“The blues” is a term in the sporting world that is used in a variety of contexts. In swimming there are “the taper blues” and “the post-meet blues.” Terms used to describe a feeling where something is just….off. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it’s there. A time that I felt the blues most severely was coming back from the Olympics in 2016. I went back into training quite quickly in September after coming back from the Games in late August. I went to compete at World Championships four months later in December and I still didn’t feel like myself. And why? The Olympics went great for me: I went from fifteen the fifth. I wanted to get back in the pool. I wanted to train. I wanted to race. And yet I felt like a deflated balloon. A deflated balloon that I swear I had put air into…but here I was, still deflated.
It’s All the Same
It doesn’t matter what big event you have committed yourself to do. Be it an Ironman, a long trek through mountains, a marathon, a potato sack race, etc. The weight and significance of that event is the same from one person to the other, no matter what level of athleticism you’re at. You’re committing your time, body, mind and spirit to reaching this height. You have drive and clarity of vision. Hours, days, months and sometimes years of hard work and dedication. Then, all of a sudden, it’s all gone. Vanished into thin air. No wonder you feel like a wet blanket in the come down.
Give Yourself Time
After working with a Mental Performance Consultant (a.k.a. a sport psychologist) for nearly two decades, the best strategy I can offer is this: give yourself time and have a plan for “the after.” I know we all want a quick fix to things (myself included), but really when you think about it, it makes sense that time is the healer. You didn’t get to that event by signing up for it the day before, did you? You planned. You worked. As the young people say these days “you went through it.” Lots and lots of build-up. Hours, days, months and sometimes years. Lend yourself some kindness after something like that. And even then, you’re still not going to feel right. And that’s okay. Feelings are feelings. As humans we are meant to feel them all. You felt all the build-up feelings, you now have you allow yourself to feel all the come-down feelings too. They’re not good or bad, they’re just emotions. Be human and have them. A good strategy I have learned when I am impatient with these blue feelings and thinking I should be right as rain after a big event, is to talk to myself like I would a best friend or someone I love dearly. Be your own best friend. Be gentle.
During this time of talking nicely to ourselves, it doesn’t mean you sit around being glum and do nothing all day. We don’t need to be that gentle. Doing things helps. You don’t need to be happy while you do them. We often look towards these big goals as the end of the road. There’s nothing past that, I just want to get there and do it and I’ll be happy (attaching your happiness to successful events is a whole other can of worms we can delve into at another date). While it is good to have focus, it is also smart to think beyond the event. Even in an abstract, vague sort of way. What will you do after? How much of a break will you take? Do you want to have another event on the horizon? How will your life change if you’re not training as much? What do you want to do that perhaps you missed out on because of training? All good questions to ponder while you beat yourself into a pulp in training during the build-up. Come up with something. Something you like the look of. Keep things that are important to you in that plan (ie. sleep, nutrition, daily exercise, etc.). Maybe you want to do different kinds of exercise, or spend more time with family, or learn/go back to a hobby, or travel. Having some structure of a plan for after is like a safety net that we built in better days that catches us as we come down. Stability. Routine. This will unburden your mind and simply make things easier.
In the end you’ll probably still feel like a dark cloud drifting around sometimes, as you should. There’s a time for everything. It will pass. Keep plugging away, keep your head up and keep going.