Sunday, August 21, 2011

Post-Race Blues: How to deal with depression after crossing the finish line

After more than 15 years of racing, I realize that crossing the finishing line is still not the final step in any athletic event. I have a post-race phase to move through before setting my sights on the next event.

After training and competing comes post-race depression.

For me, post race depression seeps into the downtime I’m supposed to enjoy between events. It’s that feeling of letdown after something big happens—much like returning from a vacation or actually getting a promotion that you worked hard for. It leaves me asking answerless questions like: What did that really mean? Did I do my best? Now what?

And what makes this kind of downer so intense is that we are in recovery mode. When we pull back the reins on exercise, perhaps taking several days off from our primary sport, our bodies miss the endorphin high. In a survey I conducted for Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom, I learned that many women (and men too) rely on the antidepressant effects of exercise. Take it away and many of us feel pretty hollow.

So what should you do?
1. For starters, if you know you are apt to feel depressed after a big event, listen to your body and recognize the triggers and patterns in your mood. You will eventually be able to step outside of the feeling and realize that mood doesn’t define you and the sadness will pass.

2. Keep positive energy alive by talking with others about the event and perhaps taking time to journal about your experience and reflect on your accomplishments. Acknowledge the magnitude of your efforts as well as your feelings surrounding them.

3. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. This is especially true if you participated in an endurance event that requires sugary supplements to keep you going. Gut rot may haunt you for a day or two, so be sure to consume healthy, whole foods to keep your spirits from bonking.

4. Get lots of sleep. Extra rest will help bring back your ability and desire to train hard again.

5. If you are feeling the effects of endorphin withdrawal (that is, you simply cannot fathom taking a few days off), commit to cross training in new or enjoyable ways. In order to allow your body time to recover, consider less strenuous exercise, like easy cycling, walking or relaxing laps in the pool.

6. While this may be a bit counterintuitive, do not schedule another big event right away.  Learn to enjoy the unstructured time in your life.  Your aim is to have longevity in your activity, and going from one big race to another is a prescription for burnout. 

Post-race blues are real, but thankfully they last only a short time. Follow these steps and the symptoms of situational depression (that’s the real terminology) won’t prevent you from basking in your post-race bliss!

Laurie Kocanda will complete her Master’s in Counseling Psychology in spring 2012 and is co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom. Despite her predictable post-race blues, she has completed over 40 marathons and ultramarathons.

This post recently appeared in Inside Dirt, an online publication distributed by Trail Runner magazine.

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