Marathoning – What Happens When It’s Over

When planning for a marathon there is much online content discussing the steps that can be taken to guide a runner to a successful finish; schedules, gear, injury prevention, pacing, speed work, comparable celebrity finish times. You name it you can find it!

In my experience post race, I was bemused to find that there was not the same abundance of advice regarding recovery. Once I’d heard my name come through that loud-speaker, I was essentially on my own.

It has been fifteen days since I ran my heart out meeting a lifetime personal goal. In retrospect, my physical training was successful. I am still proud of my accomplishment and less bothered by the fact that my time wasn’t within the range I’d had hoped for. I loved every minute, even the painful ones and the ones where I was consumed with doubt.

The mental challenge of going from full-blown training to restful observance of it is a tremendous transition. Recovery days one through four were brutal.

The old habits of emotional eating and anxiety appeared with vigor; they hadn’t been beat in training, only subdued. The fact that they were actually lying dormant was a blow.

On day five I laced up my brand new Newton’s, but the run was slow and hard. I clocked thirteen minutes per mile for a whopping 1.75 before calling it quits.

Figuring it was too soon to get back out there I tried not to be bothered, but my type A was showing and I was really beating myself up about it.

I tried again days later and ran a decent five, but the love wasn’t there. I was glad when I got home. I prayed that this was temporary.

By now I had searched and searched online for information to make sense of what I was experiencing and in my frustration turned to my friends in Internetland who were the first to show me some light.

After tweeting about my lackluster runs, one twitterer mentioned that she’d heard it took one day for every mile to be fully physically recovered. Easy math I could do; one month to give myself some leeway.

A commenter on my blog told me of her own depression that surfaced after her second marathon. It became so bad that she opted for antidepressants to get her through. This kind of honesty is what I wasn’t finding in my search. I was grateful for hers.

And then my sister arrived into town last Monday and I saw my nephew (whom I had helped raise from the time he was one until three), but had not had much communication with in the most recent years. Standing in front of me now was a teenage boy, all five feet nine inches of him. I swung my arms around his neck and the tears started to flow.

When I got home that night they continued.

I called my older sister and kept crying.

A full-blown panic attack followed. I’d never actually had one before, so I was surprised by its force. My heart was beating out of my chest and I had to take a Clonapin to settle down. It didn’t work, so I took another.

I fell asleep and woke the next morning feeling groggy, but better.

As if the fog had lifted, I was able to think with a clear mind and it became obvious that the pressure I was putting on myself to be as strong and powerful as I’d been before the marathon was suddenly gone; like all that training had never happened.

Seeing my nephew was the tip of the emotional iceberg in terms of the way I was managing. I needed a good cry. It needed to come out and I began to feel as if real recovery was finally going to begin.

So does it make sense then that I’d want to go through this again?

Yes, of course!

stubbornness and determination are a part of my gene pool and one must never stop learning in this life.

The next step is to move out of my comfort zone both physically and mentally.

With running taking a short hiatus from my schedule I’ve recently headed back to yoga.

Last week while standing in tree pose with my branches spread wide I straightened my neck to peer toward the sky and thanked God. The second tree pose on the opposite leg allowed me the opportunity to thank Him again.

Yesterday, after rolling onto my right side at the end of savasana I realized I was facing the sun. With hands folded at my third eye and with my other two tightly closed I could feel the warmth from the light. This time I thanked the Universe.

The overall experience of my marathon has not yet finished, though the race itself has.

Today I feel renewed, rested and peaceful,though a bit less physically strong and not quite ready to resume any significant running.

Most importantly I am grateful.

Grateful for the sum of the experience.

My branches extended out more, but you get the idea.
Savasana. Adorable yoga drawing from @ iyogalife slideshow.

20 thoughts on “Marathoning – What Happens When It’s Over

  1. I always get post-marathon blues… it’s hard not to when it took up so much of your time and energy, both physically and mentally. Is there a 5K or another shorter distance race in your area that could sign up for? I find that if I have races on my calendar in the future, it helps to keep me motivated and not sad that the marathon is over.

    1. As soon as I read your comment, I went and figured out when training would begin for my race this summer (a half). Feel so much better having a plan! Thanks!

