Don’t Avoid the ‘Black Box’

My kidneys hurt! If you had asked me four years ago where my actual kidneys were, I would have pointed to my back and that would have been the end of the conversation. But since 2013, when I missed the opportunity to finish 100 miles, and landed myself in a hospital… well… I’ve gained some familiarity.  My race ended that year at mile 86 because of rhabdomyolysis and a little bit of kidney damage.  Unfortunately my second attempt the following year ended much the same.  

Two weekends ago I made my third attempt at running 100 miles.  I have felt that I did everything I possibly could to set myself up for success: from dietary needs, to clothing, to training, to having the right crew there. But I was unable to finish the distance and I found myself needing to go to the hospital yet again.

Usually, waking up in the morning after the race there’s a halo effect. A period of time when you really don’t feel that bad physically, mentally, or emotionally.  You’re happy with what you could do, and you don’t have any question that you did your best.  But, if you’re honest with yourself, that halo effect ends, and all the uncomfortable emotions and self questioning begins to roll into your mind.

When you don’t achieve the outcome you want at something you’ve worked really hard for, you can’t help but to have feelings of self-doubt, sadness, and disappointment fill you.  I’d say for at least a good day or two I tried ‘strictly’ positive talk.  If that wasn’t working?  Tried and true distraction!  Watch TV, build a birdhouse (not really), or start planning the next race, ANYTHING to not have to feel those emotions that were felt so god-awful.  

But when I’ve finally stop all my ducking and avoiding, cease pushing away all those uncomfortable emotions, or just plain lying to myself with mental smiley bumper stickers, like “I’m fine, everything’s fine!, I always end up taking the only action that has ever helped me process my feelings and improve my process.  It’s what I call…

Deciphering the ‘black box’.  

This is the process of getting to the bottom of what happened after the plane “went down”.  In my case? The plane is the most recent race that went awry, and journaling a ‘court stenographer’ account of everything that transpired is the most helpful thing I can do for myself.   After every event, successful or not, I write down anything and everything I can remember about my race — what went right, what went awry, and everything in between.  This journaling allows me to see what ‘wins’ I can take away from a race (that honestly I might never have seen without Deciphering the black box)  and what ‘setbacks’ I dealt with, so that instead of just letting self criticism erode any further efforts, I can improve and learn grim the entire experience regardless of the outcome.

If I’m honest?  I want no part in this journaling.  It’s hard to face those setbacks and the feelings that accompany them.  To  see them as anything but something to be avoided at all costs. I don’t want to remember the things I didn’t do right (or just plain didn’t go right).  But, I know from past experience and deep practice, that unless I go to that place where I can actually explore and see what I could do better next time around in anything, I am destined to keep repeating the same mistakes.  

And as uncomfortable as all these emotions are, they serve as the greatest motivators for me to improve.  They don’t only allow for growth, they promote it!  They are the catalysts that get me to write down everything that happened, to improve my craft, to get up and try again.  If I could ignore them, stuff them down, or just plain avoid them and that was the answer to get them to subside, I’d probably do just that.  But from past experience, I know this.

There is only relief from my uncomfortable emotions when I allow them to have their say.

Avoidance of uncomfortability, of disappointment, fear, or shame is something we all try to do.  No one wants to hear what these emotions have to say because they feel self-incriminating!   We know what we did wrong, right?  If we’re truthful with ourselves, those uncomfortable emotions that we’re feeling are not there to punish us.  Rather, they’re there to urge us to take actions that will help us get better at what we’re trying to accomplish. Like the medicine our mother gave us when we were young: just because it was hard to swallow, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good for us.

So, I acknowledge that I’m feeling like I’ve failed, that I’ve let myself and my crew down by not finishing the distance.  I use those feelings to spur myself into action.  Picking up my computer, I begin writing down every single thing that I can remember that happened during the event, diving head first into that black box in my mind, without judgment.  When I finish, I have a lot of substance that I can learn from.  Best of all?  I feel better!  My emotions have been heard.  I have information that might allow me a more successful attempt at those challenges that are so dear to my heart…or even the ones that are brought to my doorstep.

Me and my kidneys are at least now walking with the knowledge that there were a lot of things that I could’ve done better for that race and a great many things I did right.  Most importantly,  without my emotions clouding my reason because I’ve allowed them their say, I can also see the things that were actually out of my control.  Although I know the outcome wasn’t mine to dictate, I do know reviewing my ‘black box’ has allowed me to improve my thoughts and actions in any challenges that I decide to take on in the future.  And consistent effort and improvement is something I can live with.

One Reply to “Don’t Avoid the ‘Black Box’”

  1. Hi Lou!  Thanks for writing and sharing- I’m forwarding this to my daughter whose soccer season didn’t end as hoped.  So many things so well said in your piece- thank you for doing the hard work of journalling, and for sharing!

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