Knowing Thyself – Dealing With Post Race Blues

Blues, NOT “D”

Writing is hard! Keeping this up on a weekly basis is no joke. This will be brief and I will be looking at my schedule to make sure future content is of better quality!

Before I begin my weekly blog post, let me just be clear – I am not a doctor or mental health professional – I can only speak from personal experience and I am purposely using the word “blues” as opposed to the “D” word. This is not to belittle anyone else’s experience – but to put my own low mood into perspective, and in the right position on that spectrum of emotion. It’s also not “advice”, it’s just what I do, for me. You do you, is basically what I’m saying.

I have a tendency towards “Darkness”, in mood, humour, superheroes (Batman rules, sorry Iron Man), and at times this makes the “9-5, 2.4 kids, yes sir, no sir” kind of life quite challenging – but I can get myself out of bed each day (usually on time) and into work (usually on time) and I am generally sufficiently productive, despite a lifelong procrastination habit.

Coincidentally? I wear a lot of black, grey and blue (mainly because I’m colourblind and there is less chance of a colour coordination disaster), and I don’t feel compelled to wear the trendy summer colours. I do own purple suit – but I bought it believing it was navy blue ( I deserve a parking badge, this is definitely a disability). I have been told that red looks good one me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase an item of clothing in that colour – as it would probably be green or brown anyway. Also, red = anger, aggression, etc. and like Dr Banner, I try to distance myself from these. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Anyway…post race blues…I suffer from this, despite kidding myself that it is NOT A THING, or that only weak people experience it. I have read plenty of “how to” articles on avoiding or overcoming this experience with actions such as “booking your next race” – which works by the way, to an extent, but most of what I’ve read seems a bit like the “hair of the dog” advice to someone with a hangover. Maybe with good reason.

THE SUDDEN VOID

Whether you have trained for 6 or 16 weeks, you have dragged yourself out of bed or to the gym after work, with your race in mind. You want your performance on the day to be your best (yet) and you want as few excuses or nagging self-critiques as possible when you cross that line. As you look over your splits, or analyse your Garmin report online, you don’t want any regrets about the training sessions (missed or half-halfheartedly completed) before race day. “I wish I would have….” or “I wish I hadn’t…”.

So far, despite my none of my performances being impressive in the big scheme of things, I’m incredibly proud and satisfied with my progress ( I was 36 when I ran my first half-marathon and full marathon, so I’ve been an endurance athlete for just 3 years). I haven’t had these negative thoughts, post-race, because I have trained as well as I could have – in spite of work, family, injury, etc.

But even without these kinds of thoughts post-event, after any effort lasting more than 2.5 hours I have too frequently found myself physically, psychologically and emotionally empty on Monday morning. Part of it must be down to the recommendation to rest and recuperate, which I’m sure my body appreciates but my mind rebels against. My mind misses the routine. It misses having a target. An objective. A follow-up mission. A reason for getting out of bed. My sporting ikigai. I think the repetition acts in a similar way to meditation, where the chaos that is my inner psyche is calmed before the day ahead.

Our mind can be our own worst enemy though. It’s not always to be trusted. So my plan of action is as follows.

3-4 Events per year

I need to rest after an event. This needs to be planned just as thoughtfully as my training.

If I wake up full of energy, I am allowed 10 minutes of cardio maximum, to flush the lactic acid and get me mobile – but that’s it. I can spend half an hour stretching – but no more.

That way I’m out of bed, maybe even at the gym before work. But my body gets the rest it needs, without breaking the mental routine.

Last year I ran 3 marathons in one year – each 4 months apart. Obviously that’s no big deal when people like David Goggins or Eddie Izzard have run that distance day after day…but anyway…3 events like that was plenty (if not slightly too much for me).

But I do love a challenge…at least the idea of one…so I followed the marathons up with my first sprint triathlon, and a week later my first Olympic distance triathlon. I and have now passed the point of “too much” and it’s not over.

Next weekend I will be running the Spitfire Scramble, as part of a five man team. It basically consists of 24 hours of running 10 km laps of a country park.

This will be followed by the Olympic distance triathlon, Season Finale on Sunday 15th September. And a few weeks later, I will complete the national 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours. That’s it then. I’m done. No more…for a bit!

I messed up this year. I have taken on too much, in an effort to avoid the void. I’ve over-committed myself. It puts unnecessary pressure on my mind and body…but what is the alternative?

Waking up with no goal? No purpose? No immediate reason to train, or to be disciplined with my sleep and diet? No reason to abstain from weekend binge drinking or binge eating? No reason to do any more than the bare minimum – which I don’t think will be sufficient any more to achieve those highs that have kept me exercising.

PROMISE TO MYSELF

In September I’ll be 39, and it is definitely time for me to be a bit more sensible about these things.

3-4 events is a maximum, and the longer those events are, the fewer I should be doing, and the more spread out they should be. Recovery is key now I’m getting older.

I have two marathons (Rome and Berlin) in mind next year, which will mean short triathlons if I do any.

I must become more fat-adapted, as I’m sure the sugar I consume during these races is another reason for the post-race hangover.

I must not be greedy. I just need enough of an objective to keep me training. I don’t need to race more than 3-4 times a year. Yes I would love the new PB, I’m not so bothered about the medal, and I do like the goodie bag at the end! But enough, is enough.

Signing up to these events feels good. But before I purchase my ticket in future, or agree in a drunken stupor to some insane challenge, I will have to pause. Stop. Wait. It’s not just about whether I can afford the event financially or whether my calendar is clear that weekend. What about the time commitment? What about the energy? What about the mental space it fills up?

Life itself (marriage, parenthood, career) is THE overarching endurance event, the one that I have to have enough in the tank to PB in each year. All else is a distraction.

This article should have been entitled “Pre Race Dread” as I’m 99% certain I will be booking another event straight after the 24 hour Spitfire Scramble this weekend! Unless saner heads prevail!

I am dreading this run. I love running. I love camping. But if I wasn’t part of a 5 man team, and it wouldn’t be letting them all down, I would definitely be pulling out of this weekend. I just don’t feel up to it psychologically. I’m sure my legs will cope and recover well enough. I just need to find that mental carrot (or stick) that will keep me going.

Next week’s post will be all about my experience of the Spitfire Scramble…and as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge for me – if not physically, then in every other way!

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