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.
This entry was posted in Life, Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to posts:

  •   Hyper Vest SXY and FIT from
  • Instagram

    • Seriously pinching myself while settling into my new home. Being able to walk out my backdoor into a canyon full of deer and jack rabbits, the dogs being able to run free the whole time, and quiet country life waiting when I get home. It’s hard to believe this is life.
2019 is off to a pretty good start! First day of work at my new job is Monday and spending these last couple days working away on the house and taking the dogs into the mountains behind our house.
#bestfingyear #newbeginnings #2019 #countrylife #smalltownliving
    • This year I got the ultimate gift, on Friday I was handed the keys 🔑 to my new house.
We spent the weekend starting to bring her back to her original 1920’s charm. Christmas we woke up in the  house, drank coffee, opened presents, and took a hike out the back door up into the canyon behind the house. I already love being back in a tiny town you’ve never heard of. People have stopped by, given us cookies, fudge, and chocolates. Heard stories of previous families who lived in the house and a few nuggets of the property history.
Beyond excited for the next chapter of life. It’s been a crazy last month and a half. A dream job came to me, bought a house, and now in the process of moving and bringing this little beauty back to life.
The lesson learned in the last couple months is - trust life has a plan for you - things happen for a reason - and life is full of good people.
    • Did you catch the recent podcast episode with @bemorewithless? We talk about living simply and loving life.
Because of the holiday this week’s episode will come out later in the week.
Happy Holidays All!!
    • Rebuilt in the 1599. Still in business today... I love the history of the UK 🇬🇧 and pub names... but mostly the pub names.
#britishpub #pub #england #travels #adventurer #stalbans #worldtraveler #travelhumor
    • Humbled, honored, and shocked. Thanks for this inaugural award from @mudstacle 
#ocr #obstacleracing  #shocked #honored
    • Have you checked out the latest episode of the podcast? Graham Roberts of @ispiremc talk about coaching, motivation, and having a winning mindset.
Graham should know - not only has he become an avid obstacle racer but he also helps the mental game of world champions and other professional athletes.
Find it on your favorite player! Temp link in bio
#mentalgame #mentalgamecoach #spartan #obstacleracing #spartanrace #podcast #levelup #ispiremc #headgamestrong
    • Two songs have been in my head all day as I concluded my last day at @mudrunguide ... Truckin by the Dead and My Way by Sinatra. I can’t think of two better songs to describe the last 9 seasons...
#Repost @mudrunguide
She’s been a staple of the OCR media scene for the last four years and industry for the last nine. And she has been an inspiration and friend to so many. Today is @dirtinyourskirt last day as editor of @mudrunguide. You can read her final thoughts on our main page on our profile. #mudrun #ocr
    • Little Fancy is feeling pretty fancy in her @arboone11 @beastgoodr sunglasses 🕶.
Amelia she thinks the color is pretty cool and that it makes her look pretty. Lol
#goodr #beastgoodr #ocr #bordercollie #dogsinshades #bordercollieworld #myfurbaby #love #dogmomlife #mudrunguide
    • Have you checked out the most recent podcast episode with @womazonian
Erin finished second at World’s Toughest Mudder this year shocking not only the OCR Community but herself in the process.
She shares her backstory and experience on the podcast this week.
#wtm2018 #podcast #airforce #toughmudder #obstaclecourseracing #speakyourtruth #womenwhoadventure

    Follow Me!