At this year’s IMWI race, I had the privilege of supporting a group of 37 athletes from Team World Vision who were racing to bring clean water to remote villages throughout Africa. As a collective group, they raised over $300,000 with their efforts and will be bringing clean water to over 6,200 people for LIFE! Within this group of individuals were many first-time Ironman finishers. As the days unfolded post-race I was intrigued by some of the Facebook postings expressing a sense of feeling “lost” and emotionally “numb” coming off their races. It was quite apparent many of them, perhaps like you at some point after a big race, were working through what is affectionately known as the “post-race blues” or “hangover”.
This phenomenon is quite common in endurance sports. After spending months and countless hours working towards a big goal, it seems almost normal there would be a bit of a letdown and feelings of being lost once the adrenaline dissipates, the buzz surrounding the race dwindles and we resume life as we knew it before training for our big event. Throughout the training process, our bodies and brains have been programmed to a very disciplined and specific weekly structure which provides us with a sense of purpose and joy. Once that routine becomes disrupted, it is easy for us to feel like we are in a mental fog or operating without a sense of purpose. What we are likely struggling with post-race is a loss of drive and motivation.
Science Backs it Up: The Struggle is Real
According to Dr. Jeff Brown, author of The Runner’s Brain and lead psychologist for the Boston Marathon, “Having a feeling of being let down, or even a short wave of depression, following a well-prepared race, can be a normal experience.”
Fortunately, for most of us, this emotional low is a short-lived state. Here are four strategies to help you navigate and avoid the post-race blues:
1. Have a recovery plan, both physical & mental.
Include some short walks or very light aerobic activity to keep the blood flowing the week immediately after your race. Your body will appreciate the slow drip of endorphins. Plan something fun to do which will allow your mind to be at ease and perhaps act as a distraction from any challenging emotions you are experiencing.
2. Make mental notes of what worked well and areas for improvement.
There are good takeaways from every race which help us with the debriefing process. Log these items in Training Peaks for your coach and have them ready for discussion as part of your post-race analysis.
3. Focus on the process vs. the outcome.
This is especially true when we have a disappointing race. We can fall prey to the negative thoughts of, “Was all this training and effort really worth it?” Continue to appreciate the sense of accomplishment and improvements made within the course of the training process. Our self-worth should never be attached to results.
4. Take a mid-season/end of season break.
I am a big proponent of taking a mid-season and end of season break. It is an effective way to allow our minds and bodies to reset before transitioning into another training block or the off-season.
Good luck through your season, and I'm available if you have questions or need some post-race encouragement.
Coach Brad Seng's coaching methodology revolves around the roles that both the body and the mind play in an athlete’s ability to reach maximum potential. Training the body to swim, bike or run faster, further or with more intensity is hard work. With a custom built training plan and good nutrition on board it definitely gets a whole lot easier. But I know from first-hand experience that if a person is not mentally strong, things can still go south in a hurry – especially in long distance races.