The good news is these conflicting feelings — of pride and insecurity, happiness and listlessness — are normal.
Dr. Caroline Silby, a former competitive figure skater who served as the sports psychologist for the US Figure Skating Team at the Pyeongchang Olympics, knows this firsthand. “You can be so happy about your personal record and feel this sense of loss that now you don’t have that experience to look forward to,” she said. “But holding those two [feelings] at the same time feels weird.”
I also wondered if this struggle might be felt more acutely for women in some ways. Personally, I faced a nagging sense that I was a fraud in my first workouts after the marathon. I was sure that I wasn’t as fit or athletic as my strong marathon showing had “tricked” me into thinking I was. That self-defeating voice in my head said that it was a fluke; I got lucky. I had a good day. It couldn’t possibly be that I’d worked hard, focused, and determined that positive result for myself. I felt like I had the athletic version of imposter syndrome – the phenomenon we most often hear about women struggling with in the workplace.
Dr. Silby didn’t seem surprised to hear about my experience. She said that when athletes connect their training wins and effort with their positive outcomes, they have a better chance at weathering these postevent crashes: “When you start to fundamentally understand kind of how you’re creating your own success, it is in the research that happiness levels go up.”
Of course, Dr. Silby recognizes that they can be easier said than done — especially for female athletes. Notably, crowing about our achievements isn’t exactly something girls are encouraged to do. “When you were a young girl, if you walked into a room of other girls and said, ‘Wow. I ran so fast today. I kicked ass!’ you would have no friends [laughter],” Silby said. “We don’t tend to give voice to our own accomplishments . . . so that connection is often overlooked.”