Finding Yourself Deflated After A Big Race Is Normal - Here's How To Handle It

Whether you're a veteran runner or you've been training for your first competitive race, you might have already experienced the "runner's high." As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, the runner's high is an actual phenomenon that runners experience post-exercise. Dr. David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains that physical activity increases the number of endocannabinoids in the body. These biochemical substances can move seamlessly through the barrier between the brain and the bloodstream. As a result, you might experience feelings of calmness in the short term after your cardio sweat session.

Contrary to the popular rumor that endorphins are responsible for the runner's high, Dr. Linden specifies that they cannot pass through the barrier between the bloodstream and the brain. Instead, the purpose of endorphins is to prevent muscles from feeling pain once you hit your stride mid-run, but what if you feel worse after your workout? Furthermore, what happens internally when your mood drops after a big race?

"Many distance runners feel merely drained or even nauseated at the end of a long race, not blissful," Dr. Linden told Johns Hopkins Medicine. However, this feeling sometimes goes beyond physical symptoms. Self notes that those who participate in races, in particular, may find themselves feeling deflated once they cross the finish line. If this applies to you, you are not alone; those post-race blues are real.

Understanding and overcoming the post-run blues

As Trail Runner explains, post-race blues are not always openly discussed, but they are experienced by many runners and other athletes alike. It does not have a clinical definition, but some refer to it as situational depression. This type of depression can develop in reaction to an outlying factor, such as poor performance in a race.

Dr. Doug Jowdy, a licensed psychologist and former sports psychologist, explained to ESPN that this condition can be seen as a meeting of the body and mind. Although the mind may feel ambitious and look to go beyond achieving the initial goal, the body needs rest. In some cases, athletes may experience further frustration if their body becomes hormonally or metabolically altered post-race — this can lead to a decrease in performance.

However, it's important to understand that if you experience the post-run blues, you are not alone. Furthermore, there are several ways to manage it. "Reconnect with friends, family and work issues," Dr. Jowdy recommended while speaking to ESPN. "I encourage athletes to think of this as another phase of the training/racing process." Additionally, it's critical during this period for your body to get as much rest as it needs to properly recover. The recovery process as a whole is essential for healing your mind and body, and ensuring that you're ready for your next big race.

Other ways to address post-race deflation

Whether you're participating in a 5K or a full marathon, Self notes that any big race is going to require a significant recovery process. Physically, you'll want to focus on eating healthy and staying hydrated. "Your body's used to eating with a certain frequency, and maintaining that can be really helpful for blood sugar and mood as well," licensed clinical social worker Stephanie Roth-Goldberg noted to Self.

To improve your mental health, Trail Runner recommends being open with people in your life about the post-race blues you are feeling. Simply getting it out in the open and sharing your story can help you process your emotions. You might even want to specifically connect with other runners or those who participated in the race, per SELF. Finally, don't hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional if your symptoms do not improve with time.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.