Dealing with Failure.

by coach Chris McClung

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”
–Thomas J. Watson

The mornings are getting crisper, summer is ending, and the Distance Challenge races are approaching, which means that it is racing season! The Austin running community and Rogues will travel near and far to compete in all kinds of races over the next 6 months after many more months of hard training. And, in road racing, there are no guarantees. For as many variables that you can control, there are many more variables that you can’t control. All of those variables and inputs lead to all kinds of results, some that will bring you tears of joy and others that will make you want to cry and scream like a just-born child.

I have raced in exactly 85 races since I completed my first 10K in February of 2000, 11+ years ago. I have raced in distances from 1 mile to the marathon plus completed a handful of sprint and half Ironman distance triathlons. I am fast but far from elite. I have experienced the full range of emotions after races from utter elation/joy after a PR race to complete despair after my one DNF. Regardless of pace, all runners, share common experiences when it comes to racing, how you feel about your races, and ultimately how you deal with each result. And, with racing season here, it is better to be rational and logical about how to deal with failure now (if/when it does happen) vs. lost and confused in the midst of it. So, here are my tips as a coach and an athlete:

1.     Don’t be afraid to fail. This applies as much before a race as it does after. It is easier said than done, but don’t let nerves and worries about missing a goal or PR paralyze you. Trust in the work you have done and just go execute one mile at a time. Race smart but don’t back off or run scared just because you are afraid the time goal won’t come. The only way to be/do your best is to put those fears aside, run free, put your full self into the race, and let the outcome be what it will be. This point reminds me of my favorite “No Fear” t-shirt from the late 80’s – “If you aren’t living on the edge, then you are taking up too much space.”

 2.     Don’t run away from your feelings after the race. Mourn and then move on. Failure in racing comes in many forms, even in “good races.” It can range from “hit-my-goal-but-could-have-run-faster” failure to “hurt-so-bad-I-wanted-to-quit-and-bombed” failure. In fact, very rarely will you find the perfect race where everything went right. After a bad race, you will have countless people encouraging you and telling you the “bright side” of how things went. If you are like me, you will want to punch all of those people in the face. A bad race is a bad race and will disappoint you, make you angry, and/or make you want to cry. Give yourself 2 days to experience those emotions, feel them to their fullest. Mourn the loss of a good race so that you can move on without emotional baggage. Then, pick yourself up, identify the lessons from the experience, and keeping running on.

 3.     Separate training results from racing results. So many people put all of the emphasis on the end result. If the race goes bad, then all is lost and every mile in training was wasted. That is just wrong. You can have success in training even if the race went poorly. Each consistent training cycle you complete means a stronger aerobic foundation to carry with you to the next race. The race can be an indicator of how training went but isn’t the only indicator, and many people can have a bad race but still have improved dramatically in every way as a runner. Think about your growth as a runner holistically – perhaps you were more consistent than ever in training, maybe you ran at a higher weekly mileage than before, ran a longer, long run, or were able to hit more consistent pacing on speed workouts. Ultimately, you want to see success in both races and training, but the results in each are not necessarily one in the same.

 4.     Take a long-term view of your development and keep working. True development in running takes place over a period of years and not months. No single run, race or even training cycle is more important than the accumulation of runs, races and training cycles over years. You learn something with each one, whether good or bad, and then you move on to continue to develop and grow as a runner. Don’t let one bad race keep you from getting up, dusting yourself off, and then going to tackle the next one. As Dr. Watson says, “go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

Good luck to all in this racing season. May you run without fear and kick some serious ass!


3 thoughts on “Dealing with Failure.

  1. After months of training, I herniated a disc in my lower back, rendering myself unable to run less than a week before my marathon. This helped me recognize the progress I’ve made this season. Thanks for posting!

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