Part of marathon recovery is coping with the emotional dip. Here's how to master everything that comes after the finish line

By Marnie Soman Schwartz
Corbis Images

You spent weeks, if not months, in training. You sacrificed drinks with friends for extra miles and sleep. You regularly woke up before dawn to hit the pavement. And then you completed an entire freaking marathon or triathlon or other totally amazing and wholly draining feat. You should feel on top of the world…but instead you feel kind of blah.

Sound familiar? Part of what you're experiencing is a sense of loss, says sports psychology consultant Greg Chertok, of Telos SPC. "An event like a marathon requires so many hours of regimented training, arduous planning, and physical preparation, that your identity becomes consumed by it. And then you're stripped of that identity rather hastily," he says. You might also be experiencing a letdown if the race didn't feel as life-altering as you'd hoped. "Some people train with the expectation that their event is going to yield monumental personal growth-that they'll change as a person. And oftentimes it doesn't-we wake up the next day and feel the same, just with sore knees."

You might also feel down because-simply put-you're exhausted, says sports and performance psychologist Kate Hays, Ph.D., of The Performing Edge. After all, big races are body-depleting events, and you need a significant amount of time to recover. Feeling wiped out is your body's way of telling you to lay low, she says. And then there's the physical effect of working out less frequently and less intensely. "Exercise helps you feel less depressed and anxious," says Hays. "So when you're less active, you might start looking at the glass as half empty." (Ease stress and anxiety with Breathing Exercises to Better Any Situation.)

But don't let the prospect of post-race blues keep you from signing up (or being pumped) for a big fall race. A couple of steps (mostly, being prepared!) can help minimize or stave them off.

Realize It's Okay!

Post-race blues are a completely normal part of training, says Chertok. "Their presence doesn't signify a problem." Simply recognizing that being a bit down in the dumps is a thing that happens can help you feel better and less alone, he says.

Reflect on Your Race

After you've eaten a post-race feast and gotten some rest, think carefully about your training and race day, suggests Hays. Consider what you learned-what went well, and what you might do differently next time-and think about the steps you'd need to take to make those changes happen.

Focus on the Positive

It's very tempting to dwell on the imperfections of your race, or feel regrets, says Chertok. But no race is completely negative. "You have the choice to identify some of the positives. You may not have achieved your goal time, but surely some things went well," he says. Focus on those aspects-they'll fuel you forward.

Be Social

If you've trained in a group, you might feel sad that you won't see your running buddies as often, says Hays. Think about other ways to connect with them, and also reach out to the rest of your circle. "If you have friends you neglected during your training, call them up and go to the movies."

Set a New Goal

Before you scout out your next race location, take some time to rest, and maybe set some personal goals that aren't fitness related-like planting a garden or taking up a hobby. A few weeks later, when the emotions around the race have subsided, pick your next date and distance. (Like one of these 10 Beach Destination Runs for Your Next Racecation!) "Wait until you feel like you want to train for something else, and not like you simply should," says Chertok.

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