How to See the Silver Lining of Running’s Setbacks

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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How to See the Silver Lining of Running’s Setbacks

Although training and racing have their ups and downs, for many of us, running is our happy place. Whether you’re trying to get fit, burn off the day’s stress or work toward a goal, running leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that earned the title of “runner’s high.”

But what happens when you struggle with injury, fail to meet a goal or get disqualified from a race? If you don’t address these disappointments in a way that allows you to grow and move forward, you may find yourself stuck in a negative cycle that continues to impact your running. If you seek the silver lining in these situations, however, they become an opportunity to improve and succeed.


No matter the scenario — injury, disqualification or missing a goal — know it’s normal to feel upset, frustrated, angry, sad or whatever other emotions may come up. Acknowledge those feelings and give yourself time to process them. Don’t ignore what happened and plunge headlong into a new training plan, but also avoid wallowing in disappointment for weeks after the event; there’s a fine line.

There is no one timeline that fits every runner, but once you’re ready to address what happened, try to look at it as objectively as possible. Pretend you’re an outsider looking in. If it’s challenging to step back from the situation, a trusted friend or running coach can be immensely helpful.

As you review, consider the positive and negative aspects of the race and your training leading into it. What did you do well? What could you do better? What might you change to avoid the same negative outcome? Remember insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, so figure out what you need to change to get where you want to go.

No runner wants to be sidelined by injury. Whether they happen during a race or in the training leading up to it, injuries can feel unfair and overwhelming. As frustrating as they may be, the silver lining of an injury is always the opportunity to come back stronger.

An injury is typically a sign you have tried to take on too much, too quickly. It can serve as a reminder that if you want to stay healthy for the long haul, you need to evaluate the progression of your training. You may need to add strength and mobility work to help your body handle the demands of running.

When you’re injured, don’t expect to take time off then train the same way and get a different result. You’ll be disappointed. Find the source of your weakness and put in the time to fix it so you come back stronger, faster and healthier.

If you have never faced a disqualification or the dreaded “DNF,” consider yourself fortunate. Whether you missed a turn on a technical trail or timed out at an aid station in an ultra, DNFs can be excruciatingly frustrating. DNFs often reveal chinks in both our mental and physical armor. Their silver lining is the opportunity to appreciate the lessons of the experience, then put in the work to come back and do it better.

Since disqualifications can happen as a result of both mental and physical mistakes, it’s essential to evaluate the source of your particular setback. Then, put strategies in place for your next race to avoid the same scenario, whether it’s navigating with a map or executing a plan to move efficiently through aid stations to save time.

When you train for months on end to reach a specific goal, failure to achieve it may feel like all your efforts have gone to waste. It’s understandable to feel disappointed, but the silver lining of this setback is the fluidity of goals and the endless opportunities to improve.

Missing a goal can happen for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes your training hasn’t set you up for success. Maybe your goal was unrealistic in the given time frame and needs to be revised. Or perhaps extreme weather or course conditions made the race a challenge for everyone and your time goal became unattainable.

For some, it’s tempting to jump back into training and sign up for a new race. Depending on your fitness, experience and the length of your race, you may be able to use your current fitness to resume regular training. But tread carefully here. Take the time to evaluate what happened and make sure you are mentally prepared to take on another race. Seek an experienced runner or coach to help evaluate the soundness of your training plan, especially if you have failed to reach your goals in the past.

For all the joy running brings, it’s inevitable to face setbacks on occasion. While these disappointments can feel overwhelming at times, they are always opportunities for growth with an honest perspective and evaluation of your goals.

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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