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By Head Coach Emma Quinn
Coming to this time of year in Australia, many athletes have ticked off their goal races for the season. With last weekend wrapping up the second of only three Ironman races in Australia, many are left this week with a pretty big case of Ironman blues. We gave all seen it in athletes before and many of us will have experienced it firsthand. We train for months for an event, we get up early, stay up late, run and ride in the dark for hours on the weekends, whilst sacrificing time away from family and we forget what having any form of social life even feels like. We and our support team (let’s give an enormous shout out to the support crew!) invest months of hard work into one day, one event and then all of a sudden, just like that it is over. We often have so much planned for once that race is done, all of the “normal” things we will have time for, how good it will be to have no alarm, to not have less structure to our plan but what many of us never let on is that we actually fall into a bit of a slump and as the recovery days turn into recovery weeks, even months we begin to miss the structure, the discipline and the feeling of being so driven and determined to achieve that “A” goal we have been working towards for so long.
So as someone who has been to this place many times over my eleven years of racing and someone who has seen it first hand in some of my athletes over the past three years I thought I would share some of my thoughts as to how best beat the post-race blues and how to combat that “lost” feeling into motivation and determination towards the next endurance goal.
Firstly, I think it is always important to acknowledge the race that you just completed. Whether it was perfect and you nailed the plan and the goal, or whether your day turned to shit (excuse the language) and nothing went to plan. Some days despite all of the hard work and perfect preparation, race day brings with it challenges outside of our control and the body simply doesn’t come to the party. Gwen Jorgensen, one of the most crowned female triathletes in the world famously speaks about her Olympic preparation, where 4 years of hard work and training was going to summit into one, two hour race. She explains that the chances of waking up feeling 100%, of everything going to plan on this one day in this one moment are almost impossible. We can take so much away as an athlete and as a person if we acknowledge not only when things go well but also when things do not go well. Triathletes are renowned for having 388 excuses of why “X” and “Y” didn’t happen, at the end of the day it is like anything, we cannot be at our best at every moment and we cannot execute perfect races with PBs every time, but we can learn from it and I do believe (as cliché as it may sound) we learn so much about ourself and what we are truly capable of in moments where things do not go to plan.
Secondly, I think so much can be gained in terms of how we mentally and physically recover from a big event as well as how we prepare for the next journey by having in place a planed active recovery component of the training program. As coaches, a lot of time is spent periodising the training blocks into various phases (strength, endurance, race building, taper etc), I believe the “recovery” phase is as important (in some cases more so) than these other components. I am by no means saying that things shouldn’t be well toned down during this time, but research has shown physically the body responds so much better to an active recovery period following times of extreme stress as opposed to a passive one. It is important to balance the return to easy swim, bike and running (or other easy aerobic exercises) in with family time, holidays, catch ups etc, all of those elements which can get placed on hold during times of endurance training.
Thirdly, I always encourage in the couple of weeks post-race to take some time out and reflect upon the race itself. What went well, what didn’t, what you think could be improved upon, the highs and the lows. Over the space of a 70.3 or IM an athlete has many thoughts no matter what their goal is, so spending some time to write down and reflect upon these can not only be beneficial to taking personal ownership and recognition of you race (whether it be good, bad or ugly) it can also help moving forward with future goals and race planning and be a wonderful tool to discuss with your coach which may also lead to approaching the next build in a different way depending on the your post-race thoughts. My only suggestion with this is to give yourself a few days post-race to allow the emotions to settle down a little. It is a familiar scene when one has a race that didn’t fall perfectly into place that they are very quick to pull it apart, deconstruct it to the core and list a dozen things that did not go well. When, after a few days, it comes through that even if that goal time was slightly missed or if your nutrition plan didn’t go to plan, that actually there were many positives from the race, many moments you’ll never forget and most likely experiences that will make you a stronger athlete and hungry to get back onto the racing scene. At the end of the day, despite the race day highs and lows, we love the feeling of pushing or limits and seeing what we are capable of, mentally and physically and often the journey to get to that place is what we love and enjoy most of all.
Finally, I believe that following a long build and a big race, regardless of the outcome and the post-race feelings (some people sign up again the next days whilst others post an influx of triathlon gear on triathlon marketplace 😊) it is so important to come back to asking yourself “what is my why”. Whilst I am the first to recognise and understand that chasing podiums, qualifications, specific times are all goals that contribute towards an athlete training hard, consistently and at many times the driving forces (and I have spent many years fixated upon these elements, only feeling as though my training and racing were validated upon the successful outcome of these parameters). I believe that when our motivating factors are more of an intrinsically driven feeling, for example we love and enjoy the sport and we are continually striving and wanting to be the best athlete we can be for OURSELVES, nobody else, that our “why” becomes easy to understand and just like that we become motivated to train, to race, to push ourselves to our limits and search for that mental toughness and physical capacity that will allow us to achieve what it is we want out of a very (at times) all-consuming sport.
So in wrapping up, take some time following a big build or a big goal race to work closely with your coach to make sure the recovery is well planned and structured (to allow time not only for easy aerobic recovery focussed sessions but also for sleep ins, late nights, weekends away and family time). Acknowledge and show ownership over your race, whether it was epic, average or your worst day in your triathlon career, it is what it is and it you will be a better athlete (and person) if you acknowledge the ugly days as well as the PB days. Next, take some time out in the week following the race to personally reflect on your race and even going as deep as the thoughts and feelings you experienced throughout the day (the mental and emotional side of racing not only the physical). This will not only help you as an athlete deconstruct your race and learn from it, it will also help you and your coach take some learnings which can be adapted into the next build and training towards your next focus race. Lastly, always come back to understanding your “why”, what drives you, motivates you and provides you with the determination to again get back to those early morning wake ups, those late evening training rides and those big weekends.
Until next time😊
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