How to fail and treasure mistakes

  • Running and time spent do not define fitness, which depends on many personal variables.
  • The experience of failing in running can teach a lot about the concept of failure in life.
  • Failure is a learning opportunity, a means to evolve and improve if handled correctly.


The first time I run ten kilometers in a row I was twice happy: for doing it and for taking less than an hour. At the time (we are talking about a few years ago) the scientifically unfounded idea that a person in decent shape should run 10 kilometers in less than an hour was ingrained. At most in a round hour.
Assuming that running is defined by a faster gait than walking, the fact that one takes more or less than an hour certifies nothing more than one’s speed, i.e., pace. There are so many variables in the field (weight, age, fitness, previous sports history, illnesses, etc.) that to make such a precise definition depend on a number is, lo and behold, inaccurate. To say the least.

However, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I used to say that I was happy that it took less than an hour. I checked the watch and was even more astonished to find that to close the hour of minutes was seven minutes short. Not only had I run 10k in less than 60 minutes, but I had put in as much as 53.

The joy was short-lived: in fact, I realized that something was not right. I checked the GPS track and it was completely off: the route was not correct and the only good thing was the track itself, in the sense that it had been good to me in giving me miles I had never run.


This was a minor failure. Pulling some sums there was only to smile and keep the experience good to tell friends and have a laugh.
That day, however, made me begin to think about the concept of failure, which is, in the simplest terms, a missed achievement. An aim taken wrong, a target missed, an expectation disappointed.

Of all sports and along with not many others, running only comes down to ourselves. If we fail, we can only blame ourselves. There are few reasonable excuses that we could blame for falling far short of expectations: inclement weather, digestion, locusts, and Godzilla. The good and bad thing about running is that it really all depends on you.

In the end, it is also a good life lesson: if things go wrong, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.

Failing to win

“Great achievers”-that is, those who have achieved great success and recognition-are people who have made many mistakes and erred often. How did they eventually become successful? By making mistakes, of course, but mostly by learning to deal with failure.

Failing sucks for everyone, but failing without having learned any lessons from it sucks even more because it only leaves you with the bitterness of defeat.
Instead, drawing lessons from failure is what drives improvement. There are not many other ways to perfect yourself than by making mistakes and trying again. If we already knew how to execute everything perfectly we would always be winners, but it is easy to see that statistically and mathematically it is impossible.

In short, failure is a course correction, a gentle (or not so gentle) invitation to mind the direction and not to get distracted. Failure is the guard rail you crash into because you are not ready. If you think about it, however, a guard rail’s function is to keep you on the right track, not to crash you into it. Of course if you bang on it you will view it with dislike but it is guaranteed that you can at least come to respect it, if for no other reason than the fact that it kept you on the road and reminded you what direction you were headed.

The error is perfectly fine

The concept and fear we have of failure are also conditioned by the problematic relationship we have with mistakes. We have been educated to be rated by numbers or letters, so that it is easier to get put on some best/strongest list.

School played a very bad educational role in this, convincing us that a number could sum up what we’re worth. Sometimes we do not even realize how much we have internalized this attitude and how much we think a mistake (i.e., a bad grade) defines us and says everything about us.

There is another quote that expresses this concept very well (quotes speak great truths in a few words that many people can identify with). It has several variations but basically says:

The mistakes you have made do not define you. You are not the mistakes of your past.

In short, mistakes should serve to make you realize what you are not, not what you are. If you can interpret failure you can then understand what does not define you, and move in the direction of what best represents you and says who and what you are.

Friend failure

Failure is the outcome of mistakes, the sum of all the ones you made during a competition and even before that, during preparation. Neglected and listlessly performed workouts. Unbalanced power supply, nonexistent recovery.

Errors then serve because they are verifications made along the way. That is why it is better to make friends with them and try to talk to them. In fact: better to just listen to them.

If noticing the error only leads to discomfort and frustration, you lose its highest value, which is precisely to allow you to explore your potential. If you keep doing what you have always done expecting different results, you are a fool (another quote, attributed to Einstein like dozens of other things he never said or wrote-but still a good quote). If, on the other hand, you take new and untrodden paths, you are certainly more prone to failure than if you stayed at home on the couch, but at least you will be able to evolve.

In short, these words do not provide you with a list of remedies for overcoming failure but propose a more proactive attitude: that of making friends with it. If you can establish a dialogue, errors can tell you precisely where you need to correct yourself.
To err less the next time, to the point of no more mistakes.


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