A new type of hangover…managing the post-race emotional hangover

a few of my peeps from the Mac Forest 50k last Saturday

a few of my peeps from the Mac Forest 50k last Saturday

Last Saturday I competed in the Mac Forest 50k here in Corvallis.  This race was the first, among 3, on my list of A-races for the year, the other two being Pine to Palm 100 Miler in September (Ashland, OR)  and The North Face 50 Miler in December (San Francisco, CA).  Racing to me these days is like a holiday, a chance to see friends, be around the fantastic community that is ultra-running, and to test out the accumulated fitness that I’ve dedicated myself to since my last training block, in this case my 12-hour run in the Mac back in February of this year, to celebrate my one year of sobriety.

On Saturday, as I looked around the crowd of folks who were about to embark on a 31 mile jaunt through the woods, all I could think about was how grateful I was to be surrounded by like-minded folks, many of which share the same values and selflessness, a signature mindset in the sport of ultra-running.  Furthermore, many of the folks at the race have been my support system over the last 15 months, the time that I have maintained my sobriety.  The point to this is that I could not have imagined a better place to be, a race environment with some great friends, I was in my element.

But what happens after such a positive and emotionally charged event such as Saturday?  This time around I was smacked in the face with a mean emotional hangover.  Physically the race itself was tough, I was sore and beat up for sure, but I’m used to that sort of pain, as I’ve been an endurance athlete all of my life.  Mentally was a different story.  On Monday of this week I was a wreck.  Agitated, exhausted, irritable, drained…the perfect storm for which I used to use an excuse to drink and cure my pain.  The trick with racing and me is that I only build, as I did for the Mac, 3-4 times per year, so it’s still a relatively new experience to manage what happens to my head after a big event.  Like anything else, it’s got to take practice, right?  Yesterday, Tuesday, was even worse.  I actually had some face to face conversations and work to do, even with people who I trust and can be honest with.  My head was all over the place, again. A year and a half ago if I had felt that way I would have driven straight to 7-11 after work and picked up a rack of IPA’s to help numb the emotional exhaustion that I had experienced that day.   I knew I was in rough shape when, as I was driving to work yesterday, I saw someone who I was involved with in the past, who I had not seen in a while, driving away from her new boyfriend’s house.  Just seeing her damn car put me into an emotional tailspin, which is ridiculous on several levels.  Normally, that wouldn’t have effected me as I’ve generally moved on from that situation, but because of the hung over state I was in, it threw me for a loop.  Maybe I still do have some buried resentments regarding that situation.  Maybe in this case my emotional hangover helped uncover the truth of something that I still have yet to settle in my head. I’m open to the idea, but also aware that yesterday I was extremely susceptible to and vulnerable to any sort of criticism and self judgement.

Today, Wednesday, is better.  I took the day off from work just to clear my head and gather my thoughts.  It helps to write down my emotions and feelings, to actualize the experience with written words.   I’ve also got some stuff to purchase that I need to help get ready for the next chapter in my life.  I see a trip to the North Face outlet in my immediate future 😉

Moving forward I expect to have this type of emotional experience again, after another big event. I imagine that the key to successfully dealing with these situations in the future is to keep tabs on my sense of mindfulness and presence, to look back at notes that I’ve taken over the last few days in my journal, and to work through the emotional pain one minute at a time, to take care of myself, to be good to myself, and to go easy on myself.  Respect the process Spence, if you’re not learning every single day, then what is the point.  Keep pushing, keep learning, keep loving, and keep having fun.

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