Runners are a unique breed of athlete: our sport is so hard, we know that we’ll fail often. And that’s what makes us better!
Have you ever attempted a Personal Best, only to have that race be more of a Personal Worst?
Or perhaps you tried to break two hours for the half marathon… and failed so spectacularly that you’re embarrassed you told your friends about it in the first place.
Running is the great humbler-in-chief. It forces us to confront our own limitations and live in the realm of the possible.
But it’s not always easy.
I was pumped to attempt my first ultramarathon – but not quite so excited when I had to tell the world why my name was followed by the dreaded letters DNF.
It’s difficult to swallow your pride and admit that you fell far short of your own expectations.
But failure has a way of being a great instructor, teaching you that:
- Hard work works
- Realistic (but aggressive) goals are preferable!
- Failure is not always failure…
And while I’ve written before about the virtues of failing, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing about disappointment from the world’s best runners.
The Elites on Overcoming Setbacks
As you might realize by now, I love studying elite runners. They’re textbook examples of how “the best” operate.
You can see this in action on the SR blog:
- How ultramarathoner Ian Sharman trained before winning Leadville
- How Arian Hilborn fuels her marathon training
- How Amelia Boone & David Roche prevent injuries
- 9 pro runners on how they stay healthy and recover faster
Studying the top runners in the world provides us lessons and principles that we can apply to our own running – to great advantage!
But we almost never discuss the failures of the world’s best runners.
What does it feel like to never achieve your biggest goal throughout your entire career?
How does an elite keep perspective? Do they ever think about quitting?
Most importantly… how do elites bounce back from setbacks? Do they have a different mindset than us normal runners?
What enables them to continue training at high levels for years?
How do they overcome a bad workout, long run, or race?
These are the questions that I couldn’t get out of my head.
So I interviewed six pro runners to get their hot take on failure:
- Alexi Pappas – Olympian, Greek national record holder, and star of Tracktown
- Mike Wardian – racing phenom, world record holder, and nicest guy ever
- Brandy Erholtz – Pikes Peak Ascent champ, US Mountain Running team member
- Nick Symmonds – 2x Olympian and the CEO of Run Gum
- Devon Yanko – 2017 winner of the Leadville Trail 100, multiple national champion
- Travis Macy – ultra runner and author of The Ultra Mindset
They’re the stars of Episode 39 of the Strength Running podcast. I think you’re going to love this episode.
We talk about their own personal failures, how they bounced back, and whether their approach to failure has changed over time.
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These athletes are Olympians, national champions, and winners of the most grueling endurance events on the planet.
Use this podcast to change how you think about failure. Ask yourself:
- Do I have a productive approach to setbacks?
- How can I better use disappointments to my advantage?
- Do I use a Plan A, B, and C?
- Can I succeed with a better support network of runners, coaches, and other experts?
- Do I see the “silver lining” of falling short of my expectations?
- When is not achieving a goal a good thing?
Many runners are months – sometimes weeks – away from a breakthrough.
But their mindset about failure holds them back.
They overthink things, fail to draw the clear lessons from their setback, and stagnate.
It’s my job as your virtual coach not to let that happen. And instead, push you to be a better version of yourself.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a runner that you think needs some words of encouragement!
Resources not to be missed:
- Travis Macy’s The Ultra Mindset
- The Brave Athlete by Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall
- Hear from more 9 more pro runners about injury prevention