Congratulations to Normi Coto for Winning the March 2023 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Write about a time that you failed at something. How did that failure affect you?

Normi shared an empowering story about an important lesson learned. Enjoy her winning submission:

Prepare for the Suck, Not the Medal

Normi Coto
Normi Coto

DNF (Did Not Finish), three letters that equal failure to most runners, and they were next to my name after the Pittsburgh Marathon in Pennsylvania. At mile 19, I gave up, and I’ve regretted it since — over 10 years now.

Runners will walk half a marathon injured just to avoid a DNF. I wasn’t even injured. I went into an emergency tent and told the medical professional I was dehydrated. Of course I was dehydrated! I was 19 miles into a run, but you’re supposed to push through that. I had in the past. This wasn’t my first marathon. Instead, I took a mini-bus back to the start! Pathetic.

Later, I told friends and family that I simply felt sick and had to stop. As what I had done sank in and I felt the weight of quitting, I became miserable. Others were kind: “Oh, I don’t know how you made it 19 miles! That’s still fantastic.”

I never told anyone that I gave up (until now). Maybe some were thinking that, but no one was bold enough to call me out. They didn’t have to. I knew.

I did try to justify my failure. I said things to myself such as You really didn’t have the time to train. Remember, your head was fuzzy. You may have avoided a more serious problem. What if you had had a heart attack for pushing it too hard?

All crap. I simply had given up, and I hated myself for it.

Looking back, my attitude while training was downright cocky. I wasn’t a marathon newbie anymore. I simply hadn’t respected the race. I thought only of my finishing time, the next medal, and, most importantly, the bragging rights.

I had forgotten — or ignored — the inevitable pain. The wall. The suck.

I hadn’t done my homework either. I didn’t realize Pittsburgh had a hilly course. (Florida runners sometimes forget that the rest of the world has hills.)

During the race, when the beauty of running strong faded and the ugliness of running straight to the “wall” hit — as it always does — I did not have the mental fortitude to push through. I gave up and walked off the course.

Never again.

“Prepare for the suck, not the medal” became my new mantra, and it has carried over into all areas of life.

Don’t think there will be pain? Then you need a bigger goal. If it matters, there’s always suck. Prepare for, focus on, and conquer the pain.

When I trained for the next marathon, I pictured myself at mile 19 pushing through — not at the finish. When I wrote my dissertation, I pictured myself overcoming writer’s block — not graduation. An interview? I pictured researching questions and answering them — and then did that.

What’s the suck? Figure it out. Need to write or work out early? Put the alarm away from the bed. Whatever it takes, but conquer the suck first.

The medal will always come next.