My biggest failure may just be my best learning experience.


I dropped at mile 69 of the Leadville 100. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But was it? Well, I’m not sure it was as hard as I remember it being… In the moment it was pretty easy, but I had been thinking about it for about 20 miles which equated to about 6 hours.

6 hours of almost no food, very few electrolytes, no caffeine, excruciating pain in my left foot, asthma like shortness of breath, stomach issues, altitude sickness, mental fatigue, sleepiness, and a fight against cutoffs.

When I asked my pacer how long we had until the next aid station, the answer wasn’t pleasant. We both knew the task ahead was going to be hard. With the 7 miles ahead and a little over an hour to get there, he asked me point blank: Would you rather be swept from the course and risk long term injury or would you rather call it and live to run another day?

After 20 seconds of deep inner reflection I knew the answer. I would rather be swept from the course. At least that would show pride in myself for not quitting. But would it? Would it be better to risk long term foot damage just to show that I was too dumb to stop when I knew it was time? No. I got to leave the course on my own accord. I feel very little shame for my decision.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy to watch the last 13 months of training end in disappointment. It wasn’t easy to feel an instant embarrassment that I didn’t make it this year. The worst part is that I knew it was all my fault and I had no one else to blame. At least if I could have blamed someone else or had a legitimate excuse I would have felt better… I’m not sure making excuses would have made me feel better. Blaming others wouldn’t have taken time off the clock or put miles under my feet. I’m glad it was my mistakes that cost me the buckle. At least I have improvements I can make. I have a ton of life lessons to take away from my first DNF.

The more I look back, the more I realize that I have learned more in the past 5 days from quitting in Leadville than I learned from finishing my first 100 in March. Talk about a wakeup call! The more I look back, the more I realize that I have learned more from failures than I have from my successes. It doesn’t matter if it was when I first started at 400 pounds, took my first walk, failed at running the first time, wanting to quit over and over and over again along the way, finishing my first marathon, ultra or finishing and not finishing my first 100 mile races. I have been beat up, knocked down, kicked in the face and I’ve stood up every time. My LT100 experience will be no different. I will stand up again and I will continue moving forward. I lived my life in a day and it may not have been my best, but it sure wasn’t my worst. The lessons, the friendships, the adventures… It’s been worth every step I’ve taken forward and I wouldn’t take it back if you gave me all the money in the world…

The past 5 years have been a wild ride… From losing almost 200 pounds to running a 100 miles to failing a 100 miles… I’d like to leave you with the most important lessons I’ve learned on my journey. I hope you can take something from it whether it’s running, life, business, fitness, or family.

  1. Don’t quit. I know, who am I to talk? I threw in the towel at Leadville… But believe me. I’m. Not. Done. As much as I wanted to quit running forever this morning, I know I won’t. There’s nothing better than exploring the world on my feet.
  2. Forward is the pace. I stole this from my friend Eric but it holds true. No matter what just keep moving forward and you will eventually get where you want to go.
  3. One step at a time. I know it’s cliché but it’s true. I took one step off my couch and it changed my life. My first walk, my first mile, my first marathon, my first 100 mile race all have the same thing in common. I took one step at a time to get where I wanted to go.
  4. It’s 90% mental. The other half is physical. I don’t remember who said this but I’d guess Yogi Berra. It’s true though. I finished my first 100 mile race completely unprepared physically… I quit Leadville even though I was completely prepared physically. The difference? It was all in my head.
  5. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Because I wasn’t mentally prepped, I failed to prep my crew. I was a disaster before Leadville. I had nothing ready and it showed. Shoes, socks, poles, food… Eh, who needs it?? Well… 100 mile finisher… I guess I paid for this one when I dropped at mile 69.
  6. Control what you can. There will be many things that go crazy in running and in life. Focus on what YOU can control. You can control your attitude and your actions. Everything else will fall where it falls. When something goes wrong, as we all know it will, smile and move forward. When it storms, Cows run away from the storm, Buffalo run toward it.
  7. Take personal responsibility. You can’t blame other people and expect your situation to get better. When it’s someone else’s fault, there’s little you can do to make your situation better… “Maturity is the ability to reap without apology and not blame others when things don’t go well.” Jim Rohn
  8. Small steps add up to Huge results. Think about how many steps it takes to walk around the block, a mile, a 100 miles. The same size step that gets you around the block gets you 100 miles. It’s just a matter of learning how to build on the first step then another then another.
  9. Running as in life… Failure is only as permanent as we make it. As we rebuild from failure we must remember the lessons of the past but never lose sight of where we are going as the path is rocky, dark and narrow. Look up and you’re sure to trip. Allow your light to dim and you’re sure to lose your vision. Stay focused or you’re sure to miss a turn.
  10. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start. I count my lucky stars I got to stand at 6th and Harrison at one of the greatest 100 mile races in the world. Less than 5 years ago I weighed 400 pounds, could barely walk a block let alone try and run a block. The first step off my couch changed my life. I get to see the best views from the highest mountain tops and I’ve seen more than most people dream and all it took was the courage to start.

For everyone that finished Leadville, I’m so proud of you! What you did is amazing and I hope you wear your buckle with pride.

For everyone that came up short, I’m so proud of you and I hope you see this as nothing more than a stumble on the trail. Pick yourself up, dust off your running shoes and step back on the trail of life. In the words of a great family we all know well, “You’re better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can!”

“My victory isn’t crossing the finish line. My victory is taking the next step after I want to quit.”

Run Epic my Friends!


Published by Gary Stotler

Gary Stotler is a father, running, fitness, weight loss and personal development addict. Formally 400 pounds, Gary has naturally lost 200 pounds, created a coaching & speaking business and has become a 100 mile ultra-runner. Holding a degree in Psychology & Sociology, certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer, mindset & behavioral modification coaching, a certification in DISC personality assessment coaching and he is a certified speaker, coach & mentor with the John Maxwell Team. Gary firmly believes, if we take One Step at a Time, nothing is impossible. He is determined to let his actions show people what is possible and hopes to help you shake up your thoughts, change your actions and create your future.

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