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The art of failing

When you don't hit that PB, learning to reframe failure into something positive will help you move on, and ultimately make you a better runner

urban exhausted fitness man outdoor sitting on the floor

Failure is hard to swallow no matter who you are or what you’re doing, but having a bad race or missing out on your goal when you’ve been training for weeks or months can be a particularly difficult blow. Even a less-than-stellar workout or a bad run can leave you feeling frustrated and upset. The reality is, failure is an unavoidable part of running, but learning to reframe that failure into something positive is what separates runners who grow through disappointment, and those who get stuck in it.

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Instead of thinking about failure as a bad thing, look at it as a sign that you pushed yourself to your fullest potential and celebrate that. Perhaps on that day your potential didn’t get you quite as far as you wanted to be, but you can use this as a learning experience to push you further the next time.

So how can you reframe failure into a positive learning experience? The first thing is to acknowledge that you’re sad, disappointed or frustrated. Missing out on that BQ after months of training stings, and being upset about it is a valid response. The key, of course, is not to dwell in those feelings, but to move on from them. One way to do this is to put your result in perspective. As runners, we tend to tie at least part of our identity to the sport, and subsequently attach our self-worth or value to our personal bests. Remember that one bad run, workout or race doesn’t define you as a runner, nor does it determine your value as a person. There will be more runs and more races for you to achieve your goals, and in the end it is the pursuit of those goals that makes running so fulfilling.

Once you’ve worked through those emotions, the next step is to determine what went wrong. Did you train too little or too much? Did you take care of yourself during your training? Did you eat properly, and did you prioritize recovery? Was your goal appropriate for your level and the timeframe you gave yourself to achieve it? Did you pace yourself properly in order to hit your goal? Identifying the mistakes you made will allow you to make the necessary changes so that when you get back out there again, you’re better prepared to hit your goal. Additionally, don’t forget to ask yourself if there were any external factors that may have affected your performance. While blaming failure on outside forces is not always a healthy way to deal with disappointment, running into a strong headwind with sideways rain is a valid reason to miss your goal time.

The most important thing is to always look at failure as an opportunity to improve, and you never want to miss that opportunity because you spent so much time beating yourself up over an unfavourable result. Whether your goal was to run 5K without stopping, hit certain splits in an interval workout or set a new PB in a race, congratulate yourself for your hard work and for being brave enough to try, then figure out what changes you need to make in order to do better next time. Failure is a wonderful teacher, and runners who figure out how to learn from their failures will ultimately be better athletes for it.

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