By Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. - Sometimes running can be frustrating. As much as you love to run and as much as running has to offer, there are times when things just don’t seem to go well. Injuries, fatigue, poor performances, stress etc. can all cause discouragement and in some cases, a sense of hopelessness.

Sometimes it just seems as though no matter how hard you try, it’s as if you are spinning your wheels and going nowhere. You may feel physically, mentally or emotionally beaten. Obviously, you never want to be in such a state, but setbacks do occur. But you must always remember that setbacks are often temporary and they can be overcome. How you approach setbacks mentally can have a huge impact on how quickly and effectively you bounce back. If you can overcome setbacks and disappointments you may find the down times were learning experiences that could actually lead to future success in your running.      
    Some mental skills are incredibly helpful to aid in bouncing back from running disappointments. Quite often thinking is a bigger hindrance to bouncing back than are physical issues. If you feel down and out over a poor performance or running setback, one of the best ways to get your thinking going in a more positive direction is to simply recall instances in the past when you have overcome challenges. You’ve done it before and you can do it again! Recall your running successes and all of the positive emotions those successes brought you. Setbacks can lead to feeling of self-doubt, but great performances in the past can be a real reminder of just what you are still capable of. Remember your running triumphs and you will get a boost in confidence and motivation. Yes, you’ve done it before and you can do it again!

    When coming back from any injury, poor race or setback of any type, patience is a key word to keep in mind. When in a slump or injured it may seem as though running well again is something far, far off in the future and, as a result, motivation can be effected in a very negative way. Remember to be patient and just take things one step at a time. That may mean doing your rehab if injured or cutting your mileage for a week if you are really fatigued. Small little things can add up big for the future. Set little short term goals and when they are reached, set some new ones. Remember that “inch by inch life’s a cinch, but yard by yard, life is hard.” Reaching small short-tern goals is the way to ultimately reach your long tern goal. Every little goal that is successfully reached is a step toward getting back to the level of running you know you are capable of. Don’t wait to just celebrate your big victories; celebrate to little victories on the comeback trail as well!

    Bouncing back from a running disappointment can be greatly enhanced by simple social support. The encouragement you get from those close to you can mean so much for motivation and confidence as you move forward. Talk to your friends and family and seek their positive support in your running. Getting encouraging, positive feedback and communication from those close to you can help create an environment where your motivation is enhanced and feel better about yourself and your abilities. Allow others to lift you up!

    Yes, positive encouragement from others can lift your spirits, but don’t forget that your own internal dialogs should also serve to enhance your confidence and motivation. Effective self-talk is critical when bouncing back from disappointment. A poor performance, injury or periods of low motivation provide a prime environment for negative and self-defeating self-talk. Quite often negative self-talk becomes a whirlpool where the negative self-statements feed even more negative self-statements. When on the comeback trail it’s imperative that you break the cycles or negative self-statements that only serve to lower confidence and motivation. What you really need is to start a positive thinking whirlpool where positive self-statements lead to more positive self-statements. The cycle can go both ways!

    The first key in eliminating negative self-talk is to become aware of it. Try to be really aware of when you are putting yourself down and using such words as can’t, hopeless and never in your self-talk. When you find yourself using negative, self-defeating statements, dispute them and replace them with positive self-statements that enhance your self-confidence and motivation. Again, remind yourself that you have comeback from disappointment before and you have run really well before. It’s just a matter of time before you run well again. Your self-talk can really influence your behaviors, so be sure to use self-talk that will aid in getting your running back to where you want it to be. How you talk to yourself is totally under your control. Make the decision to be positive!

    Along with positive self-talk, positive imagery, or visualization as it is sometimes called, should be used. Work to imagine where you want to be in the future. If you had a setback in your running try not to keep having images of what happened constantly running through your head. Take some time each day to just get comfortable, relax and image yourself running like you want to run. See yourself running strong and smooth. Make the images as real as possible and try to actually feel yourself running as you image. Be sure to include sounds, smells and even positive self-talk in your imagery training. Simply try to visualize for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Image yourself overcoming obstacles and challenges, like difficult points in races or extreme weather conditions. Positive imagery can build confidence and motivation just like positive self-talk. Using positive imagery can pre-program you mentally for future success, but the opposite is true as well. Negative imagery can sap motivation and lower confidence, so make the choice to be positive.

    Bouncing back from any running disappointment certainly requires mental fortitude and toughness. You probably have a lot more mental toughness than you give yourself credit for. If you run, you have proven your mental toughness already. You work hard at running; you train, you race and you’re dedicated. Training in and of itself takes mental toughness. Remind yourself each day of your mental toughness and apply that toughness as you work your way back. Deep down inside you know you never quit and you never give up. You will never know how good it looks from the top of the mountain until you have been deep in the valley. Just keep climbing back to the top!

Dr. Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness and Sports Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant.  He may be reached via e-mail at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Read more of Richard Ferguson’s articles on www.runohio.com

Now We’re Stressed Out! -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/164-now-we-re-stressed-out-by-richard-ferguson-ph-d 

Confidence: It’s Your Choice -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/60-confidence-it-s-your-choice  

What Is Mental Toughness? -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/90-what-is-mental-toughness 

Don’t Panic!  -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/107-don-t-panic-by-richard-ferguson-ph-d