The gift of failure 

It took me 7 marathon attempts to achieve my sub 4 hour goal, I learned an important lesson which was the gift of failure.

Ok I know that sounds weird but hear me out…
In 2010 I ran my fifth marathon in London in a time of 4:55:13. Paula Radcliffe in her retirement would have covered the marathon distance ‘twice’ in that time. But it wasn’t until my ninth marathon in Manchester 2016 that I ran a 3:35 marathon. Knocking 1:20 off my time. 

From my first marathon I wanted to run a sub four hour marathon, but It didn’t happen. So a couple of marathons later in 2010 I felt it was going to happen in London. I was hugely disappointed with my finish time, I felt I had failed again, and I was a long way off my target. I weighted approx. 92kg, I wasn’t in the best shape to run a marathon to my best potential. 

If I had never attempted another marathon after London, if I had accepted my doubts, if I had accepted other peoples criticism, then I would have failed, and never known how good I could be.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Muhammad Ali

In my first seven marathons, I wanted to break sub 4hours but I wasn’t doing the basics right, and crashing at the business end, the last 10k. I hoped it would get easier and it didn’t in fact it got worse.

The first seven marathons were a learning experience of what did and mostly did not work, to achieve my sub 4 hour goal. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded but in my recent marathons Ive embraced the situation rather than fight against it. 

So I embraced doing the basics, the hard things I didn’t do before, like interval training. After you stick with it for what seems like an eternity, you look at your garmin watch and swear blind it’s made a mistake as your times improve.

I’ve learnt that the marathon is really a hard 10k with a twenty mile warm up run. The last 10k takes you to a place where you body would rather not be, as it floods your brain with various signals to stop and to preserve itself.

Fact: The last 10k always hurts, as I tried to in my first few marathons to hide from this fact it beat me ever time. 

If you can’t change the situation, then change the way you view it. 

So it’s first about acceptance of the situation and secondly meeting that challenge to see what your potential is. It took me seven marathons to realise this and my times improved from a 4:55hr to a 3:35hr marathoner.

I didn’t achieve my goal in my first seven marathons, because I didn’t fully accept the parts of the marathon I feared. But since I’ve embraced all parts of the marathon (good and bad) my last three marathons have all been sub 4 hour times, and I’ve achieved PBs in my marathon and half marathon distances thanks to the training from my coach Andre Schieck at Running 4 life.

If you let your fears hold you back and take no action then you have failed. But if you meet your fears, you get abit braver each time and the results start to display more positives. You may not reach your ultimate goal, the first seven times as in my case, but don’t give up at the first attempt.

When you put yourself in the position of failure, you realise that some of our fears in reality are less scary than we imagine them to be. But take baby steps in how you meet failure. If you want to learn to fly, make sure you can take off from the ground before you take off from a great height.

It’s easier to see the journey with hindsight, then at the time. I’ve learned that each failure has made me stronger. Every time now when I feel like giving up in training, I remember my 2010 marathon learning experience and it makes me work that extra bit harder. I also remind myself how I learned from the experience and came back stronger.

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”
Oprah Winfrey

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