I just ran the NYC Marathon. I had runner's high for about 24 hours and now I feel depressed. I hit the wall early in the marathon and didn't come close to the time I wanted. I feel like I lack goals, and I'm embarrassed when friends ask me what my time was, though most wouldn't know the difference between a two-hour or six-hour marathon. Any suggestions, experiences, or thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks. --Michael
Hi, Michael. Thank you for sharing your story and your great question. I can guarantee you're not the only one experiencing these feelings. In fact, if you're reading this post and feeling the same way, please comment below for tribal support.
It sounds like you have a case of Post-Marathon Syndrome (PMS): a condition that can set in when you've got excitement withdrawal and a lack of a "carrot" to chase. Common symptoms of PMS include:
- Comparison shopping and minimizing your marathon accomplishment
- Lacking interest in setting a new goal
- Feelings of sadness, pessimism, and worthlessness
- Feeling lost without your training
- Not able to see the light through the fog
- Rounding your marathon time down--"I ran around 5 hours for a 5:55 finish"
These are just a few signs you may be experiencing PMS, but it can come it all shapes and sizes. The happy news is although it may feel like you're living a scene out of the movie Castaway ("Wilson!"), if you take a closer look, the open space and time is a blessing in disguise.
There are great benefits to living in this space for a little while. One, it allows you to slow down enough to heal and rejuvenate. And two, when you sit with it, you can gain awareness of the natural phases of a marathoner's life and see it as an opportunity to run seasonally and make the most of the free time.
When you re-focus your lens, you'll see the many benefits of taking a break from the constant demands of training. When I finish a race, I invest in a few weeks of really easy movement: hiking, mountain biking, walking, and easy running. I weave in activities that I haven't been able to do in the training cycle (roller skating, hot yoga, snowshoeing, underwater basket weaving) and run for fun, without a watch or a purpose. I don't lose my focus or my fitness because it still has purpose. It is the winter in my training cycle.
This season doesn't have to be without goals. Motivate yourself by running a number of miles per week for the next month or two (e.g., join the 100 miles/month club). The real gift of stepping off the marathon train for a while is the amount of fun you can have rotating through a variety of workouts without worrying about what it will do to your race performance (intervals, tempo, hills, fartlek).
Ultimately, I believe PMS is your body asking for time to heal, and when you listen and invest in it, you run away with a renewed spirit to train again.
One runner's personal worst is another's personal best.
It's easy to get lost in the disappointment of an unmet time goal, especially when you have a tough race. But finish time is relative. For every person upset about a 5-hour marathon, there are thousands hoping to run that fast. Time is merely the outcome of the experience. It only defines you if you let it.
I learned this life lesson after sitting in disappointment after a slower-than-hoped marathon (30 minutes slower, to be specific). What I realized later was that I was missing the true lesson from that race. Somewhere in the middle, I met two runners from Puerto Rico and they knew a running friend of mine who had suddenly passed away. We shared fun stories and celebrated his life as we covered the miles. This was what that race was about. It was supposed to teach me that even though you miss your mark, you're alive, healthy, and running. I realized equating my performance on finish time was my ego talking. To this day, I never complain about a race time. Every race is a gift that gives life lessons in small doses.
At some point, we all run our fastest race. I know mine is in the past and it means more to me now knowing I will never be able to visit that space again. It also releases me from the constraints of focusing solely on the clock.
Elite runners have great perspective on this (they have to, to succeed).
They can win the race, but run their slowest race time.
They can run their fastest time, and lose the race.
They toe the line with a focus to run their best on the given day. Sometimes that means pushing through a rough race, other times it means setting a personal best time. If you define your performance on time, you're likely to be disappointed more often than not.
Running through tough races is part of being a marathoner. It can be quite therapeutic to think through the race and ask yourself the following questions.
What were the lessons in this race?
What were the gifts?
When we look deeper, the fog begins to clear.
Happy Trails.Coach Jenny - Co-Author, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals