Finally spring arrived and you gradually built up to high mileage with a long run each week. Then you began speedwork and ran occasional races to quicken your pace and accustom yourself once again to the rigors and challenges of competition. You monitored yourself carefully and rested when it was needed. You did everything right and ran your best ever.
So you should be feeling terrific, on top of the world. Maybe you felt some brief elation, but then in a few days there is a feeling of emptiness, apathy, perhaps even mild depression. What went wrong?
Letdown Not Limited to Athletes
Many runners and other athletes have been puzzled by this common experience that often follows a major event, independent of whether they have performed well or poorly. Athletes are not unique in this post event letdown. The feelings are reported by politicians after a major election-win or lose; by students after earning a hard-won degree; by mountain climbers after climbing the highest peak. Although the experience seems to contradict common sense, it is common among achievement oriented people.
We have been taught that the attainment of the goal is the reward. Now the goal is attained and you are puzzled by your unanticipated unhappiness. The goal has turned out to be an illusion. The joy was in the dream and the process of moving towards your goal, in mobilizing your physical and mental potentials to their fullest. Once the goal was accomplished, the dream died. The joy ended. And now it's time to regroup and start over again.
Some of the disappointment of the post-event letdown can be alleviated by knowing that it's normal and to expect it. For months, your life has been organized around this singular goal. Now, suddenly it's over and the disciplined, intensive efforts are no longer required.
This is the time to pause, reflect, and enjoy other aspects of life that may have been neglected during intensive training. Sleep late; spend more time with family and friends. Do things you wanted to do but sacrificed for your training. Plan ahead so that when the big event is over, you don't face a vacuum of too much time.
After this pause and re-balancing, carefully select a new, realistic challenge, a new long-term goal. This may be in running, another sport, or something altogether different. You need a new dream to fill with passion and energy and get your juices flowing again.
Jack Lesyk, Ph.D., is a clinical and sports psychologist and the Director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology in Beachwood, Ohio. He may be contacted directly via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
American Running Association, empowering adults to get America's youth moving. For more information or to join ARA, please visit www.americanrunning.org .