Running set backs and come backs and how to manage them, from the perspective of a runner with epilepsy.

In life we all have set backs from time to time.  As a new runner it is not only frustrating but it can have a devastating effect on your progress.  It can de-rail your relationship with running and even end you’re running journey.

I have Epilepsy, and so my health is somewhat unpredictable.   Needless to say that I regularly have to come back from a set back.  I am well versed in the ups and downs of setbacks and the frustrations of the comebacks as well.

There are a number of articles and books which I have read on this subject to try to work out the best ways of dealing with it.  So here is my experience and what I have found to work for me at different stages of the setback/comeback journey.

My set back 

I had been running for just over 3 months when I experienced my first set back.  I was trying to hit 20 mins of constant running and I was finding it tough.

Due to a deterioration in my health, I had to take a two-week break from running and I felt utterly bereft.  The impact of not running was far more devastating than my epilepsy!

The  irony of it was not lost on me!  Previously I would have given almost anything to have an excuse not to exercise.  Now suddenly my mindset had changed and I was gutted, to say the least.


Suzie who I started my running journey with, would regularly, reach running milestones ahead of me.  I was always concerned I was never going to keep up with her.  Much less keep up with the progress Suzi would be making during my time out.

Not that it was a competition but I desperately wanted to make sure we completed the same milestones at the same times.  This set back, fed my fear of failure and sent me into a blind panic.  I Began to think ‘what is the point’.

Self Sabotage

What is worth noting, is that, the more fragile you’re running confidence the more de-railing it can be.  It is really important at this point not to sabotage what you have already achieved, by giving up altogether.

Don’t lose site of your achievements

To stop myself from throwing in the towel I tried to remember where I was and how far I had come.   Remembering is one thing but  sometimes you need more than that.  Speaking to friends helps but sometimes you need to be confronted with real evidence of your progress.

Facebook posts, are particularly useful if you use it.  I find that, ‘ this time last year posts’ are really helpful at highlighting your progress.  Especially, when you read the comments everyone’s made.  All of that positive reinforcement at a time when you thought you could not do and realising you did!  Really inspiring.

Fitness apps or watches are really useful when reviewing your progress.  It is great to see your running journey over time. Your personal bests and  pace, time, distance as an example.

Photographs are another useful tool if your body shape has changed.  You may have lost weight, more muscle definition.

In my case,  I had lost a significant amount of weight,  my shape had changed and  I had more muscle definition.   Therefore, I did not want to put weight back on.  More importantly I was really enjoying running and did not want to lose my ability.  Therefore,  losing fitness was a massive concern for me.

Beginning of running journey

Running 8 months – weight loss evident in face!  

Losing Fitness

There is a lot written about losing fitness due to injury.  Much of that information agrees that you lose very little fitness, in the first 2 weeks.

However, as a new runner, working hard to build baseline fitness, a little can seem like an awful lot. The thought of losing any fitness, can be turned mentally, into an unmitigated disaster. It is this negative mindset that can prevent the return to running at all. Therefore, with that in mind it is important to keep the possibility of losing fitness in proportion.  

Taking a break may even have a positive impact on your running efficiency.  Magill, Schwartz and Breyer in their book, building your own running body, state that running is the stimulus to trigger the adaptations your body needs to make, to be an efficient runner.  However, it is the recovery period that ensures that those adaptations happen.  The muscle fibres essentially breakdown during running and rebuild into a stronger version of themselves in recovery.  Quite often we are tempted to overtrain which prevents these adaptations from occurring as quickly as they might.

Therefore, on the bright side sometimes an enforced break can actually go in your favour!   A break from running could allow your muscles time to adapt. You might just have stronger muscles at the end of it, especially if you cross train.  Every silver cloud and all that!


Cross Training

Taking a running break is a necessary evil but there are other forms of exercise out there that you may still be able to do.  A cross training routine provides a means of enhancing fitness whilst also training alternative muscle groups.

