euphoria The feeling you get when you achieve a goal you’ve been working so hard for. You’re up to it, but the weeks that follow are a surprise. A low mood, boredom, feeling lost often sets in and you are left wondering if this is normal. Everyone tells you about the months you need to prepare, the countless hours of planning, the endless amounts of discussions about it and what to expect on the day itself, but no one tells you what happens next.
Jack Thompson aka Jack Ultra Cyclisthe’s no stranger to the post-challenge blues and now factors it into his preparation, whether that includes taking time off the bike, doing things he’s missed, or just talking about how he feels.
“My first foray into challenges was the Taiwan KoM challenge,” Thompson told GravelBikes.Online. “When I finished the challenge I was very excited. I had a goal right away to make another one. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to do more.
“As I started doing more training, setting myself more ambitious goals and meeting them, that’s when I started to notice that I was experiencing this feeling of the blues. You have such a big build-up to any kind of challenge and there’s a lot of excitement around the build-up and the goal itself, and then suddenly it’s all over. I was experiencing a sense of loss when I lost the piloting structure that was needed to complete the challenges.
“For me this is what suffers the most, the lack of structure and concentration. Now I have realized that this is the cause for me.”
Thompson challenged himself to complete one million meters of elevation by 2022 (Image by Nik Howe)
His latest challenge lasted 12 months, seeing him climb a monumental million meters of altitude and complete one Everesting a week. After being wrapped up in this mammoth challenge for the past year, how do you go from being like a hamster on a wheel to not even touching the bike?
“I have three tactics I use now to keep the blues away. First and foremost is accepting that you know the goal is over.
“Secondly, I leave some time to enjoy what I have achieved. In the past, I’ve accomplished things and I’m already moving on to the next goal right away, but over time I’ve learned that rest is very important. You work so hard to do something for so long, you deserve some time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what you enjoyed.
“Throughout my challenges, both in the preparation and in the event itself, I make a list of the things I lack. And these can be silly things like I’d love to go to the movies on a Tuesday night and not worry about what time I’m going or if I have some kind of workout planned. Or that I would love two days in a row without a bike instead of one day off.
“Then when I’m struggling with that free time afterwards because I don’t have any structure or training to do, I look at the list I made and make a real effort to go do them.”
Thompson on his latest Everest challenge, making it his 52nd Everest of the year (Image by Nik Howe)
Sports psychologist Dr Karen Howells specializes in post-Olympic blues, researching how athletes feel when they return home after competing. Although her research looks specifically at Olympians, she said that feeling of feeling low after a challenge is almost universal, whether you’ve achieved a goal or not.
“If an athlete goes to a big event and doesn’t achieve their goals, or is defeated or disqualified, you might expect them to come back a little demotivated and negative, but it wouldn’t be a surprise anyway,” Howells said.
“What surprised me about my research was that those athletes who had achieved their personal best also returned unhappy. And even more surprising, the people who had won gold medals still experienced the same negative decline.”
Howells stresses the importance of having a multi-layered life. In other words, have other hobbies, passions and things you like, that you can do when you are not focusing on an event. He chose as an example Olympic diver Tom Daley, who can be seen knitting in the stands by the pool when he is not competing.
“Everyone made fun of him for sitting in the stands knitting, but it’s so different and separate from diving that this will allow him to turn off and reset from any negative thoughts.”
Thompson has made a career out of being an ultra-cyclist, and to his 31,000 Instagram followers, that’s what he’s known for. He now makes a conscious effort to pursue his other hobbies so that his whole identity is not just one-dimensional.
“It’s very strange because this journey for me started as a hobby and turned into a career,” he said. “So I’ve had to look outside the box of the things I like and find new hobbies. I was born in Australia and I love surfing so I finished my million meter challenge in Perth where my family live so I could surf. This helped a lot as it took my mind off not having to ride a bike and gave my brain another focus.
“I think having another hobby or an escape is really important. It can be so one-dimensional if you just live and breathe that one thing. You never know what can happen and if that thing goes away or you’re hurt, I think you open yourself up to be in a very dark place.”
Thomson said he sometimes felt like a hamster on a wheel (Image by Cyril Chermin)
Having a goal, often your life (and sometimes your friends and family) can revolve around that single focus. Whether that’s your workout routine, the conversations you have with people, how and what you eat, or having to miss social events to stick to your plan. But once it’s all over, when those involved go back to everyday normalcy, you can be left with this void in your life. Howells stresses the importance of talking to someone if you’re experiencing these negative feelings, explaining that even gold-medal Olympians felt lost and alone when they returned home from the Olympics. Howells criticized the sports industry as a whole, saying “we’re shorting athletes when they need support the most”.
Chris Hall he’s another man who has put his body through grueling challenges and has to be even more aware of his mental health after suffering from depression since childhood. Therefore, after completing some of his challenges, he has chosen to speak with a counselor.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in talking to a counselor,” Hall said. “I’m a big believer in how good it is to talk to someone, and I think there’s a stigma that it’s a sign of weakness, but in all honesty, I think it’s a real sign of strength to be able to recognize that it’s the right thing to do “.
Hall points to his 7Everest challenge as one of the hardest trips he’s ever done and one of the hardest to overcome in the weeks that followed. Feelings of utter exhaustion, both physical and mental, consumed him. She had to step away from social media and her usual routine to complete the seven-day challenge.
Hall during the 7Everests challenge in 2022 (Image by Jack Hague)
“People always see the high and the celebrations of completing something,” Hall added. “I think for everyone there’s always going to be some kind of slump afterwards, whether it’s minor or an outright slump. I think that’s because you’ve spent so much of your physical and mental time focusing on that one thing, already whether it’s your first 100 mile ride, time trial, road race or ultra challenge. You need to be more aware that this feeling is normal.”
Thompson agreed with the importance of normalizing that feeling, adding that people shouldn’t let feelings of guilt creep in about resting or taking time off the bike. “It’s been two and a half weeks since I finished my challenge in December,” he said. “I also don’t feel guilty because I know that in February I’m going to want to get back on my bike. , and I want to feel it. I don’t want to think that the next time I get back on the bike I wish I had an extra week because I don’t I took the time to rest.”
Whether you’ve run 100 miles or 10,000 miles, a challenge for the day or an entire year, it can be common to feel a little down when you’ve reached a goal, even for people whose careers focus on these challenges or events feel the same. The key is to expect yourself to feel this way after any achievement, so take it easy and talk to someone who can support you.