Five Fun Fails

Today is International Fail Day, and according to the National Today website:

“The idea around the day is to spread the argument that making mistakes and failing is normal and is even an invaluable part of a person’s growth and eventual success.”

The day aims to put a positive spin on failure, but in so doing it may still positions failure as a means to an end rather than the end in itself. Does failure always lead to eventual success? Is failure only valuable if it grows you? How might we be limited by the idea that a fitness fail is only ever a meaningful step towards a fitness win?

Questioning the failure/success binary is a recurrent thread in many FIFI posts. Sam, in particular, has written about failing better, failing small, and the okayness of failing. And, as Mina has written in a recent personal communication, “I love the idea that sometimes failure can be more about just discerning that something isn’t for you. The message of ‘you will always conquer eventually’ can get discouraging.”

To celebrate international fail day this year, five FIFI bloggers each share a fitness failure story not tied to eventual “success” or “growth.” Rather, they reflect on the ways that failures reveals our quirky patterns of behaviour, real-body expectations, non-preferences, and amusing life moments (even if they are funny only in retrospect).

Mina S.

My first marathon, I went out too fast, as they say. That means, I got overexcited and overconfident at the beginning and ran at a speed I could not sustain for the first 6 miles, after which my body started to meltdown, slowly at first and then wildly by the end. I finished more than 30 minutes off the time I’d hoped for. I was so mad at myself that I refused the medal and the red rose that the volunteers were giving out just past the finish line, because I determined that I didn’t “deserve” it.

I then proceeded to do the same thing in my second marathon. I recall being in the change room at a swim workout a few days after my second “failure” and someone asked me how it had gone. When I said that I’d “gone out too fast”, another woman commented, “Well, you’ll never do that again.” To which I had to say, “Uh, well, actually, that was my second time!” Sigh. I have a steep learning curve.

Diane H.

I make a conscious effort to do things I enjoy even if I am terrible at them. By any objective standard, I should just quit, but as long as I don’t injure myself or hate it, I count it as a success (especially if I learn something).

The closest to failure by that standard would be the time parents were invited to play ultimate frisbee with our kids. I was in my 50s, have no hand-eye coordination, definitely not a sprinter, barely understood the rules, and had troubles telling who was on my team. It was amusing but not fun by my usual standards.

Sam B.

I’ve had lots of failures in my fitness life. I started as an adult onset athlete and lots of physical activities don’t come that naturally to me. Some of the failures that make me laugh in retrospect happened at CrossFit in the year leading up to our fittest by 50 challenge where I was continually pushing boundaries and discovering limits.

I was so happy when I could finally do the RX rather than the modified box jump. I was jumping, not stepping up and jumping down, and I was doing the regulation height. But what I wasn’t prepared for was doing many, many of them in a row. After about 20 box jumps I should have switched to the modified version but I did not. Instead I jumped hard and missed gouging my shin in the process. I had a bruise that went down to my foot. Thereafter I switched to the modified version early on.

Same problem with wall ball throws. Again, I was happy to be doing the regulation weight. But we were doing a workout that had more than a hundred wall ball throws. Somewhere in the final 20, I missed and the ball crashed down and broke my glasses. My optometrist wondered what I’d done.

Same lesson learned–only this time I generalized. Just because you can do something once it doesn’t mean you can do it a zillion times. Keen personal trainers might say “you’ve done it once, you can do it again” but I am pretty sure that’s false. I’m out of the CrossFit world these days–obviously since knee rehab but also it’s not such a good fit for me–but I think this is a lesson anyone trying CrossFit should take to heart.

Elan P.

One year in junior high, I was the last person to make the girls’ basketball team. I wasn’t tall, but as a guard I showed promise with dribbling, passing, and assisting. However, any natural talent I may have shown in tryouts completely failed to manifest on the court. After I sunk a basket on our own net (my only points scored all season), I was benched for nearly all remaining games.

Is this a story about how I overcame my early failure to succeed as an amazing basketball player later in high school? Nope. I never played again. But I did volunteer as the manager of the girls’ high school team, keeping score and doing off-court admin things. In my non-athletic role I still contributed, traveled with the team (got our ears pierced together, etc.), and probably had more fun than if I had played.

Nicole P.

About 10 years ago (40ish), my friend, Karen, mentioned that she had signed up for a “Learn-to-ice-skate” class, which was geared towards adults. As a child, I stumbled on skates, held onto the boards, and then went for hot chocolate, so I figured maybe, now that I was an athletic adult, I would give skating a try again.

