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Man works on marathon recovery, the post-marathon blues

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Feeling Bummed Out After Your Marathon? It May Be the Post-Race Blues—Here's How to Cope

There's a reason for those feelings.

By Jen Ator March 8, 2024


The feeling of finishing a marathon is like no other. You’ve spent months training, day in and day out. Maybe you battled injuries, bad weather, sore muscles, or blisters. You spent hours checking off one mile at a time, and now you’re here—exhausted, elated, proud, and probably a bit relieved.

Running 26.2 miles is an intense experience, one that leaves you with a mix of physical and mental exhaustion. After the finish-line euphoria subsides, you may experience a period of feeling down or empty in the days that follow. This is known as the “post-marathon blues.” 

While there is plenty of advice for how to take care of your physical body after the race, the mental recovery process is often overlooked. Here, we cover everything you need to know about the post-marathon blues.

What Is Post-Marathon Syndrome?

After the finish-line joy subsides and the post-marathon muscle soreness starts to dissipate, you may experience a noticeable dip in your mood. “It can be the next day or several days after,” says Peloton instructor Susie Chan. ”You might feel a little directionless, slightly empty, or thinking ‘now what?’’”

The post-marathon blues, also known as post-marathon syndrome, are fairly common among endurance athletes. “There is often an experience of let down when we pour our heart and soul into something, and then it is abruptly over,” says Katie Steele, a licensed family therapist and co-founder of the Athletes Mental Health Foundation. “The spectrum of emotions is typical and something that is conveying the level of importance that experience had in your life.”

While sometimes referred to as a form of situational (or short-term) depression, it’s important to point out that “post-marathon blues” is not a clinical diagnosis, Steele says. “It’s more of an experience that some people have.”

What the “Marathon Blues” May Look Like

“An often unnamed emotion at the completion of a marathon is grief,” Steele says. “You have worked so hard to accomplish something, and you blink and now it's done.”

According to Steele, this type of grief and sadness will vary from person to person, and may be associated with the following symptoms: 

  • Numbness

  • Fatigue or excessive low energy 

  • Irritability or feeling easily overwhelmed

  • Apathy or a loss of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable

  • Sadness or crying more than usual 

  • Loneliness 

  • Low motivation

  • Feelings of hopelessness

You may notice the onset of post-race blues a few days or even a week following your race. Thankfully, experts say these symptoms are temporary. If you find that your symptoms are increasing in severity or not subsiding after two weeks, make an appointment with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.

How to Handle the Post-Marathon Blues

There are several things you can do to keep the post-marathon blues at bay. Here are five strategies for handling your emotions.

1. Celebrate

Sometimes we’re so quick to figure out “what’s next” that we can overlook the achievement itself. “It is always good to make space during your recovery to give yourself credit and a pat on the back for completing your marathon,” Susie says. “You are amazing! Don’t forget that!”

2. Reflect

Whether it was your first, fastest, or worst marathon ever, the act of running 26.2 miles is full of life lessons. In the days following the race, spend time writing down your thoughts. How did this experience help you grow? What are you most proud of? What do you want to keep improving at?

3. Don’t Judge

This is not the time for beating yourself up. “Instead, try to meet yourself with curiosity,” Steele says. “What you are experiencing is typical and the more compassion you can provide yourself, the more effective you will be at soothing your nervous system.” 

4. Branch Out

Training for a marathon is a big time commitment, limiting your ability to do other activities for weeks and months on end. Think of the end of your training cycle as an opportunity for new adventures. “Use your recovery time to explore something new,” Susie says. “Or revisit your favorite cross-training activities that you didn’t have as much time for while marathon training.” 

5. Get Back Out There

“Having run over 100 marathons myself, what has helped me overcome the post-marathon blues is to plan for another event,” says Laurie Singer, a psychotherapist and accomplished endurance athlete. And, no, that doesn’t necessarily mean a marathon. “You are already trained,” she says. “You put in the hard work of marathon training and are now physically fit to perform. Signing up for another event—a shorter one like a 5k or 10k—will give you something to look forward to and plan for.” 

Why You Need to Prioritize Post-Marathon Recovery

If you’re feeling down after your marathon, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. And it will pass. (Remember: Post-marathon blues symptoms typically only last a few days or a week.) 

The best thing you can do in the days and weeks following your race is to let your body—and your mind—get the recovery it needs. Why? Our minds and bodies are closely linked. In fact, some endurance athletes may develop a condition commonly referred to as RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) by pushing their bodies to the brink. This disorder can cause mental side effects that overlap with depressive symptoms. By allowing your body to physically reset and heal, you’ll help protect your mind as well. 

5 Post-Marathon Recovery Tips 

Recovering from 26.2 miles is not a simple task—physically, mentally, or emotionally. Here are a few tools experts say can make a big impact. 

1. Make a Plan

You followed a plan to train for the race, so why not follow one to recover from it? “Having a recovery schedule written out beforehand can be very helpful,” Singer says. This is especially helpful for endurance athletes. “Those that are wired for activities like marathon training often have difficulty engaging in activities that are more restorative,” Steele says. “Making a plan to intentionally slow down can help make it feel like a choice versus punishment.” 

2. Take a Break

The length of your recovery period will depend on your marathon experience, Susie says. “Speed is a factor too,” she adds. “If you really pushed the pace [in your race], then you’ll need longer to rest. If you are used to running a lot, and have experience in long distance races then your body will reset itself quicker.” Most professionals recommend taking at least seven to 10 days off from running to give your muscles and joints time to fully recover. For beginners, you might need at least two weeks before returning to running workouts. 

3. Keep It Moving

Even though you’re taking some (much deserved) time off, don’t become a couch potato. “While it’s true we need to let our bodies physically recover, that doesn’t mean just lounging on the couch,” Singer says. “In fact, studies show the importance of continuing to move our bodies after a grueling physical event.” Use this time for gentle cross-training activities: Go for short walks, get some sun, take easy bike rides, or get in the pool for a swim. “The important thing is to keep moving,” she says. “It will help you recover physically, and definitely fuel your emotional well-being.” 

4. Prioritize Sleep

Getting enough shut-eye post-race is one of the cornerstones to proper recovery, Susie says. “Resting your body and muscles will enable you to come back stronger when you are ready and help keep you keen on running,” she adds. Aim for at least seven hours per night, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing a few extra hours or mid-day naps in the days following your race. 

As a marathoner, you learn how to pay attention to your body’s cues, and this is the time to lean on that knowledge. “Remember that you can expect to wake up and not only feel sore or stiff, but also may feel emotions like sadness or emptiness,” Singer says. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and use the tools that helped you train for the race—fueling with nutritious food, making time for mobility work, drinking plenty of water throughout the day—to work through those feelings in the days and weeks following the race. 

And remember: If you’re not seeing an improvement in your symptoms in a short period of time, make sure to reach out to a healthcare professional for guidance. Post-marathon syndrome should only be a temporary condition—not a permanent state.


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