As we find ourselves in a period where a lot of key events are starting to take place for people, I wanted to bring up a phenomenon that, whilst it’s not clinically defined, is certainly endured for a large number of athletes. The Post-Race Blues can be described as an experience of situational depression following a key life event.
Athletes often struggle to describe their emotions during this period but it could be experienced due to a number of reasons, including; a poor race or an injury, the ‘arrival fallacy’ where reaching a long-term goal reduces happiness level because the journey was what mattered all along, loss of purpose, biological reasons following the release of cortisol affecting homeostasis, genetics involving a family history of clinical depression or hormonal reasons stemming from a lack of endorphins in the days following an event.
This experience is felt by amateur and professional athletes alike. A lot of professional athletes have been very open about their own experience with situational depression. An example played out earlier this year with the winner of the men’s Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard, foregoing celebrations of his win as well as neglecting to race in the months after due to experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety following achievement of this life event.
Photo obtained from The New York Times of Jonas Vingegaard after securing the lead in Stage 11 of the Tour de France.
So, how do we recover from this experience?
Firstly, talk about it. Reach out to your coach, your friends and family, a mental health professional and talk about how you’re feeling. Surround yourself with people who are going to be supportive and assist you through this period.
Secondly, let your body recover. The trauma experienced in racing can affect your endocrine system together with the physiological damage endured by your musculoskeletal system. That feeling of exhaustion and in some cases pain can exacerbate the psychological impact. Light movement when you’re ready is advised but rushing to get back running potentially opens you up to deal with these issues amplified further down the road.
Lastly, prioritise process over results. We are broken records when it comes to this sentiment but putting your race results on a pedestal is only setting yourself up for failure regardless of how well your race day plays out. Results are temporary but the joy in executing the process is something that you can consistently benefit from.