  2. It’s so true-manuals for training, but not for recovering. When I finished my last marathon I actually had a stress fracture. So, I took two whole weeks off and then did gym workouts-ellitical, weights, ect. It filled the void of not working out, but didn’t stress my legs in the form of running. And of course there is always that nagging feeling of “ok, that’s done, what’s next?”

    1. Totally! I just figured out when my next training will begin and marked it on the calendar. Feels good having the date set!

  3. Post-marathon/post-event blues are definitely real. Like Lora said, when you’ve focused so much time and energy on training and reaching a goal, when that’s gone, it’s hard to find focus again. Especially when your body is still recovery and you don’t have the outlet of just running. I think it’s great that you’re getting back to yoga to heal both your body and mind. You are embarking on a journey that’s longer than just a marathon although I hope that your marathon journey does bring you to NYC this fall!

  4. Again, I feel you. The weekend after the marathon I did a 5K mud run and paced my friend the last 3.5 miles of a half marathon. This Saturday morning I ran 3 miles. That’s been it. Part of me is enjoying the break, but part of me wants to get back out there, but those short runs were hard! And part of me mentally NEEDS the running again, badly. I’m off today and going to try to tackle my favorite 8 mile run for some clarity. I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to do it.

    1. I am heading out for my third run since the race tomorrow. I’m planning to run a really pretty trail with no Garmin. I’m totally with you in regard to needing it mentally! Good job on tackling 8…. I can’t even imagine running that far again!

  5. Martha! I love your honesty. A month recovery is essential, and it could take more. You are on the right track; yoga is an excellent transition. Your mojo will return. Give it time. Marathon training is HARD, not just physically. Embrace what you have put your body through; it will let you know when (and if) it’s ready for #2. xox I do hope our paths cross again one day. Liz

  6. I’ve heard it’s very common to get the blues post marathon. You spend so much time amping yourself up with information and training and then it’s done. Nothing. I love that you found your way back to yoga. I have a spot in my yoga studio that I purposely place my mat in. As I am in savasana the sun shines directly on me. The warmth helps bring such clarity and joy to my being. I love it! You described it beautifully.

  7. Great post! Can totally relate. What I am trying to do this time around (my marathon is June) is having somewhat of a loose plan for the rest of the summer and fall. My goal is to switch to biking and swimming for the rest of the summer and train for a sprint triathlon (would be my first!) in winter of 2013. I just got a road bike for cross training and have a swim instructor that can work with me next fall. I think just making those small steps will help me in the transition. I love running and always will, but I do need long breaks from it. In the past those long breaks I did absolutely nothing so going to try swimming and biking this time around.

    1. I like your plan. Mixing it up a little should be good. Summer is a hard time for me running-wise with the heat and all. Maybe I need a bike?

      1. Summer is actually not a hard time for running where I live. We have very little humidity and it is usually in the 70’s and 80’s all summer. Last summer we barely got over 80 until early August. My biggest challenge with summer is scheduling–vacations are fun but they throw off my exercise schedule.

  8. Yes, you need a planned-in-advance month of down time after a marathon, except maybe to sneak in a few short runs for fun if you can’t help yourself. Mostly, no expectations. I think that having been writing about your journey with such passion would have made it even more unsettling when it was suddenly done. You are doing a great job of refocusing your writing. The running will fall into place too. The thing with marathons is that they tend to become obsessions! Always hard to
    Manage obsessions. BTW, how do you like your Newtons?

    1. So far I’ve only run in the Newton’s twice. I think I like them, though. They do run differently, much more on the forefoot,

      I’m excited for my race this Summer and giving myself some leeway has helped me not to feel guilty about the limited amount of running I’ve been doing. I should try to get a little more strength training or something in. It is important to get the blood flowing through the muscles.

      I’m planning a run tomorrow down a pretty path near my mother’s house and I’m not taking the Garmin. I can’t wait!

  9. I agree we need a post marathon manual. I coped by running a few smaller races so I could still feel like I was involved in something. Maybe the key is to have a plan at the end – weather its to run smaller races or quit and learn to knit. Either way though, there has to be some emotional letdown after all of that time, but like you I wouldn’t trade it for the experience!

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