What running taught me about failure

A hobby can teach you much more than a new skill...

by Psychologies

Lisa Jackson, author of Your Place or Mine? What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last, talks about what she learned about herself from running.

'Don’t trip over a cat’s eye,’ were my husband’s final words to me at the start of South Africa’s 56-mile Comrades Marathon. Minutes later, after barely a mile, my foot came into contact with one of these little reflective road markers and I crashed to the ground, landing on my knees and left elbow. The pain was agonising: blood dripped off my arm, which had been twisted in my shoulder socket. Telling myself, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’ until I believed it, I used my sports bra as a sling and pressed on, knowing that I wouldn’t make the 12-hour cut-off.

You may be forgiven for asking why I bothered to continue at all, knowing full well that no matter how far I ran (49 miles in the event), I’d be going home without a finishing time or a medal. The answer lies in one of the greatest gifts running has bestowed on me, and that is the certain knowledge that I’m not a quitter.

Every single one of the marathons I’ve run so far has put this to the test because I still find running incredibly difficult, and I’m still unbelievably slow. When I tripped in 2011 I had yet to come last – something I, like most tortoise-types, feared more than anything. But, a year later, inevitably it happened. I entered the South Downs Marathon, spent most of it in the company of the race sweeper who took down the mile markers the second I passed them, and finished last.

So how did it feel, this thing I’d dreaded and dodged for so long? Honestly? Simply amazing. And not just because the organisers gave me the longest and loudest cheer I’d ever received; because I knew that I’d not only conquered the courage-sapping course, but had conquered myself. Many people would say that I failed that day – but not me. CS Lewis once wrote that, ‘One fails forward toward success’. After that scorching day on the South Downs, I’d go on to come last a further 22 times. And being able to cope with ‘failure’ meant that, on 16 April this year, I achieved an ambition I’d dreamed of for almost a decade: joining the 100 Marathon Club.

The legendary running writer, John ‘The Penguin’ Bingham, is famous for saying, ‘The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start’. But what running has given me is the courage to fail: to tackle projects where success isn’t guaranteed. It’s this kind of resilience that stood me in good stead when I decided to retrain as a clinical hypnotherapist, aged 38. Losing my fear of failure means I’m no longer afflicted by analysis paralysis – I’ve become the have-a-go-heroine of my own life, and I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead.

Photograph: iStock

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