Post-race blues: Grief in athletic achievement

Sunday, May 05, 2019 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

It was my first Spartan race. No; it was my first race as a vegan. No, wait – it was my first race of any sort in my entire life. I lifted a 75-pound Atlas ball from the ground all by myself, carried a 70-pound bucket around a field without help, and breezed through the Hercules hoist in five seconds as if pulling a 75-pound sandbag up a pulley was peanuts.

Stef dela Cruz Vegan Strong Philippines Spartan Race

I had never felt stronger my entire life.

So, after I got my first-ever finisher medal, I went home and cried all night, grieving a loss I didn't understand and feeling like I just lost everything that mattered to me.

Wait. What?

Post-race blues: Sad for no good reason

It started right after the race. Something felt amiss, like I left a huge chunk of me before I reached the finish line.

As I walked back to where the rest of the team was waiting, I felt grief wash over me in waves. I didn't understand. Why was I sad? Why was I overcome with a feeling of grief? It felt like someone close to me died.

Everyone else around me was happy and enjoying their post-race endorphins. Me, on the other hand? I was pretending to be okay. I couldn't interact like the normal me. Overall, it sucked ass.

It was only after hours of crying my eyes out that I tried to look for answers. I realized what was going on with me: I was suffering from a commonly reported but medically underdocumented phenomenon: post-race blues.

What was fascinating about post-race blues was that it could happen to an athlete even if there was no reason to be upset. Imagine running your best race and setting a personal record, only for you to feel overwhelmed with extreme sadness hours to days after. If anything, the lack of something to be upset about adds to the grief: the confusion makes one feel even more miserable because it sucks to feel sad about nothing.

Pretty huge obstacle

People look up to athletes with physical issues: “Wow, he can climb ropes even without legs,” or, “She walks with a cane but finishes an obstacle course in record time!” Many of us look up to them so much that when it comes to achieving race goals, we tell ourselves, “We have no excuse.” But the very people who put these athletes with physical disabilities on a pedestal might not even feel comfortable when they realize you're an athlete with mental health issues.

The stigma of mental health problems is real. It is also utterly unwarranted, not to mention harmful.

I know that my mind has always been broken – I think I was born this way. I am, after all, the daughter of someone who battled schizophrenia his entire adult life. However, my spirit remains whole. It reassembles itself and grows new parts whenever it gets frayed or worse for wear.

I fight despite my invisible disability. I accept who I am and move forward, recognizing the Spartan in me and overcoming any obstacle that comes my way – even the ones the rest of my vegan-strong team might never experience their entire lives.

As they say in our language, partida. I finished the Spartan race despite my mental crutch. If anything, I underestimated my own strength, what with the obstacles I had to overcome that day continuing well beyond the race... and well beyond the physical realm.

Having said that, as a friend once said, it's okay to not be okay. I am okay with my post-race blues. I see it, I feel it, I recognize it, I accept it, and I can live with it. (Here's how to overcome post-race blues.)

Ah, well. Too bad I don't get a finisher t-shirt and a medal for overcoming this particularly emotional obstacle.
Wondering if I'm joining the race again? Of course, I am! If you knew me well enough, you would know I'm not one to quit. My vegan spirit can deadlift more than my puny body.

And before I forget, I would like to thank my Spartan team, Vegan Strong Philippines, for the love and support. AROO!

SPOILER: A personal post about life lessons gleaned from deadlift training up ahead. Stay tuned!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!