Exploring the Darkest Part of Yourself

After the Race: Post Race Blues 

“A lot of what passes for depression these days is nothing more than a body saying that it needs work.” -Geoffrey Norman

waiting for skullsAfter a race there is a sadness that enters our hearts and minds. It doesn’t always happen quickly because the happy, feel-good endorphins from post-race are still traveling through our system. But in the days that follow there is a shadow that engulfs us and slowly brings us down. Suddenly nothing seems worth it.

You don’t want to go to work.
You have no energy.
Your ordinary day is exhausting.
You’re short with coworkers and family.
You seem agitated.

WHY? Almost everyone who has participated in some extraordinary physical event will experience what I call, “Post Race Blues,” regardless of whether they finish or do NOT finish an event. To begin, let’s take on the first scenario.

buddy carryI finished the event, so why am I so down?

 After taking on such daunting tasks, your body and mind are tired. For many, PRB is simply your body’s way of going in to recovery mode. Take this time to rest and refuel. Train lightly, but don’t stop! This is also helpful for those that are experiencing the blues simply because they are craving another race! You just kicked a whole bunch of demons in the throat and succeeded- HECK YEA your body wants more! It’s natural. Your adrenaline is pumping and suddenly nothing you do in your everyday life can compare to what you just completed. The only solution? More “cowbell.” If you can, go ahead and sign up for your next race! This will keep your mind occupied and focused on the next big thing. If not, find a local road race, a smaller scale mud run, or maybe just get together with friends for an intense hike on some trails. Keep your body and mind occupied and set some new goals for yourself to achieve!

Now I don’t know about many of you, but some of my PRB’s come from missing my friends! There is nothing quite like the racing community. Whether you are a mudder, an endurance athlete, or just mud obsessed, the friends that you meet on the course are often the ones that become your friends for life. You might notice that your circle of friends begins to include more racers than high school friends- it is normal. People grow up. People change. As your goals change and you find yourself evolving, you might find yourself torn between hanging out on a Friday night with your local friends or carb-loading for Saturday morning’s race with your teammates. You might also notice more of your hometown friends or loved ones passing judgment on you. Ignore it. I’ve always tried to maintain the two; inviting each side of my world to combine and meet…it hasn’t happened. Though my family has grown to understand my new lifestyle, I still have many friends that have chosen to leave me out of group invitations and while it hurts, I realize that I have gained so many more friends with similar interests.

I signed up. I showed up. And then I DNF’d!!barbed wire crawl

While I have never entered a race that I did not finish, I have experienced a similar feeling when not able to complete a crossfit WOD. Whether related to health or physical ability, the fact that you couldn’t complete something is horrible. It eats away at you and forces you to question your ability. The best way around it is to get up and do it again.

Last month I had the opportunity to crew someone at the Summer Death Race in Vermont. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Though the person that I was crewing made it 60+ hours in to the race, he ultimately decided to pull from it. He assured me that it was what he wanted to do and that he was happy with his decision- no regrets were to be had. Great. That changed rather quickly when he realized just how ‘close’ he was to the finish. Sure, in proximity he was close to the ‘finish line,’ but he still had the following tasks to complete, each within a time limit, before even making it there: wood chopping, tying his feet together to hop up a mountain (yes, that says HOP up a mountain) to retrieve pieces of information to report back to the race director and potentially repeat the process if he didn’t report it correctly, race up to the top of another mountain side to retrieve more information and report it to the staff at the next location. So yes, although at that moment he seemed only a mere mile from the finish, he was still 6+ hours away and would have had to make all time hacks to be qualified. We were then told that even those that ‘finished’ on Sunday had to report back on Monday morning. Some only to be told that they were being sent back out on the mountain. So how close was he really?

This didn’t matter. In the weeks following the DR, his entire spirit was down. He didn’t want to work out. He didn’t want to go to work. His laugh was distant. It seemed as if nothing else mattered and he beat himself up left and right about not finishing. The Death Race is the ultimate mind game- before, during, and even after. While you need to be physically strong, your mental strength and clarity needs to be even more so. Knowing I was writing this article, I opted to wait on publishing it to see if I could get any feedback from some of the DR Participants.

From them I’ve learned that after a competition like the Death Race, readjusting in to “normal” life is somewhat difficult. Hay Lee responded, “It sucks being back in the real world/reality and away from nature, but at the same time, it’s nice to be surrounded by civilization. There was a very lonely 5 hours by myself on the trails where all I wanted was to see another person. [And then] being stuck in an airport for 16 hours after DR and listening to such minor complaints about the tiniest things that shouldn’t matter in life…was frustrating in a word.”

wood choppingJason, who works in the medical field, was annoyed by the constant “whining” of others in everyday life and preferred to actually be back out in the wilderness suffering with his “race folk.” Sean summed up those feelings with, “there is camaraderie out there [while] racing that we don’t get in everyday life.” There is a certain calmness that one gets when walking through the darkness, unsure of where they are going. All material things are absent from your mind and all that you need to care about is what fits in to the pack on your back and that your feet are moving forward. All that changes immediately after the race when participants return home. Sean added that, “for a long time leading up to the race, minor obligations and responsibilities were pushed to the back burner. Money was allocated to this large race, chores pushed aside…now it’s time to the pay piper.”

But does everyone experience these same blues? Not entirely. Michael was one participant that learned he had to go back out Monday morning in order to earn his skull. While others chose not to, Michael was one that hustled back out there and, in the end, claimed his skull. When asked about whether he was experiencing the blues, he said, “No post race blues for me, truth be told. I’m generally happy with my performance in DR and happy to be back home; healthy, healed and in one piece. I guess it’s because I have a few more events coming up in the near future where I’ll run in to the same awesome people I met during DR.”

So why? Why would someone sign up REPEATEDLY for these events when we sometimes feel so down afterwards? Why continuously beat ourselves up for something as silly as a medal or a skull? Easy. Because the feelings experienced afterwards are just as much an addiction as the races themselves. In those times of our post race blues, we suffer. We crash. We explore some of the deepest and darkest corners of ourselves. Yet somehow, we find the strength to get back up. We recover. We train. We do it again. Each time learning more about ourselves and in turn, coming out stronger.

So though you might be sad or down, think of it as your body’s way of asking you to get moving again…and do it!

To get a better understanding, Sean shared this video with me- one man’s take on the feelings one experiences after a race.

Photo credit: Peak Races facebook album- facebook.com/peakraces