Episode 223: Share your stories of "failure"

Hey everyone, if you listened to episode 223, you heard @robpickels @trevor and Grant Hollicky share their stories of failures that shaped who they are as athletes. Please use this forum thread to share your stories!

Sounds like an awesome episode. When is it scheduled to drop?

Well, shows you I need to learn how to schedule posts on our forum… the episode is scheduled for tomorrow (and so was this post… I thought). Hope you like it!


I’m looking forward to listening. I figured it was scheduled for tomorrow and you were so excited you jumped the gun. I was playing dumb and lightly poking the Bear. :bear:

This is from my account of the Wild Atlantic Way Audax where I developed Shermer’s neck around 1850km and ended my event at 2,000km just 110km short of the finish.

“ I walk more uphills to give my neck a break. I’m still keeping pace with John and a couple of others and we overlap from time to time. That gives me further comfort.

I find myself alone again and the Déjà vu returns. I feel I’m going round in circles, though I am not. I take this to be symptom of my increasingly restricted vision. My lack of interaction with the landscape around.

My neck drops further in pain, my world shrinking to 20 feet in front of my wheel. I begin to cry, the tears splashing on my GPS then needing to be wiped away. The tears turn into sobs.

Before the event Jim Fitzpatrick had talked about when it gets hard, to visualise yourself at the finish. This is my hard moment. As I sob, I visualise myself on the Peace Bridge in Derry. I’m sobbing there as well, bent over my bike. The lyrics from Mad World enter my head “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had…”

My emotions rise and fall carried on the Atlantic waves I can hear but not see. I continue forward but the neck is getting worse and the inner tube strapping is ceasing to give enough support. The saddle sores are getting worse and Vaseline needs applying more regularly. My hands and wrists are hurting from the effort to keep some forward vision. The tears come and go, I have no control over when or where.

Terry another Irish rider catches me up when my emotions are somewhere in the middle. He asks if he can help in any way. We stop and he provides me with a fresh roll and some ham that he’s just bought. In my confused state I’m forgetting to eat. He takes pictures of my setup whilst I eat and promises to send them privately not publish on FB. I thank him and he carries on, as I drink some water. I have no more tears left to give, and my emotions settle.

I roll into Letterkenny, at 8:45pm on Thursday 23rd June. The inner tube is no longer working that well. My vision is restricted and on the busy roads of Letterkenny, with rain falling again, I walk the last bit and find a pizza place I can eat in.

I order a large hot and spicy meat feast pizza and a couple of cokes. I ring Eamon and we discuss the neck issues. He tells me not to worry I’ve got plenty of time to finish. I explain where in Letterkenny I am and he says he’ll come out with David with a helmet and sort out some strapping so I can keep going. I text my wife where I am and mention the neck issues. She rings, just after 9:30pm, and we talk whilst I eat the hot pizza.

I finish the pizza, and explain to the guy behind the counter I’m waiting for a couple of friends to help sort me out with a problem. I order another coke whilst I wait.

About 10:30pm Eamon and David come in. A helmet, rope, and industrial strength zip ties. They practice the setup on Eamon before I stand up ready to be strapped up.

I’ve put on my warm gear ready for the night. The helmet is being scraped against my forehead, and needs adjusting a couple of times before the fit is good. Zip ties are put in the front of the helmet, I think Eamon is trying to embed them in my forehead, to better hold the helmet and my head in place. David pulls the strapping at the back and my head is pulled backwards and up. My phone battery is now dead. David takes my phone. They’ll get it charged and come find me later via my tracker.

It’s the most surreal moment of the whole ride despite the hallucinations and Déjà vu experienced before. God knows what the pizza guy thinks is going on? I’m smiling again, amused at the setup, happy that I have a chance to finish the ride.

Water bottles refilled. Outside David films me putting my bike lock in and then doing up my saddlebag. As he films he comes round the front, and asks how I am. You can but laugh, trussed up like a Mummy and moving like Frankenstein. I come out with something like

I am the Mummy, and I am coming to Malin Head, then Derry.

Lights and GPS switched on and I roll off into the wet night. It is now just after 11:00pm on the Thursday. That leaves 166km left and 14 hours to complete it in. My mental faculties are back after the break and large pizza. I’m feeling positive.

Soon enough I’m out of Letterkenny and rolling down the N14. It’s a busy main road but it has a wide shoulder clear of debris. The rain continues to fall.

Further down the road, Eamon and David catch up with me, surprised at my progress and hand my phone back with 60% charge. Progress is swift as the surface is good, the gradients slightly uphill, flat or down, and I have forward vision back. It is now easy to keep my speed up.

I take a left and join the N13 which carries traffic to Londonderry. In the night, rain falling. The glow of the GPS and the white lines passing before my eyes has a soporific effect.

