Post Race Depression

How many of you have felt a let-down after a big race? How many of you after months of preparation for a marathon feel in the dumps soon after you’ve completed your race? How many of you had feelings of depression, the blues, or simply been seemingly sapped of all motivation after that big effort?

The good news is that you aren’t alone. The bad news is that this phenomena is very real and it happens at all levels of competition (yup – even Olympic Gold Medalists). Other good news is that you can do something about it.

There could be several underlying causes to the whole post-big event let down. Some of you may be thinking that it occurs more with people who do not reach their goals in that race (i.e. make a Boston Qualifying time). But, I will pose to you that in fact it is more common in those who do in fact reach their goals.

Failing to meet a goal most certainly is disappointing. And it is absolutely normal to have an emotional reaction to that. However, my experience with athletes actually indicates that when an athlete fails at a goal – they tend to pick themselves up and continue the fight after a very short time. Even in the case of epic failures I’ve seen renewed focus and energy to either persist and attack once again that race goal or to fervently pursue OTHER distances and goals.

Contrast that to the successful endeavor. You labor for four or five or six months (or even more) to get that Boston Qualifier or that All-American status in your track event. Suddenly it’s race day. All your preparation pays off. You did it! Now what?

The very thing that gave us purpose day-to-day isn’t there. We ate to succeed. We slept to succeed. We worked out to succeed. We cross-trained to succeed. We told everyone we know what we were working towards. Everyone knew our goal. For many athletes this driving force and all encompassing focus for months is gone.

And truth be told most athletes lived all these months to experience something that actually was accomplished in a split second. [Remember, a goal isn’t reached until you cross the finish line. Only when the stop watch stops did you officially reach your goal.] In that split second there is relief, celebration, satisfaction and pride. But the reactions to the accomplishment for many runners ends up anticlimactic; all those months of work and discipline for a split second.

Those positive initial emotional reactions may last for awhile. The story of how you made it may last a lifetime (just ask any runner about the “special” run and most will tell you a story… as if it were yesterday).

For some the fleeting post-race high is replaced with a lingering sense of loss; lack of motivation; and let down. A short break from the disciplined build up to the race is not only normal but healthy to take. Mind and body need some down time. But, if it lingers very long you are actually most likely suffering from a type of post-competition depression.

What should you do if this happens to you?

Get back to basics. Run just to run for awhile. It’ll take pressure off and still get some good chemical action going in your body (which of course helps us think better).

Run with others – especially if you are accustomed to running on your own. This is a sound change as socializing assists us in moving on.

A major reason we experience this loss and lack of motivation is that we forget our purpose in running as well as to set our next goal. Purpose and goals focus our behavior and thoughts.

Re-establish your purpose for running.

Set short-term goals.

Change your goals to new distances, new races, new destinations or race venues. This might add some “umph” to your running.

Variety in trying some unique racing can be stimulating. For instance, enter novel races like Mt. Washington race in Hew Hampshire (only one hill); the Empire State Building Stair run; The Bisbee (AZ) 5K (up hillsides on stairs); the Jerome (AZ) Hill Climb; the Mud Run; and join group ventures like Hood to Coast and RAGNAR Relay teams.

If your symptoms persist you should seek professional help. You could be suffering from something other than merely post-race blues or a “down” period.

So, to break out of those post-race doldrums take action; lighten up; run with others and bring fun back into your running life.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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10 Responses to Post Race Depression

  1. rsksports says:

    Its true what you say. You’ve got to take the dissappointment, accept it, deal with it, and work with it. Think what you could maybe do different next time. And plan a next time! Which is important.

    You have a lot of races in America…!

    Great blog by the way.

  2. jim says:

    I couldnt agree more with what you have said. For myself, when I failed to reach my goal, I didnt get depressed, I got angry and redoubled or refocused my efforts. It was when I achieved my goals, or set a PR, is when I felt the most profound ” down” feeling. The feeling of ” is that all there is?” Just a weird emptiness. And for the next few weeks I would just go through the motions of running and working out. What usually made me snap out of it was setting of a new goal or target. Once there was something new to aim for, I was reset and ready to go.

