Just like that, marathon season has come to an end. If you are one of the strong who conquered your first marathon, congratulations! Getting to that finish line took months of focused training and purposeful living.
As you finished, I hope you took a moment to raise your hands in the air, or throw up a Shalane Flanagan-esk fist pump. It is a good bet that you had a big smile on your face as your medal was put around your neck, and, in that moment, an immediate sense of accomplishment was felt as you walked away from that finish line.
But now that your marathon is moving into the rear-view mirror, most runners begin to feel a void. There is no required long run the next weekend, and your running group may take a few weeks off before meeting again. The realization that the goal is achieved can leave many feeling uncertain about what is next. Initial feelings of elation can begin spiraling into depression-like feelings. If this sounds familiar, face it, you have a case of what is commonly referred to as the post-marathon blues.
Most people, especially runners, are at their happiest when they are living for a purpose – when they are focused on a specific goal. Without a specific goal in mind, and no plan, many runners can struggle to feel positive about themselves.
In the week after this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, members joined us in the Chicago Area Runners Association headquarters for a “Recovery Week”. As they sat and talked with us, while enjoying some time in our Normatec recovery boots, at least three out of every four runners immediately began talking about their next marathon, or at least their next running goal.
While this forward-facing mindset is natural, and a good way to combat the post-marathon blues, I encourage you to give yourself some time to enjoy the moment and reset before moving on.
First: rest! Even if you came out of your marathon healthy, you need to take one to two weeks away from any serious running. This time is important for your body to recover from the intense stress you just put it through. From a mental standpoint, you should also give yourself some time away from any structured exercise. Give yourself enough time away from a training plan, that when you come back, you are back to a feeling of running because you want to, and not because you have to.
This time away from running can be challenging, especially after months of focused training and a set schedule. The best way to combat this is to turn your focus to things you have neglected during marathon training, or things you have missed out on.
This may have included lost time with family and non-running friends. These folks were likely part of your support group along the way. Fill the running void with efforts to support and reconnect with friends and family. You will need their support when your next training plan begins, so consider the extra attention you give them now as money in the bank for later.
During marathon training, you may have also neglected some of your own personal needs and wants in some respect. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy some time for yourself without the pressures to executive perfect nutrition, recovery and sleep. Rather than writing a training plan, write a fun bucket list of things you want to see, do, and eat before you return to the athlete’s life.
When you are ready to return to running, it is important that you set a new goal that excites you. The marathon is no small task, even when you have already conquered one; but for some, just running another marathon may not bring about the same level of excitement that it did the first time. In order to avoid just being another one-time bucket list marathoner, you need to give yourself a challenge than keeps marathoning fresh and interesting.
There are so many unique ways to keep marathoning exciting. You can set a goal to reach a certain number of marathons per year, or by a certain age. You can set new performance goals, like breaking the next hour barrier, or qualifying for Boston. If you need something more short term, you could set a goal to run a destination marathon or an international marathon in the upcoming year.
If you did it once, you can do it again. Marathoning never really gets easy, but you do get fitter, stronger, and most importantly, wiser. The experience you have gained over these past few months will make a difference when you hit the roads again for your next training plan. Relish in your recent accomplishment, recharge, get refreshed, but most importantly, refocus.