Lacking Motivation After a Big Race? You’re Not Alone

imageHave you ever had this happen to you following a big race? After a few days of celebratory with drinks, burgers, and congratulations, a deep nagging feeling of, well now what? surfaces, especially if you achieved a personal best. This feeling may be exacerbated, though, if the training segment went perfectly according to plan, but the dream race didn’t come to fruition.

How often are runners told to use a disappointing race as motivation for the next race or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, to keep the momentum rolling after a great performance? But what if, after either a great race or a terrible one, your motivation to continue lacing up the trainers just isn’t there?

No need to worry; you’re not alone.  This common phenomenon, known as “the post-race blues,” strikes novices, elites, and everyone in between.

No matter how your race went, you invested an immense amount of training to get there. It took an incredible amount of will power, discipline, and time to execute the best training segment possible. Then on race day you used those same skills to execute the race plan. When building up to a big race, there’s an emotional investment, and afterward, that emotional investment is spent. It’s normal to feel a little psychologically and physically depleted and even a sense of loss.

It’s OK to Take a Break

Instead of forcing a run or cross-training, this may be the perfect time for a physical and mental break. Give your body and mind time to relax. Sleep in instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to get your first run logged before work and let your body reset. Not only will you feel more refreshed, but any lingering injuries that you trained and raced through may finally get a chance to heal. On a more serious note, if you limped through a major injury to get to the start line, this physical break provides the extra time to make an appointment with a medical professional to address it.

It's ok to leave your trainers on the shoe race for a little while.
It’s ok to leave your trainers on the shoe rack for a little while, unless you want to throw them on for a walk to the donut shop.

Live a Little

A self-imposed running break provides the extra time to take the dog on a longer walk than usual, or the extra time to convince your significant other to walk the dog instead. Ever had to skip out on happy hour with co-workers to head to the track? Indulge your social life without the guilt of sabotaging important training and reconnect with non-running friends. Take advantage of a weekend free of long runs to go on a trip that may not be runner friendly without any worry. I enjoy evenings without a second run to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee. Make a dent in one of these book lists.  I also highly recommend to find the best donut shop near you, and give free rein to your taste buds.  If you have a couple hours of free time, use a new recipe! Heck, try this granola or delicious carrot coconut curry.

Put Running in Perspective

Celebrate your accomplishment without immediately making a new training plan. The only person who can recommend the appropriate amount of time off for a mental and physical reset is you. Call it “conscious uncoupling” with running for a few weeks, and see if the itch to get out there again returns. Unless running is your full-time job, it should bring you joy, mindfulness, and should not feel like a chore.

A running break can provide the necessary time to gain perspective on what went wrong during a disappointing race without the immediate post-race emotions. The pause can bring the perspective to see what went right and how you can replicate that in future training segments and races. Either way, it’s imperative to remember no one is defined by their race results. It is very easy to become a runner with tunnel vision and to forget that enjoyable aspects of life exist outside of running. Don’t sweat it if running has you feeling low, because there are plenty of things to do outside of your running shoes until your motivation returns.

Have you ever had the post-race blues? How did you handle it?

I'm running as fast as I can so I can continue to put off law school. I was 39th at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, and now am focused on running some road personal bests. Further in the future, I’m looking forward to running a quick fall marathon. I mainly write about the physical and mental aspects of racing at an elite level, trying to navigate the post collegiate running world, and setting aside other life goals for one; running fast.

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4 comments

  1. So many good points! I enjoy my time off, but there are definitely many moments when the guilt creeps in. Then I remind myself that taking a mental and physical break is a necessary part of my training cycle, and no matter how completely out of shape I think I am, it will all come back eventually. For now though: more donuts!

  2. Post race blues are oh so real. I’ve had it after great races and bad races where I missed my mark. I tend to get a knot in my stomach and very unsettled feeling if I don’t meet my goal, even if it was a good race otherwise.

    I feel like I always handle post-race blues differently. Sometimes it means taking time off, sometimes it means changing things up, and sometimes it means getting back to business sooner. Post- race ALWAYS means more food though.

  3. Yes, I’ve had the post race blues. Never so badly as the time I totally nailed my training plan and was in awesome shape, and then had to drop out at kilometer 6 with stomach issues. I was sad about that for Iike a month. If it ever happens again, I now know the solution is more donuts!