14 June 2011

Life after the finish line

You spent months training for the biggest race of your life. But now it’s over, so now what? Here's how to cope with the physical, mental and emotional turmoil after a race.


You spent months training for the biggest race of your life. Your social life went to pot, your personal life suffered and for several months your only focus was crossing that finish line. But now it’s over, so now what do you do?

We spoke to Alan Green, club captain for the West Coast Athletics Club and qualified Sports  Scientist with 20 years coaching experience in the health and fitness industry as well as sports coaching in various disciplines. He has an impressive number of races under his belt including one Comrades Ultra Marathon, 11 Two Oceans Ultra Marathons, two Puffer 80km Ultra Trail runs, five Tuffer Puffer 160km Ultra Trail runs, six Three Peaks 48-50km trail runs, one six day Wild Coast extreme 274km trail run, one Midnight Hell 80km trail run, one Addo Elephant 80km trail run, about 60 marathons.

So he knows only too well the feelings that often accompany the after-effects of a race. He speaks to us about how he deals with it – and how you can too.

He says that generally people train for a race such as the Comrades for about 12 months and will have finished a standard 42,2km marathon ‘comfortably’ before they even attempt a Comrades Ultra Marathon.

“It takes the body time to adapt physically to the demands placed upon the muscles, tendons, joints and energy systems. If you attempt to push too hard too soon then injury and even illness can occur. When training for the Comrades, a runner will do 20-28 weeks of dedicated sessions culminating in the event itself,” he explains.

Months of preparation all over – now what?

Training for an event such as the Comrades is no mean feat and Green breaks it down for us to see how much training goes into the preparation:

“Each runner will have their own weekly schedule for training for the Comrades. It is recommended that you include at least four runs a week and even better if you are able to run six times a week. Depending on what your time goals are, you should train on average between 1,100 and 3,000km for the event over a 20-28 week period. The highest mileage weeks occur six to eight weeks prior to the event where you could be training between 100 and 300km each week.

“In the last four weeks prior to the Comrades a runner would reduce their mileage by 10-20% per week while increasing the intensity of these runs. It is at this stage were rest is more important than distance.”

That’s a lot of time to invest in one event, which makes it easy to see why you might be feeling like you’ve been left in a vacuum. No more training, no more strict dieting, and no more focus on that one day with that one goal in mind. Now what?

Green says he felt like this after he ran his first Comrades, describing it as a feeling of ‘melancholy’.

“I looked for a new training regime of working towards another event and found that this helped alleviate these feelings. It was also helpful to just train for fun and enjoy more free time,” he says.

Dealing with the emotions

It’s not just the physical exhaustion that often accompanies the end of a hard training season, it’s also emotionally draining.

Green says that the Comrades is a prime example of an even which can often be both emotional and physical draining as you need to train both the body and mind to cope with the stress of covering the distance and control your mind to keep focused on the goal of finishing.

“The mind can easily drift towards negativity and then it takes great amounts of mental and emotional effort to refocus on the positive. The physical demands placed upon your body are intense due to the fact that it is generally the greatest distance that you have covered in one event.

“Most people train up to a 60 km distance and then realise that they still have another 28-30km to cover before they reach the end. It is in these last kilometres that the body starts to experience pain and energy loss which can only be alleviated by utilising mental imagery and positive mantras,” he says.

When to hit the road again?

Physically you will need to take a break from training after such a big race, just to give your body time to recover. But be careful not to get too complacent and take too long off otherwise it will be harder to get back into it if you leave it too long.

Green says most experts agree that you should take at least a week to two weeks off before attempting even a short easy run.

“A common theory is that one should rest one day for each kilometre run. All runs should only be attempted once your legs and resting heart rate has returned to normal. Runs should be kept short and not too intense. ”

Words from the wise

“The best advice I could give someone experiencing feelings of melancholy is to first just enjoy the feelings of accomplishment of having done something that so few others have. Then to look for a shorter event to use all the training for a nice quick run.

“Also train just for the fun of training without having a preset training schedule. Enjoy the freedom of available time to catch up with family and friends,” Green says.

However Green says that while it’s perfectly normal to feel melancholy and down, they shouldn’t persist for longer than a week or two.

“If you still experience feelings of extreme tiredness, sore legs and feelings of depression or lack of eagerness after three or more weeks following the race, you should seek professional help from a qualified person,” Green advises.

Source: Alan Green, Club Captain at West Coast Athletics Club
Reference: The Lore Of Running Prof Tim Noakes; Galoway`s Book On Running Jeff Galloway; Principles Of Running Amby Burfoot.

To find a list of races for the rest of the year throughout SA click here.

(Amy Froneman, Health24, June 2011)





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