(from September/October 2016 Issue, Oklahoma Sports & Fitness)
You train for weeks, months, maybe even a year or more. You and your family make sacrifices for your training — everything from only eating at certain restaurants your body can tolerate during your training to waiting for you to complete a training session so the family can spend quality time together. Your family comes to your event and cheers you on to your big finish. You are elated to finish, and possibly even place in your age group or win the race. The week after the post-race celebrations and the excitement/relief wear off, you become gripped by overwhelming sadness. After you achieve such a goal, what could be the cause?
In a Runner’s World article entitled, “The Post-Race Blues” Jeff Galloway states, “The higher your emotions soar on the day of achievement, the lower you tend to feel afterward” (Galloway, 2007).
So most athletes have experienced post-race blues to some degree or another. In another article from Ironman.com, Jennifer Ward Barber offers a good reason why: “Intensity and length of preparation (training), the magnitude of the accomplishments and the depth of the ensuing fatigue” (Barber, 2014).
All of this makes sense. If you have spent months training to accomplish a goal like a marathon, triathlon, or another endurance event, even if you didn’t perform how you wanted to, you still trained for it and are dealing with the subsequent fatigue afterwards. And emotions can soar both in a positive way (great race) and in a negative way (poor race).
Regardless of your performance, it is extremely tough to go back to the real world of life after having a set goal for your training. As Mimi Winsberg, a psychologist and Ironman age-group champion says, completing an event carries “multiple layers of loss” (Barber, 2014).
Multiple Layers of Loss
1.There is a loss of psychological and chemical high from exercising.
2.There is a loss of power and energy as we depleted our physical and
3.There is a loss of a clear goal (Barber, 2014).
Every athlete is at risk for the post-race blues, and these multiple layers of loss can impact every athlete. College athletes can deal with these feelings when their season comes to a close. First time marathoners and veteran cyclists alike can experience sadness upon completion of their events. And while the post-race blues are certainly not to the level of someone who is clinically depressed, all the same, they can feel brutal after experiencing such euphoria post-race. So what is an athlete to do about it?
First of all, recognize that the post-race blues are typical. Accept that you may be overjoyed to finish a race, regardless of your performance, and that post-race may bring on a bit of sadness. Then, consider taking the following steps.
Five Steps to Battle the Post-Race Blues
1.Take time to relish the race experience. One of my friends told me this years ago, and applied it to every achievement in life. Savor the moment and appreciate what you just accomplished. Maybe you have a nice glass of wine, a pedicure, a massage, or simply a good dinner wearing your medal! Either way, take time to relish in the experience you just had. If you had a rough race experience, this would be a moment to be thankful it’s over. Be positive! (Barber, 2014).
2.Don’t overindulge. Notice it doesn’t say, “Don’t indulge!” This is something I tell many clients. Enjoy that glass of wine or greasy burger to celebrate before getting back on track the next day. One meal will not kill you. Your body is fatigued, though, and if you’re prone to the blues, poor chronic nutrition just fuels the fire. (Barber, 2014).
3.Reflect on the race. What went well in your race and what didn’t? What could you change to improve upon your next race experience? This may incorporate some research time into training methods. Maybe you jot down some notes in terms of your nutrition/hydration the week before your race or even during your race. Or maybe you simply close your eyes and vision the race experience and take mental notes on how you could improve your performance. Reflect and learn. (Barber, 2014).
4.Accept it. It’s worth repeating. If you get the blues, remember you aren’t alone. Take time for you; get extra sleep and don’t put yourself in situations that make it worse. Surround yourself with other athletes who understand. Consider meeting in non-training environments like sharing coffee or shopping. Spend time on other challenges like work and hobbies. Spend time with family (especially since they’re the ones who likely received the most negative impact of your training commitment!) Recognize the blues as a stage and accept it. The blues will pass.
5.Sign up for another race and/or set a new goal. This is encouraged by several sources. If you just completed a marathon and you aren’t happy with your time, find another marathon and sign up for it. If you just completed a duathlon and you’ve always wanted to try a triathlon, research events and sign up for one. Most people do better with training goals vs. no goals. While I would still encourage a recovery period (a week to a month, depending on the event and your next goals), having a goal set in place is a great way to avoid and/or get over the post-race blues (Barber, 2014).
In my own training years of soccer, three marathons, bodybuilding, numerous 5-15K’s, and various mud runs, I have learned that I am like most athletes. I need training goals. I need a mix of training events to keep me interested and I need periods of recovery. I need to be thinking about a race or event before I finish my scheduled race, and then schedule it the week after my race. I also need to have different goals that relate to my faith, family, friends, and work. One of the most important tools that has helped me achieve this is writing things down. I use a daily calendar (physically writing, old school style instead of using my smart phone). I also use a training journal. Like many athletes, I stay on track best with training by physically writing down set goals.
So why not take the day after your next race and journal your thoughts? Write down a few moments you are thankful for from your race (even if you were simply thankful you finished!) Reflect on the race experience and journal about it, both positive and negative points, so you can learn from them. Write down your next race, and maybe jot down three goals for your next race and finally — sign up! Perhaps you keep this training log/journal going like I do and ward off the post-race blues and potentially avoid battling them next time.
Barber, J. W. (2014, December 5). Ironman.com. Retrieved from How to Fight the Post-Race Blues: http://ironman.com
Galloway, J. (2007, July 10). The Postrace Blues. Retrieved from Runner’s World: http://runnersworld.com
Alana Yates has her master’s degree in Health and Kinesiology from NSU. She is a certified Medical Exercise Specialist through AAHFRP, Personal Trainer through ACE, Posture Alignment Therapist through Egoscue, and USSF-B licensed soccer coach. She specializes in post-rehabilitation and sports conditioning and runs her own, in-home personal training business and also trains clients at Fitness Systems of Tulsa, a training studio in downtown Tulsa. For additional information, please contact her at email@example.com.
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