*This article was recently published in the Portland Triathlon Club Newsletter*
For endurance athletes, the mental game is as important, if not more so, than the physical game for competition. A strong mental game gives the athlete the best chance to succeed before the race starts, and during the race itself. Sports psychology includes having a good pre-race routine, implementing strategies for how to handle the ups and downs of a race – the pain, and the rigors of competition, and strategies for winning the battle in the athlete’s mind – the battle between all the reasons to quit, versus all the reasons to keep going.
But there can also be a potential post-race psychological competent too. Known most commonly as “post-race depression”, it is less frequent of an issue as the pre-race or during race issues, but no less difficult to deal with. Post-race depression is a build up of focus, concentration, sacrifice, hard-work, and anticipation that has a very abrupt end. It can be mentally and emotionally draining. Physical changes include hormone and chemistry changes. All of this can make an athlete wonder “what is going on?!”
It’s important to know that post race depression is pretty normal! We sometimes experience let downs after big events, and it can be part of the process. While the experience of these emotions are normal, that doesn’t make it any less comfortable. Here are some sport psychology techniques that can help soften the blow:
Goal Setting – Goal setting, when done correctly, is a continuous process. It does not end with the A-race, or the end of a season. There is a logical next step to focus on when done. After a big race, athletes can plan on a fun run or event to shift focus to.
Journaling – Many endurance athletes keep a training log. Adding a mental game journaling component can help athletes find the positives after a big race. I suggest journaling one negative, two positives, and one way to improve in the future.
Support system – Make sure you have someone you can talk to who understands what you’re going through, and can help you take your mind off of it.
Overall, the mental game is about knowing what could go wrong, and planning for it. That includes not only a pre-race routine, and during the race mantras, but also planning for what’s next after the big race is over.