  3. I just went through this. After many, many weeks of training for a tough 1/2 marathon I came in well under my goal time. I felt great for about 3 days and then slowly started to feel down and, like Jim said, “empty” without a goal. It’s been about 4 weeks and though I’ve been running a little, I’m just now itching to get back to a regular schedule.

    I think it’s some sort of evolutionary self-preservation mechanism. It forces the caveman (or woman) in us to chillout and let the body recover so that we can chase down the next saber-toothed tiger.

  4. run4change says:

    I get to feeling down after a big event when I am not running for a week or so. I enjoy the not running but running is also a very emotinal exercise for me that is refreshing and healing to my heart and mind. When I have to go a week or so without it, I tend to get down but I still need to stay away from running to recover well. It helps to have a goal in mind prior to doing the big event. Always running always moving on.

  5. Danyah says:

    I was able to set a reall BIG PR in a marathon in October – something I had been working towards for about five months – and then it was over. I sat around for one day basking in the glow, and four days moping. What to do? Get out there and run. Gotta get the endorphins moving. Also set my sights on a 1/2 marathon PR this spring – just gotta keep moving and know that the next race, the next goal is out there.

  6. Kim says:

    I just finished my first half marathon on Sunday Dec. 6th here in Mazatlan, Mexico. As part of my commitment to become healthy after smoking for years, I quit that and started running. I wanted to do something amazing for my 39th birthday, so I decided to run 13.1 miles. I missed my under 2 hour goal by 1 minute (unexpected bathroom break). I trained for months and now that it’s over, I am sore, tired, unmotivated, and bummed out!! Tried to run on Monday and could only muster a 30 minute walk. Ran this morning and struggled with a short 4 mile run. How long should I expect to feel like this?? I need some support…. Thank you.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Welcome to the club. Ok, it’s not a good club to be a member of but it is one that many of us belong to. Here’s my advice:
      1. It’s way too early to panic or become feeling guilty over not running. You’re definitely in recovery mode. At least a couple full weeks are in order. Relax and enjoy not having the pressures of having to get a run in.
      2. Start setting your next goal. Both short and long term. Short term set activity goals to burn calories and keep some aerobic conditioning – anything even walking is good… just keep moving. Intermdediate term: you hit a GREAT mark in the coming year for runners – 40! That means you’ll be a master’s level runner and new age group.. that is very cool! Longer term, think of a series of races you want to do or something like trying to run a race in every state or region, etc. Be sure you set SMART goals you can get my ebook on goalsetting:
      3. Read and research races online or read books about running that might stimulate your thoughts on running and racing again.
      4. Physically get recovered – good nutrition, good hydration and sleep. You may not feel “sore” but there is cell damage to your muscles.
      5. Do things you never get to do while occupying that time with running. Hobbies, seeing people socially, reading, etc.
      Part of the outcome (how soon you pull out) will also depend on your history. If you have a history of depression, or lingering “down” times in general – expect a longer period to feel yourself. If you tend to rebound from life disappointments quickly… anticipate the same here. So, your resiliency needs to be factored in.

      I’m glad you found this article. Please drop a line on your progress. When (and yes I mean WHEN) you come out of it, drop a line on how you think it all came about. One of the great things is that we can all learn from each other. There is no single magic bullet to get back into it.

  7. Maria Shuwera says:

    thank you all so much for sharing this information. Here it is 48 hours after a huge accomplishment, a huge First adventure race involving running, biking and canoeing. My husband and I have been happily married for 19 years. We decided to do this, trained, laughed, hiked, ran, lifted weights together. It was wonderful. Two days after completion, I am an emotional wreck. I feel completely empty, I search myself and can’t figure out what the heck is wrong. My husband thought I was angry at him………..I am not. I am completely emotionally empty and that is pretty scary. I googled After Race Let Down as I couldn’t imagine what else it could be……………thank goodness……….although this is wretched and horrible, it is normal………………I will get through this. Thank you all for sharing.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Glad you found us. Now, be sure if this lingers a bit… to also be talking to someone… now… take some action and point yourself in a direction. It’ll help.

  8. Pingback: The Aftermath (Recovery) | The Wipro San Francisco Marathon

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