How Celebrating Failures Can Make You Stronger in the Long Run

How Celebrating Failures Can Make You Stronger in the Long Run

Written by: Rahaf Khatib. Rahaf, stay-at-home mom of three, is an 11-time marathoner, 25-time half marathoner and a 2-time sprint triathlete. She was the first Syrian to complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors and was the first hijabi to appear on the cover of a fitness magazine (Women's Running — October 2016). Rahaf has been featured in Strong Fitness, Runner's World, New Balance's fall catalog, the New York Marathon catalog, Times Weekly and Women's Health. She is a level 1 RRCA Certified Running Coach, TEDx speaker and co-created the Adidas hijab.  Find Rahaf on Instagram: @runlikeahijabi.


It was my last World Marathon Major, in London, nonetheless.

I was mentally in a very difficult state given the recent diagnosis of my father, God rest his soul, of stage four brain cancer. It was a deadly diagnosis — one that distracted me from my training, a distraction I paid dearly for. But, one that taught me to savor my time with my father.

It was in the bittersweet failure of running my very worst marathon time did I find that it ultimately made me stronger in the long run.

One cold night in December 2017, after coming home late from caring for my dad, exhausted and depleted, I sat on the sofa, determined to do something in the best way I knew how — running a marathon in honor of my father while raising money for Brain Tumor research. In a desperate attempt to finish my sixth and final World Major, I frantically searched London Marathon’s website for any way that I could fulfill my quest of giving back both to my Baba and to the brain cancer community. On a list of charities I found exactly what I was looking for. The Brain Tumor Research Organization had spots left for running the London Marathon.

All I had to do was raise $6,000. I sprung into action and started fundraising. 

My training, on the other hand, wasn’t as successful.

The day of the marathon turned out disastrous. It was an unusually hot day, with record high temperatures. Coupled with my lack in training, I suffered dehydration. My spirit and self confidence that day really were at an all time low. In the back of my mind I knew my father's state, and my time spent taking care of him, was the reason I hadn’t focused on my training as much as I did for my previous (better performing) marathons.

But failure isn’t the word I use to describe that day. It's more of a lesson learned — one that I will simply never forgot. Running gives you highs and lows; it is symbolic much like life itself. Despite this, we lace up, hoping the next day will be a better day. The challenge of trudging through, pushing past your limits, knowing what you’re capable of and accomplishing your goals is worth the less-than-ideal training day or race day.

Know this: thoughts of not being fast enough or good enough runs through every runners head. This is normal. 

Try your best to push past those thoughts, but know that sometimes it is okay not feel like your best. Soak in those feelings. 

Then, get right back to work.

As Des Linden (top American marathoner and winner of 2018 Boston Marathon) famously said, “Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: keep showing up.”

Right after I finished the London Marathon, I told my husband that I wanted to re-run this marathon. Something in me still wanted to come back for "revenge."

Earning a finisher's medal at the London Marathon despite challenging circumstancesEarning a finisher's medal at the London Marathon despite challenging circumstances

It is crazy how over and over again the marathon distance can humble you. It really brings you down to earth when you think your ego is on top of the world. Raising money for brain tumor research, something I never imagined I’d ever do, was also quite humbling.

For that I am grateful to have ended my Six Star Medal quest running for such a meaningful cause. It was one of my most memorable races.

All in all, when worst comes to worst, try to find the sweetness in those moments of "failure."


February 9, 2021