Monday, December 12, 2011

THE RACE & RECOVERY: Post-Event Depression

Have you ever planned for a goal or event, accomplished the goal or gotten through the event, then fallen into a funk when it's over?  Well, don't worry, you're not a freak and you don't need to run off to see a shrink.  Turns out, you're probably suffering from something fairly common...something I'll call Post-Event Depression or "P.E.D."  Yes, I'm coining that term (as far as I know) heard it here first.  

What is P.E.D.?

Well, since I've made up my own term, there's probably not a clinical definition, so here goes:

  • P.E.D.:  the feeling of "let-down" after accomplishing a goal or getting through a big event in which you have invested a substantial amount of your time and energy over a significant period of time.  Oftentimes, you use this goal or event as a way to define yourself, so that once the goal is accomplished or the event is over, you're at a loss as to what to do with yourself.     

According to, "post-Ironman depression" is pretty normal for triathletes, particularly those doing an Ironman, because for months on end, their lives have revolved around this one goal.  So once that goal is over, then what?  And apparently this feeling isn't limited to athletes:  anyone accomplishing a major goal, like graduating or retiring, can fall into the same kind of funky vacuum.

Most articles I've read chalk up the Post-Ironman Depression or other P.E.D. to not knowing what to do with yourself and your time once the event is over.  Athlete or not, we seem to define ourselves by our goals, our professions, our hobbies.  So when you achieve your goal, retire from your profession, or have your job or hobby taken away by circumstance beyond your control, you're left wondering "now what?"  

What Can You Do About P.E.D? 

Most recommendations for dealing with Post-Ironman Depression or some other form of P.E.D. include:

  • Immediately setting a new goal, like signing up for another race, to help you re-focus your energy and get "back on-track."  Some people even recommend setting this new goal before your old goal is complete.  
  • Rewarding yourself for accomplishing your goal.
  • Re-focusing your energy on other things/people that are unrelated to your goal.  For example, spending more time with your non-triathlete friends or taking up other un-related hobbies.      

For the most part, these kinds of recommendations are probably fine.  But I think that some people need to be careful with the first one...  

My Two Cents:

My concern is this:  if you need to sign up for another race to pull yourself out of your Post-Ironman funk, then there may be a bigger problem.  Ask yourself this:  

  • Do you need a triathlon or Ironman to define yourself or to pull yourself out of your depression?         

I'm not talking about needing to exercise to feel good.  Exercise, the release of endorphins, makes us feel good - that's a given.  I'm talking about your need for the title or label.  Would you feel lost without it?  And I'm not just harping on triathletes here - I'm harping on anyone who uses one thing to define themselves.  I know a lot of attorneys who are the same way.  Without that label of "attorney," they'd be lost.

My bottom line is this:  you are not just one thing or one profession or one hobby or one title.  You are first and foremost a human being.  Beyond that, everything else is temporary.  If you feel that being without that "one" title or goal will strip you of who you are, then I think you're grossly underestimating all of the other titles and goals you could have.

So embrace whatever Post-Ironman or post-event funk you're in.  Use it as a time to reflect, and know that on the other side there are a lot of other amazing things waiting for you.  Whether you set the same goal (another Ironman) or a different one, it doesn't matter.  Just don't use that one goal or one title to define yourself.  Let your cup runneth over....use that goal to add to all of the other wonderful things that you are instead of defining the entirety of who you are.  Then maybe next time, your P.E.D. won't be so bad because your cup will still be plenty full...

Have you experienced Post-Ironman Depression or some other P.E.D.?  If so, how have you dealt with it? 

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