The Post Marathon Blues: What it is, and How to Beat It

If you’re feeling down after running the marathon and achieving a big goal — relax, you’re not alone. Here’s how to get past it.

The Post Marathon Blues: What it is, and How to Beat It
Photo by Morgan Sarkissian / Unsplash

If you’re feeling down after achieving a big goal — relax, you’re not alone.  Here’s how to get past it.

You did it!  You slogged through a challenging training cycle with one goal in mind. You worked through months of training, doubt, fatigue, probably some nagging injuries, and got yourself to the starting line. And then over the course of several hours, you put your training to work and ground out the miles to achieve your goal.

You probably celebrated, basked in the post-marathon glow with friends and family. Maybe you had a great meal or a drink if you weren’t too exhausted later on. However you spent the rest of the day, it doesn’t matter — you did it. You achieved your marathon goal!

But now, maybe a couple of days after you’re feeling… a little bit empty? Perhaps  aimless? Unmotivated? Not just for running or exercise, but in general. Maybe it’s a little harder to focus on work of family obligation. You knew it would take time for your body to recover from the race, but now maybe your mind doesn’t quite feel right either. Does this sound at all familiar?

If this sounds at all familiar, you might have a case of the post-marathon blues. The post-marathon blues set in shortly after achieving a marathon goal, often a couple of days later once the excitement has died down.  In this post, we'll explore why we get the post-marathon blues and how to get past them.

Why Do We Get the Post-Marathon Blues?

If you're feeling down or depressed after your marathon, you're not alone.  After so much energy and effort, both physical and mental put towards a singular focus, it's not unusual to be left feeling a bit empty.

Researchers refer to this phenomenon as the arrival fallacy: the expectation that achieving a long-standing goal will bring sustained happiness, only to feel sadness, stress or depression once the goal is successfully completed and the initial elation fades.  

Even elite, professional athletes experience post-race blues.  In a post-race interview, running phenomenon Jakob Ingebrigtsen, described the same feeling after winning the gold medal in the Olympic 1500m:

"The peak is really high, but also right after the peak there’s a big low ...  So what’s the meaning of going back and doing all the shit work that’s needed to get back into the same shape?"

Interestingly, the post-marathon blues sometimes seem to be the worst after a good performance, rather than a bad performance. Sometimes a bad race or missing a goal leaves us hungry for more, eager to recover and start training again for the next big event. But after a big PR? After hitting a time goal?  Often achieving an aggressive goal makes us feel more empty than a simple one.

The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons Updated 5th Edition

by Hal Higdon


While people can also experience the arrival fallacy in other areas of life, perhaps after a graduation or landing a new job, there is something uniquely challenging about the post-marathon blues, where the mental let down may be paired with deep physical fatigue.

How to Beat the Post-Marathon Blues

If you're feeling the post-marathon blues, first, understand that you're not alone and that the feeling is completely normal.  It will pass, and there are things you can do to help you cope.  Let's take a look at a couple of strategies you can use to help get past the post-marathon blues.

Do a Little Bit of Nothing–and Be Okay With It

The simplest way to beat the post-marathon blues is to do nothing and let your mind and body get the rest they need to fully recover.  This can be easier said than done–doing nothing might feel counter-productive or stir feelings of guilt for not exercising.  

But why?  It’s okay to be less active after a huge training cycle, and it’s okay to take a bit of time off. In fact, your body needs time to recover from a marathon effort and there’s absolutely no need to feel guilty about it.

And the point of doing nothing does not need to be literally doing nothing–some level of exercise is okay too, but keep it simple and keep it gentle.  The point is to not overstress your recovering body and to temporarily let go of the training expectations you may be putting on yourself.

Change it Up

When you’re ready to get back to some activity, but are still struggling with motivation issues or the inability to train the way you used to due to fatigue, try doing something different.

Part of the post-marathon blues comes from not being able to train, or not being interested in training the way we were in the weeks and months before the race.  You might be ready to get back to some training activities, but find that you're struggling with motivation or fatigue. It's only natural that the type and volume of training you were doing while leading up to the race will be tough to replicate, both mentally and physically.  If you're feeling this, try doing something different.

Changing almost anything about your routine can make a big difference.  Try going at an easier pace and just enjoying the run.  Or, if your struggles are more motivational than physical, you could even try training a bit harder rather than easier: try reducing your volume, but adding in some more strides or fartleks.

My own personal change-up is usually to switch from roads to trails for a while.  Pace on the trails is slower and less predictable than on the roads, making it simpler to ignore pace altogether and just run, without obsessing over performance or fitness levels.  And varied terrain and big elevation changes helps to build strength and endurance that will benefit you when it's time to go back to training on the roads.

If all else fails, (and I can't believe I'm suggesting this), try something other than running: biking, elliptical, swimming, yoga, even weight training.  Anything you can do to stay active while you prepare yourself both physically and mentally for the next training cycle will help get you through the post-marathon blues.

Put Something New on the Calendar

One of the best ways to kickstart yourself out of a rut is to put another race on the calendar. Orienting your mindset back towards a training goal will help get you back on a productive schedule and put you mentally back on track.

It doesn’t even have to be another marathon: a 5K or 10k is fine too, and is much gentler on the body than multiple marathon training cycles back-to-back. Or if you do thrive on something more challenging, setting a time-goal in the half marathon is also a good option. As an experienced marathoner, half marathon training should be a piece of cake. Or if plain old road running still seems unappealing, consider a trail race, triathlon or other endurance event.

No matter what you choose, putting a new goal on the calendar can help get you back to training and pull you out of a rut. But don’t expect to resume training with the same intensity overnight: build back gradually instead.

Learn to Take Satisfaction in the Preparation

Over the longer term, the best way to get past the post-marathon blues is to recognize that running a marathon is as much about the journey (the training cycle) as it is about the destination (the race itself).  This particular approach is hard to apply after the fact, so it's something you'll need to keep in mind for future training cycles.

If you shift your mindset to appreciate the training cycle, you'll start to take more satisfaction in everyday training victories: a good long run, a high mileage week, a great workout.  As you learn to take more satisfaction in the build-up, the race becomes a validation of all the hard work, but not the goal unto itself.  Not only does this approach make you feel better, it can make you perform better as well: there's no better feeling than heading into race day with huge confidence because you've absolutely nailed the training cycle.

Relax — It’s Part of the Cycle

The last bit of advice is the most important.  If all else fails, remember: this is part of the process, and the feeing will pass.  Training & racing comes in cycles: the base, the build-up, the taper, the race. The post-race low point is just part of the cycle and is completely normal to feel a bit down after the race.

And be prepared that it may even take longer than you expect.  I've run enough marathons that I thought I knew what to expect from the post-marathon blues–but my most recent race left me more fatigued than usual, both physically and mentally.  For whatever reason, full recovery took a bit longer than I expected and I had to adjust my expectations–but it did pass.

If nothing else, just knowing that getting past the post-marathon blues takes a bit of time can help to take the edge off.

Good luck, and keep running!