Marathon Training Diary, Week 4: The importance of failure

25 July 2016  |  Alex

The Irish author Samuel Beckett once wrote: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." and I think that this is something that it is always important to bear in mind when thinking about running – how to deal with failure. Before I took up running seriously, I had previously tried to get into it without any success. I started running laps around an artificial lake near where I lived – it was a flat route, roughly a 10k including one lap of the lake and the journey to and from my house – but I could never make it stick for more than a month.

I often think about why I couldn't get into running earlier (especially considering how dedicated I am to it now) and it becomes difficult for me to place myself in my old shoes. The main thing that held me back – and I think it is the same thing that has held back a number of other would-be runners – is my inability to fail. But what exactly is it I mean when I talk of failure?

Ever Failed

Running has, for me at least, been a consistent battle between what I want my body to do and what my body can do. For example, when I very first got into running, my failure was the failure to run for more than a couple of minutes without being overtaken by breathlessness, fatigue and general pain. My lack of will to fight through these impediments led me to give up on the entire idea of running as a means of improving my fitness.

Even though I managed to fight through this barrier to even starting to run, I have continued not to be able to run as well as I would wish. One major example (and one that particularly sticks in the craw) is the fact that in my last two – or first two if you'd rather – marathons I have been unable to get a sub-four hour time. The four hour marathon marker is commonly held as the divider that splits the serious marathon runners from the fun runners (I like to think of myself more in the former category) and despite the hours, bloody nipples, bruised feet, early mornings and missed nights out that I endured, I still couldn't reach it. The salient question to ask is: what is the point in continuing?

Try Again, Fail Again

Failing to hit the targets that you've set yourself is not the worst thing a runner can do – the worst thing that a runner can do is quit trying to hit targets altogether. Some people may be natural runners, for whom bounding along to a sub 3-hour marathon is no big deal, but I will never be one of these people – my only option is to put in as much hard-work as I can until I can reach these sort of goals.

One of the best gifts that a runner can have is the ability to see through the apparent lack of progress and see the positive side. For example, with my marathons I might not have hit my target times but with the second one I did manage to run it 8 minutes quicker than the first. In the same vein, just because you haven't beaten your personal best for a 5 or 10k in a while, maybe you are improving in other regards, for example greater consistency.

Fail Better

At the end of the day, the chances are that if you're a runner you will never be as good as someone else. Every year, a race like the London Marathon has 2 winners and 29,998 losers – so why bother in the first place? The answer is that with running, winning doesn't have to be end goal – even the very pursuit of a goal becomes meaningful as long as you deem it so. The secret is to try again, to fail again and (most importantly) to fail better.

My Week in Running

After last week's period of slackness, I managed to polish off a 28km run through the heart of East London to Tottenham this weekend. My speed this week was somewhat impeded by the fact that the weather has been unseasonably warm (of all the things you expect from a British summer, heat is not one of them) and this Sunday, the sun was being especially punishing. I even ended up with a rather unbecoming vest-tan due to my choice of attire and hubris of thinking that in England it's never necessary to wear suntan lotion. There's definitely a reason that most marathons are run in the spring or autumn!

Top 5 Running Songs of the Week

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – (Love is Like A) Heat Wave

A song that I thought would be particularly apposite this week (considering the sudden rise in temperature around the country) – who'd have known that a song about a heatwave could be so cool?

Fifth Dimension – Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)

A medley of two songs from the musical "Hair", this is another song that is perfect for running on one of those uncommonly nice days that can sometimes happen (once in a blue moon...)

Grip Grand ft. A.G. – Poppin' Pockets

Featuring the sort of high pitched sample of which Kanye West is so fond, Poppin' Pockets is a song about something to which we can all relate – being stone cold broke.

Blondie – Heart of Glass

Riding the zeitgeist of the late 70s New York disco, Blondie's Heart of Glass became a huge cross-over smash and has danceability that stretches to even the modern indie disco.

Primal Scream – Loaded

Another timeless favourite, Primal Scream's ode to getting lit is such an infectiously joyous song that it's hard not to feel enlivened upon hearing those first few trumpet notes. Ideal for a victory lap, most definitely.

I think that that's about all I've got time for this week, but come again next Monday when the topic is going to be how to deal with your environment while running.

Are you as big of a failure as me? Well in that case I want to hear from you! Tell me what keeps you motivated through those stretches where it seems like nothing is going right for you.