Embracing Inadequacy

Over the past month, I’ve come to embrace my own inadequacy. I frolic about in a field of possible failure. I do so with a smile on my face… all the while chuckling at myself. How am I going to do this? I have NO idea! A sports psychologist might tell you this is an unhealthy or, at least, an unhelpful way to approach one’s focus event, but what do they know? Have they ever tried running the Hardrock 100?

Let me be a bit clearer than in my last article: while I’m writing about Hardrock as a tangible example from my current reality, the concept I write about–embracing inadequacy–can and, I suspect does, apply far and wide to ultrarunning and plenty of other athletic pursuits. Indeed, I suspect that many of us engage in our athletic pursuits, be it ultrarunning or adventuring in the wilds, in part to have a face off with our own inadequacies and see where we come out. The same feelings can come in preparing for and actually running your first 50k or your first trail run in the Grand Canyon or whatever it is in a heaven’s worth of adventures toward which you’re striving. Sometimes, it’s fun to think about reaching out from your tip toes and falling over face first into a mud puddle. How can you not laugh?

When I’ve not been neck deep in Western States 100 coverage this past month, I’ve been trying to get after it here in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado where Hardrock is run. Up, up, up. Down, down, down. Huff, puff. Huff, puff. I put in the time and the miles and the vert. Still, I wrap up my Hardrock training block feeling completely inadequate (which is not to say unprepared) for this year’s run. I think of the five-day training stretch during which I covered 101 miles and climbed 32,000 feet… I’ve got to do that in two days? Ha!

2018 Kendall Mountain - 416 Fire

The view from Kendall Mountain during a post-Western States training run. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Then, to zoom into the details, there are the thunderstorms that have started hitting the San Juans with a vengeance the past few days. On Saturday night, three runners in the John Cappis 50k fatass run out of Silverton turned around after waiting 45 minutes at treeline for a storm to abate. The next night, Meghan was stopped from returning to Silverton from Ouray when storms blocked the road with mudflows. A day later, they’ve reopened one lane of traffic. And, of course, this particular area is adjacent to the infamous Bear Creek Trail that’s carved into the side of a cliff face. While I’ve been out in plenty of thunderstorms, I sure as heck feel inadequate when thinking of facing these conditions. And, honestly, that’s all a bit exhilarating. Short of being reckless, why not see what’s out there?

In all of this, I can’t help but think back to 2016, when I last attempted Hardrock. I was as fit as I’ve been within the past half decade and inordinately well prepared for Hardrock itself. This was going to be my run. Oh, but Hardrock sure had other plans for me. While my legs held up, my stomach gave out in the late afternoon heat heading out of Ouray and, well, there are more than a few mountains to climb after that! Time after time, I laid down in the tiny alpine wildflowers on the flanks of Handies Peak or in the frost-covered grasses along Pole Creek. Never for long, but oh so frequently. The mountains and the course, they reminded me of how insignificant, how powerless I was… and I loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Wholly inadequate, yet entirely fulfilled.

Call for Comments

  • Do you ever feel inadequate about an upcoming or in-progress event and enjoy that feeling? Do you ever seek out adventures to face that feeling?
  • What have you learned when you’ve not felt up to a big task?
2016 Hardrock 100 - Little Giant - Bryon Powell

The view from the top of the final climb in the 2016 Hardrock. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

There are 22 comments

  1. Jeff T

    Great article, Bryon. I recently signed up for my first 100 mile race and I dealt with feelings of inadequacy just working through the registration page. I’m not sure I’ve learned any tips or tricks other than to press forward into the unknown, but what you’ve written really resonates with me. Part of what’s so enticing to me about these adventures is that feeling of inadequacy. I can put in all of the right training and have my nutrition dialed in, but there are still any number of things that are going to test you out there. There are no guarantees when you line up at the starting line of an ultramarathon (or any race/athletic endeavor I guess) and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Anyway, good luck dude. Have all of the fun!

  2. Nevtrik

    My friend just found out that he’s #2 on the waitlist. He started #28 and never expected to get so close, he obviously trained, but not for Hardrock. Speaking about inadequacy;)

  3. The Woodsman

    If finishing were guaranteed, why bother even trying? It’s the inadequacy that keeps things interesting, rewarding, and keeps you coming back for more.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I’d guess many of the folks on the site, myself included, run plenty of races where finishing… while maybe not guaranteed, is close enough so that it’s not the main challenge. There are plenty of other awesome factors that can get one out there, too!

  4. Craig

    Nice article, Bryon. Good luck! I know what you are talking about. I have a 24hr loop coming up in 17 days. I’ve put the training in, I think. But I always feel inadequate. I agree that is part of the allure. I’ve never run for 24 hours before. Will I be able to grind it out? How far can I go? Will I end up asleep on the side of the trail at 4am? I want to break 100 miles- but I may end up with 30.. I have no idea. And that is why I am doing it. :)

    1. Bryon Powell

      The challenge of a loop course is one that I’ve not been willing to take on yet. Sure, the physical can go wrong… but you’ll almost certainly bump up against the adequacy/inadequacy of one’s will power. Best of luck!

  5. andy mcbreen

    Brian, I enjoyed reading Your thoughts and can relate so well to Them. I believe our loved sport of Ultra Running is so special because We are constantly required to give more than We think possible. We never know what the day will bring and this requires Us to think and act on the go. Have a Blessed Hardrock !!!

  6. James Clarke

    I was listening to an interview with Robbie Robertson who was describing the process of discover the The Band went through when writing The Music From Big Pink and it reminded me of the process of discovery the first time you run a new distance or different course, I am relying on my enjoyment of discovery to guide me through my key training mission and September 100 miler – go get ’em Bryon and I am off to get my lottery entry!

  7. Peter

    Bryon, the force of nature humbles all, which is what makes this the best sport ever. Any day that one can lay down in the tiny alpine wildflowers is a good day. Cannot wait to hear about how much FUN you had!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Thanks, Peter! I’m not sure why I’ve not yet focused on the “fun” aspect as much as I have in 2016 and especially in 2015, but I’ll aim to cultivate that over the next two days and throughout the race. I’ll be taking lots of photos out there!!

  8. Erik

    I zign up FOR the feeling of inadequacy. Running ultras is my way to prove to myself that I can. Those feelings of inadequacy give me motivation to train harder and race better. amy greatest acheivements have come from my feelings of inadequacy. My greatest failures have come from my confidence.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I’m not sure I focused in on the “stick” of the carrot and the stick enough in this piece… but that feeling of inadequacy does certainly motivate me, just like you, in training for a big challenge. In fact, that motivational factor is one of the reasons I sign up for such things… they get me out there door on days when I might just stay inside otherwise.

    1. Bryon Powell

      SW, no sandbagging here. Even when I was better trained in 2016, I had some of the same feelings. For me (and most), Hardrock remains a challenge that tests many aspects of our limits. You never know when a watermelon might try to kill you out there!

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