I just listened to The Rich Roll Podcast with Boston Marathon champion Des Linden and re-listened to parts of it a few times because I loved it so much. If you don’t know who Des Linden is, she became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years on April 16, 2018. But what you may not know is that in 2011, she came in second in heartbreaking fashion, getting passed by Kenya’s Caroline Kilel with 200 meters to go and losing by TWO seconds. It took her SEVEN years to finally come back and win the Boston Marathon. And then there’s how she did it: she overcame 25-mph headwinds and freezing rain. She twice went off her race plan to wait for teammate Shalane Flanagan to use the restroom and help her catch back up with the pack, and then later tried to help teammate Molly Huddle catch back up to the lead pack.

I love Des’ attitude about the race, towards training, towards life and on overcoming failure. Highly recommend listening to the episode, but I wanted the share her thoughts in particular on failure (emphasis mine):

Last year (2017) was the big thing where “I’m trying to win the Boston Marathon”. I put it out there very publicly. Afterwards, it didn’t happen, and I said I failed and that’s okay. People were like “No, you didn’t fail! You were amazing! And this and that.” But I wanted to do this thing and I failed to do it. I failed. Failure is an action, it’s not an identity. We do it all the time. And if you learn from it, you get better and that’s how you grow. Being super afraid of failure, you kind of miss the point. Those are the lessons. That’s where you learn the most. You fail your way to success.

There’s a few things to unpack here:

  1. You have to set ambitious goals and not be afraid to put them out there, albeit it’s up to you how publicly you want to do that. But if you’re afraid of falling short and constantly focused on not wanting to fail, you won’t set real goals towards achieving your potential.
  2. Part of goal-setting is that it’s really an arbitrary point in time to measure your progress— whether that’s a goal marathon time, a weight loss goal, a weight-lifting goal, or learning a new skill. A good goal should be measurable— you should be able to clearly and objectively say whether or not you succeeded or failed at that point in time. Nothing wishy washy. You either win the Boston Marathon or you don’t. You either lose 5 pounds by next month or you don’t.
  3. If you don’t, admit failure. If you’re uncomfortable with failure like I am and like most people are, one tool that a lot of runners use is to set multiple goals: A goals, B goals, and C goals. That way, you kind of have stepping stones for yourself. And even if you don’t succeed, you should be proud of your effort, but do admit failure. If you constantly succeed at all three goals, you probably aren’t setting your A goals high enough. You should fail with regularity. And when you do, admit it to yourself. And use it to drive you and make you better.
  4. That said, failing often sucks. It shakes your confidence, but it’s not part of your identity. I think this is where learning to love and enjoy the process of learning or training or getting better is crucial. Even someone like Des Linden has days where she doesn’t want to get out the door for a run. You can listen to the episode to hear more about how or why she does anyway.