We arrived at the skating rink, early we thought, thinking we would have time to acclimatize. But soon we realized we had gotten the time wrong and the lesson was starting in about 5 min. So now, we were rushing. I quickly slapped on the skates in the change room and headed out with no time to think (or worry).

To get to the lesson, we had to make our way across the outdoor arena, over pavement, and a bridge, to the other side of the arena—in our skates. Well, I got as far as the bridge. A bridge without railings. Then my “fight or flight” response kicked. I froze.

So, I stood there on the railing-less bridge and tried to figure out if I could “get myself together” and keep moving. I couldn’t see how to get across the bridge in my state. I also didn’t want to hold Karen up, so I told her to go ahead.

I sat down on the bridge. Took off my skates. Went back to the change room and then headed over to the skating lesson to watch Karen and the rest of the class. I watched some class members being very hesitant to stand on the ice but trying it. I was a bit envious that they were able to try. I also felt relief that I was not on the ice.

At the end of the class, the instructor realized I was supposed to be in the class and nicely offered for me to come back to the next class. For a second, I thought I might, but knew I wasn’t coming back. I think the best thing to come out of it is to understand that maybe skating is just not for me and that is OK.


Failing Small

Reframing your day: “Instead of feeling that you lost the day after a bad morning, reframe the day into four quarters–morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. If you blow one quarter just get back on track for the next one. Fail small, not big.”

A Facebook friend shared a collection of advice recently and this was one I really loved. “Fail small, not big.” It resonated with me.

I’ve written before about the significance of failing well. It occurs to me that failing small is one way to fail well. You can admit failure without it being a failure of all the things. It rarely is. You had a fight with a friend? You didn’t fail as a friend. More likely you mucked up one interaction.

Likewise, with workouts. You had a bad run. It’s one bad run. Move on. I know the voice that says, why did you think you could do this? You’re not a runner. And all of of a sudden it’s not even just running. It’s everything in your life.

I think it’s important to take risks and to not be afraid of failure. “Failing small” strikes me as one way of letting failure in but keeping it in its place. Racing the Snipe (a small 2 person sailing dinghy) this weekend, Sarah and I had a couple of really bad mark roundings. One in particular stands out in my mind because it was my fault. But we were able to keep on racing and keep our spirits up by admitting our mistakes but not making them into a giant catastrophe. It was just a bad mark rounding. We can practice mark roundings. There’s room to get better.

October 13th is the International Day of Failure. It’s fast approaching. What’s your approach to failure?


Happy International Failure Day! #DayForFailure

International Failure Day began in Finland where a National Failure Day has been celebrated on October 13th since 2010.

From Culture Trip here’s an explanation of the reason for this special day:

“The organisers of the Day for Failure argue that making mistakes is a normal and healthy part of life which goes towards success, rather than detracting from it. They invite big names and high achievers to speak on the day and explain the setbacks they have had in their own journeys to success and how they learned from them to provide inspiration to others. Encouraging people to try new or difficult things without worrying about the consequences gives them the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and enjoy an activity. By sharing stories and photos of botched attempts online, they lose their natural fear of criticism.”

Read more about Failure Day here and here.

I’ve shared some of my past failure stories here on the blog, with the aim of making failure a thing that we can talk about. See Fail Again, Fail Better and It’s okay to fail, or let’s make some glorious mistakes in the coming year.

We’ve had guests post about failure as a feminist issue. See Audrey’s The Importance of Trying and Failing (Guest Post), Steph’s “Failure” in lifting, and life (Guest post) and Saba’s Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post).

Through the history of the blog we’ve marked our successes (bike rallies ridden! fittest by fifty! Aikido belts awarded! deadlifting 200 lbs!) but I also like to think we’ve made space for acknowledging our setbacks and failures (sports dropped and goals not met). It tells me something that these posts always, inevitably get read more than posts about races successfully completed and fitness events in which we’ve done well. People relate more to the stuff we find hard.

My most recent failure is swimming. I took one on one lessons last fall and I meant to keep it but I didn’t. I won’t give you the excuses. This isn’t the time for that. I set out to learn to swim and to swim regularly but I failed. Don’t worry. I’ll try again. I’m good that way.

How about you? What’s one fitness failure you want to share with the blog? Tell your feminist fitness failure story in the comments.

