So You Failed to Meet Your Goal. Now What?

failure_is_always_an_option_by_rope1436-d33lxroA few months ago I was all gung ho about a scaled back plan: to get my 10K under 60 minutes. See my post about using a running app to get me there.  It was such a great app and such a seemingly do-able plan. Especially since I trimmed away all other plans so I could focus on it.

Triathlon training went to the wayside this summer and I cancelled my races because 1. life got difficult, 2. my cycling on the road phobia got super intense, and 3. I planned badly by doing the Around the Bay 30K and the Mississauga Marathon just five weeks apart early in the season and it sapped all of my energy.

But then things just kept being tough. I spent the summer adjusting to living alone again after Renald retired and moved onto the boat, sailing it up from the Bahamas to Annapolis in May, and then on to Newport RI for most of the summer while I started a new position at work. We talked a lot and I visited when I could, but in general the whole thing was harder than I’d expected. After being together for 17 years it was tough to live my day to day life alone again and I felt sad and unmotivated for much of the summer.

I decided to prioritize sleep, which meant that I pretty much never made it to the pool for those 6 a.m. swims. So the running became the focus of my training with the 10K plan. Goal race: the MEC 10K on October 31st.

I was fairly on track with the training until near the end of August, when I went to Newport and we sailed the boat down to Manhattan (awesome!) and walked our feet off for a few days in one of our favourite cities. But okay, I know I can recover from a week of missed running.

But then two days after I got back, my condo got flooded. I mean totally destroyed so that after a few days the restoration company in charge of the main repairs (it wasn’t just my unit) told me and over 20 other owners that we would need to move out and have all of our stuff packed into storage so they could fix the damage.

So right when classes started (because that was Labour Day Weekend), I was living in a destroyed condo and then had to find a furnished rental and take what I could take, which wasn’t a lot because the elevators were severely damaged in the flood and only one was operating. That meant no one could really reserve it for a major move. You could just move out some clothes and maybe some groceries.

That set my training back quite a bit.

And of course I forgot about the consistent sleep deprivation I struggled with through the summer until I did myself a HUGE favour and went for HRT (best decision of the summer).

So that’s the sad tale leading up to the revision of the sub-60 10K goal because, quite frankly, it became clear to me that there was just no way. That would have required sustaining a 6:00/K pace for 10K. I couldn’t even sustain that pace for 1K.

On race day last Saturday, I showed up hoping for a sub-65 10K, which still would have been a personal best. I met up with one of my training buddies, Julie, who is faster than me but didn’t have a serious goal in mind for the race. In the end, neither of us broke 65 minutes, though Julie came in about 15 seconds ahead of me.

I have to say that for all I’ve written about scaling back and dealing with set-backs, and for all of the positive congrats from my friends after the race, I felt seriously disappointed. Not only did I fail to meet my first goal. I even failed to meet my second goal. I didn’t even surpass my time from last Halloween.

I felt so shitty about it that when Sam asked if I was going to write about it I said, “no.” Why would I want to write about failure? Not especially inspiring or uplifting (especially with my crappy attitude).

The thing is, if I want to be truthful, I have to accept that my training fell apart completely from Labour Day weekend until Halloween. I mean, I got in a couple of runs a week most weeks, but I did no speed work or any systematic plan. I just went out when I could, did a few longer runs with friends on the weekends, and knew full well that I wasn’t getting faster.

But that’s what happens when you don’t do anything to get faster. So why should I feel so disappointed at failing to meet a goal that I bailed partway through training for?

I think in this case I feel super disappointed in the fact that I didn’t stick with the training. I also feel kind of hopeless about the prospect of ever getting faster. People always say you can get faster, but really? I’ve basically stayed the same speed for over a year. In some ways, I’m afraid to give it a more serious go because what if even with that effort nothing happens?

And then there’s the whole question of “who cares?” I know people put this to me all the time. I’m not about to win or even place (this I know), so what’s the big deal about getting faster? In my case, I’m motivated by the idea of doing better. I grew up with that idea and I apply it in all areas of my life.

I’m not saying it’s a value that makes me feel good. Intellectually–or maybe it’s more spiritually –, when I get to really reflect on what’s important to me, the whole idea of “doing better” all the time leaves me cold. When do we get to just enjoy without feeling the need to do better?

