Running
Comments 15

Beware the post-marathon blues 

Blues guitar marathon

Forgive me for sounding just a little negative amongst all the excitement but I just want to bring up a rarely spoken about topic. Something that might be unexpected and out of character and could catch you unawares. If you’ve had a little warning you can stop this pesky thing in its tracks so let’s just take a bit of time to discuss it, after all being forewarned is being forearmed.

Spring marathon season is upon us and many of you will be tackling this distance for the first time. You’ve devoted hours of your life to preparing for it. Alongside the running there’s been the reading about running, the food prep, the stretching and the all important resting. You know how to lace trainers, deal with cramp, avoid chaffing and have intimate knowledge of every footpath in your area. The list is endless! You could probably sit in the big black Mastermind chair with your chosen specialised subject as ‘the intricacies of marathon preparation’. What you probably haven’t considered though is how you might feel afterwards.

There’s the obvious elation, the glory and the unquestionable satisfaction of completing 26.2 miles. This is something that only 1% of the population ever achieve. Running a marathon is powerful, it can change the direction of your life as you realise what dizzy heights you can climb to. If you can run a marathon you can do anything is not an unrealistic claim.

Remember back to school exams, A levels, GCSE’s (or O’levels if you’re older than me!)? Lots of revision and longing for them to be over and then BOOM, nothing, an anti-climax. Unfortunately the same can be said for marathons. It doesn’t affect everybody but it can catch you out.

When I was in the toilet queue for my first marathon (I meet some really interesting people in race toilet queues) a lady brought up this topic. After establishing it was my first marathon she said “Watch out, I got really depressed after my first marathon, it wasn’t how I expected and it was awful”. At the time I thought it was a particularly unhelpful thing to say. I thought she was a bit of a spoil sport to be honest. What a thing to mention before I’d even run the race. She was however absolutely right and I’m so grateful for her warning. I didn’t get depressed after the marathon but once the dust had settled and the prolonged runner’s high finally resolved there was a bit of a void. A feeling of ‘what now’?  I’d done what I’d always wanted to do… for years. It was almost as if I’d used up all those happy, feel-good endorphins and the cupboard was empty. My reaction was mild compared to some stories I’ve since heard. People do actually get depressed and struggle to move on.

You can suddenly not want to run. You can suddenly not know what you want to do at all. Tiredness, lethargy, apathy can set in. There’s confusion and disappointment about why you feel like this. It’s not what you were expecting to feel. It feels all wrong and you wonder why you bothered to do all that training in the first place if this is how you’re going to feel. You certainly don’t feel like conquering the world like people told you would. It’s rubbish really.

Just being aware that this can happen can make all the difference. Don’t pile pressure onto yourself, you’ve done enough of this over the preceding 16 weeks.

Just take a few moments now to plan what you can do if the post-marathon blues strike you. Here are some suggestions:

  • accept it’s normal to feel a bit low so don’t overreact
  • plan some treats for yourself with friends who make you laugh
  • book your next race so you have another target
  • join a running club if you haven’t already
  • encourage and help a non-runner to start; do a couch to 5k plan with them
  • try an entirely different distance or type of running
  • don’t run for a while and take up a new sport entirely and return to running as and when you want to
  • seek support from other runners who’ve experienced the same

It doesn’t affect everyone. It WILL pass and it WON’T be your lasting memory of your achievement. It is however certainly worth just keeping an eye out for it and taking some swift action to nip it in the bud.

Share your post-marathon stories below and if you haven’t run your marathon yet then GOOD LUCK!!

Image by Gratisography

This entry was posted in: Running

by

I'm a GP, mum of three, runner and health writer. I'm the resident GP for Women's Running UK and UKSportsChat. I'm a Champion for Physical Activity with Public Health England, Women's Health Lead and Master Coach for 261Fearless and Director of 261 Fearless Club UK. My Book 'Sorted: The Active Woman's Guide to Health' is available now and published by Bloomsbury Sport!

15 Comments

  1. I just completed my first marathon, at Brighton, and expected that I would feel different in some way. A friend of mine fell out of love with running altogether after a marathon. I had also heard of people feeling that dreadful anti-climax and expected that too. Without knowing which way I would feel, I didn’t want to pre-book any races for after the marathon. As it turns out, I feel the same way about running as I did before (I love it!) and rather than being deflated, I am really excited about running Parkrun tomorrow without thinking about saving my legs for a long training run. I also can’t wait to get back on the trails again soon, as these were neglected during road-training for the marathon over the winter. I have the local running guide to hand too, ready to look for a nice, easy 10km race!

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    • That’s brilliant to hear. Congratulations on Brighton!!!! Enjoy parkrun, I did my first one a couple of weeks ago. I loved it! Thanks for taking time to comment. X

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  2. This is really interesting. Having never run a marathon I had never considered the emotional impact of completing one, only the inevitable physical discomfort! My hubby has just done his first so I’ll ask if it’s something he is identifying with. Although looking at your ideas for coping list since he has both a triathlon and 10k looming perhaps he’ll be ok!

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    • I hope it went well for him. It doesn’t affect everyone but the feedback I’m getting is that it’s really common and not just for first-timers. X

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  3. Pingback: Another Double Marathon Challenge | Dr Juliet McGrattan

  4. Thank you for this post. I ran London two days ago as my first marathon and the blues are trickling in already. Struggling to get a sense of perspective on the whole thing, which I guess will come with time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • After such a high then a low is inevitable. Just know it’s normal and don’t feel guilty about it. Hope the tips help x

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  5. Heidi Muir says

    Thanks for this Dr Juliet, this is me. I completed London and everything has been fine, but here we are 10 days later and I’m suddenly feeling like a failure. I picked up an injury as well, so can’t even attempt a run at the moment. It’s good to know that I’m not alone and it will go away. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Massive congrats on London! You’ll be fine, just don’t be too hard on yourself. Make a plan for something new to focus on, even if it’s not running and just know that you’re normal!

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