Most Dangerous Times for Goals

Welcome to my weekly Operation Melt update where I share progress updates from my continued fitness journey and the important lessons it is teaching me about life.

Recovery Time

After last week’s strong performance in the Cap City half marathon, I spent this entire week focusing on recovery. Despite feeling almost 100% recovered just a few hours after the race, which is very new for me, there were definitely some signs that I wasn’t recovered. For example, my resting heart rate was elevated but was back to normal by a week after the race.

Most experts agree that recovery is a critical part of running, especially after a race as long as a half marathon. Running thirteen miles is very stressful and takes a toll on your body.  So I did the responsible thing and took care of my body this week.

There are tons of reputable online sources for best practices for post-race recovery techniques. The most important of these techniques is simply to rest and refrain from running for a few days or longer. But there are other recommendations associated with nutrition, hydration, stretching and more. 

There is one post-race recovery self-care recommendation that is a little more unexpected: focus on post-race mental health.

Post-Race Blues

I read many articles this week and listened to many podcasts about a condition commonly referred to as “post-race blues.” This is when runners tend to feel a little bit of depression after crossing the finish line in their big race. While this isn’t an officially diagnosed condition, it exists, and there are many contributing factors.

There are physiological factors that can lead to this feeling of depression. The extra doses of chemicals and hormones released during hard events disturb the natural balance of the systems at play in your body. Your body chemistry being temporarily out of whack can easily lead to depression-like feelings.

Post-race blues is also linked to a change in your relationship with your goals. After spending months preparing and working hard to achieve a goal this work becomes a part of who you are, a part of your brand. Then you cross the finish line, have the medal put around your neck, you share the stories with the people who care about you and then it is all over. Suddenly this part of who you are disappears and is just a memory.

The result can be that you feel a little lost. You aren’t really sure of who you are and what comes next. You aren’t focused on a goal anymore and you feel a little let down. Combine this with the common issue of the “arrival fallacy,” where you believe that everything will be better after accomplishing a thing, and you get the recipe for depression.

Often runners use running to help process through feelings, relieve stress and maintain the feeling of normalcy. Unfortunately, during the post-race recovery time, this coping mechanism isn’t available. So runners end up stewing in these emotions with no outlet.

This isn’t limited to races either. Olympians have reported feeling depressed after the games are over. Politicians have reported feeling depressed after the campaign is done. And the list goes on.

In Good Company

I am not afraid to say that I have had a touch of post-race blues with all of my big races. This most recent half marathon was no different. Well, almost no different. I didn’t have the finish line party to celebrate my success with my fellow athletes. I just hit the 13.1 miles, stopped my tracker, posted a selfie and was back to reality.

This isn’t the first time I have had post-race blues and certainly won’t be the last. One of my biggest examples was that March morning when I stepped on the scale and discovered that I had achieved my weight loss goal. My race was over but, this time, I just kept running.

Fortunately, I know to expect the post-race blues and have learned to manage it pretty easily now. But the blues are still there and have taught me an important lesson about goals.

Most Dangerous Times for Goals

Goals are powerful but they can also be fragile. In the lifecycle of a goal, there are two times that are very dangerous. Two moments that are make-or-break and can lead to ultimate success or failure.

The first most dangerous moment in a goal’s existence is at the beginning before you commit to pursuing it. This is when the goal is mostly just a dream. You have a choice to make at this stage, do you chase your goal and risk failures on your way to success? Or will you talk yourself out of even trying and let your goal die of loneliness?

Almost as dangerous to the long term success of your goal is when you cross a finish line. This is a point when the post-race blues may tempt you to take your foot off the gas. You may think that you have gone far enough and just stop. You may be a little lost and not know which way to go and end up stuck in neutral. Or worse, you may feel so lost that you actually slip backward.

Keeping Focused 

How can you combat the post-race (or let’s say post-achievement) blues? The first step is to be ready for the blues to hit. Don’t be shocked or deny that you feel a little off after achieving a goal. It happens a lot and denying the feelings may prolong or amplify their impact.

Make sure to celebrate your success. Completing a half marathon or any other big goal is a major achievement and should be celebrated. It took a lot of preparation. It took a lot of commitment. It took a lot of hard work. It would have been far easier to sit on the couch and not even try but you didn’t. Pat yourself on the back.

Plan ahead for recovery time and make sure that you are giving your body and mind the self-care it needs. This may be a time to treat yourself as a reward for your accomplishment. Do some things that you like to do and take advantage of the time off.

Complete a post-mortem, hindsight or retrospective of the event. What went well that you can build on for future events? What didn’t go well that you can improve upon next time?

Figure out what’s next. When is the next half marathon or marathon you want to run? What is that next big accomplishment you want to chase? If you just achieved your weight loss goal, do you want to keep going or set a goal to maintain?

The best pro-tip for this is to try to make some of these decisions before you cross that finish line and go ahead and sign-up for the next event. This way you can minimize the decisions you need to make during this dangerous time.

Achieving a big goal is a time to celebrate so make sure to manage through the post achievement blues that you may experience and stay focused on being the kick-ass athlete that you are!

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About Operation Melt

Operation Melt started as a blog to share my personal transformation and weight loss story. After achieving success with that goal, Operation Melt has evolved into a platform that to help inspire, motivate and equip people to achieve their own personal and professional goals so they can live their best lives. My vision is to build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.