The Post-Marathon Blues: Why It Happens And Six Strategies For Overcoming Them

Marathon runners sitting and lying on sidewalk wrapped in foil blankets
The mental physical and exhaustion after running a marathon is one cause of the post-marathon blues (Image credit: Michael Blann / Getty Images)

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is an emotional experience. Feelings of joy or disappointment, as well as relief that it’s all over, mix with physical and mental exhaustion. After such an intense experience, it’s little wonder that many people can experience a period of feeling down or empty in the days or weeks that follow—like a marathon hangover. This has become known as the post-marathon blues.

What Are The Post-Marathon Blues?

There’s no established definition of the post-marathon blues, but here’s runner Ben Miller’s experience. “I gave everything I had and felt like I was going to break physically in order to hit my sub-three-hour goal. Emotionally, I was elated as I couldn’t quite believe I’d achieved my long-term ambition, but the comedown was hard. After a day or two, the blues kicked in, and I crashed from the high of achieving my aim. Everything was out of sorts—no routine of running, tiredness and muscle soreness still—so I wasn’t up for running, or more to the point couldn’t for about a week. The emotional high was gone and in some ways made worse as tiredness was playing a factor.”

It is, of course, totally normal for people to experience feeling low, but it’s also worth knowing which symptoms and feelings might prompt you to talk to a medical professional about how you feel. We have guidance from mental health charity Mind and frontline NHS doctor Emeka Okorocha about when to speak to a doctor about your mental health. 

Why Do People Get The Post-Marathon Blues?

“It’s very common to experience the post-marathon blues,’ says Emma Weir, performance psychologist for P3RFORM and Aston Villa WFC. “When all the training is over and the high of the emotion has decreased, we can then go through a period of wondering where we go from there.” 

Liz Yelling, Olympic marathon runner and coach, agrees. “I think there are two types of sufferers of the post-marathon blues. Some may feel like a hole has been left in their lives from the routine of the training and the focus of having a goal, and others feel like they didn’t quite nail race day despite all their efforts. This can leave you disappointed and low. 

“Training for something like a marathon is tough—you put a lot of your eggs in one basket and attempt to get it right for race day. It’s hard to deal with if the event doesn’t go to plan because you can’t keep racing the marathon every weekend until you get it right.”

What Can You Do About The Post-Marathon Blues?

Here are Weir’s six strategies for dealing with the post-marathon blues positively.

  1. Celebrate. You’ve just achieved something incredible. Don’t forget that! 
  2. Share your thoughts and feelings. Someone else might be feeling the same way, and it’s great to get these thoughts out in the open.
  3. Rest. Ensure you are allowing yourself time to recover physically and mentally. 
  4. Reflect. Don’t just move on! Think about what you have achieved, understand what went well and consider what you could change for next time. Writing your thoughts down can help.
  5. Reset. Spend time focusing on things you enjoy—these might even be things you had to sacrifice while in training. This could be quality time with family, reading a book, a day out with friends, or active relaxation such as yoga or Pilates. 
  6. Mindfulness. Regular mindfulness breathing or body scan exercises can help you let thoughts go and get back to the present. 

“In hindsight I should have planned something in the week or two post-race to help,” says Miller, “or actually thought about things to help my recovery, to give me structure and something to think about. Not just running-related, but taking the opportunity to kick back and enjoy not being on the treadmill of marathon training. However, that treadmill is weirdly addictive and losing it post-race was harder than I thought it would be.”

“Look at other goals that excite you and get them in the calendar, whether that’s another marathon, or another distance,” says Yelling. “Having a goal to look forward to, rather than dwelling on the past can help to move on and pull you out of the gloom.”

Miller did just that. “To get back in the game I picked some races for pure enjoyment, local races that I hadn’t run before, where I could utilize my marathon fitness to its maximum potential. I went into those races with no expectations. To prepare for them I just immersed myself completely in my running club, joining them most evenings, maximizing the social element, having a routine again. This gave me a completely different experience of running races I hadn’t been training for and surprisingly running them went well for me.”

Anna Gardiner

Anna Gardiner is a writer and soft-tissue therapist from the South West of England, with bylines in publications including Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Stylist, Bike Radar, Cycling Plus and others. Running is her first love, but she has embraced fitness activities like CrossFit and climbing and has triathlons and endurance events under her belt.