If you have an injury that is due to a specific weakness in a muscle group, then you can offset this by using a form of exercise that will target that area.  If your injury is due to a tightness in a muscle group then Yoga is a good means of freeing those muscles up and creating some flexibility.  Swimming is particularly good for musculoskeletal injuries as it is non weight-bearing but works all muscle groups as well as improve cardiovascular fitness.

However, in my case I chose to do no cross training whatsoever.  Instead, I gave myself a complete break as with my health issue that was needed.

It is really important to listen to your body to make sure your ready to return to exercise.  If you hurry the recovery process, rather than expedite your return to running, you can potentially cause it to fail and become even more frustrated when you have to take more time out of running.

My advice is to cross train if you can if not don’t worry as long as you are listening to your body and not giving up you will be OK!

The reality of my set-back

Yes, I did lose some fitness during this particular set back.  However,  I was able to get back to 20 minutes within a couple of weeks of running consistently.

Although,  I made a few decisions that impacted negatively on my mental strength when I returned to running!  Which could have easily stopped my running journey!

Running Solo

The first return run I did – I ran with my running buddy and was so disappointed when I had to stop earlier than her.    The fact that I was not able to start back where I left off and  needed to go back to a run walk approach was frustrating and demoralising.

It annihilated my confidence even though I had managed to motivate myself to return to running.  This, completely destabilised me again.  I felt like everything was slipping away and it caused me to panic.

The lesson here is that running your first return run with a fellow runner is not always the best idea.   Especially if like me you compare yourself to the people you run with.

So take the pressure off don’t put yourself in a place where you will be comparing yourself to others.   Keep in mind this is you’re running journey not theirs, so leave them to it until you have some confidence back.

Building confidence

The first step in building confidence is to make your first run a positive experience and not to set yourself up to fail.  Don’t try to achieve what you had before.  Take your mileage and/or time back,  listen to your body.

If you set yourself a lower target for your first run back and achieve it, you will finish on a high.  This, sense of achievement gives you the motivation to continue.

A few weeks ago, I had a few, really bad runs, due to seizures, so I took a self-imposed week off running.  Trust me that was tough to do, but I knew I had to listen to my body!   On my return, I knew I had to try to keep the run positive.

I decided to do a small easy route for the first 2 miles.  Much of which was down hill.  I walked for approx 5 minutes and chose to finish the run on a hill.

All hills are my nemesis and I see completing any hill small or large as a victory.  I thought if I could complete the hill it would have a positive impact on my confidence.

Therefore, by doing a shorter run and building in a walk break I had put all the necessary components in place to give me the best possible chance of completing it.  These measures ensured I returned on a positive building belief in my ability to get back to where I had been prior to injury.

How to create a positive return run

PIck your focus.  Are you going to focus on distance or time?

Remember take it back a notch – don’t expect to start where you left off.

Map your route before you start-preparation is key to setting yourself up to win.

Choose an easier route whether your focus is distance or speed

Speed focus – Instead of aiming to do a set distance as fast as you can, ease yourself in with some fartlek (speed play) training.  In fartlek training you vary your speed across the course of a set distance.  By doing this you will complete your distance but won’t focus on the end time but more on how you are managing the variations in speed throughout the run.

Be mindful of the nature of your injury and what impact speed will have on it.  Remember you don’t want another setback.

Distance focus slow your pace right back and focus purely on distance not time or pace.  By slowing down you are more likely to make your end goal.  I would still focus on returning to what you would class as your short run and not a long run.  To add to the possibility of success run an easier route.

For novices like myself-

I was running 10k prior to my last set back and was aiming to up my mileage to work towards a half marathon distance.

Therefore, to feel that I was still making progress I downloaded a half marathon training programme for beginners.  I started it at a section I felt that I could complete which was less than when I last ran.

However, because it was a half marathon plan and I was not at the beginning but at week 6 of a 12 week plan.  This made me realise that a half marathon was not beyond reach.

No matter how you return to running aim to make the goal small remember the overall aim is to make sure a positive mindset not do a personal best!!


