Three Ways to Fail at Running

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People always tell us how to become a better runner. Run more, run more regularly, follow a training plan, eat well, and so on. Useful as these tips are, what are the things that we should be avoiding to not fail at running? In this article, we give you three ways to fail at running so that you know what to avoid in your training. 

What separates the good runners from the great runners? 

Ever wondered what makes one person a running superstar, while others stay average? 

If you analysed the behaviours and choices of an Olympic runner, you’ll find that they do a lot of the same things as an ordinary runner. They’ll train frequently, have a healthy diet, mix up runs with speed and distance workouts, and prioritise their bodies recovery. 

If great runners employ similar training techniques to good runners, why do they become great and why do good runners stay good? The answer to this question lies in the things that they don’t do. 

It’s what great runners don’t do that makes them great

A word that is sometimes associated with greatness in sport is ‘sacrifice.’ 

If you search in the Oxford dictionary, sacrifice is ‘the fact of giving up something important or valuable to you to get or do something that seems more important.’

Great runners, those skilled enough to participate in the Olympic Games and to run professionally, know what not to do to become great. 

Exceptional runners don’t go to bed late. They don’t consume harmful substances like alcohol or nicotine. They don’t go to all the social occasions that they want. Instead, they prioritise their training and make sacrifices to become great. 

Contrary to popular belief, the key to being a successful runner isn’t just in the training itself. The secret lies in the things that a runner chooses not to do so that they don’t fail at running. 

By highlighting the choices and behaviours that will make you fail at running, you’ll be better prepared to make sure that you avoid them. If you do this, you’ll have a much better chance of achieving your running goals. 

Adopting certain behaviours and making certain choices can result in a running fail 

Failing at running sounds harsh, but that’s what can happen when someone makes decisions and behaves in a way that goes against their running goals. 

Everyone will have different running goals so everyone will have a different definition of failure. Your definition of failure may differ greatly from my definition of failure. 

However, the ways to fail at running in this article will apply for the majority of running goals. Regardless of whether the goal is to run a marathon, lose a certain amount of weight or achieve a particular time in a 5K, following the ways outlined below will help you fail at your running goals. 

Three Ways to Fail at Running 

1. Have a poor sleeping habit 

If you want to experience awful running results, feel groggy and demotivated, and increase your chance of an injury, having a poor sleeping habit will make these wants become a reality. 

“Ten days of six hours of sleep a night was all it took to become as impaired in performance as going without sleep for twenty-four hours straight.” ― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Though we don’t think about it much, our sleep is perhaps the most crucial element to physical and mental wellbeing. As Matthew Walker summarises brilliantly in his book ‘Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams’, not getting enough quality sleep leads to massive declines in physical performance. 

According to Sleep, ‘sleep plays a major role in athletic performance and competitive results. The quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to winning. REM sleep, in particular, provides energy to both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to repair memory, consolidate memory, and release hormones.’

If you regularly get five to six hours of sleep per night, you’re not getting enough sleep to restore your body sufficiently. Consequently, your body won’t repair itself properly after a workout and your level of running will ever stagnate or become worse. 

What’s the solution to a poor sleep habit? Prioritise your sleep. Ensure you get seven to eight hours of quality sleep every single night. Turn off all electronics (yes, your smartphone too), an hour before bedtime and do something relaxing like reading a book to get you in the ‘sleep zone.’

If you’re worried your poor sleep habit is holding your running back, I’d strongly recommend that you purchase and read (or listen) to Matthew Walker’s book. I can confidently say it is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read and it has totally changed my view on sleep. After having read it, I now get seven to eight hours every night and I’ve noticed huge gains in my running performance. 


2. Smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol

One of the easiest ways to fail at running is to consume substances that are harmful to the body.

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are the two big ones.

We all know someone that classes themselves as a runner yet drinks far beyond the recommended weekly government guidelines.

Similarly, we all have a friend or acquaintance who claims to run regularly yet smokes cigarettes like they’re going out of fashion (even though they’ve been out of fashion for years).

The problem is that alcohol and smoking are both destructive forces on the body that will bring your running performance down.


Alcohol is a depressive substance that impairs the functioning of the body in all kinds of ways. These include reduced pain sensitivity, poor judgement, irrationality, not being balanced and dehydration.

