Running setbacks can happen to anyone. Most runners have experienced at least one or more setbacks over the years. This could be from injury, pregnancy/childbirth, overtraining, time off, or other reasons. One of the most challenging parts of dealing with a setback is returning to running safely. But how do you also gain confidence after a running setback?
I have found that my ability to gain confidence again after a setback depends a lot on the reason for the setback, how long the setback lasted, and how significant it was. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have much trouble gaining confidence again when I returned to running after hip surgery back in 2010. However, trying to get back to running after a long ankle injury in 2017 was a different story. It will be different for everyone based on your circumstances.
So what can you do if you are struggling with gaining confidence after a running setback? Here are a few ways that may help you navigate this tricky transition.
8 Ways to Gain Confidence After a Running Setback
1. Identify your weaknesses
Understanding why you had a setback in the first place can help you to gain confidence because you can avoid having the same thing happen again. If you had an injury due to a muscle balance or weakness, you can work on addressing those issues so you don’t get injured again. If you were off from running due to pregnancy and childbirth, your weakness was not what caused you to have a setback, but you may have developed weaknesses from being pregnant and giving birth. Focusing on rebuilding core strength while also making sure your pelvic floor is functioning properly can help you return to running safely.
2. Focus on your strengths
While it’s important to address your weaknesses, you don’t want to focus on those too much. Remember that you are strong, and get back to doing things you are good at. If you have always been a slow-twitch runner who thrives off running long distances, focus on building your mileage before adding in any speed work. If strength training feels good and makes you feel strong, make sure to include that in your training.
3. Use Positive Self-Talk
When you catch yourself thinking negatively, try reframing your thinking. You can ask yourself these questions when you recognize a negative thought:
What is the evidence?
Is there another way to look at the situation?
What would you tell a friend who had this thought?
What if it is true? Would that really be so bad?
So if you catch yourself thinking “my pace is so slow today”, you might go through these questions and realize that maybe your pace is on the slower range than what you used to run, but that it’s also really hot out and you have been running 3 days in a row. You also might have to remind yourself that you are still building back up to where you were pre-injury but that your pace is faster than it was 2 weeks ago.
I really like the question “what would you tell a friend who had this thought?”. We can be so much better at encouraging others and seeing the positives in what others are doing than we can for ourselves!
4. Work with a Coach
A coach can really guide and support you through the process of returning to running. If you are struggling with confidence, they can also give you encouragement and reassurance that you are on the right track! (And if you are not on the right track, hopefully they will give you the guidance to get there!)
5. Take it Slow
Try not to rush your return to running, which can cause unnecessary pressure. Don’t sign up for any races until you are feeling 100% ready. Take plenty of rest days and remember that progress takes time.
6. Track your Progress
In order to see your overall progress, it can be helpful to analyze your comeback. Maybe it’s a simple as tracking your pace and mileage. Or maybe you want to track any residual pain you are having to make sure it stays low or goes away. Having quantitive data can really help you see the big picture so you don’t get wrapped up in your own perspective of the situation.
7. Focus on Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
While it’s good to have long term goals to work towards, I think it can also be helpful to have short-term goals to focus on along the way. Especially when returning to running after a setback, short-term goals can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and increase your motivation to keep working towards your long-term goals.
8. Enjoy the process
Most importantly, try to enjoy the process! If you are really struggling, or not as happy with running as you used to be, it may be time to rethink your plans. Maybe you need some more time off, or a different structure to your training. Or maybe you just need some extra motivation or someone to help you recognize the progress you have made.
Try to remember how it felt to experience a setback. Do you feel gratitude for being able to run again now that you have moved past your setback? If so, focus on that feeling. Many studies have shown that gratitude is linked to greater happiness along with better physical and psychological health.
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
My experience with gaining confidence after a running setback
Over the past few years it seems like I had setback after setback. I had on and off injuries from 2012-2015. Then in 2016 I hurt my ankle, and it took me a year and a half to recover. Then a few months later I got pregnant. I returned to running after having my son in the spring of 2019.
I’ve now been running consistently for about a year and a half, and I STILL struggle with confidence due to my setbacks. I am hypervigilant about injuries. I still notice some of the areas that had previously been injured, and I am constantly trying to balance knowing how much discomfort is ok to push through with when to stop.
Some of the things that have helped me are what I listed above. I know that my core and glutes are my weak areas, so I really focus on doing prehab exercises at least a few times a weak. I keep track of any niggles or discomfort I have to make sure it goes away after a day or two. My return to running postpartum was VERY slow. And now 2020 has thrown a wrench in any of my long-term goals, so I have just been focusing on short-term ones for now.
It can be really tricky to navigate a return to running after a setback. Just remember that every setback is a set up for a comeback.
Have you struggled with gaining confidence after a running setback?
What has helped you when returning to running after time off?
Do you use positive self-talk?
Now it’s time for the Runners’ Roundup! Link up your running and fitness posts below! Join myself, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs , and Laura Norris Running to post your favorite running tips, experiences, race and training recaps, workouts, gear, and coaching ideas.