Image Of Justin Snair Running Up A Trail With Mountains In The Background

Post-Race Blues: Why It Happens & What to Do About It

BY Phil White

Post-race blues happen to even the best athletes. Understanding why it happens can help you mitigate or even prevent them from happening in the first place.

Whether it hits hard when you break the tape or creeps in more gradually later, sadness after a big race is a bear that attacks many endurance athletes. But why does it exist at all, and is it a natural, anticlimactic reaction or a mindset problem that you need to overcome?

Before we jump into the broader issue at hand, let’s take a closer look at Justin Snair’s story. A military veteran turned expert in health security and a leader, he lives just down the road from me in Evergreen, Colorado. When he isn’t envisioning and developing AI tools through his startup,, Snair is a prolific ultra trail runner. And even he isn’t immune to the post-race blues.

Justin Snair’s Story

“I’d gone from being so badly injured that I had to relearn how to walk again to completing one of the hardest trail runs in the world,” said mountain athlete Justin Snair. “But when I crossed the finish line, I didn’t feel what I expected — satisfaction. Instead, I felt empty.” 

The 62-mile Canyons Endurance Run by UTMB is a demanding ultra race in its own right. It’s also a qualifier for the UTMB World Series Finals at Mont-Blanc, Switzerland. As the 2022 iteration of the race approached, Snair was ready. Or so he thought. He’d felt tenderness along his ankle during a short shake-out run the day before but figured he could race. All was going well in the early stages, and he was moving steadily up the field. 

Then mile 41 happened. Suddenly, Snair rolled his ankle, and something in his lower leg snapped. He couldn’t run or even lift his leg without stabbing pain. He already passed the final aid station that allowed crew assistance a few miles earlier, so he pushed through the searing pain. He limped his way through 20 miles to the finish, swearing at trees in frustration along the way. 

From Comeback to Post-Race Letdown

Snair soon found out that his injury was worse than he thought. He had completely snapped his peroneal tendon, requiring surgery to regain normalcy. “A surgeon at the Steadman Clinic told me that without surgery, I’d probably be able to run again at about 90 to 95 percent function, fine for most running hobbyists but not good enough for the highly competitive running I’ve done for nearly 30 years,” Snair said. With surgery, the doctors believed Snair could be stronger than ever. But it would cost him almost 10 months away from racing, and he’d have to learn to walk and then run again. 

While debating whether or not to go under the knife, Snair said he asked himself two questions: 

“What’s five to 10 percent of function worth to me?” Everything, he said.

“Am I ready for my racing career to be over?” No, he wasn’t.

So he had the surgeons stitch him back together.

He began a grueling rehab, and one year later, he overcame the original injury and movement compensations that altered his gait in the first place. He was on his way to Chamonix, France, raring to go at the 56k OCC course in the UTMB World Series Finals. He objectively did well in the Alps, placing 150th out of 1,749 racers. But something felt off.

“If this was a Disney movie, I would’ve got hurt in Canyons, hobbled the 20 miles to finish anyway, rehabbed my leg, and then shot across the finish line of OCC with a Chariots of Fire expression of triumph,” Snair said. “That’s what I expected, so it came as a surprise when I felt totally disappointed in that moment.” Then he spent the next few days feeling profoundly glum, contemplating retirement.

Rather than spending time considering what he liked most about running, Snair’s answer was to sign up for three more (albeit shorter) races to finish out the year. At 41 years old, he figured a go at the national master’s championship title in the trail half marathon would make him happy. So he continued training for several more months. 

“After such a long struggle to race competitively again, I felt as though I should honor the privilege,” he said. “But I wasn’t enjoying the idea of another big race.” 

But just two weeks out from the national championship, struggling with motivation and nagging aches, Snair stopped. What was going on? A classic case of post-race blues, or something more serious?

Staring Down the Arrival Fallacy

In the book Happier, psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar explained that the “arrival fallacy” is at the heart of a post-performance emotional slump. And it can happen to anyone: a triathlete following a race, an actor after an awards ceremony, or an employee once they earn a big promotion. It’s what happens when “this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” he told The New York Times

Ben-Shahar experienced this letdown firsthand when he was a competitive squash player. “I thought if I win this tournament, then I’ll be happy,” he said. “And I won, and I was happy. And then the same stress and pressure and emptiness returned.” Sound familiar?

