The Anatomy of a Failed Goal

If everything had gone according to plan I shouldn't be able to walk very well right now. I should be incredibly sore and spending my day relaxing but with an intense sense of accomplishment. You see, I signed up and paid for the LA Marathon that was held yesterday. But I did not run the LA Marathon.

This is the anatomy of a failure.


At the end of last September I was flush with success and ambition. I had just pulled off a successful event (along with my team of volunteers) that took approximately a year to plan. It was an extreme stretch event -- I had never done anything like it. It was very stressful but in the end I was very, very proud of the work we had done. Still riding that wave of euphoria I decided I needed a new audacious goal to work toward.

I decided that new goal would be the LA Marathon in March.


At first, training went very well. I was motivated and sticking to a plan. However, the first week where I felt like I was truly going to be pushing myself into new territory (I believe my long run was 7 or 8 miles) I got injured. I wasn't too worried at first because injury is often part of the training process, especially for someone who doesn't run a ton and I realized I probably needed some new shoes. I took the following week off, bought some new shoes and tried to focus on the upcoming weeks.

Unfortunately, a combination of recurring pain in my ankle and a complete lack of planning on my part was the beginning of the end.


Just as I was getting over my injury and back into the regular training groove the semester ended and I flew home to Michigan for the holidays. Somehow when I was making the decision to train for a marathon in March I completely missed the point where I'd be living in Michigan for about 4 weeks right in the heart of my most important training time. Michigan. In January. Cold.

I'm a terrible treadmill runner and I always have been. I'm not sure why but I'd rather run in freezing rain or 20 below than on a treadmill. However, at the same time, I had no cold weather running gear. I also didn't have the money to justify buying new cold weather gear when I spend the remaining 11 months of the year living in Southern California.

At this point I'm just over a month away from supposedly running this marathon and all I've been able to accomplish is hurting my ankle and then moving somewhere I can't safely train for 4 weeks. Things were starting to unravel.


If you read the last section again it may look like I'm blaming my lack of marathon training success on treadmills and a lack of proper equipment. However, I know I could have easily fixed that problem if I wanted to. I could've gone out to a sporting goods store and picked up some running tights, a couple long sleeve shirts, and some cheap hats and gloves and toughed out my training in Michigan. I could have utilized some willpower to not overly indulge in the decadent holiday foods and festivities. The problem was with me and my motivation, not the equipment or weather.

For some reason the allure of running a marathon started to wane pretty quickly once I had made the goal. I had even made the conscious decision not to tell people about it because I had read some research that telling people about a longterm goal makes it less likely that you'll actually follow through.

However, by the time I flew back to California at the end of January I had officially dropped the marathon goal in favor of something else. I decided to just eat the registration fee instead of showing up at the race and trying to just gut my way through it. Part of me wanted to do just that. I mean, what's more audacious than basically not training for a marathon but just showing up and battling through it anyway? What would make for a better story?

That would have been the ultimate stupid icing on top of this whole ill-advised cake, though. The last thing I needed was to hurt myself doing something like that.


Now, I'm doing my best to learn from my mistakes. The first thing I learned is that making plans for the future when you're in an artificially elevated state (like I was just days after doing something awesome) may not be the best time to make those decisions. It's probably better to slow down and make a more careful decision about where I want to place my focus when I'm not so amped up.

Secondly, I've learned to not underestimate the effect of reality. For example, I should have realized that I was going to be going back to Michigan for a large chunk of my training and running would be difficult in the winter conditions there. Tied to that was the fact that I gave myself just under 6 months to prepare for this distance. That's not an impossible amount of time, but it definitely doesn't allow you any wiggle room if you have to deal with injury or a lackluster training week in general. Every time I fell short of my running goals I became more and more anxious because it felt like the day of the race was bearing down on me. Instead of using that as motivation I think it ultimately demotivated me. If I wanted to give myself a better chance at actually preparing properly for a marathon I should've picked one further away.

Finally, I realized that there's a big difference between doing something because you like the idea of having done it and doing something because you want to do it. I liked the idea of being a marathon runner. I like doing things that challenge my physical abilities. However, to do it right I should've built up the habit of running. I was starting from almost scratch and trying to both instill a new habit and push myself at the same time. I would've been much more successful if I had taken a couple weeks or months just building the habit of running every day. I couldn't worked out when the best time to run would be and then shifting into a training schedule wouldn't have been such a shock. Instead, I was trying to figure out when the best time to run would be and increas mileage all at the same time. I had no steady base to work from and the first time I faced adversity (i.e. injury & cold weather) I fell apart.

Luckily, it hasn't been all bad news. Ever since I decided to officially drop the goal of training for the marathon at the end of January I've been doing something else fitness related. I've never been as consistent or seen as much in the way of results as I have since the end of January and now. I think my success in this area (and I'll share it with you sometime in the near future) stems directly from what I learned from the failed marathon goal.

It's okay to fail at something as long as you take a moment to figure out why. If I had failed at training for this marathon and ultimately just sat around feeling sorry for myself or being mad at myself then it would've been a complete waste. Instead, I'm doing my best to learn what I can, make changes to the way I do things, and continue to grow as a person.

Photo via jk5854