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Why Complicated Post-Race Feelings Are OK

by | Jul 11, 2024 | Mindset

Picture this: You hurtle towards the finish line of a race feeling triumphant, ready to celebrate your victory. You know you’ve won and you’re grinning ear to ear. The announcer calls your name—and says congratulations on your second place finish. The grin drops.

This happened to me this weekend at the end of Summit 700, a race that I led from the top of the first climb to the finish line. At least, I thought I led. I had been 99.99% sure there wasn’t another woman ahead of me, and since there were only a few people in total ahead of me, I had no reason to doubt that fact. I’d been told by every aid station volunteer that I was the first woman.

So, when I was told I was second as I crossed the line, my mind went a little haywire momentarily. I couldn’t believe it. How did I miss a woman ahead of me? How did everyone miss a woman ahead of me? How was I SO SLOW? I was furious at myself. I’d been pushing hard the whole race, but I wasn’t racing like I was chasing down someone in front of me, I was focusing on staying smooth and steady. Apparently, I should have been chasing. Hard. I was so freaking mad at myself.

And then, I took a breath. I looked around. I asked around. No one had seen another woman come in. And in fact, it turned out that another woman hadn’t come in. There was a glitch in the results because a woman had dropped out of the race, and the announcer didn’t realize it.

I had won—but in that moment of thinking I hadn’t won, my entire race seemed like a crappy effort that was worth me beating myself up.

And then, I was spiraling into beating myself up about beating myself up! I was angry at myself that my internal narrative about the race could be changed whether someone was in front of me or not. We talk a ton about how you can’t attach yourself so tightly to your goals that are based on where you finish in a field, because you can’t control who shows up. In that sense, if I got second in that race to a woman who was a few minutes ahead of me, I shouldn’t be beating myself up—assuming I did what I could in the race in order to chase to the best of my abilities.

But that was the catch. If there had been a woman ahead of me that I had known about, I would have raced harder. I had more in the tank. I could have done more. Maybe I wouldn’t have caught her, but I would have finished knowing I had tried my damndest to do so, and I would have felt fine with second.That was why I was beating myself up—it wasn’t the result I was angry about, it was the effort. It was the misalignment of effort and results, and it completely threw me for a loop.

When I realized that was why I was mad at myself, I simmered down. (I’ll add that I kept my grumpy vibes to myself, luckily, but it was A Moment.)

What did all of this teach me? It reminded me that post-race can be complicated. It’s a highly charged moment. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is worth remembering—and maybe warning friends/family at the finish line about! The moments after a race are some of the wildest, from an emotional standpoint. Your heart rate has been elevated, it likely spiked in the finish, and suddenly, you stop. Rarely do we do a great post-race cooldown, unless we’re racing again the next day. So all of your systems are just in this wild on/off moment, and of course you’re going to be on an emotional rollercoaster, even if everything went well. If something didn’t go well, it’s a minefield.

(This is why on the team I managed, we had the ‘water bottle rule,’ where you had a water bottle to drink post-race, and by the time you were done with it, your negative attitude about the race also had to be done.)

All of this to say… post-race can be really challenging, regardless of the outcome. Especially if you feel like your effort and your outcome don’t match up. (Though, if this is most races, listen to our podcast about ‘the race you hoped for,’ because you may have a goal mismatch.)

It’s okay to feel all the feelings post-race. Give yourself some grace. In fact, I think it’s healthy to be upset after a race doesn’t go well! Like start line nerves, it means you care. It’s only a problem if it lasts beyond the water bottle/drive home/one night. If you’re still ruminating on a race a few days later and beating yourself up, that’s not helpful. But if you have a little cry in the car post-race, that’s entirely reasonable. Heck, I do that even when a race goes perfectly.

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