Racer or not, it is pretty normal to feel a big letdown after a much anticipated event. Whether it is a big trip, a celebration, or a massive life change, one of the hardest parts of feeling some of the highest highs is knowing that the crash afterward is so real.
As you can likely guess (or know), this is especially true after a consuming physical endeavor. Your body is exhausted, and massively confused. It wants to move, but it doesn’t want to move. It is sore, but maybe not as sore as expected. The acute suffering goes away in a day or two, but you are pretty sure you should still rest.
This is not a blog about what to do with your physical body after a large endurance event like an Ironman or a marathon. As a coach, I know that each training and recovery experience is truly individual. If you are reading this as an athlete, the best advice I can give you is to recover longer than you think (passive and active). The overall impact of trauma on your body takes time to heal, and you don’t want to disrupt that process. Be gentle when returning to exercise. Whenever you can, seek out guidance.
In my experience, and through many years of athlete case studies and data gathering, the hardest part of coming down from a big event is the emotional toll. After a day or two of riding high on the fumes of a huge accomplishment, you start to feel the downward swing. For some it is a huge shift, like falling off a cliff of despair. For others, it is slower, and possibly sneakier— creeping in through other thoughts, circumstances, and relationships. You may assume that this rough patch only affects those athletes who feel short on their goal. But, the letdown can happen to anyone– even those who smashed their result.
It is hard. For all of us. You question everything. It can bring up feelings of inadequacy, or unimportance. You might feel sluggish and useless. Or, you may feel a strong desire to distract from your real feelings and jump in to something else too quickly.
So, for today, instead of telling you when to return to swim, bike, or run— I am going to give you a few mental and emotional tips on how to navigate this confusing period after a big event.
FEEL. Try to avoid consistent buffering from your emotions. It is okay to take breaks, but don’t try to run and hide, pretending that these big feelings are not there. Slow down and identify them. Sit with them. Consider your thoughts and practice a lot of self compassion.
Know your default reactions to culturally defined “negative” emotion. What do you typically do when sad? Stressed? Bored? Lonely? Disappointed? Do these behaviors serve you well, or do they add to the problem? When you realize your triggers and responses you can more easily create strategies to not go down long, dark emotional paths. Also, keep in mind that we live in a culture that benefits from reminding us that should always want more. This conditioning can fuel feelings of inadequacy in vulnerable times.
Focus on the good, but stay away from toxic positivity. Honestly and gently consider where you “failed” and aim to learn from it. Be open and honest to constructive self criticism, and at the same time have grace for yourself. Reflect out of love, not out of shame.
Get outside. This is true for all hard things. Unplug and go breathe in some nature. Fresh air and sunshine are life changing.
Sleep. Seriously. We know that extra sleep helps, but we tend to still practice poor sleep hygiene. Stop scrolling at night. Do all you can to remove triggers and practice meditation and/or light reading before bed. Give yourself the best chance to have a restful night (nap when you can!)
Find community. Seek out friends who will let you be yourself, no matter what. Many people are uncomfortable around negative emotion, so it may take some time to find someone who can simply listen. Seek out people who will encourage and love you, yet still let you be honest with your feelings, without trying to change your mind.
Start to dream again, but don’t rush into the next big goal. When you decide to register, really consider why you are choosing those races. Don’t just ride the “I LOVE RACING” high— it might not last. At the same time, don’t give up on anything if you had a less than stellar result. Always remember that is it about the journey, not only the destination!
As for me, I am actively doing all of the above right now, while still anticipating another big race next month. The letdown is still really real for me when I am not only experiencing my own, but also the feelings of many of my athletes. Lots of awareness, compassion, and sleep.
And, prepping to sell my book in a couple weeks! Stay tuned!