Failure: A Runner’s Nightmare or Triumph


Failure is something a runner is confronted with in every race.   Even with this thought in mind (hopefully far back in the runner’s mind) it is the intention of the runner to avoid failure and achieve success.

However, at some time in the runner’s career he/she will experience failure.   Failure can occur due to a bad day, a lack of preparation, unexpected injury, over confidence, weather conditions, poor strategy decisions, poor pace decisions and a host of other situations.  No matter how well prepared, there is always the chance that something can go wrong and failure can ensue.

What is important in failure, if it occurs, is to see what the response will be to this failure; ultimately it is hoped the runner would bounce back from it and go on to succeed.

One of the great quotes’ related to failure by Abraham Lincoln is, “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”   The suggestion here is that a runner, or anyone for that matter, who fails can never be content with failure.  Success is based on assessing what went wrong and remedying the problem to achieve at an even high level.  Based on the previous quote, the following suggestions are made to deal with failure in running situations.

  1. Learn from failure. Instead of wallowing in defeat, look back at the performance and determine what went wrong so it can be used to a runners advantage in the next race.
  2. Grow from failure. Again, worrying about failure from the race and future races will not make a runner better, but analyzing mistakes and correcting them along with growing in knowledge and experience will help to overcome future failures.
  3. Accept the fact that failures are always possible. No matter how hard a runner prepares, there is always a chance of failure.  Preparing for each race as well as possible diminishes the failure experience, however, the possibility always exist.
  4. Stay positive through failure. Having a positive attitude no matter what is especially important in long distance racing.  Anything can happen in such a race because of the terrain, possibility of injury, weather, etc.
  5. Work on weaknesses following failure. To come back to success means working hard on weaknesses in the runners training.
  6. Risk taking involves the possibility of failure, but must be taken to reach a runner’s full potential. To reach one’s potential as a runner involves risk.  Knowing risk is a part of succeeding than failure also needs to be considered.
  7. Mistakes are part of the running experience. No one is perfect.  Mistakes will be made along the way to reaching a runners full potential.  What’s important is the runner learns from these mistakes to continue improving.

The path to success is never easy; there are so many obstacles seen and unseen that present themselves.  These obstacles can lead to failure, however if the runner is aware of these situations occurring and meets them head on and accepts that they can occur he/she will be ready to deal with these failures appropriately.   Failure does not always mean defeat, and if accepted and dealt with properly, it can lead to success.

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Fredrick is a retired emeritus professor from Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD. He has taught in the department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University for the past 45 years and taught both undergraduate and graduate courses such as physiology of exercise, advanced physiology of exercise, nutrition, nutrition and weight control, health and fitness, motor learning and performance, psychology of human performance, psychology of physical activity, track and field skills, soccer, gymnastics, cross country skiing and more. He was a gymnast, soccer player, and track and field athlete, and participates in all distance races and triathlons.



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