Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

How Failure Improves Performance: Tips To Help You Overcome Setbacks

How Failure Improves Performance

How failure improves performance is dedicated to reminding runners that part of the process in the run up to successful performance is partly due to failing.

how failure improves performance

Runners across the globe fail.

It is part of the sport. In fact, if you were to never fail, I hardly think you could appreciate success as much.

It is a part of getting to the finish line with a strong sense that you conquered your fears.

We base our past performances, at times, on what ‘may' happen in future races. We ran a bad time. Will it happen again? Will I hit the wall at the same place that I may have hit it before?

The questions are endless. The picture on the left is of me around mile 14 of the City of Los Angeles Marathon. I failed miserably at this race.

It was a test of will to even finish that day. 2010 was probably the worst racing year I ever had.

I have a PR of 2.19.35. What is 35 seconds right? I was very wrong to think that getting a PR after having run that pace (5.19 per mile) before would be practical.

How many miles a week you run doesn't guarantee you marathoning success. I was having the best training of my life while training in Colorado Springs in 2010, yet had the worst set of races. Furthermore I really didn't have the luxury of having an achieved Olympic Trials qualifying time the year before.

In addition to that, I took a couple days off and started training for another. I did this several times. Note: 12 to 16 weeks is all the more time you need to run a great marathon. Training any longer than that will make you tired, stale and overtrained.

I had even done a 20 mile long run at 6,100ft 3 weeks prior to the City of Los Angeles Marathon in 1.53.32. This was my best time for a long run at altitude.

What happened? I ran a 3.02 marathon and basically was jogging and walking the last 15 miles of the race. It was a tough pill to swallow to know that I worked so hard and didn't get the results I was looking for. Surely, if I could run faster for 20 miles then I did before breaking 2.20.00, breaking 2.19.00 was certainly feasible.

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Don't give up! Need some additional motivation. Read up on NBA player Jeremy Lin who has had to overcome quite a bit before he made the big time .

If you have a bad race, and they will come.

It is not the end of the world. It may feel that way initially. You see others succeed and you want the same. Running involves an enormous amount of patience.

You don't have to be an elite runner either. Regardless what ability level you are, you have been there. I know you can relate to what I am writing. The top runners fail, but they keep trying and that is the name of the game if you really want to get better.

I have been extremely fortunate to have trained with some of the top distance runners in the world.

Dan Browne, a 2.11.35 marathoner and two-time Olympian was my teammate for the past three years. He taught me the importance of patience and how vicious you have to be in training to get to the race prepared.

I pushed guys like:

Robert Cheseret (13.13 5000m)

John Mickowski (3.38 1500m and 49 minute 10-mile man)

Kenny Foster (2.19.49 marathoner)

I value that.

Hard work is a great motivation knowing you're trying as hard as you can to be your best.

You have to be careful how long your training block lasts. The mistake I made is I was running back to back marathons chasing the 2012 Olympic Trials standard and I was on a short time line.

It left me feeling stale and overtrained and my racing suffered. This is the reason I wrote How to Ovecome Staleness and Run Faster

You regroup. Don't over think it and I'll tell you why. There is nothing you can do to change that race.

 What matters now is how you look ahead to that golden moment where everything does come together and your hard work does pay off.

It is frustrating. It tests your way of thinking. The greatest thing about the Kenyans that I have trained with over the years is they simply don't get upset about a poor race. There will be other days to capitalize on your ability. They know this.

The key is not to let a poor performance completely sour your drive and focus to get better. Running over 3 hours for me (and I have done this on two other occasions) truly made me wonder what was going on. It didn't make sense. It still doesn't but I appreciate failure so much and it showed me what I was doing wrong.

In How Patience Can Bring You a Breakthrough Performance I write about how as we advance in training and racing we have higher goals in mind.

It is important to be motivated and driven, just don't let that same motivation and drive slow your races. Remember what 800m Olympic Champion Peter Snell said

In my case, I really didn’t’ aim too high. I didn’t think I was going to be an Olympian. I found when you have reasonable, attainable objectives you are more motivated. It’s easier to attain more modest goals than to be always reaching too high and falling short. Eventually, you have to aim high, otherwise you’ll never get there, but you don’t start out like that. The chances of failure when you aim too high are really great. I always worked hard to keep expectations low; even if I believed I could do better, I didn’t think about it.

Keep a low key stance on future performances. The greatest thing about beginners is they really have no preconceived notion of what they should run. They just go out and do it. This is a great mindset to have.

If you are a more advanced level mid to long distance runner I am sure you can appreciate that way of thinking.

It is one I decided to adopt at the beginning of 2011. I was sick of chasing times and I got to the point where I was going to do my best and that had to be enough.

I am already an extremely driven and focused athlete. What I have been told I am ‘capable' of and what I have run in the past. It has always motivated me to keep trying.

If you have had a bad race, think of how you felt in your best race. The important thing to remember is what you did once you can do again.

Martial artists lost for years against the great Bruce Lee but I took him on in California. Here is the proof.

You have to be confident because running and lining up to compete or to finish a long race like the marathon takes guts.

You have to bounce back and be formless like Bruce says

Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend-Bruce Lee

This is a great way of look at things. It makes the process of preparing for a race much more fun. You are not constantly analyzing every workout, how many miles you ran last week.

You are taking it one workout at a time. One week at a time. I think there is a place for counting miles but just don't get too caught up in it.

I have done up to 142 mile weeks and got better results running 70. There are world class marathoners who are running under 2.10 doing as little as 60-80 miles a week.

Remember what legendary Oregon University distance coach, Bill Bowerman says

If someone tells you they ran 100 miles in a week. Ignore them. What the hell difference does it make. The magic is in the person, not the 100 miles

Surround yourself with loved ones because at the end of the day, it is just a race. It isn't the end of the world and most importantly, you're loved.

My wife is my strength and was with me at the finish lines of all my bad races. It would not have mattered if I won or finished dead last. She is my motivation.

She was waiting for me, certainly knowing something was seriously wrong, as I came jogging into the finish of the Los Angeles Marathon.

There are no time standards you have to hit to impress them and how beautiful is that?

I was able to get some improvements after some massive failures in 2010. They were stepping stones of what is ahead.

Ran a 1.08.44 at the 2011 Germantown Half-Marathon to take 2nd behind Kenyan Michah Tirop's 1.08.28.

Conquered my failure of the 2010 City of Los Angeles Marathon with a 2.26.42 at last years Monumental Indianapolis Marathon (after a porta john stop to boot).

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.-James Dyson, Founder of Dyson Vacuum Cleaners

What is something you have had to overcome on your road to success? Can you think of how that failure made you stronger? Use that for fuel in your future races and always value the importance of failure.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to leave a comment. I hope this was helpful. Please send me your feedback as to what areas of training you are would like written about. Any area I can assist you with.

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