On 6 May, Eliud Kipchoge became the fastest marathon runner in the world. He completed 42.915km in an astounding 2 hours, 25 seconds! The 32 year-old Kenyan runner (Gold medal winner in the 2016 Summer Olympics), was one of three runners participating in Nike’s Breaking2 attempt at the formula one racetrack at Monza, Italy. Twenty-five SECONDS short of breaking the 2-hour barrier! Did Eliud fail, or was his run an extraordinary success?

Nike pulled out all the stops, choosing a race track shielded from wind, a consistent surface, an optimal starting time, providing a pace car with a time clock, a line projected onto the road to set the pace, 30 pace-setters, specialised drinks and… shoes. Copies of which (conveniently) go on sale in a few weeks.

All about sales

For the marketing execs at Nike, the true test will be how well Eliud’s shoe model sells to those hoping to emulate his performance. In the sport of running, this “moon shot” will hopefully encourage others to take up the sport. For Kenyans, they notch up another great running achievement. So success has many measures. But for Eliud? Besides the money he earns from Nike; besides the fame – will those 25 seconds make him a success or a failure?

How do we truly measure success?

The same question applies to our own lives, to the goals we set ourselves, the measures we apply to determine “success”. I’m set to do a (fitness) pole show in June and my goal is to perform a routine with some kick-ass moves. I’m not going for the Olympic Gold (although pole is being considered as an Olympic sport), but I am trying to go beyond my personal best. Falling on my face = failure; not controlling my limbs as gravity kicks in = failure; mistiming my moves = failure; and an audience falling asleep will surely = failure (and certain death to those I catch snoring).

Success and failure are relative. They’re measures that take their cue from the sport/activity; the individual’s capability; what’s been done by others; the amount of effort and preparation, and the physical limitations of the human body. I’d suggest the primary determinant of success is our mind-set – not just our attitude, but what we see (read what we allow ourselves to see) as the goal.

All about perspective

For Eliud, was breaking the 2-hour barrier the goal (failed), or was it simply running the fastest marathon ever (succeeded)? In articles about his feat, writers focus on the 25 seconds, and so for them it’s about how close he got to breaking the 2-hour barrier (and failing). If Nike had simply set out to have their runners run the fastest marathon time ever, would Eliud have run as fast? How critical was stating the 2-hour goal upfront? It’s impossible to know for sure – he would’ve had to run two races under the exact same circumstances, but with different goals, to be able to compare.

I think we need to put a little thought (and considerable effort) into our goals before rushing to beat the two-hour marathon. What are we physically capable of, what’s our personal best, whose goal is it, what have others done? What’s the goal a measure of?

I’m constantly helping clients understand what their goals are. Many arrive wanting to lose weight, but through our sessions end up determining goals measured by how they feel about themselves and about how they currently live their lives, rather than whether the number on a scale drops below a certain point. So the next time you look in the mirror or put on your running shoes, ask yourself what you’re really setting out to achieve…