Post Race Depression: Why are the highest highs followed by the lowest lows?

 

The weather outside mirrored my mood, it was grey, gloomy and miserable, spring was no where in sight. I had just recently returned home from a multi stage race in Vietnam. Last week I had been running up and down mountains in Vietnam, feeling happy, strong and full of determination. Now less than seven days later, doing any task besides binge watching Netflix and scrolling mindlessly on my phone seemed like a monumental effort. 

 

I have been doing ultra marathons for six years so I am no stranger to the ups and downs of racing and recovering from ultra marathons.  I had given myself a few days at home to recover from the long travel and race. Despite my best intentions a week later I still found myself exhausted and unmotivated. I reached out on social media and asked if anyone else experiences post race depression, the answer was an overwhelming ‘yes’. This gave me some comfort to know that I was not alone experiencing such lows after big races.  So how can we better plan and manage this period.  Everyone is different, but a few changes in perspective helped me deal with feeling so low. 

 

I believe that one of the reasons I struggle with post race depression is the difficulty I have accepting the reality of how I feel. The feeling of lassitude and malaise is disappointing enough but the the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame for being “lazy”, is what I really struggle with. I am filled with all the “shoulds”.  I “should” have more energy, I “should” want to go for a run, I “should” get all the things on my to do list done. Accepting that this phenomenon is transient and not a personal failing, may help me next time to move through this period with less angst and more grace.

 

A friend of mine chose the word ‘Linger’ for her word for 2018.  I love this concept and I think it reflects the change in pace after we reach a big milestone like an ultra.  There is a bit of a void after we reach a milestone like an ultra marathon.  Our whole day is no longer revolving around training schedules, what to eat, cross training, fitting in work and family time and preparing for travel if we are going out of town for an event. Not only are we not as physically busy, we are using less mental energy. We have more time to linger.  It doesn’t mean we’re going to sit around and do nothing, but you will have extra time on your hands.  Instead of feeling guilty for not having as much energy as you think you should.  You can embrace the extra time to do other things that fill you up. You can embrace a slower morning, enjoy that cup coffee, sleep in a bit on the weekend, read a book, catch up with family or your non running friends.

 

Ultra marathons and multi stage races take a toll on our body. We put our bodies in a sleep deficit, caloric deficit, and hydration/electrolyte deficit at times. To avoid burn out later in the season and avoid adrenal fatigue, taking the time to nurture our bodies post event is time well spent. Enjoy a massage, hydrate, sleep, take in some high quality nutrition.  Not only will these improve recovery they will help your mood as well. 

 

Part of the lower mood could be that we are missing are usual endorphins we get from running. We may not be running and training as usual but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop moving completely. Take a hike with friends, try a new yoga class, do some cross training. If you go for a run, leave the watch at home and take a friend and go for an easy run on a favourite trail. Shifting perspective from training to enjoying being outside, moving our bodies and connecting with friends will help reignite your energy.  After racing such a long event, I changed things up. I signed up for a half marathon on the road. The change in pace, terrain and workouts helped with my motivation.  Two months after experiencing this post race depression I ended up running my second fastest half marathon ever. 

Life is full of highs and lows, that is what makes it interesting. Some post race blues may be inevitable despite our best intentions to prevent them. If we take the time to slow down and fill ourselves up again we can prevent injury and burnout and be ready to take on our next challenge. Have you had to deal with post race depression before? What has worked for you?