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Race Ennui
What do you do when the race has been run?

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By Christopher J. Russell
Posted Thursday, 11 March, 2004

It’s such a let down. Win or lose, good or bad, when you train for 6 months for a race what do you do the day after? Lick your wounds and over eat?

Is there some sort of marathon equivalent of postpartum depression?

That’s the problem with setting goals; what do you do once you’ve achieved them?

The marathon takes allot out of you, especially if you race it hard. The subsequent two days are spent hobbling around and avoiding staircases.

What about the mental fatigue? What do you do now? You wake up sore with nothing to do. You can wear the T-shirt. You can even wear the medal for a couple days. Then what?

Then the ennui sets in. The ‘let down’. The ‘little death’. You have climbed and climbed a steep mountain. You have pushed with a last great spasm of effort to the peak and now you are at the bottom again looking up.

Everyday for the last six months you were preparing for a run, recovering from a run or thinking about a run. The structure of your life is lost. How do you step down gracefully? How do you reprogram yourself for ‘fun runs’ without thinking ‘garbage miles’?

Do you consider upping the ante? Maybe run a marathon in every state? Maybe an iron-man? Maybe redouble your efforts to trim those 5-10 minutes off? That’s a train ride that never stops at the station. When do you stop? At what point does your body give out and say “enough!”

Do you feel guilty? Do you feel like your cheating by not training anymore? Do you feel somehow, like you’re letting yourself down? All that psychological pressure you gathered and focused to force you out of bed and into the cold for the last few months now has no useful outlet.

One might try to extend the training and target another marathon with 90 days. You’ve already got the conditioning. If you survived the race healthy you can build on it and refine your efforts.

Physically you can do all this, but mentally can you? Can you muster the enthusiasm for another run to the top of the mountain? Did you inadvertently make a deal with yourself that ‘after the race I’ll slow it down and enjoy it more”. Did you make that deal with your self-conscious? Is your mind-body asking for payment now?

Can you maintain the early morning and late night sessions? Can you wheedle another set of 3-hour long runs out of your weekends? Do you think your family is ready to negotiate? More than likely they want you to return to ‘normal’.

Or maybe you’ll just give yourself totally over to a life of hedonistic dissipation. You’ll become a cheeseburger-choking anti-runner. “I proved I could do it, now it’s party time!” How long can you keep that up before your inner runner makes you feel lousy? How long can you avoid the bathroom scale and the mirror?

All these thoughts ricochet around in your brain as you lie about doing nothing. It’s worse because you can’t go for a long run and clear them away. You are trapped in the purgatory of a sedentary being. Those fetters that you broke and ran away from are back.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Relax. One trip on your journey is complete. Take comfort in the completion. If you ran well or you ran poorly, either way, it is a cause to celebrate.

It’s not another notch in the gun. It’s not just another medal for the pile. It’s a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of being alive, of being mobile, of being blessed to drink from the runner’s cup.

Every day running is a gift. Every race run is a gift. We need to be thankful for our gifts.

Rejoice. The comfort of the regimen is gone, but the joyfulness of life continues. It is morning and the world is served up to you again for breakfast on a new day.

Do what you want.

You want to take some time off? Do so without guilt in the glow of a job well done.

You want to throw yourself once more into the breech? Do so with joyous commitment.

You want to set your sites higher, to double down and shoot for a really challenging race? Go ahead, grab a hold with both hands and hoist yourself up that new mountain.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the joy is in the chase and not the event. Life is a long run, enjoy it. Don’t set yourself up. Regardless of the race run, you’re going to wake up the same person everyday. Whether it’s a mile-and-a-half with the dog or 26.2 in qualifying time, it’s special. Appreciate it. Enjoy it. You earned it.

In the marathon of life sometimes you have to stop looking at your watch and just focus on moving forward, one telephone pole at a time.



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