Failure is not a word in your vocabulary

The two sets of letters runners dread the most must be DNS and DNF. I’ve done both and I’m about to do one again.

I qualified for Boston last year at a poorly run marathon in Eastern Canada. It was the fifth time I’d qualified, although I’ve only gone once to date. Qualifying this time couldn’t have been any more stressful. Long story short: I ran the Eastern Canadian marathon a week after I DNFed in another 26.2 race. Things actually went well until the course in the second marathon turned out to be a full kilometre over (race organizers continue to deny this, but numerous competitors in both the full and the half complained). The result was my second slowest time ever (since my first marathon, in fact).

Still, I qualified for Boston again. Training this winter went well…until about a month ago – coinciding, ironically enough, almost to the day I began this blog.  I developed a nagging case of plantar in my left foot.

The good news is, I believe it’s gradually, very gradually, getting better. I’ve iced the hell out of it. Its been painfully stripped in massage. I’ve rested it. I’ve tried different shoes, but  the inflammation has hung on.  Yesterday I ran for the first time in eight days and had to cut my attempted five km short at four.  Walking back to the gym, I hung my head in defeat, cursed the band of tendon running the length of my foot.

You all know where this is going.

This year Boston will be a DNS for me. That’s been hard to swallow, but I’m okay with it now.

But I came to a realization: qualifying – and I know so many people out there work so hard for that dream and still have yet to realize it – is only the start. Making it onto the starting line is every bit as hard. Injury fells a lot of people, so does the training through winter, job stress and more. To all of you going this year, congratulations. Run it hard and soak up the experience. I’ll cheer you on from here.

In the meantime, I’m on the bike a lot and actually contemplating swimming lessons – and you know where that will end up, right?

I’m just waiting for the foot to heal so I can get back at it again.

I’m far from the only one to experience this sort of thing. James Fells, a freelance writer and fitness trainer, wrote in the Los Angeles Times about seeing his ankle swell up from a combination of his running form and speed work. He feared he wouldn’t make it to the start line. As it turned out, he did. (You can read about Fells’ experience here:

Not starting, not finishing, those are tough. But looked at the right way, analyzed and parsed for their lessons, we can learn from such experiences and come through them stronger than before.

DNS, DNF – they’re just letters. Nothing scary about those. The human spirit is bigger that that. Failure is not a word in your vocabulary; experience, however, enables you to grow.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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4 Responses to Failure is not a word in your vocabulary

  1. CeilidhWoman says:

    It’s true…sometimes all the stars align, all is right in the world, and only good things happen, exactly as planned. Some would say if you do not accomplish your task/goal, self-destructive behaviour is entirely to blame, just to play devil’s advocate, or Jillian Michaels, or Alex Coffin 🙂 According to the aforementioned, anytime you can’t reach your goals, you are entirely to blame. Of course, runners are reknowned for being hard on themselves – look at what you have accomplished! I think I may be overstating, or, perhaps I protest/project too much! If you have an injury, it needs a realistic time to heal…at least I keep telling myself that. Statistically speaking, perfection cannot happen all of the time. Odds being what they are, do you think a DNS or DNF is inevitable? Is this answering a question with a question? 🙂 My theory: “failure” (for lack of better terms) makes us what we are: stronger, better, wiser, more human, faster, and all the lovlier.


    • subthree says:

      I believe it’s very important not to blame, or shame, oneself, but to learn from the experience and move on. Everyone spends too much time dwelling on they should and could have done and not enough on where they’ll go next.

  2. CeilidhWoman says:

    love your positive energy, Charles 🙂

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