The Post-Event Blues: Why Runners and Cyclists Often Feel Low and How to Counteract It

Post endurance event blues

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, there’s a unique sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line of a marathon, a long cycle ride, or any endurance event. Yet, for many, this high is followed by an unexpected low: feelings of emptiness, melancholy, or even depression.

I once did a bike ride, cycling non-stop from London to Manchester, and I hated my bike for months afterwards! At the time I just “toughed it out”, which I now know was the wrong thing to do.

So why do runners and cyclists often feel this way, and what can they do to prevent it?

Understanding the Post-Event Blues

1. Physical Expenditure: Endurance events, whether running, cycling, or triathlons, take a toll on the body. Pushing your physical limits drains your energy reserves, leading to fatigue and soreness. Additionally, during strenuous exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also produce a euphoric ‘runner’s high’. Once the event is over, and these endorphin levels drop, it can result in a ‘crash’ or feelings of sadness.

2. Emotional Anticlimax: Preparing for an event often involves months of training, discipline, and focus. The culmination of these efforts in the event itself can lead to an emotional void afterwards. With the target achieved, many athletes can feel directionless, wondering, “What’s next?”

3. Social Vacuum: Training groups and the camaraderie among fellow athletes can provide significant social support and motivation. Post-event, as everyone gets back to their usual routines, this network can feel momentarily disjointed, leading to feelings of isolation.

Ways to Counteract Post-Event Blues

1. Active Recovery: After an event, it’s essential to give your body time to recover. However, this doesn’t mean complete inactivity. Gentle exercises, like walking, swimming, or yoga, can help maintain endorphin levels and alleviate muscle stiffness.

2. Set New Goals: Avoid the void by setting new, incremental goals. These don’t have to be bigger or more challenging events. It could be as simple as improving a personal best or trying a different type of race or sport.

3. Connect and Share: Stay connected with your training group or fellow participants. Sharing experiences, discussing the event, and planning for future events together can keep the sense of community alive.

4. Focus on Nutrition: The body’s nutrient balance can be significantly altered after an endurance event. Consuming balanced meals, rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, can aid recovery and mood regulation. Also, staying hydrated is crucial.

5. Give Yourself Time: It’s okay to feel low after an event. Recognise your feelings and give yourself time to process them. Consider keeping a journal to reflect on your experiences, both during training and the event itself.

6. Seek Professional Help: If feelings of sadness or depression persist or intensify, it might be helpful to consult a mental health professional. They can provide coping strategies and offer insights tailored to individual needs.

In conclusion, the post-event blues are a natural part of the athletic journey for many. By understanding the underlying causes and being proactive in counteracting them, runners and cyclists can better navigate the highs and lows of their sport, ensuring that their passion remains a source of joy and fulfilment.

For Those Who Want to Dig Deeper…

There are not a large number of studies dedicated solely to the phenomenon of “post-event blues” in endurance athletes, but several studies touch on related areas, including the psychological aspects of endurance training, mood disturbances following competition, and the relationship between exercise and mental health.

Here is a list of some scientific papers and articles that touch on these related areas:

  1. Morgan, W. P. (1985). Selected psychological factors limiting performance: a mental health model. In Limits of human performance (pp. 70-80). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  2. Lane, A. M., & Terry, P. C. (2000). The nature of mood: Development of a conceptual model with a focus on depression. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 12(1), 16-33.
  3. Raglin, J. S. (2001). Psychological factors in sport performance. Sports Medicine, 31(13), 875-890.
  4. Sachs, M. L. (1981). Running as therapy: An integrated approach. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  5. Steptoe, A., & Butler, N. (1996). Sports participation and emotional wellbeing in adolescents. The Lancet, 347(9018), 1789-1792.
  6. Scully, D., Kremer, J., Meade, M. M., Graham, R., & Dudgeon, K. (1998). Physical exercise and psychological well-being: a critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(2), 111-120.
  7. Yeung, R. R. (1996). The acute effects of exercise on mood state. Journal of psychosomatic research, 40(2), 123-141.
  8. Buman, M. P., Omli, J. W., Giacobbi Jr, P. R., & Brewer, B. W. (2008). Experiences and coping responses of “hitting the wall” for recreational marathon runners. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(3), 282-300.

While the above list offers a broad view of the topic, you might need to delve into the details of each paper to extract information most relevant to the post-event blues in endurance athletes.

You may also like to search databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, or Web of Science for new papers as they become available.

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