“The challenge of ultrarunning is 90 percent mental and the other 10 percent is all in our heads” –Canadian Ultra-runner Ray Zahab star of “Running in the Sahara”
Anyone who has ever stepped foot on the course of an ultra-Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) event knows how much of a mental game it can be. You will see physically weaker athletes on event day surpass those who can beat them in every other distance, based solely on their mental strength. After 24 hours of OCR, your mind has been through a lot. While I talk a lot about endurance techniques in my books Ultra-OCR Bible, Ultra-OCR Man and in the upcoming On Endurance (publishing Spring 2022), I don’t talk much about what happens to you mentally afterward. Here’s a rundown based off of the 15x 24-hour OCRs I’ve completed and the annual Ultra-OCR events I run for charity, which often last multiple days:
First Hour: The first hour I’ll call the “Option A or Option B Phase”. Depending on how I’m physically feeling I’m either in one of two categories. I’m either very happy (Option A) because I had a great race, great experience and I’m in pain (but not a lot). Or I just want to go back to the hotel, shower, and lay down (Option B). It’s usually a little of A and then rapidly turns into B as my desire to lay down, eat food and get out of my wet clothes into clean dry ones becomes my priority.
First Day: The “Man It Feels Good To Be Alive Phase”. The honeymoon phase is in full effect the first day after the race. While my body is in pain, this is the most pain it will be during the recovery process. Even so, my sense of accomplishment is maxed out. This is one of the reasons I strongly recommend going to the Champions Brunch on Monday after World’s Toughest Mudder. You’ll feel like you’ve conquered the world and nothing can stop you. (Except going down stairs with any sort of speed.)
First Week: Your sense of accomplishment and post-race endurance high may last for a couple of days but by the end of the week you’ll start the “Post-Race Blues Phase”. For a couple of days around the race you may have been the center of attention with a pit crew taking care of you, friends posting encouraging comments on social media, and likes pouring in on your post-race pictures. Now what? Everyone else continues on with their normal lives and social media shifts attention to the next big race weekend. The high of the weekend has worn off as you go back to work and your normal life.
First Month: After dedicating so much time and effort to a single event you’ll enter “The Lost Phase”. Surprisingly, this is usually worse if your race went well. If you were striving for that brown 50-mile bib at World’s Toughest Mudder, and now you have it, you may be wondering “what’s next?” Emotionally you are lost and you are looking for the next big goal to put on your plate. This is pretty normal. Take a couple of days to evaluate your goals and shoot for something else that works for you. If you barely earned your 50-mile brown bib, perhaps saying you’re going to get 75 miles next year (a 50% increase in performance) may be a task too hard unless you are dramatically changing your training. Find a new goal that is realistic, attainable, and feasible based on how much time and energy you are willing to pour into training. Make a plan, start training and go forth to do great things.
During a 24 hour race you will experience an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. What most people don’t mention is the ride isn’t over at the finish line. That rollercoaster can continue for weeks or months afterward. Don’t get stressed out though. Enjoy the ride! Those lows will make the highs that much better. Stay focused, bounce back and make sure you say hi at the next Ultra-OCR. It helps everyone stay motivated.
If you missed “What Happens To Your Body After 24 hours of OCR?” head back and read it.