It seemed like a great idea five or six months ago, right? Nervously holding your breath, pulse quickening and stomach fluttering as you clicked the "register" button. Then came the training plan for 26.2, followed by mounting mileage, loads of laundry, experiments with gear and fuel, battles with fatigue and injury, and maybe even a few lost toenails (and pounds) in the process.
Workouts got checked off, months unfolded and, suddenly, you found yourself at the start line. But whether your performance was good, bad -- or worse -- the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish), you know now that the finish line doesn't mark the end of the marathon journey. After all that hype, you're left with a shiny medal, a Mylar blanket, a few residual aches and an overwhelming feeling of, "Well... now what?"
If that sounds familiar, don't despair; the post-marathon blues are common, especially after your first race. Like any major life event that includes lots of brain (and body) power leading up to it, the result, no matter where it falls on the spectrum, can leave you feeling funky once it's over and done.
So once your physical recovery is underway, how do you handle the emotional part? Here are a few of my favorite ways to help soften the blow:
1. Savor the satisfaction.
Remember, you worked really hard to feel this poorly! You can't fully appreciate the value of rest and relaxation until you've pushed your body to its limit, so embrace the delayed onset muscle soreness DOMS and treat yourself to an Epsom salt bath and some quality time on the couch -- you deserve it. During those first few days, your biggest concern should be how you're going to get up from the toilet once you've sat down.
2. Brace yourself for it.
I'd say, "You can run, but you can't hide," but we all know you're not lacing up those sneakers anytime soon, so just be aware that it's coming. Inevitably, there will be some kind of letdown or feeling of disconnect once the race is over. Knowing this is half the battle: Expect it, prepare for it and make a game plan to work through it.
3. Take time to reflect.
Although the finisher's chute marks the official end of the race, I find it helpful to write a recap of my experience for some final closure. Here's an example from my most recent marathon in Detroit; not only does doing this allow me to process my feelings after a race, but it's also nice to have a tiny time capsule of the day to look back on and learn from.
4. Catch up on life.
Oh, you know, all that stuff you neglected while you were busy logging miles and carb-loading and taking ice baths. Immerse yourself in reconnecting with family and friends, catching up on that big to-do list, pursuing a different hobby with your newfound free time, or simply resuming whatever else may have gotten pushed off to the side during training.
5. Treat yo' self.
After a period of being super disciplined with your workout and nutrition routines, it's good to loosen up the reins. Get a massage to loosen tight muscles, have an extra glass of wine (for your health, of course) or say yes to dessert for a change. Being able to buckle down is always easier when you know you've got your favorite reward -- within reason, of course - waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.
6. Make an off-season training plan.
For Type A's, it can be tough to transition from a regimented schedule to having what feels like oodles of free time. I recently experienced this in the weeks following my fall marathon, but managed to stop short of falling into workout oblivion. How? I created this pseudo-training plan to stay motivated in the absence of any runs or races on my calendar in the foreseeable future.
7. Find a new focus.
Without a doubt, the easiest way to avoid a crash after the post-race high is to pick a new goal. Decide what you want to tackle next -- whether it's getting faster, going further, being more consistent with your training, trying complimentary workouts, or maybe even setting your sights on a different sport altogether -- and put a plan together for how you'll go about achieving it.
It's no surprise that running 26.2 miles can take quite a toll on both your body and your mind, so whatever you do, make sure you take the time to give both a little TLC after your race. Not only will you bounce back more quickly from this season, but you'll also be able to go into the next one a much smarter, stronger -- and saner -- runner.