Building up strength

With time off and a reduction in mileage, loss of leg strength has been an issue for me.  More so earlier in my running journey but still occurs now.  Therefore once I have had a few post set back runs under my belt and I have handled them reasonably well, I start hill training.

Hill training as part of a running schedule is brilliant for building strength, power and endurance.  It hurts like hell but it is great for improving your running efficiency.

Either run a route with hills in it or do hill repeats.  With hill repeats you start  with a short warm up run i.e. 10mins.  Once completed you can either choose a short hill to run, or run part of a  longer hill for a defined amount of time, i.e.  1 min.

You run up and walk down and repeat 5 times.  Building up the incline or the number of repeats, not both together, over several training sessions.

I generally do a mixture of both, to build my strength.  Hill repeats are great but sometimes you just need to test whether you can cope with hills mixed into a standard run!

Recovered and improved

Since my last set back I have taken about a month to get back to where I was.  It seems like a long time but actually the issue has been less about the physicality and more about the mentality.

Mental strength or the loss of it is much harder to overcome than the physical and in all honesty that is what I suffer with most.

I try to keep things positive in the ways mentioned above but this does not mean that each time you increase your pace/distance/speed that you will achieve your goal.  It is important to be ready for the frustration that brings.

Have at the forefront of your mind, why you are doing it and what you have achieved.  Use mantra’s, speak with friends, coaches do whatever it takes but don’t give up, don’t let it beat you!  You have got this.











Motivation-get yourself running out the door.


Motivation!  My levels of motivation are constantly in flux, sometimes I am so motivated that I tend to overtrain. Whilst, when things are not going so well I struggle to motivate myself to run out the door.  I suspect most of you can identify with this!  So I have drawn up a list of motivators that I use or think about when I am trying to get myself out of the door.

Running Buddies have been key in my motivation.  I have two friends that I go running with, one started the couch to 5K with me and the other is a seasoned runner, in fact a marathoner!   There has been much research done on what makes a good running buddy.

However for me one of my running buddies drives my training and motivates me to improve and do better.   The other motivates me to go for a run and keep me running!  For me I think I have the best of both worlds but I personally don’t think all buddies are equal – I think it is dependent on your needs.

I have friends who have moved away from aiming for distances as they know they can complete them.  There are others who aim for beating their previous time on a 5K, a new personal record. Maybe when I am further along my running journey, I may need to add a new dimension to my training and perhaps a different running buddy to help me achieve that personal record.  So I guess what I am trying to say is that your motivational running buddy will depend on what you are trying to achieve either physically or mentally – they need to be a good fit!

Online forums,  I am a massive fan of them.  A place where like minded people can share and support each other.  Particularly good when your running buddies are not available and you need some inspiration, motivation or just plain advice.  I belong to a couple and I have found the online communities a safe place to air your inner most concerns as no-one knows you and you are not likely to meet them!

I belong to a Facebook group called  On the Wagon which is a health and wellbeing page ultimately. George Anderson the founder, is a runner, and has written running training programmes such as beginners luck. Despite being a heath and well being site, there are a lot of runners on this site.

The forum gets used in a number of ways to provide motivation such as a photo of the rain pounding down with a caption do I go running in this?  Immediately members of the group start answering with images of the run they were on or had been on, in the rain.  Stating, how much fun it was and encouraging them to take the plunge.  Each member gives or takes from the group what they want or need.

I get inspired by how the members are genuinely supportive and how they celebrate each other’s wins and commiserate losses but are their with advice and a “do not give up” followed by their story for motivation to carry on.

One member wrote I cannot seem to find the motivation today, totally fallen of the Wagon.  Within minutes there were messages of support and inspiration to help them get straight back on that Wagon.

George uploads topical video’s, pretty regularly, which motivate and inspire and is ever present and responsive to posts.  Sometimes he will pick out some key comment and do a post on that alone.

I would highly recommend this as a source of motivation it has definitely kept me going and inspired.  So for me forums are a must!

