What are athletes supposed to do once the race is over and their finisher medals have been hung?
“I have the strongest and fastest pinky fingers in all the country.”
I cocked my head and tried to suppress my smile. “Uh … come again?”
“You heard me. My pinkies are like links on a chain.”
The pinky fingers in question were attached to the hands of my friend Jason, a fellow endurance athlete commenting on his superior phalanges. Yes. This actually happened.
Had it been any other friend making a challenge of such minutiae, I would have felt his head for a fever and suggested a mental health consultation. Instead, I nodded knowingly and conceded defeat. I had seen this many times before:
There’s so much build-up to a race: months of training, planning, stretching, foam-rolling, eating right, sleeping well, hydrating, checking the color of your pee, hydrating some more … The act of training may only take a few hours each day, but race prep is a 24/7 process.
RELATED: Out There: Overtraining? Not Me!
But no one ever talks about what athletes are supposed to do after the race, once the finish line is taken down, the medals hung on the wall, celebratory beers consumed, and your mile 18 bonk described (with detailed and exaggerated effect, of course) for the ten thousandth time. When the dust settles, an athlete may find himself alone, looking at a medal on the wall and wondering: What now?
The post-race blues aren’t just about “being done” with a race. It’s missing the routine, camaraderie, and sense of purpose that comes with preparing for such an event. There’s an emptiness, and it must be filled. Without a new goal, the idle athlete might spiral into a really dark place — one of apathy, lethargy, and emotional eating.
Some athletes impulsively sign up for another race immediately after crossing a finish line. Others, knowing the body needs more recovery, pass the time by challenging themselves in new ways — going vegetarian for one month, mastering the Crane Pose in yoga class, or finally building the tree house the kids have been begging for.
Of course, these aren’t done passively. All the displaced passion and vigor from hill repeats and tempo runs goes into the new effort: I’m not just going to build you a puny little tree house, kids; I’m going to build you a tree castle! Watch me as I nail together these boards faster than that poseur Bob Vila! Let’s go to Home Depot!
Our friends and family may call us crazy, but we can’t help it. As athletes, we’re hardwired to constantly strive for improvement; our happiness comes from setting a goal and working to achieve it. If we can’t work towards a PR another few weeks, you can bet we’ll pass the time by dominating something else.
And if you’re in the midst of figure out just what that “something” is, give me a call.
I know a guy who wants to challenge you to a pinky-wrestling match.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke