The Post-Race Blues: What it is and How to Deal with it!
For months, you have trained, focused and dedicated so much of your time and energy on a goal event. No matter if you crush the competition or fall short of your expectations, your focus is now behind you. It is over, and now what?
For athletes – whether racing is your career, or you just finished your first triathlon – the process of competing is the ultimate drug. Throughout the season, you develop an actual chemical dependency on training, racing and working towards a goal. When that rollercoaster comes to a screeching halt after the last race is over, we are left with a hole that was used to being filled with endorphins. It doesn’t matter how well you did (or didn’t do), that void is still there and can make you feel a sense of loss, worthlessness, low-energy, and downright sadness.
First off, know that we have all felt post-race blues at one point or another and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. Here’s what some of our Liv Racing athletes had to say about their own experiences with this all-too-familiar feeling:
“I can vividly recall three years ago after the 2016 Paralympic Games going through a period of post-race blues. For me, it didn’t kick in right away. I was riding the high of winning Gold for a few months with media interviews, trips and a visit to the White House in Washington, D.C. to meet President Obama and the First Lady. It must have been around 3 months after returning home when things quieted down. I had no races on the horizon, no coach, no team and not much else going on in my life. I felt very lost, almost as if I was wandering around in a forest with no direction to head. I had just accomplished the biggest goal in my life. I had no idea what would be next. Would I continue to race? Was there anything left I wanted to accomplish? Would I still love the sport? I had so many questions and no real answers to any of them. I had learned about post-race/ post-Olympic blues when I qualified for the games. We had heard from many athletes, some who’d found the success they dreamt of and others who did not. Even though it was a tough time for me, I was lucky to know what I was going through and to have a mentor who’d been through the same.” – Allysa Seely
“I used to believe these feelings were wrong, that there was something wrong with me, and the way I was feeling. Then I learned that these feelings are 100% natural, and actually to be expected at the end of each season or after a big goal event. Suppressing these feelings only perpetuate the them.” – Serena Bishop Gordon
“It normally hits me 2 days afterwards and will only last a day where I would feel really down, unmotivated and even quite sad. It honestly took me years to work out what was happening and to notice a pattern. It didn’t seem to matter if I had a great race or a bad race, like clockwork 2 days after a big event I would feel mentally and emotionally very low.” – Rae Morrison
“When I first started racing in my teens, I would get such a massive high from being at this exciting event, usually winning (since I was one of very few girls that raced), getting lots of attention, being surrounded by friends, getting all of these stimuli, it would inevitably be followed the next day by a deep low. In fact, my Mom would get extremely concerned, because I would be so lethargic and down. It has gotten less intense over the years, but I still experience these similar highs and lows around racing. I think part of it is the intense emotion and energy racing takes coupled with all of the excitement and hype, which is then followed by overall fatigue and the anticlimax of having to pack up and leave and go back to ‘normal life.’” – Sandra Walter
“I’ve been racing bikes since I was 10, and I think I’ve always had this feeling to a certain degree. Most of the time, I call the few days after a race the “hangover” period. It’s when you spend all your spare time looking for photos, watching videos, and reading blogs about how great the race was. But I’ve never gone into a deep, dark place until after my last race of the season this year. For me, I just came off my biggest and busiest racing season yet, finished the season with an injury that didn’t allow me to race, and arrived home after a month of being on the road to a pile of work and home-owner stress. Even with a million things that I should have been doing, I lacked focus and motivation and felt hopeless, pessimistic, and lost. Putting a name to the post-race blues and talking with friends has helped to normalize it, understand it, and get past it.” – Caroline Washam
Tips for Dealing with the Post-Race Blues
1. Acknowledge Your Accomplishments!
- “Make a list of all you have accomplished over that past serval months. Keep it objective. Include both process and outcome goals. Include race results, new bests, new friends you have met along the way, and things you have learned that have made you a better athlete and a better human.” – Serena
- “What did you do well? What could you work on next season? Chatting with your coach about these things can help that race feel less "final" and more like an educational and motivational steppingstone. Tangible progress is the most energizing feeling – it beats prize money or points or selection in and of themselves – so tie your race into your quest for progress. If it's a step back, it's probably worth looking more deeply into what is muting your efforts. If it's a step forward, start dreaming of what the next steps could be!” – Crystal Anthony
