My first marathon was an utter and complete failure.
When I signed up for that race, the 2002 Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in San Diego, I was asked to write down my projected finish time. 3:10:00. I wanted to qualify for Boston.
On race day, I lined up in the first corral, just behind the elite runners. Four hours and fifty-two minutes later, having walked most of the last six miles, I barely found the energy to run for the finish line photo. The 3:10 finishers could have watched a movie by the time I finished.
Fear of failure prevents people from doing amazing things
I know this because when I went to Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within event (which led to my going vegetarian and starting this blog), we all walked barefoot across hot coals the very first night as a metaphor for turning our biggest fears into power. Ninety percent of the room said theirs was “fear of failure.” (Maybe one day I’ll tell you mine.)
A room full of motivated people, for sure, and it was the fear of failure that held so many of them back.
Failing was the best thing that could have happened to me
When I “failed” in that first marathon, it awakened something in me that I had never experienced. When I signed up, I wanted simply to run a marathon. Boston seemed cool, but not that important.
But when I missed my (naive) target time by an hour and forty minutes, that was something I couldn’t live with. I found it hard to tell people that I had run a marathon when I had walked so much of it. And I knew I was capable of so much more.
(By the way, if 4:52 is a success to you, that’s totally cool. It’s all about doing what YOU are capable of. My 3:10 personal best is a joke to elite runners.)
It took me four years to run another marathon. Each time I started training, I got shin injuries. Sometimes I considered giving up. But failing so hard the first time is what kept me coming back.
Make failure work for you
If your fear of failure is preventing you from doing the things you light up just to think about, you need to embrace the fear. You need to redefine what failure is.
On June 5th, I’m not running 50 miles because it will be fun. (When I’m running a race, I want more than anything to be finished, so I can stop running.)
I’m running 50 miles because the thought of accomplishing something like that energizes me. And as Sana and Andrew pointed out in my post about being scared of the 50, it wouldn’t be so exciting if failing weren’t a big factor.
If I don’t finish, in some small way that’s a failure. It will be painful. But that pain will drive me to try again, and then one day I’ll do it.
For me, failure isn’t a DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race. Failure is giving up on the process, letting a goal I care about deeply die when it doesn’t come as easily as I’d like.
That’s the definition that empowers me. You need to choose the one that works for you.
This post is part of a series on motivation for running. Check out the rest!
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