If you run long enough, you eventually meet the post race blues. That time when you find your goal race has come and gone, and regardless of how you did, you are left aimless, missing the purpose that drove you for so long. I imagine this is how Olympians feel, if not on a smaller scale. You pour so much of yourself into the training, every thought pushing toward your goal. If you succeed in your expectations, you ride the high of the race for days or weeks. If you fall behind your goals, you immediately second guess and analyze, and often seek redemption. Either way, eventually the intense emotions bound to the race ebb, and you are left with an emptiness that is hard to describe.
With more road races than I care to count, 2 marathons, and 6 ultras under my belt, I am not unfamiliar with the varying forms of depression or lethargy that creep in after a race. I always tell myself I will take time off after such and such race, relax, recharge, rebuild. But after a few days to a week, I am picking a new goal, digging deep into training, pushing forward. Having a new goal on the horizon pushes away the blues, if only for the next training cycle, and then the next, and the next. Many runners prescribe a new race to put the blues behind you. There may be no harm in that, for a while. But eventually, no matter the race distance, you need an off season. After 6 years, I need an off season.
An off season, less running, more rest, less striving, more reconnecting. It sounds simple, but is much harder to execute. Without a goal on the horizon, I am at times lost, drifting. I have looked at a few races for next year, but am making no commitments. Leaving things up to time and how I feel. But not having concrete goals means not having an answer to my plans for the future. We prioritize fitness, activity, goal crushing, and busyness. Pulling away from those, even for a bit, seems traitorous.
I am in limbo, not sure what I want or where I am going. And that leaves me empty, lost, lethargic, apathetic. Everything is brighter and duller at the same time. I told my husband the past few months since the 100 miler is the closest I have felt to depression since our son was born. Another moment in time when dreams culminated in an instant, leaving a void as life marched ever on. Once I recognized it for what it was, gave it a name, I realized I needed to sit here. Sit in this time and place, where I am. Pushing past it, forcing my way forward, only stalls its return. It’s not a cure. I need to sit in my sense of self, in this place of uncertainty, in this void, and be okay with it. I need to welcome these feelings, give them a place to expand, and tell them it’s okay to stay awhile. They are a part of me, and not something to be shoved aside by rushing into a new race or a new goal. Only by loving this place where I am can I truly move forward in a healthier way.
I’ve grown a little “fluffier” the past few months and for once in my life I am good with that. I still run, but forgo pace or miles for an easy heart rate and time on my feet. I stop for pictures, enjoy the views, and go off plan (sorry, not sorry, coach). I eat chocolate, lots of chocolate. These last two weeks, I have found joy on the trails that I haven’t known for a while. The euphoria of movement for movement’s sake. The lightness of running easily. My body is not 100%, I still have lingering issues. But I am not pushing for anything right now, I am trying to be patient, take time, and let things unfold without a forced deadline. This journey isn’t easy, in many ways, letting things be is harder than pushing forward. But here, for this moment in time, I have found peace.