Maybe 2020 was just a prolonged case of the post race blues for athletes or maybe it was it’s own special thing. Either way the post race blues are real even if it’s a pretty good problem to have. After my first few races I definitely had a case of the blues but I don’t think at the time I realized what was really going on. Now that I know it’s actually a pretty normal part of the training and racing cycle I’ve come up with some pretty great strategies to deal with it!
What are the post race blues
I think the French might describe it as a type of ennui. Which is defined as “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” So yeah that’s exactly what it is then. Like a deep existential boredom really. The thing about the post race blues is it takes you a minute to identify what it is you’re dealing with if you ever do. You come of maybe months of training, then all the excitement of race day and let’s be honest you have a few lazy (I mean recovery) days after that. Then you might find yourself feeling sad and listless at the same time. You might for example feel like going running but wondering if there is a point and sighing dramatically.
All jokes aside it really is a thing and it can affect your mood longer than you would think. The post race blues can actually take you away from your sport for a while and you might not even know why. First off I think it’s most important to know that this is a real thing that can happen. That’s the most important step and as nice a problem as it is to have you are certainly not alone in this! The second important thing is that there are lots of things that you can do to overcome the post race blues and really prevent them from happening in the first place.
Why they happen
It’s complicated really but the roots tie into both biology and psychology. One of the biggest reasons for the post race blues is that your life literally (sort of) has less meaning than it did before. Let’s start with the biology. In a lot of ways a big race or competition is a lot like a pretty serious drug. It’s the same in the sense that there is a WHOLE LOT of dopamine involved in something like that. Of course you can read all about that here. Virtually all addictive drugs involve two things a huge dopamine release and a crash after the fact leading to an urge for more. So the days after a race are not unlike the suicide Sunday that comes after a weekend of hard partying. Unlike a highly addictive drug accomplishing something big is exactly how you are supposed to get that dopamine rush out of life but that still can come with a crash. Interestingly its also what has you googling your next race already!
The next aspects have their roots deep in psychology. Training for a race takes over your life in a big way. If it’s a big enough race it can actually become the cornerstone of your life for a while. That not only consumes your time, your thoughts and your energy it also becomes a big portion of the meaning in your life for that time. There’s nothing wrong with that but once it’s all over you legit might feel a sense of loss. You might even feel more anxious or depressed. All that’s okay it’s totally normal to find purpose and meaning in your training. Otherwise why do it? It’s also totally normal to feel that ennui after that period is over. That’s all great but what do we do about it?
How to minimize or prevent the post race blues
This isn’t about picking one thing or trying to do everything on this list. Rather try the ones that sound good. Give one or two a shot or layer to your heart’s desire!
Give yourself permission to sulk
Almost half of dealing with a problem is naming it and once you realize you’re a little depressed because you’ve got a case of the post race blues you’ll already start feeling better. Give yourself some time, with a limit, to wallow in that feeling, sigh dramatically and make dramatic comments. After a big race lots of people recommend taking a week off from training so go ahead and stretch that to ten days. Take that time to mope around the house, catch up on Netflix and eat all the foods that you have to avoid while training. Really dive in deep here but…
Schedule your first comeback run(s)
Make it a point to schedule your first session back before the big race and then stick to it. Even though after your big day you might not feel like getting back out there at all when you do you’ll love it even more than you did in training. Getting back is awesome because you are in amazing shape, you can literally run as long as you like and the freedom of choosing the workout you want to do on any given day rocks! After your dramatic rest period schedule a few runs back and then stick to it. After that you’re mood is sure to improve! If you’re looking for what sort of schedule to follow….
Employ a deliberate reverse taper
Usually our peek weeks of training for a race just aren’t sustainable year round. Both in terms of injury risk and personal commitments. One thing you can do is to deliberately return to a maintenance milage by employing a reverse taper. All of my training plans come with a bonus 2 week reverse taper included. This is best for athletes that really love the sense of purpose that comes from training. Alternatively, if you do have another race scheduled down the road you could reduce to a milage that would support that event. Essentially over the next couple of weeks to a month you reduce your milage from a couple weeks before peak week to what you want to be running in the long term going forward.
Pick up some new gear as a reward
Nothing inspires you to get out the door like a little bit of new kit. So if you’re having a hard time getting motivated grab yourself a couple of cute outfits for this time of year or even a new pair of running sneakers. Even if you don’t technically need them. No need to break the budget though check out this post for how to buy fitness gear for cheap!
Register for a little race in the future
This tip I read somewhere, not sure where, but it was pretty much a game changer. That is to register for another race, thoughtfully before your big race for the season. If you wait to register until you are already feeling the blues the temptation becomes to either just not do it at all or over register. When you’re in the thick of training you’ll be more realistic about what makes sense for after your big event. This strategy gives you something to look forward and work toward after the fact. It doesn’t even have to be a serious race, I’ve had great success focusing on my costume for a Halloween fun run after an early fall half. Ending your season with a little race is a lot easier of a let down then that big race that you’ve been looking forward to all year!
Find a way to train with others
If you’ve tried all that and you’re still feeling low maybe now is the time to join your local weekly running group! This year maybe that’s online but in normal times making plans to run with someone else usually means it actually happens. Even if you are an always solo runner like me making plans to train with someone else can be just the ticket you need!
You might notice a trend here and a big, big part of getting over the post race blues is actually getting back out there running! Once you do that a few times the freedom and the fitness you’ve gained make it one of the best periods of running just out there! Do you suffer from the post race blues? What do you do to get yourself back after a big race? Leave it in the comments below!
I remember after my first few marathons I had the post race blues. Until you realize what’s going on you do feel a little out of control.
I’ve found that I go into a funk during taper time. Dropping from peak mileage to taking it easy causes a big drop in dopamine. And with all that time to do nothing you have a lot of time to think. Usually it’s about that missed long run or not having a peak week that was peaked enough. Stuff like that.
It’s funny. In life most people work to avoid pain (post race blues) but runners keep chasing the high.
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