…is not meeting this goal really that hard compared to, say, being terminally ill, bankrupt, jailed…no. There’s no comparison.  

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was hard for me. I felt like I’ve had a string of bad racing luck. But after a few days of sulking I’ve accepted a few things.

  1. There are some things I can’t control like denting my rim from a desperate hop over a steep and deep ditch and consequentially having my neck, eight ribs, and sacrum “out” for the rest of the night. That is uncontrollable, no matter the light in which I analyze. So it goes.

  1. If it wasn’t for my “point and shoot pony,” a.k.a. Pedro, (my Spearfish RS-1), I probably would have flown off my bike from the biggest buck I’ve ever stuck on a bike or a horse. Broken bones and a head injury would have been the likely scenario there…some unfortunate souls had that exact experience that night and their ride out of there was by air… so in this light, my badly dented rim and conscious decision to quit ten laps later was a gift.

Photo credit Christophe Noel

  1. I can continue to practice patience. And I will continue doing so.

Photo credit Christophe Noel

  1. My “bad luck” will end, my motivations are pure, and I will persevere.

Photo credit Christophe Noel

  1. Someday these skills will be applied to something a lot harder than bike racing. And that is when I will have won.


This post filed under topics: Kaitlyn Boyle Mountain Biking Spearfish Split Pivot Sponsored Riders Ultra Racing

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Kaitlyn Boyle

Kaitlyn Boyle

I have shaped my life around exploring remote and wild places by foot, rope, raft, ski and mountain bike. I would rather be sweating than sitting, surrounded by trees than walls, and lost in a canyon than navigating a freeway. As I spend more than half the year sleeping outside, I’ve come to believe that life's full potential can be realized through seeking, enduring and relishing adventure.


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Clayton | March 23rd, 2015

You’ve already won with your attitude and outlook.  As for Tomorrow and onward…  I’m hearing an old eternal voice, singing “Birds flying high you know how I feel….It’s a new dawn it’s a new day it’s a new life for me…” Yes!

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Alisa | February 15th, 2016

Congrats on your win at 2016 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo!!!

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