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Mental Training

The Art of Falling Short

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Anyone who chooses to stand on a starting line is braver and more courageous than they even know. Trail running is inherently vulnerable. It takes a lot of guts to even take on the challenge of a race. It takes even more guts to leave everything out on the trail and see what you’re capable of. After 20 years of throwing down at all distances and on all surfaces, one thing I can tell you with 100 percent certainty is that if you want to reach your potential, failing is part of the equation. 

Embrace Failure 

The perspective shift that changed how I approach training and racing was when I realized that there is so much more to learn from failure than there is to learn from winning. Falling short of a goal gives you a valuable opportunity to see where you can improve. It shows you the chinks in your armor so that you can come back next time even stronger and more prepared. Failing isn’t evidence that you’re not good enough or fast enough or strong enough. Failing is a necessary byproduct of testing your limits. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be in the arena fighting the good fight and risking failure than sitting in the stands and never knowing what could have been. 

Failing is a necessary byproduct of testing your limits.

Learn from Your Mistakes 

When we have a disappointing race or a bad week of workouts, we usually want to put it in the rearview mirror and forget it. Move on and focus on the next opportunity. Don’t do that! Sit in the disappointment long enough to learn from it. What can you do better next time? What takeaways do you need consider as you continue training for the next challenge? Another tempting reaction to a disappointing race or workout is to sum up the experience by thinking you did everything wrong. That’s rarely true. Even in some of the most heartbreaking outcomes, there are positive takeaways. Maybe you blew up in the later stages of a race, but you took a chance and put yourself in a position you never had before – that takes courage and should be celebrated. Maybe weather conditions or a failed nutrition strategy stood in the way of a PR, but you stocked up on some major mental toughness points by engaging in productive self-talk to get through the experience. Learn from your mistakes, but not at the expense of recognizing your successes, too. 

Learn from your mistakes, but not at the expense of recognizing your successes, too. 

You are More Than Your Results

Lastly and most importantly, the best thing you can do when it comes to learning to embrace failure is know with absolute conviction that your results have nothing to do with your worth. If your identity or how you feel about yourself is tied up in race outcomes then it’s almost impossible to convince yourself to take the risks that are necessary to level up. One exercise I like to do with athletes is to have them create a pie chart that represents their identity. Their pieces usually include things like, mother/father, husband/wife, their career, and of course, athlete. How big of a piece of the pie is the athlete piece? Are you surprised by its size? Would you change it if you could? This is a powerful exercise in helping athletes gain a better understanding of how much their athlete role is impacting their overall identity. 

The best thing you can for yourself as a runner is to embrace the opportunity to fall short

The best thing you can for yourself as a runner is to embrace the opportunity to fall short. Because doing so means you’re out there putting yourself to the test and seeing what you’re capable of. The running community is such an intimate one that we are often surrounded by like-minded people. In reality, the truth is that the majority of the population isn’t out there taking big risks. By setting yourself up to achieve something great, but knowing and accepting that failure is a possibility, you’re showing far more bravery than most. Give yourself a little bit of love for that. 

Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance