The Casual Runner

The Fear of Failure: A Powerful Motivational Force

Ok, I hate to admit it, but I have no choice.  When I woke up this morning, the calendar informed me of one unfortunate, yet indisputable fact: it is already August.  How did that happen? How has summer gone by so fast? There is no secret that I do not want summer to end, but I cannot escape the fact that autumn is right around the corner. The silver lining is that this does mean two things are also on the horizon: football season, and race season. That is right. Race directors all around the country are putting the finishing touches on their contributions to the jammed packed fall race season.  This also means that it is time to make sure that we are all sticking to (or starting) our Casual Running training programs.

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This is me “powering” through to the finish of the 2013 Youngstown Peace Race (10k). I ran a great time and left it all out on the course, but it was seeing my family right before the finish line that helped to give me that extra bit of motivation to power through to the end.

Are you thinking about entering an event or two? Are you crazy like me and signing up for way too many races?  For some reason, I decided to enter a lot of races this fall, and I mean, a lot. I am going to start off with the RunDisney Dumbo Double Dare at Disneyland (a 10k + half marathon challenge), then the Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania) and Akron (Ohio) half marathons, and then the Marine Corps Marathon (Washinton, D.C. and Northern Virgina).  To top it all off, I will be celebrating the end of the season at the RunDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon.  Oh, and I plan on running the RunDisney Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World in January (5k + 10k + half marathon + full marathon), but I am choosing to remain in denial about that one for a little while longer.

Whether you are entering a single event or multiple events, it is important to find the proper motivation to keep getting out there and logging the training miles, even when you may not want to do so.  Regardless of whether you run them all, walk them all, or employ a combination of the run/walk method, the key is to keep motivating yourself to get out there, put in the time, and reap the benefits of doing so.  The other day we released a piece on how social media can help us find our motion ( Today we are going to look at another way Casual Runners can find the motivation to just keep swimming…just keep swimming… (how many of you started singing Dory’s lines from Finding Nemo? It is ok to admit it if you did).  

Ten years ago I graduated from law school.  After 13 years of K-12, followed by 4 years of college and 3 years of law school, I had been in school continuously for 20 consecutive years.  Despite this, there would be no break for me as the very next morning following graduation I was back in the classroom taking classes and studying for the bar exam.  In that first session we were told that the two months studying for the bar would be a marathon, not a sprint.  But what they did not tell us would prove to be the bigger life lesson.

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Who knew that chicks dig Casual Runners? Here I am celebrating my first Half Marathon finish with the incomparable Daisy Duck.

You see, for those 20 years of school, I had always been taught to strive to do your best and to be the best.  In academics, this meant putting in the extra effort needed to get the “A” if you could.  But the bar exam was a different challenge as, for the first time in my life, it was not about striving for perfection (an elusive goal to be sure), but it was about just passing – in other words, not failing.  Needless to say, this was a revolutionary notion in my world view as I had never before taken on such a monumental task with the idea of just “not failing.”  It was impossible to learn every minutia of every law covered by the course (I kid you not, the course materials, when stacked up, were over 2 feet tall), you just had to do your best to learn as much as you could.  Over the duration of that grueling summer, when your motivation would lapse and you just wanted to take a break, often times the only way to compel yourself to press forward was to remind yourself that if you did not put in the time and the effort, you very well could fail.  That was what it took to keep me going, the fear of failure.  I attribute this fear of failure to helping me pass not one, but two separate state bar exams.  And no, I never want to go through that again.

Fast forward seven years, and I quickly learned to adapt this same motivational technique to my Casual Running training program.  When I began running, I never had any misconceptions about winning an Olympic gold medal or the Boston Marathon – that is not what Casual Running was to me.  I just wanted to get better and achieve my own personal goals.  That being said, I set new goals for myself to achieve (10ks, half marathons, etc.).  When I found it difficult to log another training mile, it was, more often than not, the fear of failing at my goal that motivated me to press on.

My decision to share my race goals publicly with friends and family for the first time was rooted in the knowledge that, if I did not meet them, I would somehow “have” to explain myself to people.  I knew that I would face (albeit well-meaning) questions, and thus have to explain to them why I had failed.  Not wanting to endure that – shame, perhaps? – helped to keep me on the training path.  In fact, when I signed up for and began training for my first half marathon, I legitimately feared being swept and not finishing the 2013 RunDisney Princess Half Marathon (I promise there will be more stories about that experience in the coming weeks).  I spent months pouring over blogs and constantly doing the math to see what pace I would have to maintain to stay ahead of the Grim Sweeper, the Balloon Lady, or whatever personification you wish to assign to that “failure.” Ultimately, I completed the race in more than sufficient time and, as it turns out, I really never had anything to worry about.  In looking back now, I am not sure that I would have done nearly as well – in my training or ultimately during the race itself – without the motivational benefits of my healthy fear of failure.

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It is all about the bling – I needed an obligatory selfie with my SMO after finishing the 2014 RunDisney Walt Disney World Marathon.

When I signed up for my first marathon – the 2014 RunDisney Walt Disney World Marathon – again I publicly declared my intentions to friends and family.  There would be no backing down, no quitting, I simply had to do it.  Again, I was motivated not by the promise of success, but rather by the fear of failure.  Please do not get me wrong, for me, this was a healthy thing.  It helped me to overcome lethargy and indifference in the face of taking on 20+ mile solitary training runs and outdoor sessions in the dark and/or sub-freezing temperatures.  Again, I was rewarded for my efforts as I successfully conquered my goal.

Let me be clear, using the fear of failure as a motivational tool will not help everyone.  In fact, I have spoken with Casual Runners who specifically say that it does not work for them.  Similarly, they employ motivational techniques that do not work for me.  The reason I wanted to share these thoughts is that this is something that works for me, and it took me some time to gain the proper perspective to appreciate just how and why it does work for me.  If it does not work for you, then you nonetheless have to go out and find out what it is that will work for you.  Whether it be raising money for a worthy cause through a charity entry, dedicating your run to a loved one, the allure of adding SMOs to your bling rack, or the promise of a reward such as a runcation, the important thing is to find what works for you to help you get through those training miles in order to achieve your goals and conquer the challenges you set for yourself.

Please let us know your thoughts…what is it that works for you? Where do you find your motivation to get out and log a few miles? You can share your stories in the comment section, or contact the Casual Runner Team via email, Facebook, or Twitter by using the links below



2 thoughts on “The Fear of Failure: A Powerful Motivational Force


    Such an appropriate theme in light of the Bar just finishing!

    The part about “explaining” is so true. I can still remember how it felt telling Mike about how the Holy Half was on the same day as the MPRE. While that was beyond my control and a completely legitimate excuse, it still wasn’t pleasant. Definitely motivated me to sign up for a race in September so I could say I get a race completed in 2014.

  2. Pingback: The Casual Runner | Getting Started: Picking Your First Race - The Casual Runner

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