But if I’m going to “just enjoy,” then what is the point of signing up for timed events? Isn’t the whole thing of it to see if I’ve made any progress? How else can you even tell if the training is paying off?

As you can see, my attitude is still a bit sideways. I know I’ll get over it. But yes, I’m disappointed in the result. And I feel frustrated and a bit sad about it. With all the challenges lately, it would have been nice to have a little boost on Saturday in the form of a personal best.

Sometimes I worry that I’m one of those non-responders Sam has written about–the people who can train and train and yet never see any changes or results.

But then I need to think about what really matters and what is really important to me. I say I don’t only train for results. There are lots of intrinsic rewards.  If I really found out I was a non-responder, would I keep at it? I like to think I would. But deep down (or even not so deep down), I know that I keep at it in part because I want to do better, get faster, place higher.

Have you ever set a goal that you failed to meet? If you did, what did you do next?

19 thoughts on “So You Failed to Meet Your Goal. Now What?

  1. It totally feels crappy not to meet a goal. I’ve not hit so many goals it’s hard to pick one but I try a couple things after a fail:
    -be compassionate with myself
    -see what lessons I can learn. In the case of goal setting maybe I need to be more agile project management, evaluating and changing the plan as I roll through the season
    -tap into my support network
    -reflect on other successes or even redefine success.
    The last one is key. You RAN consistently through the season. That’s amazing considering the shitstorm you’ve been through this year. You maintained your running base. All good things.

  2. I’m sorry that several major non-cycling personal things happened that just make it complicated.

    This year I’ve probably cycled in total half the distance compared to other years. I didn’t return to cycling until this June after my accident. I get tired just cycling 50 kms. …when I used to cycle 75 km. before I felt winded/exhausted.

    So focus for me this year, was to return to cycling pleasure. That I return to being motivated to bicycle nearly daily if there isn’t ice/winter slush.

    I think you need to return to exercise pleasure. The focus for any regular exercise is pleasure and relaxation/de-stress first. Otherwise it’s demotivating.

    As for results, exercise without weighing oneself often or constantly checking the mirror.

  3. I don’t set any hard exercise goals except just notice that I get abit stronger each week on the bike or more flexible when I stretch with simple yoga.
    I never have a total cumulative cycling mileage goal. I think that would have killed my cycling motivation a long time ago.

    Does active transportation at all work for you? That’s how I am forced to keep minimally active. Not having a car does that.

    1. Thanks Jean. During all of this I did ride my bike to work most days. But since moving I’ve not done that because I don’t have enough bike storage for all three bikes so the commuter bike is in storage. In general I remained active. Just not doing speed work or getting up early for swimming.

      1. Enough sleep is very important. I have learned this the hard way with misaligned sleep /insufficient sleep recently as a result of sleeping during day during my concussion recovery (doctor’s orders) then trying to switch to regular night sleep when I returned to work. Sleep doctor specialist told me that going into one’s 60’s and older, people’s sleep patterns become for fragile (less regular).

        Ah, another person with lack of storage for multiple bikes. I have several bikes in another city..of which I use 1 there regularily when I am in 2nd city. Other bikes have been used by guests.

  4. Def not a non-responder! Think of the progress you’ve made. As you note, you didn’t do the training and didn’t get faster. That doesn’t make you a non-responder, just someone with a busy, complicated life facing some challenges that were expected (spouse moving, new job) and some not (FLOOD!). And although the training fell apart, I’m with Nat, impressed that you kept up your running all the way through it.

    I think the winter is the time for some serious heads-down training. No distracting races. You’ve got a good training season lined up. Looking forward to indoor riding with you again. And maybe some hot yoga and cross country skiing too. My knee still keeps acting up so I’m taking it easy with running, sticking to 5 km, training for the 2016 Pride Run.

    1. Yes, this! Don’t worry about the non-responder stuff. I’d worry if you’d had perfect training conditions for years on end and you never saw any progress (no matter how you choose to define that). A stressful period of time that keeps you from reaching a goal does not a non-responder make!

  5. Great post! Keepin’ it real! I love it! … I’m curious, did writing this feel like a weight off your chest and free you from it? Keep up the great work in the honesty in your posts and in your fitness regime! Given the circumstances, you certainly persevered more than most, I’m sure. Give yourself some credit! 🙂 You deserve it.