New kit there is nothing quite like it!  Now I was born a shopaholic and I am definitely a magpie when it comes to shiny new things no matter what they are.   However, Sportswear was definitely not on that list.  Going into a sports shop used to fill me with dread.  Whether male or female who wants to be seen in lycra, right?

Well, now I get more excited about buying sportswear than any other item of clothing.  What can I say I am a changed women and I definitely think an alien has taken over my body.

I enjoy taking the time to ponder the latest selection of sportswear or sports tech, before making my purchase and rushing home with it.  All the way home I am itching to try out whatever bit of kit or tech I have bought.  I do think I run a bit better when I have new kit because of course it has super powers, doesn’t it?  Plus I have got to make buying that kit worthwhile.  I mean if you have paid the money, you need to prove that it was a necessity, and the only way to do that is run.  So without doubt  new kit is a massive motivator in my book.  My Garmin certainly did the trick, as did my trainers.

Body adaptations, the more I have run the more my shape has changed.  I have, lost weight and developed this strange thing called muscle.  OK, I may not have hugely defined muscles but there is most certainly definition on its way.  Your body getting leaner and fitter is an amazing motivator.  Especially when it’s all happening without me having to be on some awful make you miserable diet.

I will never forget the moment where sitting with my legs crossed I went to adjust my skirt and thought what’s that lump on my knee?  It was a knee bone that sat proudly, no longer covered in a pudgy layer of fat!!  Something seemingly so insignificant to others was massive for me. It was a reminder of what I am doing, why I am doing it and the reward I was getting for it.  This most definitely made me  want to go out for a run immediately, who knew a knee bone could motivate!

The weather,  is a very British, much loved, topic of conversation and no more so than with regard to running.   I have celebrated and bemoaned the weather in equal measure so here is my breakdown of the weather and motivators for even the worse days.


Wind running against you means you have worked harder so even more satisfying when you complete the run.  Feeling the burn means more calories and a leaner fitter body, that is definitely not something to moan about.

Wind behind you is giving you a helping hand – so great if your wanting an easier run…..honest!


You don’t overheat and I am sure it helps with hydration! Running in the rain makes me feel like a child again.  I can almost hear my mother saying, ‘come out of the rain you silly child’.    Also, I always feel like a ‘proper’ runner if the rain has not stopped me going out.   I have always thought of those running out in the rain, serious about training and fitness!


Again you get to wear lovely layers and wrap up.  It’s lovely and quiet so you have the footpaths to your self and again I generally feel hardcore if I run when its cold.  The bath when you get home is heavenly and soothes those aching muscles.


I have yet to experience this but I imagine I will like the sound of crunching underfoot and the magic of it all.


There is nothing quite like running on a sunny day. The sun beating down on you – yes it’s hot, yes you sweat but you cannot help but enjoy it.

Time of day is a real motivator and a real deal breaker for me..

I am not a morning person and certainly not early morning.  I have run once with my running buddy at 6am.  My body was screaming what the hell are you doing to me?? I Found out unsurprisingly, and very early on, that I am not a morning runner I am most definitely an evening runner.

So I learned that in order to stay motivated I needed my running to be timed with my natural circadian rhythm.  Otherwise quite frankly I would not make it past month one!  So definitely need to find a running time that works with you not against you.

Non runners can be really strong motivation to run and not necessarily for the reasons you may think.  You see, there is something seriously addictive to being the fit one.  When your friends or colleagues are saying “What your running home after work?, you must be mad” “I don’t know where you find the time or the energy” “you go girl, wish I had half the energy you have”.  “You ran how far?”.  Turning your identity around from being the couch potato, to that person you said you hated, but secretly admired for being ‘fit’ is kind of addictive!   It makes you want to live up to their expectations of you and confirm their opinion that yes I am one of those exercise bunnies I always thought I would never be!!

Don’t mistake this for the friends who give you a pat on the back because they know how hard you have worked.  One is about being seen to have a new identity the other is having your hard work recognised and congratulated.  In one you are the fit bunny and in the other your still trying to be.

