How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Setbacks

They force us to make a foray into the unplanned, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Runners tend to be highly motivated, driven, type-A individuals. Or so I’ve been told.

I don’t want to make generalisations, so maybe this doesn’t apply to you. If so, that’s cool. I’d probably love running with you if you’re relaxed, flexible, and spontaneous. I like to counterbalance some type-B personalities to my mostly A. I can be more B with a glass of wine or two, on Sundays, or on holiday.

We type A runners tend to be disciplined planners. We’re responsible, efficient, focused. We’re possibly even a bit obsessed at times. And occasionally controlling?

And many of us would say that when we screw something up, no one could possibly be harder on us than we are on ourselves.

We like to have our careers in order, our relationships on track, our holiday and race plans made well in advance, our refrigerators well stocked, and our training schedule laid out and dialled in.

I imagine we can be quite exhausting, even mystifying at times to more laid back runners and non-runners. I like to joke that we “aren’t for everyone”. I’m really only half joking.

The thing is, for people like us, setbacks can be pretty frustrating, even devastating. We have a crappy training run, we hit the wall in a race, we get injured, and it’s hard to get over. Setbacks are unexpected detours or forced pauses. They force us to make a foray into the unplanned or unknown. And we can get rather pissed off about that.

So we resist our setbacks, at least at the onset, rather than pausing, opening, accepting, or asking what the lesson is.

That resistance delays our return to the plan, but we usually recognise this more easily in hindsight. For example, we continue to run through pain rather than resting or seeing a doctor – and end up making it worse.

Or we burn the candle at both ends at work, at home, and in training. We skimp on sleep and rest and nutrition, pushing our limits and getting by, until we can’t anymore, and find ourselves sick or in shambles.

But there’s another way to look at setbacks. As Mastin Kipp, the inspirational speaker, says: “When you realise the setback is the path, the game changes.”

I like to reread this quote slowly and absorb it, particularly when I’m in the middle of a setback, I feel immediately better.

It makes me feel less discouraged and hopeless and more in the mood to learn something and start overcoming. Of course setbacks are going to happen when we are trying hard things! We should expect them, accept them as normal, even welcome them.

A setback means the course just got a little more challenging – but don’t we like that, in our own weird runner way? It’s a chance to test our training, tune up our endurance, reset our resolve, increase our patience, gain some wisdom, and go a little deeper into the reservoir of who we are and what it takes.

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