I’m too hot in my night gear, the night much warmer than previous, but I can’t change due to the strapping. I slow down to stop myself overheating. I can’t reach down and retrieve my water bottles safely with the strapping. I stop every 10 mins or so to take on some water.

Despite the strapping my neck eventually begins to drop further, the pain increasing. I have a near miss on a downhill, as the shoulder disappears where a junction comes on. I swerve just missing the barrier at speed. My heart rate soars as the adrenaline pumps through me. I continue on, stopping to drink water, eventually leaving at the exit for Burnfoot. At the bottom of the exit ramp, I make a right turn and almost ride off the edge of the road.

I convince myself it’s just tiredness not my vision. Maybe a catnap will sharpen my reflexes. I look for places to kip at the side of the road but it’s just fields waterlogged with rain.

I try my trick from day one, dozing on the bike, arms on bars. But as I fall asleep properly my left leg gives way and I wake falling to the left and only just catching myself. I catch one shin on the chain rings the other on the crank, ouch.

Continuing on I enter Burnfoot industrial estate and find a curved wall that casts a dark shadow from the factory lights behind. I place myself and bike in the curve of the shadow, hidden from the view of passing cars. I wrap myself in my foil blanket, sheltered from the rain, and sleep for 20 minutes.

I set off again but the neck seems worse. A few hundred metres up the road I attempt to turn at a junction and crash up a pavement, narrowly avoiding a wall. I swerve back out across the road before coming to a halt on the opposite side breathing heavily, heart pumping away.

I didn’t see it in the dark and rain with my vision now being a few feet in front of my wheel. It’s now 12:30am. How I stayed upright I’m not quite sure. It wasn’t tiredness this time, it was my restricted vision. I can’t continue like this, it’s not safe. I ring Eamon explain the strapping is no longer working. I mention my near misses. I explain where I am. Once more the silver foil comes out and I sit against the wall and wait.

A car stops. Am I alright. I answer yes from inside the foil, keeping me warm against the falling rain and cooling night.

Eamon turns up. He remarks that my neck is at a much sharper angle than Letterkenny. He attempts to tighten the strapping but all it does is cause me to call out in pain, and doesn’t help with the forward vision or my neck.

Accounts have come out, of riders thinking of stopping. One call to Eamon and the answer would be a flat refusal to accept their withdrawal, keep riding was his strong message throughout. There were many heroic efforts in this regard, some riders getting to the end a day or more after the official time limit. There are no such messages or words at this time.

We both know my ride is at an end, despite the generous time left. Eamon quietly says he knows that it would have to be something like this to stop me. I should be proud of what I’ve managed. Not many can cycle 2000km. He is trying to make me feel good about stopping. We both know it isn’t safe to continue, and long term damage to the neck isn’t worth risking. A serious crash seems likely in my condition.

I stand at the side of road, my ride ended. There are no tears as earlier, no regret, just calm acceptance that I’ve done what I can. There is no more. The same is true of Eamon and the volunteers in their assistance. I am content.“

It’s shaped my attitudes, in that I’m a strong believer that fear of failure should never stop you from starting or entering an event. Once you accept that you may fail, that you won’t always be ready, it opens you up to doing the best you can in an event that scares you. I also decided I never wanted to go through that again. I’ve ridden a recumbent on my long distance events ever since. It’s still the best long distance brevet I’ve ever ridden despite it’s ending. I’m hoping to be there again in 24 when it runs again, it would have run in 20 but for the pandemic.


Given that there were three topics covered, I’ll answer two of them. One of my failures lead me to creating a pre-ride and pre-race “ritual”.

The failure
I do almost every local road race, and a few MTB races where I can either ride there and back, or at least ride back home after the race.

Twice, I left home without my bottles; they were left in the fridge (last time) and the freezer (first time). I managed to persuade the wife to bring my bottles the first time, but she said that I didn’t learn my lesson the second time, and promptly refused to get out of bed the second time. I had such a bad race that day, probably because it was playing on my mind what to say when I got home. Nothing bad happened, but I was determined to never let that happen again.

Another recent failure was leaving certain items at home, mostly on a club ride. Gloves, glasses, money for post ride coffee, and covid masks. With covid being around for just over 2 years, and law requiring us to wear masks in public, I would often ride with a buff around my neck. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, we went into winter when the initial lockdown was done away with. Wearing a buff in the cooler months was already a habit, but as the warmer months approached, I would often leave the buff at home, or rather in the cupboard. It meant I wasn’t allowed at the coffee shop at the end of the ride (my penalty was to pay for the round, as someone would carry a spare mask, and then “fine me” accordingly).

I already had a “pre-race ritual” having learnt the hard way of leaving filled bottles in the fridge, but 18 years later, I only changed my pre-race “ritual” into a “pre-every ride ritual”. So now I do the same thing before every outside ride and race.

