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