From the finish line, to home

photo: ATRA / Richard Bolt
photo: Jamil Coury

I made it! We made it. Now it’s back to Earth. Mental health has consistently been my greatest challenge and the relatively low-key days after a big race are often pretty depressing. Pre-race issues didn’t magically go away. Work, and schedules, are still looming ahead. My body’s chemistry is completely out of whack. But, there are a few things I’ve learned to make the re-entry to non-race life more manageable.

Sam Sahli was #1 for the US Team! photo: ATRA / Richard Bolt

Number one. That’s you. Everything you did that made it hard to move your legs after the finish line also, presently, make it hard to think clearly. This is Race Brain. It starts on the course, but lasts much longer. So, be patient with yourself. I spent the day after the Trail World Championships exploring Lisbon and Sintra with my teammate Liz Ryan. We nearly missed every stop/transfer on the metro. We sometimes had the same conversation twice. Intentions to talk about non-running topics collapsed right back into race stories and training strategies or blankly staring out the window. On the way to the city, I realized that I failed to click the final “confirm” button on my Airbnb booking. That’s OK! Just roll with it and have a good laugh. That is, until you have to deal with…

Emergency food input. You won’t feel like eating, until you do…and then you have a new priority in life. No calorie is safe within arm’s reach. The timing is hard to predict, so it’s a good idea to have a few egg cream pastries (Travesseiro de Sintra) on-hand for immediate consumption. Or several meat/cheese baguette sandwiches. 12 sardines? Anything. You’ll be fine for a while (like, 2 hrs) before it happens again. No worries. Just keep eating. You have a lot of damage to repair and you want to turn it into strength if you can. The same goes for a sudden need to sit or lay down. I’ve found several extremely comfortable patches of cobblestone in the last few days. Stop moving for a moment.

photo: ATRA / Richard Bolt

While you rest, find a way to be positive about the race. If you crushed your goal or won a loaf of the race director’s mom’s banana bread (my all time favorite prize), then just be happy. Easy. If the race was a learning experience, define those lessons. Realize that this might take a while to puzzle out, even for a PR. Give it a go and, when you hit a roadblock, call your friends/family. I haven’t actually been able to do this yet, since my phone doesn’t speak Portuguese cell-tower, but I love to call my grandma after a race. It makes both of our days. After answering some race-questions, I get the download on the latest shenanigans from the knitting group, 4th of July party planning at the lake, and family-tree research project. We follow that up by sharing secret recipes and cooking tips and whatever else comes to mind.

Ask people what they did last weekend, genuinely. As much as you are taking care of yourself, start working back to a better balance of being in your community – not solely in your own head. Find a small way to help somebody else. I cannot move very fast at the moment, but I am still tall enough to reach a person’s cane in the back of the overhead bin on the 10 hour flight back to Seattle. I can also take pictures for other tourists and pick up some forgotten plastic cups at a Portugal Day festival.

Check out the fine-arts. They are particularly inspiring when in a state of physical and mental deconstruction. Spend an hour on one room of a museum. Listen to music (some here: Saturated Saturday selectionswithout doing anything else. Really listen.

As you settle back into a regular routine, get a few things done that you’ve been putting off. This usually seems stressful until I take a deep breath and make a quick list. What’s on the back burner? Baking cookies. Perfect.

Lastly, go for a run. Easy, short, FUN. Remember all the effort you put into the training journey and celebrate. Use your legs to jog somewhere (a brewery!) that is not a finish line. Dream about the future and start thinking about where you’ll go next!

photo & van: Derek Reiff

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