This week’s Coach Tip Tuesday is the culmination of a multi-week series of posts that have been discussing the many elements that surround race day. Since we’ve talked about pre-race elements and race day elements, I think it’s entirely appropriate that we talk about post-race elements.
Very specifically, I want to discuss something that is very real, but not exactly commonly talked about: Post-Race Blues.
For me (and I’m sure many others), Race Day is like Christmas Day. You look forward to it for SO LONG. However, it does finally come and then, POOF - it’s over. (For this reason, the day before race day is always my personal favorite; it’s like Christmas Eve when the anticipation of the Big Event is strongest and most exciting.)
When you work toward a goal for a long time, it consumes A LOT of you, in almost every way possible. It is almost always present in your thoughts. It takes a lot of one of life’s most valuable resources: time. It can cost a lot financially. And of course, any sport-related goal is going to ask a lot of you physically. Add this all up, and the physical and mental toll is very real and very high.
Due to all of this, when the Big Event comes and is over, it is not uncommon for athletes to feel a bit lost. All of a sudden, the thing that they have been investing SO much time and energy into is over. It’s very common to wonder “What do I do with this newfound time and energy in my life?”
As athletes hear this question in their minds, it’s not unusual to feel sadness about the “loss” of the goal. This can be true whether the goal was realized/accomplished or if the goal was not. This has become known as the “Post-Race Blues”.
A lot of people think that we only mourn sad things, but that’s not true. I’ve learned that humans mourn all sorts of things, and this includes happy and exciting events. In the world of endurance sports, a realized goal is clearly a very exciting and wonderful thing. However, once the excitement of race day starts to fade, it’s not uncommon to feel sadness that that amazing feeling is fading. It’s also not uncommon to feel a bit “lost” without the goal to be looking forward to and working toward.
So, what do folks do when they feel this way?
For some athletes, they jump right into setting another goal, always keeping one on the docket. Others like to take some time and space to reflect on the experience they just had and to see where they might want to go next.
I like to advise athletes to sit with their feelings, no matter what they are. Feeling amazing? Sit with that feeling. Feeling down that you can’t make that amazing feeling last forever? Sit with that feeling. Feeling a bit blue that you didn’t reach the goal that you set for yourself? Sit with that feeling.
Trying to suppress what we are feeling - especially when those feelings are sad - doesn’t work. Many of us like to appear strong and tough, and often, this desire manifests by saying things like “I’m over it” or “I’m fine”. But this hinders our mindset and can prevent forward progress. We must learn to sit with ALL of our feelings, even the ones that scare us or make us very uncomfortable. When I say “sit” with a feeling, I mean give it more than two seconds of your time. It may very well be a week or more before you fully process (and accept ;) ) what you are feeling.
Once we’ve acknowledged what we are feeling and we have sat with it for a bit, we can start to process it and decide the best path forward. It may very well involve setting another goal. It may involve waiting a bit to see what - if anything - sounds exciting and fun.
What’s important here is that you allow yourself to experience the very emotions that make you human. The highs, and the lows. The good times, and the sad times. It’s all part of the experience, and each side of the equation helps us value the other. The lows (or the blues) help us REALLY appreciate the highs. For this reason, I really believe that they are Beautiful Blues, because they can help us see just how beautiful our lives are.
The next time you’re in the time space after a big goal, don’t be afraid if sad emotions flow in. Know that it’s a very normal part of this entire process, and know that you will be that much stronger and ready to take on your next adventure if you learn to sit with your feelings.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.