Sunday, June 5, 2022

Post Competition Blues

Picture by Getty images from Express
I was reading an online newspaper article in the Guardian (it's also in today's Sunday Times) about how Rafael Nadal was asked whether he would sign up for a magical new foot if it meant losing this year's French Open final. 

"I would prefer to lose the final without a doubt, a new foot would allow me to be more happy in my day-to-day life" he added. 

Injury ravaged Nadal fractured his rib about two months ago, so making this final at Roland Garros already seemed like a miracle. He also has chronic left foot ailment, Mueller-Weiss syndrome (osteonecrosis of the navicular bone), but has consistently dug deep to raise his game and win when it mattered.

Nadal knows that winning is lovely and it gives you a real high, but right after that high there is a big low. Life goes on and life is much more important than whatever title, personal record or victory. The term for this is "arrival fallacy", coined by Tal Ben-Shahar (Harvard Psychology lecturer) which refers to the false belief that once you accomplished a particular goal you will attain a sense of lasting gratification.

I was treating national cyclist Luo Yiwei (above) earlier this week, after she won a silver medal at the recent SEA Games in Hanoi. We discussed about how, once the race day euphoria wears off and our hard earned medals begin to collect dust in our display cupboards, we may be wondering if that was all?

This creeping sense of anti climax that you feel after a race that you've spent months preparing for, is often referred to as post race blues. (I recall feeling like this as well after my GCE 'A' levels. I told myself I'll be out celebrating once the exams were done but it instead felt like a big let down).

Post competition blues is not even tied to race performance. If anything, one can be more prone to post race blues after running the race of your life. When you perform badly, it's easier to ask yourself what went wrong and why and how you can train and race better next time. You can console yourself that next time you will do better.

It is generally more common in amateur athletes than in professional athletes. The pros have to decide when they should retire or whether they should continue to try and make a living as an athlete. This answers the 'is that all?' question as to why they keep going since they are still making a living. 

Not true for the competitive amateur runner who may have to put in 100 km training weeks and utimately has little to show for it other than bragging rights, a medal and a higher chance of a running injury.

Some of my patients who are competitive amateurs say the best 'cure' for post race blues is to simply sign up for another event and set new goals and targets. 

I have felt all that before, when training loses its appeal. For those feeling the post competition blues, I will say that you can definitely indulge in some brooding. Even when I've raced well after a big race, there's always a question of what am I going to do (that's definitely before having kids) in the days after without any concern about getting any training done.

It's a strange feeling not having to train since I've set up, planned, prepared and trained for months and years leading to the big race. It has been my entire life, outside my family and friends.

However, I always say to the athletes that I treat that post race glory is fleeting. I have definitely experienced getting slower in my Saturday rides as I age. It's like there is this invisible hand pulling me backwards when I ride with the younger riders.

That's when I realize that I have to shift my focus. I tell myself to become the best physiotherapist I can be, since I can't be the best athlete I can be anymore. 

Find a way to incorporate what you have learned from your marathon, cycling or football training into your daily life. Apply the same organization, focus, structure and goal setting to your everyday tasks. Then you will find that life and running (or other sporting goals you once had) will be just as exciting and fulfilling.

A younger Rafael Nadal and I at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

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