How To Overcome A Setback

Almost every runner I know has dealt with some sort of setback in pursuit of their goals. Whether it be for a couple of days, weeks, months or, God forbid, years, being a runner means you need some sort of resilience to external forces preventing you from reaching your dreams

Obviously 2020 sucked. I don’t need to talk about it in detail – heck we all lived it – but it was clearly not great. Perhaps the year, and the subsequent stresses that came with it, got prioritized more than your running. Maybe you, like Run Oregon blog administrator Matt, became injured and had to take a break from running. Even if you happened to successfully navigate 2020 relatively OK, we all know we are one weird step away from something that can knock us down a peg or two in our training.

Sometimes this sort of setback can distort our sense of reality, and make us think we are even further away from our goals than we originally thought. They may create a sort of psychological barrier that at best, discourages us, and at worse, causes us to give up.

If you currently find yourself in this situation, here are three things I’m focusing on as I deal with this unexpected setback:


I came across a study where scientists examined how patients who had experienced heart failure took care of themselves afterwards. In short, those who incorrectly perceived that they didn’t have control of “applying vital self-care strategies, despite knowing that such strategies were incredibly important to their health and longevity” had a much more difficult time overcoming the setback than those who took control of their self-care.

According to an article by Guy Winch Ph.D. on Psychology Today, “…there are always ways we can take control of a situation even when we initially believe we cannot. This is an area in which our mind’s way of responding to failure and setbacks is misleading and potentially damaging. We have to override the defeatism we feel and find ways to assert control. That alone will help us move forward.

If you’re in this position, stop and write down all of the things you can realistically control right now.

For me I can be active in other ways. I can eat healthy, and I can take care of all the little things that help us reach our running goals. Although it’s hard with 2 infants in the house, I’m trying to get in bed by 9:30 p.m. every night. And even though I have a dangerous sweet tooth, I’m working to eliminate foods with known added sugar in them. These are just two things I can control that will help me on the path towards my dream of running the Boston Marathon.


Part of gaining control is having a plan.

With four kids in the house now, I know my priorities are on them (and my wife). I typically plan on using the first few months of the year to build some base miles, and get lined up to take another shot at qualifying for Boston, usually as early as the fall season.

In those instances where I can’t run due to injury or setback, I’ve found that low-impact activities, like the elliptical or stationary bike, are OK.  My current plan is to get in 30 minutes, twice during the week, 60-70 minutes on Saturday, and 45 minutes on Sunday.

If you’re in this position, think about how you can adapt your current training plan to accommodate your setback.

I’m trying to get in equivalent time cross-training as I would spend running. A key part of my plan is to bring the iPad with me, and watch a movie or TV show while on the elliptical or bike. It not only gives me something to look forward to, but makes the monotony of the stationary exercise bearable.

Also, I have a few key core strengthening exercises I’m making a top priority. Not only will they help heal and strengthen my current issue, but ideally they will help make me a stronger runner.


My friend, Jennifer, dealt with a serious hamstring injury for over two years. The way she tells it, she tried every kind of treatment possible, and thought she might never run again. Luckily for her, this was untrue and she qualified for Boston at her first marathon! Likewise, elite runners like Kara Goucher and Deena Kastor have had fairly significant injuries, and still came back to run well.

If you’re in this position, stop and write down all of the things you are grateful for. This should help you put this setback into perspective.

I am not the first person to have to deal with a setback. And while most injuries are mildly painful, and severely annoying, it could be a lot worse. I also have the benefit of time on my side. It’s early in the year, and there is plenty of time left in the year to get a few solid training cycles under my belt. Even if you are reading this at a different time than this initial posting – just know that the year is never wasted. The fact that you can still choose to be active in some way should be a huge boon as you push back my goals.


If you are starting the year with a setback, share some ways you could get control, get a plan and get some perspective. We can commiserate together, then encourage one another to pursue our goals!


**This post was originally posted by current Oregon Brewery Running Series co-founder Nathan Freeburg at the now defunct Minneapolis Running website. We have re-posted here with his permission.**

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