It is May and very soon riders will begin their travels toward the start of races all around the world. The North Cape-Tarifa starts June 20th, the Trans Atlantic Way starts June 7thand Trans Am Bike Race fires off on June 2nd, just to name a few. Riders from all over the world have trained their bodies, refined gear choices and prepared their bikes for what will be amazing adventures and times they will never forget!
My personal experience has been limited to TABR15 and 16, but I know the elation and stress that one feels as they prepare for these races. You obsess about every detail and every gram of weight. You want it all to be perfect, which it won’t be, but that doesn’t dissuade you from making your race prep the most important thing in your life right now.
I have been there and if I am honest with myself, I have to admit I loved that process more than just about anything I have ever done! It was such a thrill to submerse my entire being into preparing for the massive challenge that is TABR. All that preparation then turned to determination at the start of the race with my entire mind, body and soul funneled into one goal- to reach the finish.
At 2:58AM on June 29, 2016 I finished TABR. That was it. I was done.
At that moment, I began my recovery from TABR, which I believe has been more difficult than the preparation. I don’t mean physical recovery. That took a couple months and was expected. The larger, more difficult problem was the mental and emotional recovery from the race that I had NOT planned for at all and had no prior knowledge of the potential pitfalls of post event depression.
If you do some research on long distance hiking, you will find people talking about post hike depression or post trail depression. Why are people not talking about this for long bike rides? I do not know, but I am aware of some riders who have had similar issues.
What is post event depression?
From what I have been able to find, there is no clinical diagnosis for this condition, but it is certainly real and can affect anyone after a big event. In my obviously layman opinion, I think it could be classified as something similar to post-partum depression or PTSD. Frankly I have not experienced either of those, so maybe my analogy is off. I do know that it is certainly a multi-faceted puzzle, and the largest pieces revolve around hormone levels and a missing sense of identity.
When you pour yourself into an event of this sort, your identity changes. As you go through the race, the race is all you can think about. Once it is finished, you are a changed person. Spending the sort of time and energy that it takes to do an event like this changes the very fiber of your being and creates a new you. Your old identity is gone and you have to learn to deal with the new one.
Additionally, your body chemistry is completely jacked after these events. When the race is over, you have spent the last 3-4 weeks sleeping minimal hours per day, in every way exhausting your body, allowing yourself zero recovery, eating as much junk food as you can stuff in your mouth, building up huge amounts of adrenaline and dopamine…and then you just stop. Your metabolism is bonkers. Your body needs sleep, but you can’t seem to stay asleep for more than a few hours before waking up at a start, thinking you need to get on your bike and go at a dead run somewhere. Then a few weeks later, you can’t stay awake. You sleep 12 hours and it isn’t close to enough. Like a heroine addict your body craves the insane amounts of dopamine you had during the race, but it isn’t there (and shouldn’t be). Along with that, your cortisol and melatonin levels are out of whack and your brain doesn’t know how to deal with it all.
There are several things you can do to help guard against this. Some say to just sign up for another huge event. The fire you felt for your last event will be lit for a new one and your body will ride the massive swings in hormones along the way. That works for some and for a time, but it wasn’t a possibility for me. With limited funds and a family at home, I had to navigate things differently.
For me, I spent two full years dreaming, preparing, obsessing, failing (in 2015), re-preparing, re-obsessing and all but selling my soul to finish TABR. Over that time, preparing for the Trans Am became not just something that I was doing, but actually who I was.I lived life, went to work, spent time with family and friends, but TABR was always there. Once the race was over and I was back home, I had to learn to deal with life without the Trans Am. That was a challenge I didn’t know how to handle.
I found myself in a pretty deep funk, having difficulty being motivated to do my work, little to no desire to do things around the home and this created massive tension between my wife and I. About 6 months post-race, I sought counseling for marital issues, but soon realized with the help of my counselor that I was experiencing depression and my marital issues were just a symptom, not the cause. Fortunately, my wife was patient with me, and so was my employer. Things started coming around and I got well again. In an ironic twist of fate, one of the things I read about to deal with post event depression is to just wait. You will feel well not one second before you are ready to feel well.
All of that said, I hope that you folks who are racing events this year will take some time to think about how to deal with life after your race. It is a vital piece of your planning and as I am sure you have heard, failure to plan is planning to fail.
Below I have a few links about post trail depression that I hope will help. I am not a doctor of any sort, just a regular guy who likes to ride his bike, so read up on this for yourself and take my words with a grain of salt.
I wish each of you well and the very best of luck. Keep the rubber side down and remember…it is just a bike ride. 🙂
LIFE AFTER THE PCT: POST-HIKE DEPRESSION
5 Ways To Manage Post-Trail Depression
POST TRAIL DEPRESSION
Post Trail Depression