Once you are recognised for being a fit bunny you begin to accept and admit your identity has changed from couch potato to fitness slave and what a psychological high that gives you.  You absolutely have no intention of going backwards so if that is not motivation what is!

Stress can be your biggest motivator to run.  We all have those days when you have had your buttons pushed and your really frustrated, annoyed, angry, stressed.  You have kept all this emotion locked up and on the down low so as not to commit murder at work. You get home, take it out on your partner, the cat, or some poor unsuspecting inanimate object. You start on the wine,  cigarettes, chocolate and any other vice I can lay my hands on.

Well low and behold I have found running grounds me and calms me.  I literally run my stress off,  alright maybe not completely but mostly.  Running seems to take the energy out of it.  Running is like meditation.  Concentrating on pounding your feet on the ground is akin to stamping your feet as a child to release that pent up energy.

When I get home I am at least partially de-stressed and not swinging from the lampshades.  I generally enjoy my evening better and sleep better.  Running also gives me the opportunity to think things through enabling me to gain perspective…….never a bad thing!

I think all of the reasons above are more than enough to help motivate me to get out the door.

What are your motivators?  Feel free to leave me a comment.



Conquering Negativity on Tough Runs.

Mental Demons

Ever since I started running last year I have struggled mentally to get through the tough parts of a run.  You know the ones, where your legs feel tired and self doubt starts to creep in.  That little voice in your head is screaming, “I can’t do this”   “my legs hurt’, ‘I can’t breathe’, ‘I can’t go on any further’….. and crippling negativity continues to the point that you stop running!  

Well I got a little fed up with hearing from this little demon and decided to look into how I could switch this negative inner voice off.  There was a number of dots I had to link together to work out what worked for me.  I cannot say I have totally nailed it but it is certainly better than it was.

Giving it an identity

Firstly, I decided to give the ‘inner voice’ an identity, mainly so I could tell it to ‘get lost’!  I named my inner voice ‘Bob’.  I have absolutely no idea why I called him Bob or why it is a ‘him’ not a ‘her’.  For all you Bobs out there it is nothing personal!

By naming my inner voice Bob, it has enabled me to externalise and separate him from myself and create a different inner dialogue.  I no longer hear myself, saying, ‘I can’t do this’, I hear Bob saying, ‘you can’t do this’.  This means, In my case I can shout (metaphorically) at Bob,  ‘ what do you know of course I can’.  I start this conversation with bob just as the negativity creeps in, at the point of ‘I’ which can sometimes prevent a fully formed ‘I can’t do this’.  The more you hear I can’t the more you believe it so if you can stop it at ‘I’ my theory is your already preventing some of that negativity and self doubt.

This did prevent Bob appearing quite as often but he still continued to appear and I still sabotaged my runs, just not quite so soon in the run or as frequently.  The question remained what could I do to stop sabotaging my runs?

Visualisation and Mantra’s

I have read a lot about visualisation, in particular,  visualising the running route, and preparing for the tough parts of the run by visualising the strategies you would use to run the route successfully.  This is great if you are a visual thinker but I really struggle visualising anything, it is not how my brain works.  Needless to say this was not for me.

There is also a lot of information out there on using a Mantra to improve positive thinking and self belief on a run.   A mantra is a word or phrase that is used to provide a positive focus.  Ideally Mantra’s need to be short enough that you can recall them quickly and easily, to divert the mind away from negative thoughts.  I liked the idea of a Mantra but trying to decide on one that was relevant and powerful for me was proving difficult.    I tried a few and none seemed to work so at that time, I decided it was not for me.


So here is where talking to friends can be quite enlightening at times.  A friend asked me a very key question.  ‘Did you ever have a humiliating sporting experience at school?’  I think most people can safely say at one point or another they did.

I hated everything about sports and sports days.  I was always picked last for netball or any other sport for that matter.  Possibly, more significantly, I was made to run 1500 metres on sports day and I came last.  Not only did I come last, but I was spectacularly slow, I was that slow that the spectators cheering the runners on had left.  I therefore, came back to the school kids laughing at me and taking the proverbial!  Looking back at it now, its quite funny, however, at the time I was embarrassed and quite upset.  In reality, instead of being upset I should actually have felt proud that I completed the run!  But what had this got to do with my running prowess?