As runners, one of the most worrying things that drinking alcohol does is increase the heart rate without the body having a real need to do so. An increased heart rate during a run is a good thing because the muscles need more oxygen to deal with the demands of the workout. However, an increased heart rate artificially induced by drinking leads to, over time, a less efficient cardiovascular system where the heart needs to work harder to get oxygen around the body. The result of an inefficient cardiovascular system is reduced physical fitness, not ideal for us as runners.

Also, alcohol causes massive damage to our quality of sleep and interferes with the bodies ability to enter deep restorative sleep. In addition, alcohol can lead to increased wakefulness during the night which more or less guarantees a feeling of sluggishness and tiredness upon hearing the alarm clock. Not conducive at all for decent running performance.

What’s the solution to not failing at running because of alcohol? Reduce your consumption or stop drinking altogether. When I give this tip to the average person I meet on my travels, I’m met with a look of disdain and disgust. ‘How dare you suggest that I stop drinking, Craig. I enjoy drinking alcohol and it’s not negatively affecting my running life.’ Fair enough, it’s a free country and people can make their own decisions in life. Not a problem.

But how many of us really know what alcohol does to our bodies? I believe that the only way we can truly make a decision about whether we want to continue drinking alcohol (or continue drinking at such high levels for some) is by first becoming educated on what it actually does. Once we do this, we can truly understand how alcohol negatively affects our running which enables us to make an informed decision.

If you’re interested in learning more about the destructive effects of alcohol with the goal of stopping or reducing to improve your running, I’d highly recommend William Porter’s book ‘Alcohol Explained.’


Look at Wikipedia and a cigarette is defined as ‘a narrow cylinder containing psychoactive material, typically tobacco, that is rolled into thin paper for smoking.’ As you probably know, the psychoactive substance of choice for most smokers is nicotine.

Not only does smoking increase the risk of developing many diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not only does it give you a smoky odour and reduces your concentration, smoking also interferes with physical fitness. Terrible news for runners.

When you smoke a cigarette, you inhale a number of harmful substances, like carbon monoxide, into the body which find their way into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, these substances hinder the efficiency of the blood in dispersing oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. This results in a feeling of breathlessness and tiredness.

If you want to fail at your running goals, an easy way to do so would be to smoke cigarettes.

Should you want to stop smoking with the aim of improving your running, I’d strongly recommend Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. This book is regularly cited as the best resource for smokers who want to stop smoking. If you want to improve running performance by kicking the habit, this book could be a great resource.


3. Prioritise everything else in your life above running 

If you want to be an okay, fairly mediocre runner, make sure you regularly put other things and other people before your running goals. 

Instead of putting in the work to achieve your running goals like you know you should, prioritise other things instead. These can be anything like: 

Prioritisation is ‘the action or process of deciding the relative importance or urgency of a thing or things.’ 

When I speak to people that are disappointed at the progress they’re making in pursuit of achieving their running goals, it’s often because there are gaps between their goals and their priorities. 

Not prioritising running for the goal of a sub-4-hour marathon 

Though someone may have the goal to run a sub-4-hour marathon, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will make a conscious decision to change their life priorities to facilitate the achievement of this goal. 

Running a sub-4-hour marathon requires lots of disciplined training, a healthy diet and a variety of speed and distance workouts. However, someone who hasn’t prioritised such a training regime will find they routinely put other things (such as those in the above list) first. 

Rather than getting up for an early Sunday morning long run, someone might stay out late Saturday night partying which causes them to favour a lie-in instead of getting it done. Maybe this person wants to watch the latest episode of Netflix drama so much that they put this want in front of their training needs. It could even be that this person lets their partner, family, or friends directly influence how they spend their time so, to save face, they spend time with them rather than following their training plan. 

When our life priorities don’t match up with our running goals, becoming distracted becomes easy and we’re incredibly unlikely to achieve running greatness. 

What’s the solution to this? After you set some ambitious running goals, you must make a conscious decision to make the achievement of these goals a priority. Period. 

Tell yourself that you are going to focus on the achievement of these goals and give yourself several reasons why doing so is important to you. Write it down in a journal if you have to. 

By deciding to prioritise your running goals, you’ll be in control of your running life and less likely to become distracted by all the noise. 


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