”The pre-outside ride ritual”
I started laying everything out the night before, in the order that I would get dressed. So HR strap is first, then socks, vest, bib shorts, (knee and arm warmers if needed), shirt, gilet or jacket (season dependent), and then anything else.

I would still leave the bottles in the fridge, but with an open top. The bottle caps would be placed in my helmet, along with other items I would need for my back pockets. This way I would see the bottle caps, and be reminded to collect the bottles in the fridge.

Each bottle is prepared with my energy needs according to my ride/race plans, but that’s a topic for another thread.

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I am tall and work out so I am pretty heavy, well over 200 lbs, so climbing is not my strong point. Neither is descending nor flat areas, for that matter:) I am simply slow.

I like to do endurance rides on mountains, using a big gear to get a higher cadence and still stay in zone 1 of 3.

To wit, while climbing I have been passed by (no joke):

An octogenarian who, I thought, well, at least he is struggling to do so because of the clear snot coming out of both nostrils. As he got close I realized they were cannulas and as he quickly passed me I saw the portable oxygen tank on his back. Climbs up Old La Honda have never been the same.

A sailboat passed me. At least the side walls of this yellow contraption looked like one. The reclined biker gave me a quick nautical hello, and sped away to the top of Tunitas Creek.

A Surfboard passed me. On US 1 heading north from Santa Cruz, up one of the hills, the biker had a full-length surfboard strapped to the left side of his bike, with a backpack on his back for his wet suit. He said he was going to Davenport to ride because the way the waves broke suited him. Nothing about this suited me.

While I rode up a mountain, this time deciding to go at threshold and above, as I was gasping for air, two young girls passed me while they were trading recipe tips for baking chocolate chip cookies. I didn’t hear much of it because they passed me so quickly. A crumbling experience.

I am waiting for Garmin to come up with a cycling sundial. Accurate enough, and that way I don’t have to recharge it.

Probably my most embarrassing moment was the first time I rode with clip-on pedals. I had just begin to ride more seriously. I climbed up Old La Honda, proud to have made it, and then pulled into what was then a gas stop not far from Alice’s Restaurant. There were 4 old codgers sitting in the porch of the supply store that is still there. They saw me slow down to a crawl, and even more slowly fall to one side, still in both of my pedals, which I forgot take more force than flat ones.

To their eternal credit, they never smiled, looked at each other, or made a sound. Maybe they had seen it all so often, including sailboats and cannulas.


Great episode - entertaining and actionable. It felt very unscripted - more please.

About 15 years ago I had a goal to break 1 hour in the Colorado State TT championships. My entire training for the season was focused on this one event.

The event came and I missed an hour by 4 seconds. I literally sobbed in the showers at my health club after the event. I’ve done an introspective review of the ride numerous times over the years and there REALLY is nothing I could have done better. That was my best on that day.

What did I learn/change? Nothing mind altering really. I went back to focusing on crits and cross. Lots more fun.

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"I stand at the side of road, my ride ended. There are no tears as earlier, no regret, just calm acceptance that I’ve done what I can. There is no more. The same is true of Eamon and the volunteers in their assistance. I am content.“

I think this sums it up perfectly. This wasn’t a “failure”; you accomplished something incredible, however it might have been different from your original intention.

Interestingly my question for the Potluck that we recorded today was “What extreme thing have you done in training; was it worthwhile at the end of the day”

I think that conversation gets the root of your experience; at some point you need to know when it’s time to call it quits and (in my opinion) that’s not a failure!

Absolutely incredibly journey. I’m in awe.

You’ve come up with a great process! I love it.

One year I did the “Catalina Gran Fondo” which is a mountain bike ride on Catalina Island off the coast of California. You need to take a ferry to get to the event and as we arrived at the ferry, one of my friends realized he left his pedals at home.

Well we’re told there’s a bike shop on the island, so we get on the ferry. The person didn’t lie… there was a bike shop… but it was for rental cruiser bikes only. They were nice enough to take a pair of plastic flat pedals off their bike and lend them to my friend who attempted to ride them in his carbon-solded mountain bike shoes.

Well, 10 minutes into the first climb it became apparent that this solution wasn’t going to work… there was no grip. So, he rode back to the start and changed into his flip-flop sandles… which he then rode for 70 miles of mountain biking.

By the end he was ubiquitously known as “Jonny Flip-Flips”.

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“Probably my most embarrassing moment was the first time I rode with clip-on pedals. I had just begin to ride more seriously. I climbed up Old La Honda, proud to have made it, and then pulled into what was then a gas stop not far from Alice’s Restaurant. There were 4 old codgers sitting in the porch of the supply store that is still there. They saw me slow down to a crawl, and even more slowly fall to one side, still in both of my pedals, which I forgot take more force than flat ones.”

You’re officially part of the club!