Finding the key to my inner dialogue

The eureka moment came when with the help of my friend I connected the dots.

The early sporting moments of being picked last because ‘I was no good at sport’ and being chosen to do the 1500 metres and coming last, had set me up to fail.  Although I completed the run, in my mind and in the mind of my school friends, I did fail spectacularly as I came a very slow last.

If you hear ‘you can’t’ or ‘your no good’ or ‘you came last’ enough you start to believe it and internalise it.  It becomes ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I am no good at this’ ‘I will fail’, ‘I am going to look foolish’.

As I got older I started to give myself excuses and I started to focus on the because!  ‘I can’t do this because… my legs are tired’, ‘I can’t do this because ….I am struggling to breathe’, I can’t do this because……I have been ill, the list goes on and on.

How did I address it?

For me I thought that if I was going to stop sabotaging my runs – I needed to change this inner dialogue and turn the negative into a positive.

This is when I returned to the idea of having a mantra.  I was listening to my running playlist and one particular song always lifted my spirits, Mark Ronson – uptown funk.  There is a line in the song which is,  ‘ If you don’t believe me just watch’.  This was the perfect mantra for me.

Saying this in response to Bob works really well – it sounds like this:

Bob – you can’t

Me – If you don’t believe me just watch.

It motivates me, as I am essentially saying, I can do this you just watch me prove you wrong.

Does it work?

I am not saying it is full proof but it has helped me enormously.  By not only adding a mantra but focusing that mantra at the route-cause of the negativity has made it much more effective.  It changed my psyche from disabling to enabling and I am taking back control.

Using these techniques has helped me to not only run longer but also at a faster pace.  Bob helped me get to 5K and Bob plus mantra (plus coach) helped me get to 10K.  Each time you overcome that negativity and conquer your goal, you are taking the power of ‘I can’t” away.  You are also turning the ‘I can’t’s into ‘ I did’s” which progresses to ‘I did it before, I can do it again’.


I don’t expect to never have a bad run or never to self-sabotage but I do intend to keep trying to find the route causes and take the control back.  I will not allow negativity to continue to dis-enable me!

How do you manage your negativity on tough runs?


I have been a runner for about a year and would still class myself as a beginner.   Like countless others, running has not come easily and has required a lot of hard work and gritted determination.  In truth I was never in love with the idea of running but an opportunity presented itself, the stars aligned and all came together to turn me into a total running nut, (see ‘my running journey so far’ to find out more).  Needless to say running has now become an obsession and I am forever trying to get better at it!

So being the geek I am, I have read, researched and discussed all things running. Sometimes out of interest and sometimes because I am struggling and I am looking for ways to overcome the issues that I am experiencing.  Along the way I have found out some pretty interesting stuff which has helped me and could potentially help other new running nuts.

Therefore, the purpose of this blog is for you to find a catalogue of information that I have found useful.  More specifically,  it will detail how I have used and interpreted it to try and overcome my issues.  This blog will also cover my running journey including all the highs and lows and some of my ‘inner chat’ so that it may help some of you guys to see your not the only ones going through it.

Equally, what you guys are reading, discussing and finding useful is relevant to me and other running nuts and so I am keen for you to share what you are learning and any hints and tips that may be of use.

Therefore, I am hoping this blog will provide a common platform and develop a community of running nuts to share information, hints and tips.  In the process we may be able to develop our running abilities, motivate and inspire ourselves and other running nuts everywhere.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I sincerely hope this blog works and is of use to you all. If you have any feedback, it would be really welcomed after all this site is for all of you total running nuts not just me!

If you would like me to research a topic on your behalf and feed back to you and others please let me know.

Finally, if you would like to publish a post on this site credited to you then please feel free to get in touch and I would be happy to chat through with you.

Lisa a ‘Total Running Nut’