By , Apr 25, 2015

Life is full of setbacks. We’ve all had them, and we will all have more of them. Things that try to interfere with us achieving our goals. As an engineer who looks to find efficiency in everything, the non-linear nature of setbacks in the path to success is extra troubling for me. I forget that they are part of all aspects of life. We can’t choose when they present themselves, what they are going to be, or how far off our anticipated path they will take us. If you are lucky you learn of them early and have time to adjust, but the most troublesome ones are the ones that present themselves unexpectantly. But they are part of the processes, the preparation, the learning, the overall journey. Setbacks are expected, and how we react to them determines our success.


Setbacks are like competitors. They come with their own goals and ambitions. They succeed if they can make us miss our goals. When I think of setbacks I usually think of physical conditions. While this is often how setbacks manifest, it is the mental aspect that is the key to how “successful” they are. If they beat us mentally, the physical defeat is all but certain. But if we focus and stay mentally strong, our opportunity to achieve our goals remains intact. It offers us the opportunity to regroup our conscious thoughts and recommit to our goals each and every time. It’s the difference between dwelling on how we got here, and focusing on the next step which we can control.


This last week I had my first setback in my training. It’s especially frustrating since I didn’t have any in my marathon training last year (I was so lucky!). We’ve had a family vacation to Mexico for Easter to meet up with friends scheduled since October, and it was this past week. It comes at the end of the busiest travel month of my career (which included overcoming jetlag on three separate weeks in a five week period – including one switch of 12 hours!) which made training inconsistent. It also comes with just over two months to train, which is getting into crunch time. The biggest plus I saw was the chance to do my first open water swimming training. This would really test my progress.


I could swim that (maybe?)

I could swim that (maybe?)

Hopefully you’re not thinking I’m calling a week in Mexico a setback!


The trip started promisingly. I woke up the first morning nice and early, and went on an 8 mile run. I worked in a few intervals. It got nice and hot and I felt great! If I could increase that every day by a mile or so for the week, mix in a few swims, and I would be laughing. Then came the setback.


I don’t know if it was the flu, or some kind of Mexican bug (I come down here twice a year so I am pretty careful), but I got wiped out like nothing I can remember. 5 days mostly on the toilet. I couldn’t eat, my entire body ached which meant I wasn’t sleeping either. No running which was fine, but no open water swims. Crap. By the time it was over I had no energy left. I’m sure I’ve lost a ton of weight, and certainly muscle. This bug came at me physically and mentally.


Over those five days I thought a lot about the race and about Casey. I thought about the fork in the path that was presenting itself, and how it is the same fork that we face daily in so many situations. Another escape route. Another chance to quit. Another excuse. Another justification to let a difficult situation intimidate me away from doing what in my heart I want to do. A chance to dwell on what happened and what “should” be, and comparing it to a disparate reality.


All of these reactions are fair, and even justified when it comes to dealing with setbacks, but none of them will make us better. None of them will get us to where we want to go, and achieve our wildest ambitions.


My little setback has challenged my mind to stay focused on my goal. It has challenged me to come up with alternative ways to get some bigger swims in (I’m looking for 50m pools close to my house to get a workout a week in). It challenged my support team and proved once again they know how to push me through whatever gets in our way. They are ready for the next big push to get me back on track, and I am too!

I did swim that! (Sort of)

I did swim that! (Sort of)


If anything, this setback has made me even more motivated to achieve my goal. While it has won a small battle with me physically, I am mentally stronger and better prepared to deal with the path ahead, which is really exciting. And if that path has a channel of open water running beside it that I have to swim along, I’m going to be ready for that too!