Picking up the pieces – How to re-motivate yourself after a big race

I’m sure we’ve all been there many times… You spend months training for your ‘A’ race for the year and then after the glory of finishing that race comes the inevitable question – How the hell do I pick myself up after all that? How can I possibly refocus for another big campaign of training?

We think that’s what make ultras special is the obscene amount of time and effort, both physically and emotionally that you put into them over many months of training – this is why we can often experience lulls.

On a personal level, I have immense respect for those people who do miler after miler seemingly at will. Take for instance our own Darrel ‘Poppy’ Robins and his run of mammoth run of 100 milers over the last few years. In 2010/11 he did the Aussie Grand Slam (Glasshouse 100, Great Ocean Walk 100, GNW 100 and C2K), then followed this up with the Northburn 100 and North Face 100 in May. Six huge runs in just eight months.

But how does he and all those other guys do it? After experiencing the massive high of training for and completing these big 100 milers, I’ve personally found it hard sometimes to get back into some form of groove a few weeks after and I think we can fall into a few traps of trying to get back into it too soon, or simply drifting through a few months of training without really having any focus. If you find this to be the case, have a read of the following tips that we’ve pulled together to help you overcome the post-race blues and make sure your motivation comes back flooding in anger!

Proper rest and recovery

All too often after you’ve completed a big race, it’s tempting to get straight back into training thinking that you can just carry off where you left off. The reality is that if you’ve just done a huge mountainous 100 miler, your body will need a good 4-6 week period of rest and recovery before you can start to contemplate the rigours of training once again – it’s important to give your body a chance to rest.

But what about those guys who complete the GNW 100 miler and then go off and run C2K?  With only 4 weeks to play with, these guys don’t have the luxury of 6 weeks off, but R&R is still important and it’s about shifting your mindset according to Ultra168 member, Andrew Vize. Having completed the double two years on the trot and done very well at both, he treats GNW like his last long training run for C2K and then lets the rest take care of its self. As AJW, 7-time Western States top ten finisher says, the training has been done and the barn doors are closed – no point in trying to gather anymore hay…

Resting up is good, just ask him...
Resting up is good, just ask him...

Mike Le Roux, current Aussie 100 mile record holder offers his thoughts, “Take a few days after the race that’s not at home. For example after Ultraman, I planned to stay in Hawaii after the race for R&R, and by the time I got back to Australia and my usual routine I was ready in body and mind to hit the road again. Cross training after racing is always a great way to ease into it– get in the pool, get on your bike, go to the gym – it’ll keep you fit and give you break from your usual exercise regime.”

Nikki Wynd, AURA female ultra runner of the year adds, “After a tough race when I feel like I just need a break from racing, (which often for me is the mental side of things more so than the physical), I tend to do no running and just do a heap of cross training.  When we are in full on running training we average about 150kms per week and this makes it hard to fit other things in.  I’m a member of a gym and love spin, boxing and pilates classes, so when I’m having a recovery week or I find that my motivation for running is slipping I just spend a week or two doing the “fun” stuff. I do spin & boxing classes, some yoga and pilates and meet up with some girlfriends for a walk up in the Dandenongs, and then eventually my body & brain lets me know when its ready to go again.” 

Remember to enjoy this period of relaxation too and not feel guilty for taking time out. Eat those foods that you banned yourself from eating for months on end to get yourself in tip-top shape. Cake can be your friend…

Mental recovery and forward planning

Walk this way for some mental recovery

This can often be severely overlooked by most runners, yet it is vital to our longer-term longevity. While we all love running and the freedom it brings, there’s a saying that you can have too much of a good thing. As runners we find it hard to let go of the notion of running as we can often become paranoid about losing our fitness or a streak we may have on the go.

Having a good few weeks off completely is not just great for the physical side but is also a great mental boost. You need to get that inner hunger back, that desire to hit the trails hard again. Otherwise it’s all too easy to end up in a training rut, feeling like you’re just going through the motions with no direction.

Mike says, “Always have the next race ‘planned’ before you cross the finish line, otherwise it’s easy to fall into the doldrums and the longer you stay there the harder it becomes to start again.”

Likewise, plan appropriately for your next race. Don’t assume that just because you were in the shape of your life prior to your last big race that this will carry on after you’ve finished it. It’s a mistake I’ve made a few times now in that I’ve tried to carry on training to the level that I was beforehand. We try to take shortcuts, believing that we can get back to that same level of fitness. Don’t even bother.

Nikki Wynd on her way to another victory in 2011 (image courtesy of fstop5.com)

Nikki adds, “I have my whole year mapped out until December 2012 so therefore once a race is over my head is already focused on the next event.  I have been lucky enough that I have never felt my motivation go and probably the hardest thing for me is to back off on training and remind myself after a hard race that I need to rest the body and take it easy for a week or so.  I was actually talking to a training partner a few weeks ago after we did Maroondah Dam 50km where we both had a really good result and we actually said that when you have a good result in a race it actually motivates you to train even harder!”

