Learning By Failing


I was recently interviewed by Leveling the Playing Field Podcast, and during the interview, I told Bobbi-Sue, the host, that the most significant life lessons I have learned were not in the races I finished but in the ones I “failed” at, taking home a DNF.

It sounds weird at first to say I learned more from failing than succeeding. When you are in the space, it sucks, and you can feel terrible. But let me explain why failure has helped me make some of the most important decisions of my life.

2011 World’s Toughest Mudder

Until this point in my life, I thought I had pushed myself. I pushed myself in sport, academics, and in life. However, it wasn’t until World’s Toughest Mudder that first year that I REALLY learned what it is like to push yourself to the brink.

It is only years removed that I can reflect on that race and how I pushed myself nearly past the point of no return.

I learned what my body is capable of and at what point you just have to stop before doing damage that will last a lifetime.

It was the first lesson in going too far and learning maybe I didn’t have to kill myself and enlightenment can be achieved in other ways.

The 2012 Death Race 

The 2012 Death Race was probably one of the biggest “failures” I have had in my obstacle racing career. I spent a year getting hyped for the event. A year training for it. Then I got to the race, and I just wasn’t into it. I was there and doing it; nothing was physically wrong with me, but yet I didn’t want to be there.

It was during that race I realized I was racing because of others expectations and not my intrinsic gain. One of the race directors tried to talk me into staying in the race more than once. Most are talked out of racing.

When I quit or “failed” at the Death Race I for the first time in my entire life took life into my own hands and stopped doing what others wanted me to do and started to do what I wanted to! This “failure” helped me to quit my job a month later and get off the “do what is expected track.”

My First 100 and Only 100 Attempt

I was talked into trying a 100-mile ultra marathon. I hadn’t trained for it, and it is notorious for its low finisher rate. But the race director offered me entry and I jumped at the chance to at least try and see how far I could get.

What happened next was still to this day the best 50 miles I have ever run followed by the worst 10 and hours of tears. In that last 10 miles, a wonderful woman offered to pace me, but my mind was in the pain cave and deep! Her cheerful attitude only put me further in the cave, and I finished out the lap and quit the race, after a lot of crying with something like 20 hours I could have kept going for the final 30.

What did I learn? Well first I learned to speak up for myself, my pacer was there to help me, and the best thing I could have done is thanked her for being with me and that I wanted her physical presence but at the same time, I needed quiet to work through the darkness.

I learned it’s okay to ask for what you want and need in life.

I also learned to embrace the 50 miles of extreme happiness I had on the trail that day and look at the fact I ran for 12 hours without a single negative thought. That is a win right there.

Fuego y Agua Survival Run

Survival Run is another one of those races that when you sign up your also realize your chance of finishing the race is slim to nill. Only two women have ever finished the event. I went into the race the first year it was held. I had a good time (if you like to suffer a bit and push yourself) I conquered some fears, and overall communed with the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. We have a deep connection to this day. I saw in our tasks that mimicked the lives of islanders, how privileged I genuinely am.

However, I got to a task and just couldn’t go further. I literally could not finish this obstacle. What did I do, I blew up, I threw stuff, a very ugly side of me was showcased (and filmed the whole time). I got done with the race seeing this shadow side of myself. I was honestly embarrassed and brought home a greater understanding of who I am and the shadows I deal with.

My two biggest takeaways were –  sometimes your best is just not good enough, and it’s okay. And sometimes we have to see our shadow to work and make us a better person. 

While there are other “failures” in my sporting life, these three examples highlight the critical life lessons that could only be learned through failure and not the success. We often focus too much on success and forget that deep lessons can be learned in failure.


Margaret Schlachter

About Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter is Founder of She has been part of the OCR Community since 2010. When not working on the next article she can be found running from race-to-race. She is Editor-in-Chief of She authored the book Obstacle Race Training.
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