Hi, Coach Jenny. I just finished my second marathon and I'm happy to report I shed 15 minutes off my first marathon time! The problem is, now I'm feeling down and out and almost depressed. Is this normal after a marathon or am I losing it? Do you have any tips you can share on how I can get through this? Thanks, Jill
Hi, Jill. I'm glad you wrote because it is quite common to feel a letdown after a long distance event. Mostly because your life has been structured around reaching the finish line. Once you reach it successfully, there is a significant open space of time without structure. Although it is part of the ebb and flow of a long distance runner's life, there are ways to guide yourself through this phase with a smile on your face.
•Be Mindful. It helps to understand that when you go from the extremes of training for a marathon to no structure at all, there will be a void, or a sense of loss in your life. Simply knowing and acknowledging it exists is a solid first step is mindfully living through it. It is important to take the time to celebrate your achievement. Go out for a dinner with your training buddies or schedule a well-earned massage. Either way, make sure you wear that medal until you've annoyed everyone in your life and celebrate you for a bit. Celebration is an important part of the training cycle as it allows you time to transition from the finish line of one race to the start line of the next. Without a proper celebration your running can turn into a run-on sentence without much quality.
•Make Plans. Try to avoid filling the space mindlessly by running events and activities very soon after the marathon. Doing so, can lead to overtraining, lack of recovery and overall fatigue. Instead, plan a fun activity or light event the week or two after the marathon to bridge the gap. This could be in the shape of a costume run at Halloween or an orienteering meet this fall. Plan to spend time with your family on a local trail and create your own scavenger hunt.
•Invest in Recovery. Although most of us aren't out to win the races we're training for, we do love to improve on our times and run our best efforts and your next performance greatly depends on the quality of your recovery phase. Fill in some of the open time with activities you haven't been able to enjoy while training for the marathon. For me, I love to get out on my mountain bike and ride technical trails, kayak, or go for a long motorcycle ride. Fill your soul with lighter activities that make you smile and ones that don't require you have to move at a specific time or distance. It's okay to follow a schedule, but it can be helpful to keep it flexible and open. Move naturally for 45-60 minutes and keep it easy and enjoyable.
•Create Your Next Carrot. Runners are by nature goal-oriented people and having a carrot for which to strive keeps the motivation flowing year round. One of the benefits of having a little down time is to have the clarity to think through what your next goal will be. Sometimes the next adventure comes to you in the middle of a long run before the marathon and you move logically from race to recovery and into base training for the next season without a hint of P.M.S. However, if you're not sure what is next, it is helpful to let it come to you. Create a structured running routine post recovery but keep it light in purpose. For example, you could set a mini goal of running 20 miles per week or 80-100 miles per month. When you reach the target, reward yourself with a treat. Run socially with a buddy or group buddy or volunteer for a race. I volunteered for the 1992 Chicago Marathon and after having doing so, I was so motivated that I set my carrot to run the race the following year.
•Think Outside the Box. If you find yourself struggling to identify your next goal, it may mean you're toying with burnout. Instead of reaching into the old bags of tricks, consider an event or challenge that is outside your comfort zone. When I finally qualified for the Boston Marathon and ran it I found myself lacking in motivation to run long races. I used my running fitness and began competing in adventure races, which include anything from trail running/hiking to kayaking, rappelling, and mountain biking. I learned how to do a lot of different sports and came back to running with a fresh new set of goals. There are a variety of ways to think outside the box including running a trail race, trying an orienteering meet, tackling shorter road races or going super long in an ultra marathon. Who knows, you may even find yourself motivated by the thought of racing your first triathlon! The secret is to get comfortable in the void and use it to mindfully move on to your next goal.