Western States 2017: Bravery and Failure

kalen-emsley-99660This was my first year observing Western States (from far away via Twitter). Last year, I’d never heard of the race. This year, I was hyped up from films, podcasts, and prediction posts.

For the men’s race, I was following Walmsley and Mocko. Walmsley because he is a bold and ambitious runner who’s trying to make history. Mocko because he’s adorable and hilarious and giving this new career everything he’s got.

For the women’s race, I was just excited to see what would happen. I like a lot of the elite women runners in the field right now.

The early parts of the race were exhilarating to track. Walmsley was smashing expectations, Mocko starting passing runners right on schedule, and the women were running strong.

And then it all fell apart. You were probably watching too, so you know how runner after runner dropped. News of Walmsley disappeared and #wheresjim started trending again. Even just as a spectator, it was disappointing and soul-crushing.

I’m in awe of the racers who powered through to finish. But the DNFs triggered a personal lesson for me.


Walmsley and Mocko were both very public about the times and results they wanted. Mocko has recently opened his training to public scrutiny, regularly posting about workouts and finances. Walmsley has been in the spotlight for more than a year now. So both of them publicly failed to meet their goals at Western States this year. (Still huge amounts of respect for the work they put in. It was an unbelievably tough course this year. But still…they did fail to meet their publicly stated goals.)

And that, to me, takes an incredible amount of bravery. To open up your goals to the world means opening yourself up for failure. Most racers can walk away from race and say, “I gave it my best” or “I finished!” and that is good enough. But when you say “I want to finish in this time or this place,” there’s no room for fudging.

You don’t get to retreat and lick your wounds. You can’t blend in with the crowd. Both Walmsley and Mocko will be back in the spotlight almost immediately with new races and new goals.


I’m terrified of public failure. More than almost anything else, I hate failure. Nearly all of my vices–procrastination and underachievement, among others–stem from my fear of failure. I don’t want to struggle with the intense emotions of public competition. I would rather be mediocre than compete and lose/fail.

I almost always brag about what I’ve accomplished only after I’ve accomplished it. I like taking on extreme challenges, but generally only challenges against myself, not competitive challenges and certainly not public challenges.

Slowly but surely, that’s changing. I’m in the midst of a public challenge on my other blog this month (30 book reviews in 30 days). This challenge–5k to 50k–is public.

But I still haven’t addressed the competition aspect. So, inspired by Mocko, Walmsley, and the elite women of Western States, a gentle foray into public competitive running goals. Honestly, I’m not far enough into training to even know what’s possible. But here’s what I want:

  • I want to race and podium. (In literally anything.)
  • I want to complete the Barkley. If possible, I’d like to be the first woman to do so. (This is really, really far into the category of wishing, but hey, I like to dream big.)

As I train more and set manageable competitive goals, I will try to be more public about them. It’s time to be brave.


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