2. Give Your Feelings a Voice!
- “Confide in someone you trust and talk about the way you are feeling. Journal about how you are feeling and then read what you have written out loud. Only when your feelings have a voice can you speak back to them, accept them, work through them, and then move on.” – Serena
- “It helps to speak with other athletes who are experiencing the same thing, because they probably understand what I’m going through better than other people. Sometimes I feel guilty or lazy for having these feelings of sadness or listlessness, but a Mental Performance Coach I work with has assured me these are all very normal feelings to have.” – Sandra
3. Treat Yourself/ Take a Break!
- “I definitely do indulge a little bit at the end of the season by treating myself to unhealthy foods as a reward for a season of hard work. I have to be careful not to let this phase go on too long though, for obvious reasons. I think it’s okay to allow yourself some time to come down, because you probably are pretty emotionally and physically spent, so you need to be gentle with yourself.” – Sandra
- “Give yourself a few weeks to “just do what you feel” and dabble into some other activities that bring you joy. When it is time to jump back on the bike, you will be excited to do so.” – Serena
- “For me, I wanted to jump straight into training to rectify everything that didn’t go right this year, but my coach wants a period of downtime for rest. It would be much easier to jump back into training and hide from the feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction but taking time away from training is what my body needs.” – Allysa
- “The biggest thing for me was discovering the pattern I had with it and viewing it as a chemical imbalance rather than me being mentally weak. There is so much effort and such big highs during a race week that it makes sense to be depleted afterwards. Accepting it and allowing myself a couch potato day helps me bounce back a lot faster.” -Rae
4. Add Something Fun to Your Calendar!
- “For me, being outside is really therapeutic and energizing, so I try and make a point of spending time outdoors every day – not training and not necessarily riding my bike if I don’t feel like it but going for a walk or something like that. I also try to plan hobbies, projects or non-racing trips to keep myself engaged, so I don’t slip into that malaise. It’s important for me to check in with myself and recognize how I’m feeling, so I can make an effort to keep busy and snap out of it.” – Sandra
- “Dive into other interests that have taken a backseat during your training and racing season. Plan a trip - maybe this trip is to a sandy beach, or a weekend backpacking trip with friends. Take a cooking class, pick up the guitar, finish that woodworking project you started last winter. Learn to bleed your own brakes. Whatever is calling to you.” – Serena
- “After the season or a big race, it is easy to feel like your goal or purpose isn’t there anymore until the next race comes along. I used to feel this at the start of the off-season but instead now I see that time as an opportunity to do everything I didn’t have time to do when I was training and racing. Things like a holiday to the Islands, paddle boarding, visiting and catching up with friends and family, even catching up of Netflix!” -Rae
5. Surround Yourself with Friends and Family!
- “In the off season after your big race, use the time to catch up with people you haven't had time to see. It's also a great time to think about how you can be there for other people. Much of racing is about being OUR best – turn that focus into baking some muffins for a friend, watching your niece play soccer, or just being more social.” – Crystal
- “One of the biggest internal struggles I have about racing is missing out on time with friends and family at home. Building up some quality time with your non-racing family at the end of the season or between races can help break you out of your post-race blues bubble and remind you of some things [other than bikes] you love.” – Caroline
6. Start Planning Your Next Race/Season/Adventure!
- “You know what? The world hasn’t ended. Even if you don’t think you want to race/compete anymore, after you give yourself permission to feel sad, talk to people about it, and rest, break out your planner and start dreaming up your next endorphin fix. Think about your goals. How have they changed? What’s on your bucket list? Can you check any of those off in the coming year? Now is the time to let your imagination run wild, and when you do, you might just realize you’ve replaced that sad-feeling with excitement and hope!” - Caroline
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help!
- “I work with Team Canada’s mental performance coach. Once she validated that my feelings were okay and that this was a real and acceptable response to the situation, I felt better. I was allowed to feel this way. Just that acknowledgement helped me a lot in coping with those feelings.” – Sandra