Overcoming Setbacks and the Thrill of the Stretch Zone

Overcoming Setbacks and the Thrill of the Stretch Zone

One of our Elite Ambassadors, Ian Deeth, will run his debut marathon in the Gold Coast, Queensland on 2 July. In his last article, Ian reported on his adventures at the Spartan Elite Super obstacle race in Sarawak; this week he talks about overcoming other obstacles to reaching a fitness goal, as well as his final preparations for his first attempt at the 26.2 miles distance.

As I write this post, there are just under three weeks before I tackle my debut marathon. In preparation, I committed to a 28-week programme, and for the first 17 weeks, my training had been progressing well. Whilst there had been a few minor setbacks and some sessions had not gone exactly to plan, these had been the rare exception rather than the norm, and I could see excellent consistency and improvement overall. On Week 18 I had planned to run the Kew Gardens Half Marathon to test my race fitness.

However, the night before the race, I came down with a norovirus that resulted in vomiting and diarrhoea, leaving me weak and not in any condition to compete. Regardless, I decided to try. As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “It's better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would've happened if [one] had tried,” but I was forced to drop out after just a few kilometres, the effects of the virus still very much present, and on reflection, it was a race I should have skipped. The following week, I’d planned a complete rest and as a result of the virus, this became a forced rest.

When you are pushing your body to achieve a personal best performance or tackle a challenging race, to think that every session will go exactly to plan is naive, but by planning carefully and recognising early any potential problems that might arise, you can maximise the chances of achieving your race goals. 

Ian, at right, training with friends.


The purpose of my posts is to try and help readers reflect on their own running journeys and unlock their true potential, so I have come up with five ideas I hope will help with regards to firstly avoiding potential setbacks, but also overcoming them if they arise:

  1. Monitor your training and health by recording and reviewing relevant data, and recognizing downward trends early. I record all my training in a handwritten diary and look at splits for my quality sessions to monitor progress. I use my Oura ring to track key biometric feedback such as Heart Rate Variability (HRV), sleep data and resting heart rate. This helps me gauge my training load and lets me know when I need to rest. After my disappointment at Kew Gardens, my number one priority is to stand healthy on that Gold Goast start line healthy, and I will use data to help me achieve this.
  1. Ensure you have the best attire and nutrition available to you. I have a specific pair of shoes for every session, such as the Hoka Tecton X for all of my trail work, and Saucony Endorphin Speed for my easy road runs. Similarly, I have very specific nutrition for my sessions; Tailwind and Mag-on gels currently fuel my long runs, whilst Tailwind Chocolate Recovery is non-negotiable after every session. Correct shoe choice and fuelling before, during and after your run will help prevent you from hitting possible setbacks.
  1. Put your health first; if you are not healthy, you are unlikely to meet your expectations and may even do more damage. Postponing your race may result in short-term disappointment but will be better in the long run, and the bigger picture is always crucial to long-term progress. Leading up to the Gold Coast I will be limiting social interactions (which was how I picked up the virus before Kew Gardens) and pull back on training if it means compromising my health. Seek advice from your coach and/or a medical professional immediately if you feel a you may have a potential injury, which or similar may indicate a more serious issue. 
  1. Everybody experiences slumps and setbacks; it’s an expected part of the journey, and continuing to focus on the positives and controllables will help you get back on track quickly. After a setback, try to analyse what was in your control and focus your time and energy on improving those areas.
  1. Be adaptable. Whilst you may have an ‘ideal’ training plan scheduled, there may be times when an alternative plan is needed. For example, an interval session on a rower might be a substitute for a running interval if an injury prevents the latter. This was an approach I successfully used leading up to one of my Spartan races when I was progressing back from an ankle roll. It meant I could keep a good level of aerobic fitness without making my injury worse.

When you’re ill, injured or experience a setback, you sometimes wonder if you’ll ever be able to get back on track again. There is almost always a way, and it is usually just a question of finding the right strategy and mindset. 

Our hero, putting in the work!


With less than three weeks to go before I step on the start line, I feel both nervous and excited. I feel I am capable of running two hours and 50 minutes and will be pacing the first half of my race to go through the halfway mark in one hour, and 25 minutes. I’d rather try to run close to my potential than play it safe, and just complete the marathon distance in a time that will not stretch my abilities. I have alternative plans, and am clear on the splits I need to run if I feel like I am on the edge of blowing up, but want to cross the start line trying to run to my best race. By doing this, I have a greater chance of dropping off, but this is where my excitement comes from – trying to achieve a goal with the odds evenly split between success and failure. Some of my long runs in Singapore have slowed significantly when I’ve crossed 28 kilometres, and the challenge of trying to get it right on the day is why I love the thrill of such challenges. 

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