Post Marathon Blues

I seem to have inadvertently started a series of blog posts about things that are a thing, that I didn’t know were a thing, but definitely are. See also taper madness and recovery runs. I grudgingly admit now, that recovery runs are actually a thing. But for a long time I denied this.  I think sometimes when you’re surrounded by friends that run, and some friends that run A LOT, your view on things (like how it’s not reaaallly that common to run marathons – we are the 1% yo!) can get skewed. One of my running club buddies is in the 100 marathon club, at least - I think he’s probably approaching the flipping thousand marathon club soon – ANYWAY he once did a marathon and then turned up at a local club race that evening for his recovery run. I mean seriously, that’s flipping mental even by most runners’ standards, to do the 26.2 and then go out and do a four- mile race that evening.  But I’m going very off topic now, this isn’t about recovery runs and whether they are a very silly idea, or absolute necessity – this is about something that I didn’t realise was a thing, which is post marathon comedown. 

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, or lived with someone who is training for a marathon, knows that it pretty much takes over your life for a few months. All that training and obsessing over shoes and niggles and nutrition and the huge amounts of anticipation in the build-up to the actual race. And then you go out and do the marathon, and dig deep into reserves of strength and energy you didn’t know you had, and it’s genuinely life changing. And you get your medal and your t-shirt (don’t even talk to me about the fact that the Brighton 2018 t-shirt says ‘competitor’ not ‘finisher’. I mean seriously, don’t talk to me about it, it’s been three weeks and I’m still very much NOT over it). And you’re on a high for a bit (whilst also crawling up the stairs like a demented crab). You’ve collected the charity money and told the hire-car man “I JUST RAN A MARATHON” and put your medal on to get out of the car to use the loo at the services, because everybody needs to know that you JUST RAN A MARATHON (I may or may not have done both of those things after marathons number one and three…). But then... but then… then what? It’s over. You’ve done it.

And I don’t know about you but for me there came a period of MASSIVE, CRASHING anti-climax… All that build-up and focus for months and then suddenly it’s not there anymore. And that can be a bit rough and depressing. One of my training buddies misses the structure marathon training gives his life. I definitely get that; it feels weird not knowing exactly what run you’re going to do when, and basically planning your week/weekend around the long run.

Then there’s the actual “not running” – missing the endorphins and the high that you get from that. If it’s your first marathon, you might also miss the high you get from getting a distance PB every week or fortnight. The high from realising that you’ve just run further than you ever ran before. Or the most miles in a week or something. The realisation that you’re capable of running 45 miles in a week. 

Added to that, there can be body image stuff too which can be tough. During marathon training I can (and do) EAT and eat and eat, and generally if not actually lose weight I can maintain a certain weight and not particularly worry about it. But post marathon it can be hard to stop eating the amounts you’ve been used to. Suddenly there’s a bit of a worry, which I WISH wasn’t there, but it still is, that I’m going to gain a huge amount of weight. Plus the other thing I’ve noticed that happens immediately post marathon is that I tend to get whatever cold my little plague-carrier darling children have picked up at nursery/school and my skin goes to absolute shite. So I’m definitely not feeling particularly attractive right now, which can make me feel a bit rubbish. 

Another thing that happens to me is REALLY missing my training buddies! All that training, all those long hours pounding the pavements with the same friends, really bonds you. I’ve spoken about this before in previous blogs, but there’s something about going on a long run with people that frees you up to talk in a way that can be rare in other circumstances. You get very, very close to your training buddies. Some of my absolute best friends in the world are the people I do my long runs and track and Thursday-night club sessions with. You see them two or three times a week and get to know each other really well. And then maybe you don’t see as much of them for the two-week taper, then this huge (possibly life-changing event), and then suddenly it’s all over and you don’t see them for two weeks while you’re recovering…  Unless you replace the training with drinking sessions, but most of us are too busy catching up with our families and making up for all that time spent away from home to be able to do that. 

So for all of these reasons it can be a crashing comedown.  I’ve said before that running a marathon can be like giving birth (mainly in that you forget the pain of it and sign up for another one pretty quickly afterwards – the marathon that is, not the baby… this is getting confusing, but you do also forget the pain of childbirth and some of us have another one much quicker than the first one… the difference for me is that I KNEW I was done after two babies. And have now done three marathons) ANYway… perhaps the post marathon come down is like a bit of baby blues. Not full on Post Natal Depression, of which I would never make light, but just that you’re knackered and feeling down, even though you’re proud of yourself and your achievement. 

Some people do suffer from this REALLY badly though. I’m thinking of one person I know who should be SO proud of themselves, but didn’t enjoy their first marathon at all, and is now seriously considering giving up running. Which I think would be a huge shame. So be kind to yourself in this time. Don’t do anything rash like swearing off running, or conversely signing up for a 100 mile ultra. 

The plus side is that you get to spend time with the people that you DIDN’T see while you were obsessing over the marathon, non-runner friends and family (yes, I do have non-running friends, although obviously my aim as an obsessive running evangelist is to try to turn all of those people into running friends. Not my husband, however, because he’s knackered his knees playing football, and also if he takes up running who would look after the kids? And I really don’t need him to get better at it than me, that would be no good at all… but I digress).  You should, in theory, have a bit more energy, and be able to go for a drink on a Saturday night without worrying about your long run the next day. At the beginning of my training for my last marathon, I turned down drinks with my PTA whatsapp group and one of my friends wryly said, “Oh. Marathon wanker Emma is back, is she? See you in six months; don’t expect us to save you any wine”.  So that’s nice. I can get wasted with the other irresponsible PTA mums and end up doing shots at the bar when we should REALLY know better. 

You can take a bit of time out to just enjoy running again without any pressure too. Maybe plan your next training block or focus on shorter races. My aim currently is to properly address the niggly hip issue that I had throughout the winter and do some strength training to sort that out. 

And then… what next? After my first two marathons I signed up for the next one within two weeks, because that is another danger of post marathon comedown: going crazy signing up for other races! The only reason I didn’t do that exact same thing for the third one was because I’d already signed up for the fourth marathon before I’d even run the bloody thing. Actually this may sound nuts, but it was a bit of a lifesaver. My third marathon did NOT go according to plan, so knowing I had the fourth one already planned in meant that I didn’t feel quite so low about it. And I’m going to kick that fourth marathon’s ARSE. Yes I am. 

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