It begins with chaffing sensations and in the worst places on your body. Then come the bruised knees, the broken and bleeding fingernails, and scratches which you’ll still be finding for days after the race. Finally, what follows isn’t a lot of pain since these are all micro-injuries, but something that could be even worse than pain – a mental hangover.
A mental hangover is what I call feeling down post-race because you’ve accomplished so much and it’s over now. You have almost nothing to look forward to. In her awesome book on obstacle racing, Margaret Schlachter called this state the post-race blues. And what racer hasn’t experienced this?
It’s much like booking a big holiday on the other part of the world – you book it months in advance then count down the days, building up your excitement as you go. When you return from your holiday, what do you feel? The post-holiday blues.
It’s just impossible to completely shake off the stress, balance out your hormone levels after they peaked in the race, or to stay cheery. Your brain gets too knackered.
I’d argue that blues is even worse for us in the world of OCR. For weeks leading up to a race, you thrive on envisioning your success: you’ll overcome challenges, maybe even peak in performance and end up on the podium. You’re invested into your training–physically and mentally–at least twice as much as you’d normally be.
Even if you have another race to look forward to in the future, you’re still likely to experience the post-race blues or the mental hangover. It’s just impossible to completely shake off the stress, balance out your hormone levels after they peaked in the race, or to stay cheery. Your brain gets too knackered.
However, there are ways you can lessen the impact of the post-extremes-pushing, blues period. You might still feel down but you’ll coast through it as I do. Here’s how I ground myself again after a race:
1. Choose the right post-race nutrition and do active recovery
Don’t just mindlessly grab that post-race lager, protein bar or whatever other (bad) snack the race organiser might be handing out. Rather, focus on consuming the following:
- A nutrient-loaded salad with anti-inflammatory properties: Omega 3s, turmeric, aloe vera etc. – you get the drill.
- A cup of green tea or coffee – for a quick pick-me-up and to get you going again.
- Water and electrolytes to hydrate.
Of all the calories you consume, ¼ is used up by your brain. During intense efforts, the brain will burn even more calories. So you want to get your calories from the right sources because it’s not important to just restore the calories your brain needs – you also need to restore the nutrients it used up during the race.
Athletes tend to consume too much carbs and protein, both of which are highly inflammatory. It doesn’t take much for your get to get inflamed and for the rest of your body to begin suffering as well. Your brain (and therefore mental performance) included.
As for active recovery, you should get some rest after the race but don’t rest for too long allowing your body and mind to atrophy and sink into that blues. To keep your spirits up, do the following:
- 1 Day after the race: light yoga, brisk walks, mobility training or at least foam rolling
- 2 Days after the race: Yoga, light runs (for fun), mobility training and foam rolling
- 3 Days – back to regular programming.
The more ‘free’ time you have on your hands, the wilder your mind is going to get about what happened during the race and how empty you might be feeling at the moment
2. Occupy your mind and stay busy
Completing an OCR takes a lot of effort so we can easily fall into the trap of spending the hours and days after the race on the couch, browsing social media and indulging in cheat meals. You don’t need those cheat meals.
What you need is to stay active and cool down doing things that are important. I actually recommend that people go back to their day jobs the day after the race rather than taking some time off to ‘recover’.
The more ‘free’ time you have on your hands, the wilder your mind is going to get about what happened during the race and how empty you might be feeling at the moment.
Avoid this rollercoaster effect by turning your race win into a momentum of accomplishments in other areas of your life, including work.
3. Focus on improvement and training
Check your results, check out the photos. Now is the time to set new training goals for your future races. By setting new goals, you can shift your mood by looking up to the next event, staying motivated and positive.
So – what place did you finish at? Did you make it into the top 20 or top 10? Why not? How about you set out to make your next race your best performance yet? You just need to raise the bar for your new goals – don’t choose what feels comfortable or achievable. You want to aim higher than that, because even if you fail reaching that high level, you’ll still have achieved a lot. This strategy of setting big goals really helps my clients stay motivated. However, here it’s equally important to break down the process of how you’ll achieve this big goal–what smaller goals do you need to achieve along the way– because lining up these smaller wins help you build the momentum propelling you further and further.
Write your new goals down, preferably onto a sticky note so you can put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
Even if you haven’t recovered enough from your race to resume training again immediately, choosing your goal and writing it down is a mental commitment. Your mind can’t hide from it by languishing in the post-race mental hangover state.
4. Find a bigger challenge to look forward to
An even bigger challenge than just a new training goal is a brand new, tougher event. If in step 3 you set the goal of improving your performance in the same type of race you just completed, that’s fine, it’s great. However, if you’re not aiming for a podium place, to challenge yourself again you should consider looking for an event that’s going to be a bigger challenge. A harder type of race.
Again, aiming for that next big challenge keep your mind occupied and it’ll help you build momentum to perform again, rather than to sulk. Having a date marked clear on your calendar works just as well as goal-setting – there ain’t no blues that can defeat such a commitment.
So right after your race is done – sign up for a new challenge. Commit to it. And boom – you got yourself strong enough again to coast through that period of getting back to ‘normal life’ without hiccups.