Confessions from a Failed First Marathon

It’s been four years since I failed to compete the Berlin Marathon. For four years I’ve been asking myself what went wrong, and given that I’m often asked in podcasts what I think what went wrong I think others want to learn from my lessons too. 

I had some high hopes going into my first marathon. I wanted to run sub 2:28 (pre-super shoes), which meant I would break the Canadian record. My coach and I did what we thought we could to prepare me to do this. Lots of intervals at marathon pace, some intervals faster than marathon pace and running between 150 and 180km (~90-115 miles) a week. We did what you’re supposed to do to get ready for a marathon, yet, it was a failure. 

For a long time, I carried around ‘I am a failure’ not ‘that marathon attempt was a failure.’ Little did I know I wore that failure shame badge, some days it was hidden but it was always there. Now it’s gone. 

What went wrong? In that first marathon attempt at the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon I was not physically prepared. At the time and often I’ve spoken of the mechanical failure. That is exactly what I had; complete mechanical failure of my legs due to insufficient continuous mileage in my build up. 

Now that I can easily do the 38-42k runs and bounce back the next day self-reflection taught me this lesson. Self-compassion is what I needed and continue to need when I wear the ‘badge of shame – I am a marathon failure.’ The attempt was a failure. I am a great runner, and more importantly I love to run. 

Along the way of teasing out and learning this lesson, I learned a far more important lesson, one in how we treat others.

Yes, I had bold goals that I made public. In making my goals public I was called ‘cocky’ at best and ‘delusional’ at worst. 

To be an elite performer you tread a fine balance between cocky and confident. Mentally, I was prepared to go into that race and give it my all, and I did. I literally collapsed with crumpled legs that felt like that had electric bolts stabbing me every time I breathed. Move my legs and it felt like the muscles and tendons were tearing apart and my bones were shattering. The memory of the physical pain is also not forgotten. 

The easy story out is ‘haters gonna hate.’ The lesson I’ve recently learned – I will never judge someone else for the aspirations, goals and dreams they chase, especially those people who have the courage and tenacity to share with me and the world their BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). 

I never want to be the person in the cheap seats, looking down and pointing at what I think someone cannot do. I want to be the person in the arena* cheering from the bottom of my diaphragm giving that person all of my excitement and energy as they chase their goals.