@phil Fantastic story! Thanks for sharing your pain and ultimate acceptance. Great lesson!

@geraldm24 Thanks for sharing! Pre-race ritual and packing list is something we all have to learn the hard way!

@micomico Love the stories of the things that have passed you! Sounds like stories I’d tell on the show!

@dkrenik Thanks for the kind feedback! We’ll definitely do more of these episodes. They’re a lot of fun. And thanks for sharing! That had to be tough missing your target by 4 seconds! Glad you could say you gave it everything you had.

Feel free to share any and all.

-one person’s embarrassment is another one’s mirth:)

In 2015 at the age of 35 (3 years after I started riding again seriously), I had my first atrial fibrillation. I didn’t know what it was at the time and by the time I got to the ER it had gone. The doctors had assumed it a panic attack.

I had several more Afibs over the next couple years all culminating at times of peak mental (crazy work) and physical stress (overtraining at nearly 70% zone3+, eating garbage and drinking). It all culminated with one episode in late 2017 that wouldn’t go away and ended in an ER visit in which I needed an electrical donkey punch to the chest. The cardiologist wanted to do an ablation… and I decided that was crazy and did a ton of research to come up with my own plan of going keto for two years and nearly all zone 1-2 training.

Since then I slowly re-introduced intensity (thanks fast talk!) and have focused on eating healthy (less sugar) and paying attention to my total stress before training hard or long (both through HRV and 10min meditation / self check in in the mornings). I’m now hitting numbers I never thought I could… With an FTP of 365w last year… And I haven’t had an AFib since.

A fun little chart showing the massive switch in training intensity in mid 2017… Which also coincided with a drastic change in diet.

@smashsquatch that’s quite extraordinary! Congratulations on your success and getting yourself clear of AFib. I truly hope that trend continues for you! Appreciate your sharing your experience though I would definitely call that a success, not a failure!

Thanks @trevor . The failure was getting to that state in the first place! I’ve always been skinny and fit, so I thought I could eat, drink and do whatever. Its been great to hear your experiences as well as they’ve really solidified in my mind that I just overtrained far too much. Thank you fast talk for showing me how I can add intensity back into my training all the while keeping balance

Congratulations, that is a big deal! I will share my story as a warning for others, hoping you never have another Afib episode.

I had had finished descending a mountain at the end of a 4-hr endurance ride in a fairly hot summer day. I didn’t push hard during the ride. At the bottom, I noticed I could not squeeze the brakes with my left hand well, nor grab the water bottle well. I rode quickly home and drove to the emergency room.

The ER doc, in consultation with the neurologist via zoom, did so basic testing, questions, CT scan, and thought I was in such good shape it was likely dehydration.

Long story short, it was a mini stroke likely caused by my occasional and temporary Afib episodes.
The stroke was small enough that it was not caught on the CT scan, but later appeared on the MRI.

I did not have an episode when I rode, but there is approximately a 6x increase in the risk of stroke with Afib because of pooling of blood in a part of the left atrium, an out-pouching called the auricle, that can create clots, even if you are not having an episode. Or if you are in olympic shape.

Fortunately it left no residuals and a follow-up MRI showed a full healing.

For those who do have Afib, being in great shape is not preventive. Fortunately for you, you don’t have it anymore.

I got ablation as soon as I could, and that went great. If you are in good heart shape, the chances of success the first time around increase.

Here is an interesting story about what I would do to stop the AFib episodes. It worked most of the time. It turns out that the Afib can be caused by a deep parasympathetic stimulus from the vagal nerve, which creates the cardiac disruption that follows.

And, in fact, when researching this, I noted that my episodes came either in my sleep or late at night on the couch, watching TV, when I was very relaxed, but never at work or doing exercise. So I entered a deeper parasympathetic, vagally-mediated afib state.

The Afib would go away usually some time before noon. So I put two and two together and thought: “What if I create a sympathetic cardiac stimulus that could override the vagal impulse?”

The episodes were fairly mild; I could go to work, walk, drive. So I thought this was safe enough to try for me: When I got up with Afib, I got on my (back then) trusty ol’ Lemond yellow trainer with that huge heavy front disc, and rode hard enough to create a strong sympathetic stimulus.

That did it. Most of the time, my Afib was gone by the time I got off the bike (not always).

But I learned that even some Afib episodes can cause the clotting/strokes/TIA.

Of physiological interest is that our normal heart rate is really at around 100 beats per minute, but vagal tone drives it down to around 70, less if fit. There was a research article I read years ago that said, (of interest to us older riders), that the reason for the loss in max HR as we aged was not heart muscle weakness, rather that the vagal nerve was not allowing the HR max of younger days.

I hope this is of some help. It you do get it back again, I would be careful about being fit and eating well (as I have always done), to prevent a more serious event.

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