Running a marathon takes a toll on your body and your mind. Months of getting up at zero-dark-thirty to train. Months of tracking mileage, time goals, calories and eating low-inflammation foods. And remember, the first man who did the race distance you run at the end of those months DIED. After the race, you've accomplished your goal (or not, but you'll live) and suddenly there's nothing and no marathons to train for. What do we do with all this free time not running?!
It's totally normal to feel lost and depressed in the weeks following a marathon or ultramarathon. We know, we've been there, and we're here to help you through your blues. We asked real runners about their experiences with post-marathon depression and the best ways to get out of the funk. Here were the top tricks for getting back to normal:
Never meditated before? Whether you had a phenomenal race or a DNF, meditation is the perfect thing to do after a marathon. It's 100% mental, so you won't risk injury in your delicate post-race body. Schedule it in your training calendar just like you did for your runs. Take time to reflect on your rigorous (or not-so-rigorous) training, how you performed mentally and physically during the race, and what you learned during the training and racing process.
2. Eat whatever the hell you want.
Seriously though. Marathons take a HUGE toll on your glycogen stores and many runners don't eat enough the day of their marathon or ultramarathon. It takes time to build those stores back up! This was a really common strategy we heard from a lot of ultrarunners we asked. Coaches I've had encouraged me to have a "fat week" after a big race; this meant I could eat whatever the hell I wanted, full stop. Ice cream for breakfast? Good source of calcium. Cookies with every meal? Why not? Pizza and beer for dinner? That's a definite yes (cough-that's-a-meal-I-eat-every-Thursday-cough). The idea behind this is that 1) you deserve it after months of restricting yourself to healthy foods and 2) at the end of the "fat week" your body will be craving healthy food after a full week of sugar crashes. We are all for having those treats during training too, in moderation :)
3. Get a massage.
Treat yo'self like a pro athlete. The pros get massages regularly for a reason. Not only will getting a massage help break up your knotty muscles and help speed your physical recovery so you can walk down stairs again, massages are the perfect "me time" activity to schedule in after a marathon. Even just laying down with your feet on the wall helps drain all those toxins. Enjoy it.
3. Engage in another active hobby
Having a backup active (or non-active!) hobby like pilates, yoga, hiking, cycling, swimming etc is a great way to get you moving again after a marathon. Motion is lotion. After a marathon, you're basically injured (or literally, in which case go to the doctor), and gentle cross-training will allow you to be active without burning you out. Or hey, those fun hobbies you never have time for because you run marathons, like painting, reading, traveling, the sky is the limit and now is the time!
4. Get back to training (once you're physically AND mentally ready)
A lot of the runners we talked with said they lacked a sense of structure and purpose after a marathon. As we mentioned above, scheduling meditation, a massage, and other activities for when you normally do your runs (or sleep in and schedule them for after work for god's sake, you deserve the sleep), can help re-create that structure and purposeful activity. It's also super helpful to have a post-marathon training plan (yes, including a "fat week"! We recommend planning out a running rehab plan before your marathon instead of "winging it," or you risk running too much too soon. It can be tempting to sign up for a race immediately after your marathon, and many runners we talked to (we're guilty too) said this was their #1 way for beating the blues. Either way, remember to evaluate whether or not it's the best thing for your overall health and wellbeing. If you decide yes, awesome, if you decide no more racing for awhile, equally awesome. You do you.
Read first-hand accounts of marathon depression and how to recover from real runners here:
Alex H:"I always [get post-marathon blues], regardless of how it went. I just finished my first 50-miler, and three days after I was down. I usually get over it by reflecting on where I started and where I am going. I took me a few days, but getting back out there and logging some miles helped. I also do a lot of meditation. Just being present with me, myself, and I. Rich Roll really helped me to understand this particular practice and it has been extremely helpful in getting through all the bad times, so I can bask in the good times. I am in my off season now, but I have kept my days interesting with some little "fun" goals, as I like to call them. I use the time to try new things, do stuff I wouldn't do otherwise, and to relax. All of this really helps orient me for my next race and season."
Rachel K: "...I feel like race prep is me putting away savings in my emotional bank, and then the race is a full cash withdrawal--everything out of savings. People say the difference between marathons and ultra marathons is in between your ears, and I would have to agree. For me, it's a mental game for sure...Since our brain controls our emotions, and moods it makes sense to me that when it's exhausted it's easy to slip into a depressive state.
I'm usually a very upbeat, positive person, so when I shift after a 100 miler it can be weird for people close to me. I think I have done enough now that many of my friends know what's up, and realize I'll be back to my usual self after a bit.
The first time I ran 100 miles, post race I felt like I was just in this gray hole. I wasn't expecting the huge emotional comedown and it felt like it lingered forever...but each subsequent race I have run, I have dealt with it better, especially since I know the blues are coming. If I'm home right after the race I just give myself at least 2-3 weeks to fully embrace it. Sleep in instead of working out, meditate, all while knowing it will pass once I have a chance to recover. If I run 100 miles somewhere scenic sometimes I will take a mini post-race vacation with my husband and we will hike in the mountains, and relax and it seems to soften my mood. Most recently this last September I ran a race in the mountains of Colorado, and after the race my husband and I took a vacation and drove to aspen to see and hike the Maroon Bells, and then to Moab and hiked around there, then New Mexico, and finally back to CO to see friends and hike a bit more. I still felt the blues a bit on the edges of my consciousness but being out in the wilderness with my husband held it off and made it easier. I have learned that its ok to fully embrace the blues. Sometimes it means that I just don't have the desire to be social. I'm an artist and sometimes I just can't be creative for a time after running. To keep things in perspective I try to remember how lucky I am to be able to run so many miles in the woods, and how my feet can carry me to so many amazing places that many others won't ever get to experience."
Greg H:"I hit a post-marathon depression after my first marathon and didn't run another race for a year. It took me about 3 months to get back out there. I can't explain it, it's just I didn't have the want to, to get back out there...Even though I didn't want to run, I [eventually] scheduled a race so I would get back out there and train."
Keith M:"I always sign up for another race before my marathon race day so I have something to look forward to and a purpose to get out the door and run once I have recovered from the marathon."
Have you ever experienced post-marathon depression? What finally lifted you out of the blues? What are some of your favorite non-running hobbies?