Editorial: Fear & Failure

TrailRunMag 06.02.2019

“Make fear your tailwind, instead of your headwind.”

– Jimmy Iovine.  

I was watching Netflix instead of getting my daughters to bed. Instead of lifting kettle bells. Instead of doing squats. Instead of running. I hadn’t run in a week and a half. I could argue that it was because I feared exacerbating a potentially race-stopping injury. The truth is that I was paralysed by an all-encompassing fear of what lay ahead.   

Jimmy Iovine’s comment is on point. Fear shouldn’t be what grinds you to a halt in life. It should be what propels you forward.  He reels off the quote in a documentary series The Defiant Ones, in which he describes being “in over his head” when, as a young apprentice sound engineer he’s dropped into an Easter weekend shift twiddling audio knobs on a sound deck for none other than John Lennon, post Beatles. Not long prior, he had been sweeping floors in a record company and even then, he was fired from that1*1cRzcanwOmMYZind8uxX_w  

It was the beginning of a stellar journey that more than 45 years later saw him and Dr Dre (of NWA fame – seen wit hJimmy above) sell their record label to Apple for three billion dollars.  

“Jimmy’s career is based on a tremendous lack of fear of moving forward,” says Bruce Springsteen of his one-time producer-collaborator, influential on Springsteen’s seminal Born To Run album. 


Jimmy and John Lennon in the studio – it was the beginning of one of the most successful producing careers ever in the music industry.


Jimmy pushing studio buttons and fear into the musical stratosphere

Lennon and Springsteen were just two of a who’s who of rock and roll royalty – including Patti Smith, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Bono and U2, Dire Straits, The Pretenders, Eminem and Tupac – who witnessed and benefited from Jimmy’s “lack of fear of moving forward.”   

That doesn’t mean Jimmy lacked fear. What Jimmy was fearful of was failure. He constantly used it to propel him into the musical stratosphere as one of the most successful producers of all time.   

Evolutionary biologists will tell you that back in the day fear kept us alive long enough to evolve. In today’s concrete jungle void of deadly predators (bar our own kind), fear is a bit of a psychological hangover. But you can still use its deep-seated roots to advantage.  
I watched The Defiant Ones because I was allowing fear to be my headwind. It was making me think something wasn’t possible. And that was laying bricks coloured the darkest shade of negativity in a wall that have prevented me from completing my first official 100km mountain ultra.   
While I have run many sub-100km ultras and multiday trail events breaking into the 300km-plus zone – and despite being editor if this magazine – I’d never notched a proper tonne. And just like Jimmy when he first walked into Lennon’s studio, I have always felt like an imposter in a trail world obsessed with longer runs. When others would banter about 100km rollercoasters, I’d put my invisibility cloak on. What did I have to offer? Not much. “Gee the half marathon is an under-rated distance,” I’d push the tangent.  

My credibility rating was further dented by the fact that I’m the Race Director of one of Australia’s tougher 100km ultras. The course profile with 5600m of ascent on brutal terrain lodges Oscars 100 Hut 2 Hut at the upper end of the ultra challenge spectrum. For any runner with any idea, it also awakens the fear factor in spades. The trick is to use that to help get you around the course, rather than stopping you even making it to the start line.  

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 6.18.10 pmWhile I’d covered the route five times over, it had never been in one push. I’d recced, cleared, and marked the course but always in a leisurely three days (at least I could empathise with the three-day participants!).  Yet, the reality was: I couldn’t honestly say that I knew what it was like hitting Muesli (69km) or King Hut (73km) as the sun set. I didn’t know the feeling of scraping under cut-off by minutes, knowing ahead further cut offs force a ferocious pace on aching legs and a belly revolting against a sixteenth gel. I didn’t even know if at that point it would be sixteen! I hadn’t been in my participants shoes. And that matters.   
Perhaps it was inevitable that an event and a course I’d designed and spent so much time on should be my ultra proving ground. The problem was, I knew it well, and had seen how it can break runners far better, far more experienced and certainly far more hardened than I’ll ever be.  That knowledge infested me with a fear that risked keeping me on the couch. Layered with inconsistent training and a knee injury that wouldn’t allow me to run a cruisy 8km loop from my front door, let alone 100km in the mountains, I was scared.  

Come challenge day (I raced against the owner and co-RD of Oscars 100, Andrew Payne), I did what Jimmy did. Knuckled down. Focused. Took my chance. He twisted knobs and pushed levers to extract an epic sound from Lennon. I took steps up a mountain to extract what was for me, an epic performance from my body. That is, just as Jimmy who began sweeping the floors of a record label and ended up selling his own for 3 billion, I started my first 100km on the bottom rung of the ultra ladder. 21 hours later, I finished. No cash prize bar the $3,000 we raised for autism charity, Oscars100. But that 2am finish was worth more to me than three billion. And just like Jimmy, I let fear push at my back and finished with stars all around me, albeit the kind I much prefer.  Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 6.17.57 pm


This editorial appears in the current edition #30 of Trail Run Mag.
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