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My Running Setback and How it Affected my Mental Health

Updated: Jan 22, 2022

Setbacks in running. Are we all cringing just thinking about it? I think we’ve all been there. We’re working hard chasing after our running goals, when suddenly (usually at the worst possible time) we face a setback or an injury that forces us to slow down or take some time off.

My Setback

A few months ago, I started to notice that my heart rate was higher than normal on my runs, and I was spending a lot of moving time in the highest heart rate zone. I kept an eye on it for a few weeks, but it continued to climb and stay high so I had no other choice but to slow down my pace to keep my heart rate in a healthy range. Slowing down was so frustrating for me. I knew my legs could run faster and my times could be better, but I couldn’t push it because I was afraid my heart rate would get too high. Mentally, I was undone.  

Turns out, there is some psychology behind the effect that running setbacks have on our minds. An issue like my heart rate can make us, as runners, feel defeated, stressed out, and even trigger anxiety and depression like symptoms. In the first few weeks that I was trying to watch my pace, I could feel those feelings of worthlessness and anxiety creeping in. I just knew I was capable of so much more. When my body wasn’t reflecting that it was really hard. 

Since I was training for a half marathon at the time, I had to take my heart rate issue seriously, do my research and come up with a realistic goal to get back on track, and not lose ground in my training plan. I took a break from running, created lighter workouts (cross-training), and hit my self-care hard because my mental health was not pretty during those six weeks!

Active Recovery

A few things that helped me during my active recovery period:

  1. Small physical goals that I knew I could safely reach despite my setback

  2. Keeping up with my mental health therapy, and acknowledging my setback and how it made me feel in therapy

  3. Lots of self care!! Special recovery drinks / snacks, extra rest time, lots of reading time with my favorite books, new shows, etc.

  4. Scheduled a doctor’s appointment to check in

It was hard, and I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have some really ugly meltdowns at times, but I am back to my training plan and just completed the virtual Still I Run Half Marathon! I think overcoming a setback made crossing the finish line so much sweeter!

What my Setback Taught Me

A lot of us identify as runners because that’s exactly what we are: running warriors kicking mental health stigmas one step at a time. But know this too: We are so much more than our miles. The mental muscle we’ve gained on our past runs have already given us the capacity to carry and bear whatever life throws at us. And even though our feet might not be able to move at times, they’ve already given us all we need to fight our battles. Setbacks and injuries teach us that. 

I know not all injuries / setbacks are the same, and I feel really lucky that I was able to still maintain an active recovery and not lose too much of my training when I was working through my heart rate issue. I know other injuries require things like surgery, rehabilitation, rest, etc. that can add many layers of stress. Setbacks may get us down for awhile, but Still I Run.


By Kristin Ferrell

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