The Intl Day for Failure October 13th
Guest Post

Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post)

By Saba Fatima

Sam recently contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another post for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog. I felt a bit paralyzed, because I had stopped exercising again. If any of you remember, I had written in May about exercising during Ramadhan, and one of the things I commented on then was how Ramadhan often resulted in me taking an irreparable break from exercise, and how this Ramadhan was different . Well, after Ramadhan, we left for Najaf and Karbala (Iraq) for a religious pilgrimage,

a brown woman standing in front of the entrance of a large mosque at night time.
Me at Masjid-e-Kufa in Iraq at 3 am at the morning, right before morning prayers.

and onto NYC for a wedding.

A man, a woman, and two kids sitting on a flower-decorated swing
At one of the wedding ceremonies in NYC

While I walked a lot in Iraq, I also started consuming high amounts of soda (it was readily available and it was super-hot).

Screenshot of the weather app in iPhone, indicating temperature of 105F in Karbala, Iraq.
the air was super dry and the sun was relentless.

Once we returned, I just couldn’t start again. I don’t have any excuse, I just didn’t want to, didn’t feel like I was in a routine, or something like that. In fact, I have gone back to consuming a soda bottle a day and eating quite unhealthily.

So I thought, what the heck would I write on? Too embarrassed to even respond, I felt paralyzed. Then fellow philosopher and a prominent scholar on disability, Shelley Lynn Tremain, posted this link to an article on her Facebook page Discrimination and Disadvantage, The danger of fetishizing failure in the academy. Something in that article really stuck out to me. “What I was inadvertently telling students with my cheeky art installation was that their failures don’t matter as long as they eventually succeed – and that success is narrowly defined as excellent grades.” Well, that’s how I felt about exercising. Writing a blog about how I didn’t exercise during such and such time would be wonderful, but only if it ends with some triumphant story about being fit and eating healthy, and how I was able to overcome it all.

Well, it’s a constant struggle for me and it doesn’t always have a triumphant ending.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at


“Failure” in lifting, and life (Guest post)

I wanna talk about failure in lifting for a sec. Not muscle failure like being unable to complete a rep–well, that might be part of it too. But when things don’t go as planned.

I’ve been inspired these days by the super strong women over at Women’s Strength Coalition (check our their Facebook) doing some killer lifts and thought, “What the hell, maybe I should film myself lifting.”

I’m not focusing on strength right now, but reps/endurance (higher repetitions with lighter weight for a max of 12 reps). But I have been killing this routine. Got my deadlifts at 205lbs for 12 reps solid. Today was the last hoorah before changing routines, so I figured it was a good time to see what I could capture on film.

But from the moment I picked up the very first weight, everything felt heavy. Even the warm up. Ugh.

I went in for my first set of deadlifts and it was brutal. Each rep felt like a ton. And I failed. Totally failed. Barely initiated the 10th rep and had to let it go. Put the bar down. The second set–I don’t even want to think about the second set!–was way worse. 5 reps. 5 reps of my 12-rep weight! And I was filming all this. Beautiful. *sarcasm*

I finished off with a set of Romanian deadlifts and managed my usual 10 at my 10-rep weight. But, boy, were they ugly. I just muscled through it.

After all that, I watched the videos of my disappointing lifts. And it got me thinking about failure. Online we usually only see images of awesome feats, but rarely do we see any posts about the lifts that “failed.” (Unless they are nastily mocking people, but that’s a whole other topic).

In my academic life, I’ve been engaged in discussions about how it’s important to be more transparent about failure (e.g., grants not awarded, papers rejected, etc.) to create a more supportive (and healthy) academic culture. (Jennifer Diascro has a fabulous blog about tenure denial and failure in the academy if you’re interested.) This made me wonder about lifting as well. Maybe we should share some of our “failed” lifts too? Not just the most impressive ones? Is that part of how we build an inclusive and supportive community of strength (training) that welcomes all?

Every day in the gym can’t be our best and that’s part of training. Figuring out why things didn’t go as planned, and learning to accept that, is what helps us move forward. In lifting, and in life.

So here are my “failed” lifts today.

Stephanie Coen is a postdoctoral associate in geography at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on the role of place and environment in the gendering of physical activity. She recently published a study about gender and gyms. Her passion for equity in physical activity and health opportunities drives her research. She can be found tweeting at @steph_coen.