If you’re serious about your next big race, start back from zero and treat it as an entirely new block of training. From a personal experience, I was just about to race 6ft track this year before injury hit. I now have 6 months to get ready for UTMB in August. The new training block starts here. Yes I may have some fitness from my training for 6ft, but it’s a new block that requires a different format of training. I’ll use that fitness and it’s a bonus, but make sure you have clear boundaries between the different races you’re training for and understand what it is you need to do for those races. I always find it really exciting when I draft a new training plan as it feels like a new era in my running.

How do I motivate myself if I am doing a number of big races in a short period?

If you’ve signed up to do a number of big races in succession (which we know some do), how do you keep yourself going? Mike le Roux will be aiming to take out the US Grand Slam this year and be the first Aussie to bring home the title, so how is he preparing?

Mike Le Roux

“All my hardest training will be complete by the time I race Western States. This means that I have approx 3 weeks between each race, to recover, find some form, and then refresh for the next one. So in reality I’m not going to need to back-up huge volumes of training in between races, which is less taxing mentally and physically.

“I know that I will find inspiration and motivation in being is new places in the States to run trails (San Francisco/Canada/Colorado), outdoors with old friends and hopefully new friends. I’ll be wanting to hit the trails every day – the trick will probably be holding myself back from running too much in between the races! As far as re-motivation goes I think it helps a lot that I love to run. It probably is different that I’m not going back to work in between races – it’s my ‘summer of running’ and I’m pretty pumped about my plans for the whole time I’m there.

“With four races in such close succession I can’t really pick an “A” race. Because they are 4 big races over such a short space of time, my training program is based around peaking on the second and third race. It’s too hard to peak for the first one and maintain that form for 11 weeks.”

How do the top guys do it?

Phil ‘Spud’ Murphy has a running CV to envy us all. He’s completed the Australia ‘Triple Crown’ no less than five times. For those not in the know, that’s the Glasshouse 100 miler, GNW 100 miler and C2K all within four months of each other. In our book that’s a pretty super achievement. Here’s what he does to keep things fresh and how he plans for those races.

How do you plan for racing 3 big 100 miler+ runs in 4 months? Do you pick an ‘A’ race, or just try and run each as hard as you can?

“I have run the triple crown 5 times and would say that only last year was the first time I had an ‘A’ Race, which was GNW. I ran a PB at Glasshouse which set me up nicely with a lot of confidence going into GNW. C2K went well too but that was off the back of some good recovery and general fitness.

However usually, I will try to race each one as hard as I can, which works out most of the time but I have no doubt dropping one in order to race an ‘A’ race would be more beneficial (say GNW for C2K)”

How do you re-motivate yourself after GNW for C2K?

“Firstly you have to love what you do and secondly be a little obsessive about it. I like to set goals that challenge me and the Triple Crown certainly does that. I do struggle with motivation at times to be honest and have occasionally decided not to race. I find this helps re-kindle the flame and get the motivation back. Example 2010 when I decided to have a break from C2K, I really missed being out there and couldn’t wait to get back last year..I believe this is important (to break the streak addiction) as it is easy to fall into the trap of running for the sake of accumulating finishes…etc. Running Streaks can be evil things :)”

How do you plan your training around the big three?

“I am a big advocate for consistency in training and typically build up my base mileage in the cooler part of the year June onwards and maintain that right up until the silly season starts. I like to get a few 80-100km training runs in too in the final 8 weeks leading up to GH and this has worked well for me in the past. After GH I would have a week off and get back into normal training volumes with a taper then leading into GNW. Between GNW and C2K (3-4 weeks) I don’t do too much, concentrating on recovery, eating, drinking and sleeping well with runs no longer than one hour just to keep the legs rolling over. The base training is done, it’s just all about how well you recover.”

What tips/tricks do you use to get yourself back up for these races? Do you find it hard or does it come easy?

“Eat, drink and sleep well along with daily stretching to avoid any niggles getting out of hand. I usually back up quite well but have found it gets tougher the older I get.

My mileage at its peak is not huge, typically 120-140kms/week but usually just over 100kms, nowhere near the volumes some runners do, I think that helps too, I find diminishing returns when I nudge 100 mile weeks. I like to have the odd Sunday off to help keep some balance with family life and allow the body to recover.”

Like our articles? Take a second to support Ultra168 on Patreon from as little as $1 a month!
Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “Picking up the pieces – How to re-motivate yourself after a big race

  1. Great Article. Thanks! I have my first North Face 100 coming up in 9 weeks and have needed to look beyond as to what to do next. Ultra 168 has helped me see that more is possible.
    Thanks for the inspiration, very much appreciated.

    1. You’re more than welcome Shane, and we hope your trains is going well. Here at ultra168 we can’t wait for TNF100, and we’re all raring to go, but a fair few weeks of training yet! All the best and good luck.

  2. Or you can get hit by a car and have a forced rest. Good article, helpful for a compulsive overtrainer that seems to hit a speed wall

Leave a Reply