How Runners Can Embrace Failure

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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How Runners Can Embrace Failure

Failure has a negative connotation: It often describes an inability to accomplish something. But what if we could reframe the idea of failure and, instead, think of it as a sign that you’ve challenged yourself to your fullest potential? It’s an opportunity to learn from that seemingly negative experience and use it to push further the next time. This is what differentiates the runners who get stuck in their failure from the runners who continue to move forward productively.

In training, maybe you had to take walk breaks when your goal was to run for 3 miles.  Or perhaps you struggled to hit your planned splits in a workout or failed to run your first half-marathon.

The stakes get even higher during competition because of all the energy, time and planning it takes to get to the starting line. Any significant injury can feel like a crushing failure, especially after investing months of training time. Once you’re out there on the course, failing to obtain a PR, missing a Boston qualifying time or a DNF can bring on a range of emotions from disappointment and frustration to sadness and guilt. Every one of those feelings is valid. But once you’ve allowed yourself to experience and acknowledge them, it’s time to move forward.



Failure to reach your goals can happen for many reasons — injury, weather, equipment malfunction.  The first step in moving forward is to determine what went wrong. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Were you undertrained or overtrained?
  2. Was your nutrition on track?
  3. Did you pace yourself appropriately?
  4. Did you set a goal that was too ambitious for your experience level and training? (Pro tip: Big, ambitious goals are encouraged. You just need to give yourself the appropriate time and training to get there, without cutting corners)
  5. Did you prepare mentally as well as physically?
  6. Did you do enough strength/mobility work to support your mileage and stay healthy?
  7. Did you fail because you decided to “go for it” and fell short?
  8. Did the weather or course conditions have an impact?
  9. This is far from an all-inclusive list, but the point is to review your training systematically and try to figure out what went wrong. Any failure should be an opportunity to learn and grow — don’t waste that opportunity!


Handling failure in those immediate moments after a race (or workout) can be tough, and it helps to have a voice of reason in a coach or trusted friend that can help you keep things in perspective.

Once the initial rush of emotion subsides, try to sit down and do a more strategic analysis using some of the questions listed above. There could be one primary issue or multiple factors that led to that failure. Try to figure out some strategies you can employ to make sure these setbacks don’t happen again.

For many runners, both amateur and elite, short-term failure forced them to change their training to enable long-term success. Never failing means you are probably not pushing hard enough to get out of your comfort zone — and growth comes only when you can reframe ”failure” as an opportunity to learn and improve.


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About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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