Goals and Failure or is that Success

MCM 1983Throughout my life I have set many goals – related to: life, work, education, health, running and I do not really buy into the concept that failure is a good thing.

Instead I believe that smaller successes, bring about larger success.

Have I always been successful – of course not – I am human.
Have I had failures – monumental ones.

However, each time that I have failed, there were still parts, where I was successful and I have learned to build off those smaller successes, instead of focusing too much on what went wrong or what many would consider my failures.

In this picture I was on my way to finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in 1983, after I DNF the 1982 race. I didn’t give up, instead I learned from my mistakes and was motivated to be successful, not fearful of failure.


I am probably a bit “old school” but in my experience failure is usually caused by a lack of:

  • reality
  • planning
  • knowledge
  • effort
  • time
  • evaluation
  • fear
  • luck

Since this is a primarily a running blog, I am using the terminology and examples from a running goal perspective, but change a few of the words or the example and it could fit just about any situation or profession.

My Goal

I will run a 5K run with a sub 20:00 minute time by the end of the year.

When I set this goal back in January, I was over 20 pounds heavier, had run sub 18:00 minute 5K’s in the past (but that was more than 25 years ago), was having a difficult time breaking 9:00 mile pace, coming off knee surgery less than six month before and would be turning 55 this summer.

This goal would seem rather unrealistic to many readers, considering where I was when I made it and many would believe that I should have tempered my expectations a little, so I wouldn’t “fail”. However, that isn’t who I am and I purposely set this goal high to motivate me to do more than I would be “comfortable” doing – I wanted to challenge myself with this goal.

Progress or not

Reality – This is probably the biggest thing that many people have problems with including myself. Setting the goal too low or too high –

  • if you set it too easy then where is the challenge,
  • if you set it too high, there is doubt from the start that you can do it.

When setting a goal I go by the belief that we can do more, much more than we believe we can and try not to limit what I might accomplish because I set the goal too low.

Do I believe that I can meet my goal of a sub 20:00 minute 5K? Yes I do. Do I have my doubts at times? Yes I do. However, I also know that I have run this fast before – even though it was a long time ago. Therefore in my mind this is a real goal for me, a very challenging one, but still attainable.

Knowledge – Do I have the knowledge to increase my speed to a 6:25 mile pace for a 5K or do I need to or find someone who does know (a coach or other runner who is willing to help me). If I don’t have the knowledge or access to others about how to run faster, it becomes rather unrealistic to expect to meet this goal.

I have run for many years, have trained for fast running in the past and I have researched/reading/studying about different methods to run faster. So I feel pretty comfortable with my knowledge base.

Planning – Do I have a plan (it doesn’t have to be a detailed daily plan, but it definitely has to have a progression of smaller goals or milestones that I would have to meet, to meet the goal of a sub 20:00 minute 5K. The old saying is “Failure to Plan, is Planning to Fail”.

I am planning my runs to meet the milestones that I want. My body is taking more time to get the good base in and I have had to do more distance training than speed work, because I know that I need the endurance as well (plus the weight loss that the time on the road encourages), to complement the natural speed that I used to have. I am doing my plan a little slower than I thought I would, but am on target to meet my goal this year – hopefully by the end of October.

Effort – This is where the rubber or feet really hits the road. Am I putting in the true effort to run faster or am I just coasting and doing just enough to not be too uncomfortable or am I getting into that zone of discomfort where the improvement really takes place?

Truthfully I tend to back off when I reach a certain level of discomfort – therefore I probably need to find someone to run track workouts with, who is faster than I am and run in a few more races than I have, to continue to improve my ability to run faster.

Time – To be successful at something takes time. Most of us cannot or will not succeed unless we do the time. Sure it is more fun to do things like writing this post, playing a computer game or watching something on the TV than going out and doing two hours at the track or going out for that long run, but to be successful we have to put in the time.

Not really a problem here, since my injury I have been very motivated to run and have made running a priority, I just have to be careful not to run too much.

Evaluate – Not only at the end of the year or when something is going wrong, but on an ongoing basis throughout the year, what is going right, what needs to improve, things that I am doing wrong, what can I change to make it better. All these things need to be looked at honestly, without any bluff or ego getting in the way, otherwise you are fooling yourself, which can lead to the dreaded – “failure.

I have made a great deal of progress so far, but I am worried that it might not be enough to crack the 20:00 minute mark, I will know better around my birthday in August, when I am looking to do a formal time trial. I am wondering if various injuries and age have taken more of a toll on my speed than I thought they had.

Fear – Fear of failure, often leads to failure. You get so hung-up on the bad things that could happen that you just give up on trying or the dreaded paralysis by analysis sets in and you lose confidence in your ability to be successful.

This is happening a little bit to me. I have announced this goal publicly on my blog, Twitter and other social media sites and I get nervous about whether I can pull it off and how it will affect my creditability as a runner, if I fail to run a 5K in under 20:00 minutes this year. I know that 99% really do not care and are actually supportive that I have made the effort, while the other 1% I really don’t care what they think. But still, in the back of my mind is that little voice that tells me I am not good enough to succeed on this goal – the one that I have to ignore.

Luck – The unknown cause, something you have little or no control over. We make a lot our own luck by doing the above things, but sometimes “luck” is a reason that just happens.

This is one of those don’t brag about it things and move on.

