Learn from limits

By Dana Stetson


I recently read a book titled “To Engineer is Human” by Henry Petroski. His theme was to show how failure was the most important force in learning how to successfully create new designs. After thinking about the subject for a while I realized that this is also true in learning how to train for and succeed in running, although the two definitions of failure must be quite different. Failure in engineering is the physical destruction of a created object while failure in running would be to miss an expected goal of distance or time.

A good example of this would be a long time runner who is running what he considers to be his best races. As long as he continues to meet all of his goals how can he be sure that he’s using all his talent and speed for these stated goals? One method to test this would be to raise the goals in small increments until failure is reached. It’s only after multiple failures for specific goals that you can be sure of your limits.

Now the problem with this is competitive people usually don’t like to fail. This is the conflict that must be dealt with. Without some failure we are probably living in an artificially created comfort zone, in other words you are probably not trying hard enough. However, no one likes to publicly fail such as not finishing at some race and getting hauled in on the buzzard wagon.
This is why you should incorporate failure into your practice workout. Test your specific limits one by one until you know where you stand. You can know how fast you really are at specific distances, or how far you can run.

By dealing with these and other limits in practice you can know what are realistic goals for yourself on public race days. You can avoid the public spectacle of failure mostly, but this is only possible through the generous use of private failure. So, the next time you run around a corner on some trail and find me on the ground yakking it’s all right, I’m only testing my specific limits!