How To Deal With Running Setbacks

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by Nicholas Larade

Hopefully you were able to run successfully the whole year long, whether you were training for races or simply enjoying your time with friends at Run Club. Realistically though, since running involves many ups and downs, some of you likely experienced setbacks along the way, such as a poor race, an injury, or getting out of your running routine due to work or life conflicts.

Many runners struggle to recover from setbacks and wind up reducing their mileage or stopping their running routine altogether. Returning to running after a setback can be more of a mental exercise than a physical one, and there are some strategies that can help you resume running successfully.

If you’ve had a bad race—for example, your time was slower than you were expecting or you didn’t finish—the first step is to remind yourself that you aren’t defined by your performance. Focus on the good experiences you’ve had while running, the pride that came from tough runs you’ve completed or the friends you’ve made along the way. If negative thoughts pop up and threaten your motivation, tell the thought to stop and replace it with a positive
statement. Another post-race strategy is to pick a new goal race—and better yet, recruit a few friends to join you in your training.

To help you get past your own disappointment, consider coaching other runners. Assisting new runners in reaching their goals and watching them discover their love of running can give you a renewed sense of appreciation. Inquire at your nearby Running Room location to see if they are looking for group leaders or instructors for their training programs.

Injuries can be especially devastating for your motivation, as you likely can’t run and you may not be able to see your running friends. Developing a rehabilitation plan with the relevant parties (your coach, your doctor and your physiotherapist) can help make you feel more invested in your recovery. Focus less on the end goal and take pride in the process of recovery. Set weekly goals, celebrate improvements along the way, and check in with your team to keep them updated on your recovery progress. Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself that your fitness will come back. Many runners don’t see an injury as a setback but as an opportunity to get stronger mentally, to work on strengthening other muscles (like spending time on the spin bike or in the pool) and to rest so that they are at 100% when they return.

To counteract the isolation, invite your running friends to get involved in your recovery. Ask them to join you for a group cross-training or stretching session, take your bike out and ride along while they’re doing a long run, or volunteer at a race as a team. By staying actively involved in your rehabilitation, staying positive, and remaining connected with your friends, you’ll be more likely to return to running.

When work or life stresses cause you to miss your normal running times, the shake-up to your routine can be enough to break the positive habits you’ve developed. The absence of your usual routine may cause you to become fixated on the problems that are stopping you from getting a run in. Instead, start searching for solutions. These solutions don’t necessarily need to be practical at first, but are more of a way to get your brain away from negative thoughts. Rather than complaining that you can’t do your usual run, you can start looking at the changes as opportunities. Maybe you can run before you leave work for the day and discover a new favourite route. Or, take your workout gear with you to your children’s practice and run around the field or community centre. Once you start looking for solutions instead of problems, what once seemed insurmountable might not be more than a mild inconvenience.

If you’re feeling down or stressed, remind yourself that running is the perfect cure for your bad mood. You can brighten your day just by going out for a few minutes of running. If being positive doesn’t work right away, you can always use little treats like a new book or a massage to reward yourself for getting out to run. Look for creative solutions and you can ride out disruptions to your routine.

Nicholas Larade has a Master’s of Science in Exercise and Sport Science, centred on Sport Psychology, and is the manager at the Fredericton Running Room.

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