Success or Failure

If I do all the above and I still haven’t made my goal of a sub 20:00 minute 5K this, have I failed?

Strictly speaking I have failed to meet that goal and this is where I think things can get pretty stupid. No I didn’t meet my goal, but at the same time I have succeeded in losing over 20 pounds, I run faster (sub 7:00 for a mile), only minor injuries and run a lot farther (weekly 13+ mile runs) than I could at the start of the year.

Personally, I would look at this as a very successful running year, certainly not a failure. However, that is not how some would choose to view my failure to meet the standard that was set initially.

If I do not meet my goal – I will stop, re-evaluate what I accomplished and look at how close I came to meeting it. Provided that I have done all the above, if I am in the 21:00 minute range perhaps I need to look at getting a coach and/or working out with other runners to get faster. Or if I am still above 22:00 after all the work I have done, perhaps my goal was unrealistic and I need to change it.

Either way, I would not consider the year a failure – there were too many positives that occurred to use failure to describe my running this year.

The reality is that

In some cases failing to meet a goal or objective is a matter of life or death and there are no reset buttons or “do overs” next week. That is why I don’t believe in the current over-use of the word failure by so many of the “so-called or self-proclaimed experts” as something that is okay or is acceptable.

Failure is something that happens most of us sooner or later, so we have to think about and it is okay to do some worst-case scenario planning, if things get bad, However, instead of working so hard to avoid failure, I believe it is better to work towards being successful the first time.

The actually doing the work mentality versus the “I wish it so” attitude.

There is a difference – if you think about it.

Achieving or not achieving a running goal is relatively minor thing for most of us in our lives compared to family, work or beliefs (unless you make your living running), but it doesn’t mean that they are not important to us.

I know that if I don’t make my goal of a sub 20:00 minute 5k, the world will not end, my wife will not leave me and I will not get fired from my job (if I had one), but at the same time I will want to know why this goal wasn’t met and what I can do to either meet it or make it more realistic for next year.

Personally, I really expect to make my goal of running a sub 20:00 5K this year and I know that I still have a lot of work ahead of me to do it. This was a tough post for me to write – for obvious reasons, so I have to ask:

  • Do you have any running/fitness goals that you are unsure that you will meet this year?
  • Have you looked beyond the excuses and found the real reasons why you might not make the goal?
  • What can you change to meet your running/fitness goal?
  • Did you make an unrealistic running goal and need to re-think that goal?
  • Do you need to change your goal based on new circumstances – injuries, job changes, family change, etc.?

Run While You Can and Keep smiling – Good things will happen! Smile

Originally written by Harold Shaw published at “A Veteran Runnah” © 2012 – All Rights Reserved. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harold Shaw and A Veteran Runnah” with appropriate and specific directions or links to the original content.

13 comments on “Goals and Failure or is that Success

  1. Goal setting is so important and I love your tips. It’s so easy to set unrealistic goals like you say. For me, I would love to set running goals for this year but I know that I have to be realistic and flexible, depending on how my rehab is going and how my knee is feeling. It’s HARD to not set crazy, ambitious goals (that’s the type A personality coming out in me) but I also know that’s not smart and will likely get me into more trouble in the long run. Thanks for sharing this!

    • I went through knee surgery last May and have had to fight the impulse to go too fast too soon. My head ‘knows” what it has done in the past and doesn’t understand why the body isn’t cooperating ;-). The realistic part is the most difficult part and I am still struggling with whether 20:00 minutes for a 5K is realistic for me – I believe that it is now, but when I made it I really wondered if I was biting off a lot more than I could deliver. Just listen “closely” to what your body is trying to tell you – Have fun running and be a little patient, it does pay off in the long run.

  2. A thought provoking post, Harold. Thanks for sharing. It’s important to keep it real. My goal this year is to run a sub-4 hour marathon. My only excuse will be if I’m too lazy to get myself to do those important Saturday long runs and I realllly hope that isn’t the case. Of course, I know it’s up to me and me alone. — Ericka @ The Sweet Life (sweetlifeericka.com)

  3. That is a goal that is so far beyond my abilitiies it is hard to wrap my head around.. but really enjoyed the thoughtprovoking post and thinking about possibilities!

    • Elle – Thank you – goals should be about what you want to do, not others – when I get in the comparison zone, I tend to lose focus on what I really need to do. As the saying goes “My fast is somebody else’s slow and my slow is someone’s fast. So I am learning to look at what others are doing, but keep my goals – my goals.

      Kerri -Thank you – You can do the 30:00 minutes – next question do you have a plan or are you just going to do it? 🙂

      Ericka – Thank you – Keeping it real and balance the idea that I need to be challenged as well. Finding that balance is the difficult part, but I think we know ourselves better than we let on sometimes and purposely set the bar a little too low in order to ensure that we make it instead of a true challenge. I just think we can do more than we think we can, once we start trying.

  4. Pingback: June was a GREAT Month for Running «

  5. Pingback: Life Experience Teaches Us To Be Happier | Opher Brayer's Blog

  6. Pingback: 2012 Mid-Year Goal Review and Update « A Veteran Runnah

  7. Pingback: How to choose your 10 things for your own Binary Improvement plan | Binary Improvement

  8. Pingback: Fine, Fail and a Few other F words | The Edmonton Tourist

I moderate all comments, if it is inappropriate it will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s