    1. It felt kind of good to put it out there, yes. But I wouldn’t say I’m totally free from it. I appreciate the positive support and encouragement people are willing to give though. It’s funny how people others can say stuff that we can’t say to ourselves. Thank you so much.

  6. Great post! I find that most people don’t like to talk about goals they haven’t met. In my opinion its good like your letting off some steam and can see what made you not achieve the goal. Keep it up and never give up 🙂 my goal is to complete my degree within 3 years and not the 6 years they keep saying I will need. Aim high always 🙂 xx

  7. Thanks for the honest post– it’s brave to say out loud that you didn’t meet goals, and really helpful to us to explain those details, which we can relate to. I blogged over the summer about starting running, using the C25K app (which I really like). But round about week 3, my knee started really hurting. I tried running through it, then scaling back, but it didn’t help. My knee still gives me problems walking down stairs or hills sometimes, so running is probably out (at least until I get some proper PT). I felt crappy about it, though, so I didn’t talk about it.

    Nat’s idea of redefining success, along with Jean’s idea of noticing your levels of strength/energy/etc. week to week, along with Sam’s idea of winter training (no products, all process) are good ones. I’m taking all this in myself, in thinking about fitness goals I’ve made, missed, or even met but didn’t notice (like increasing everyday exercise and sleeping better). Great food for thought!

    1. Catherine, you’re always so kind. Thank you! What I find most is that talking about it gives other people a chance to help me get perspective, which is really what I need. You could blog about fitness goals you’ve met but didn’t notice. That sounds like a good one. 🙂

  8. A friend and I were actually talking about this last week, about how failure is this intrinsic part of actually going out and trying to live a full life, but it’s not often talked about, nor do people talk about how crummy it feels when it happens. Not everything is going to land, for whatever reason. Plus, as in your situation, sometimes life has other ideas about where we’re supposed to send all our psychic energy. I don’t think anyone would blame you for being less than enthusiastic about training with all the stuff you’ve had going on recently.

    I’ve had goals I’ve aimed for and whiffed, but usually once the initial upset passes I don’t feel too badly about it. Partly it’s because I usually know I’ve tried my best – both at the thing itself and all the prep that leads up to it – and partly because distance gives me the perspective to know that failing at one thing does not mean I’m a failure at all things. Plus, it usually doesn’t take long before I’ve got my sights set on another goal. 😀

  9. It sounds like you’ve had a frustrating year. The important thing is that you haven’t given up.

    Personally, I’m at a loss for what to do with goals. I seem to consistently not meet goals despite being careful to choose goals that are attainable, working hard and even (at one point) using a personal trainer to help define and work towards goals. When I first started getting serious about setting goals (about 3 years ago, or so), I was careful to do some research: I read magazine articles, blog posts from actual experts (as opposed to random fitness fanatics), even books. After a few failed attempts on my own, I joined a gym, started going to weekday lunchtime classes and hired the teacher as a PT. We laid out some goals and re-evaluated them regularly, but that mostly meant we kept pushing them back. Working up to 10 on-the-toes push-ups went from a 1 month goal to a two month goal to a 3 month goal (finally succeeding around the 3 month goal). I tried the C25K program several times, never getting past about the 3rd week. I think even the PT was losing patience (which, I realize now, should have been a cue for me to find someone new).

    I got so frustrated that I gave up for a good 6 months, lost all the gains I’d achieved, and even gained some weight back. I felt like a failure and couldn’t even justify it with the possibility of being a non-responder because I clearly made gains, they were just really damned slow.

    The research says that I should have goals, but the kind of goals they tell me I should have just cause frustration. I’m thinking about working on habit goals, for now (ex: a consistent schedule) and hope to build on that in the near future. But, I am very envious of all the people who seem to be able to make goals and at least sort of meet those goals in a semi reasonable time frame.

    1. We are big believers in habits over goals. You can see Sam’s post on this topic (but we’re not necessarily recommending PN LE): and mine on goals: Good luck finding something that works for you. And yes, a personal trainer who gets irritated with you is probably not the right trainer for you! They’re supposed to encourage, not judge!

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