It’s Not OK to Fail… It’s Essential

By September 26, 2016Training
Performance Coach

How do you know where the line is unless you’ve gone over it?

Why are People Afraid to Fail?

Despite the myriad benefits, which I’ll go into below… many of which are pretty intuitive, people tend to have a pretty strong aversion to failure.

  1. Most of us have been brought up in cultures where ‘failure is bad’ – from a young age we are taught it’s not OK and people who fail are often stigmatised.
  2. It hurts! If you blow up in a session chances are you’ve gone hard… very hard… and going very hard is very uncomfortable… and er… people don’t like discomfort
  3. Fear of ‘doing the session wrong’ – clearly if you were supposed to do an ‘easy run’ then leaving a smoking crater is not exactly sticking to the plan. But if you have a hard session planned then a blow up by no means makes it a wasted effort.
Smoking Crater

This was the crater I left in the park after trying to keep up with my friend Maarten in a sprint session


We need to stamp out this kind of thinking. We need to not only make it OK for people to fail… we need to make it a very normal part of training and racing, we need to adopt the mantra often thrown around in startup culture – “Fail fast and often”.

fail fast fail often

Why do We Need to Fail?

  1. Know you ‘Line’ – Many age group athletes will go their entire careers not knowing where their line is, not knowing their true potential. You blew up trying to hit 350w in your FTP test? Cool… try for 345 next time. You hit 350 ok? Sweet, go for 355/360 as a target next time and see what happens.
  2. Learn your Pacing – It might not be that you went too hard in ‘total’… you might have just gone out too hard; knowing that your blow up was a pacing issue helps you make better decisions next time. I always remember one of our squad members that started every climb on the bike WAAAAY too fast and subsequently exploded. He noticed, he learned, he now climbs like a beast.
  3. Do it For the Data – Average power for a particular duration, maximum heart rate, etc. These are valuable data points that allow you or your coach to make more informed decisions about your training and racing.
  4. Knowing Thy-Self – Failing forces you to ask questions beyond intensity and pacing. Was it how you fueled? Was it the session you did the day before? Was it the heat or humidity that day? Was it your mindset? The more you become a ‘performance detective’ the better you’ll do next time.
  5. You realise it’s Low Risk – In the right environment, failing is extremely low cost. You bonk in a 5km TT run. What did that cost you? That’s right, nothing.
  6. Comfort with Discomfort – The more you push your limits, the more you’ll become OK with it… you might event learn to love it… which has obvious performance benefits and leads nicely onto my last point…
  7. Training you Central Governor – One of the reasons we ‘stop’ isn’t because we’ve reached our physical limits – but our mental ones, the brain is essentially ‘telling’ us to slow or stop as a self-preservation mechanism. ‘Forcing’ ourselves over our perceived lines we force our brains to acknowledge a new reality… one in which we can ‘go faster without causing damage’. This is a very simplified summary of the theory put forward by Tim Noakes, which you can read more about here.

Fail Safe

It should go without saying that if you’re pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion you should do it in a safe environment. Don’t redline yourself on a busy highway… maybe pick the turbo trainer. Maybe a remote, technical trail isn’t the best place to test your maximum foot speed. You get what I’m saying.

Fail Often

You fitness is always in flux… what killed you one week might be a breeze the next. So like benchmark sessions, there is value in failing often. And it shouldn’t just be reserved for test sessions, feel free to give it a go when the feeling takes you. Or talk to your coach about the best environment, time and structure to give it a shot.

So get out there and fail!

Facebook Comments
Share This