He suggests that if we put all our competitive eggs in one basket, we will inevitably feel deflated afterward, regardless of the outcome. This isn’t to say that goal setting is bad, and Ben-Shahar believes it’s an antidote for settling for mediocrity. Rather, he recommends setting several concurrent goals for sports, life, and other interests at any one time. He also advocates for trying to derive satisfaction from the community that we can become a part of while chasing our goals.

Find Your Community

This approach is also advocated by coaches like Mary Johnson, who guides cohorts of athletes looking to achieve specific race goals, such as women hoping to break three hours in the marathon. 

“Breaking 3 isn’t just about finishing the Boston, New York, or London marathons in less than three hours,” she told me. “Most of the joy comes from the journey we take together to get there. It’s also in meeting up with everyone in the group a couple of days before the race and spending the weekend together. We become a family. So if anyone either falls short of their goal or experiences post-race blues afterward, they’ve at least met a lot of new friends and feel like they belong.”

Are Post-Race Blues Normal?

Perhaps the post-race emptiness Snair experienced is one of the main factors that prompts many Olympians to quit after competing in only one Games. Sure, it feels great to represent your country at the highest level, and the years of dedication and hard work are unquestionably noble. But whether they win a medal, make the final, or don’t make it past the heats, the slump on the other side is so profound that many athletes often don’t have the wherewithal to keep going. So they quit and move on to a new challenge, whether it’s in another career or other non-Olympic competitions. 

Seeing that even Olympic athletes aren’t immune, it’s unsurprising that the rest of us sometimes let post-race blues drag us down. But rather than catastrophizing this sensation, perhaps we simply need to reframe it.

“Post-race blues aren’t something to fear or be ashamed of,” said sports psychologist Jim Afremow, author of The Champion’s Mind. “It’s perfectly natural to get on the other side of a goal – whether you achieved it or fell short of your own expectations – and feel like you’re in a slump. Much like pre-race nerves, it’s just part of a normal racing experience.”

Redefine Success and Know Your “Why”

Afremow suggests journaling your feelings throughout your next race journey, including the days after the event. Honestly record your emotions and perspectives, and then try to put them in context. On a practical level, he also recommends giving yourself a little grace if you didn’t quite hit the mark. Likewise, permit yourself to celebrate the achievement if you hit your goal. 

There’s nothing wrong with being goal-oriented, but if you turn something into a live or die moment, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if things don’t go your way,” Afremow said. “Whereas if you come to embrace and enjoy the process and are grateful for the opportunity and the people who helped you get to the start line – like your coach, family, and friends – then you’ll come out a winner no matter what. And you might even banish the post-race blues.”

This is similar to the mindset that Snair has put into practice since feeling down after his race in Switzerland. Rather than making one event the be-all and end-all, he has deliberately looked for satisfaction and self-actualization along the way.

“Being surprised by feeling so empty after that race prompted me to reexamine why I run in the first place,” he said. “I’ve come to realize that I love the sensation of being out in the trees on a mountainside, and I’m thankful for living in a beautiful place that I’d pay to come train or race in. By taking more time to reflect, I’ve become self-aware to the point that racing is no longer the point – it’s just one outcome. I love the training, the process of self-improvement, and being outside every day. So now it won’t matter how I feel after a race because it’s just another step on the path.” 


Afremow, James. (2015, May 12). The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive. Retrieved from

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007, May 31). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. Retrieved from Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment

Morgan, K. (2018, February 23). After the Olympics, Some Olympians Will Just Give Up. Retrieved from

Shilton, A. (2019, May 28). You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?. Retrieved from

Stickland, A. (2016, August 22). After the Olympics: The next paths for elite athletes. Retrieved from

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About Phil White
Phil White is an Emmy-nominated writer and the co-author of The 17 Hour Fast with Dr. Frank Merritt, Waterman 2.0 with Kelly Starrettand Unplugged with Andy Galpin and Brian Mackenzie. Learn more at and follow Phil on Instagram @philwhitebooks.

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