Understanding the Runners Blues and Learning How to Overcome Them More Quickly
Often referred to as “Post Marathon Blues”, the fact that we even have a name for Post Run Blues is pretty telling of how common it actually is.
Mental health has become a bit of a hot topic these days. More awareness is being raised about the prevalence of mental health issues. And more and more people are coming forward with their own mental health challenges.
Personally, I’ve struggled with varying levels of depression on and off since my teenage years. And for me, it usually comes in waves. So this topic specifically hits close to home. And as much as running has had a positive impact on my mental health, I’ve also experienced the post-run blues.
Before we get too far into the topic of post run blues, I need to note that, post run blues or not, please seek help if you’re dealing with bouts of depression or contemplating suicide.
So why do you get emotional after running? Why do you get home from a long run feeling amazing, just to fall into a funk an hour later? And what can you do about it?
Let’s dig in…
Why Do You Experience Post Run Blues?
There are actually a few reasons that you may be experiencing the post run blues. It could be hormonal changes in your body. Or it could be the complete upheaval of your everyday routines from pre-race to post-race.
Here are 4 reasons you may be experiencing post run blues.
Loss of Purpose
Loss of Purpose
You’ve worked for months with a steady focus on this one goal. Your weekends have revolved around your long training runs. Your dinners have been planned around what will fuel your run the following day. You’ve become more efficient at work so you can get out in time to fit your evening run in before dark.
And then you did it. You successfully completed your race. You laughed. You cried. You celebrated. You ate an entire pizza. You took 5000 photos of yourself with your metal for Instagram.
… Now what?? How did you even fill your days before you started training for your race? It seems like a lifetime ago...
More generally referred to as “post achievement depression”, if you’re feeling down after a big race, a loss of purpose could be the culprit. This can occur in aspects of life other than running as well. It could be after finally getting a big promotion at work. Or after writing and publishing a book.
As humans, we thrive with having goals. We’re happiest when we have a purpose in life.
Chances are, you’ve had a feeling of purpose in life sometime prior to your most recent running goal. So how do you get that back? How do you feel purposeful again and get out of your funk?
What to do about it.
Make a new goal. I’d warn against jumping into another running goal too quickly. Your body and your mind are probably going to need a bit of a break from running. But what else would you like to accomplish in life right now? Is there a big project you’ve been meaning to get to around the house? How about a song you’ve always wanted to learn on the guitar? What makes you you other than being a runner? Tap into that, and find a goal that lights you up.
Give it time. Like I said, your body and mind are both going to need a break from running. Give them both that much needed rest, and your emotions should follow suit.
Talk it out. Talking out your feelings with someone, especially someone who can understand, can really help to give you hope that “this too shall pass”. Don’t have anyone to talk to? Put your words on paper and journal about it. Often times, making your thoughts and feelings concrete can make them seem a lot less overwhelming and you can start to find some solutions for yourself.
You may be feeling down because your body and mind are just downright exhausted. They’ve been on this mission for months now.
Physically, you’ve been training nonstop. And you just pushed your body to its ultimate limit in your race. It’s tired. And your post run blues could just be your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break!
Mentally, you’ve been planning out training runs and working your life around your training schedule. You’ve just puzzled together what food to eat, what gear to bring, and what strategy to implement for race day.
You woke up way too early the morning of your race, probably barely slept the night before, put your body through a vigorous race, and put out more energy celebrating afterward. You’re tired.
What to do about it.
This one should be pretty self-explanatory… Rest!
Get enough sleep. Find things that bring you joy that don’t require a lot of energy… like reading a good book. Like catching up on all the Netflix shows you neglected because you didn’t want to stay up too late throughout your training.
Go on a bike ride with your kids when you’d otherwise be on a long run. Go for a hike and take in the nature surrounding you without worrying about whether you should walk or run the next hill. Meet up with a friend for coffee when normally you’d be driving out to the trails for your long run.
Nourish yourself and find joy in slowing down for a bit. Your body, mind, and emotions will thank you for it.
Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone”. It’s also normal in the mornings, as it’s the hormone that gets your body alert and ready for the day.
When you exercise, you’re putting your body under stress, and cortisol is secreted into your bloodstream. That’s why you feel so alert and alive following a run. When you’re out on your long run for the week, that’s hours of your day that your body has been continuously secreting cortisol.
Even once you stop exercising, your body continues to secrete more cortisol following a long run . That’s a lot of excess cortisol.
So what happens when you have chronically high cortisol? You become moody. You’re anxious. You overreact to small mishaps.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not a complete lost cause 😉
What to do about it.
Pour some tea. Black tea helps your cortisol levels recover more quickly after stressful situations… like a long run.
Crank up the tunes. Listening to music, especially classical or pop, combats the effects that physical exercise has on your cortisol levels.
Breathe in the Lavender. Dilute 4 drops of Lavender essential oil into hot water. Breathe it in for 30 minutes, and your cortisol levels will drop by 25%.
For more ideas of how to decrease your cortisol levels, check out this article that gives 10 Science-Backed Ways to Combat Cortisol.
Did you know that testosterone levels decrease in your body during prolonged exercise… ahem… like running for hours on end?. Yep, it’s true. And women, you’re not exempt, either. The female body converts testosterone into estrogen, and it’s essential for healthy menstrual cycles and fertility.
Did you also know that cortisol and testosterone have an inverse relationship? Think back to middle school math, and you’ll realize what that means for your hormones. It means that when cortisol levels increase (see above), testosterone decreases.
Signs of low testosterone include mood swings, irritability, stress, anxiety, and depression. So could those post run blues actually be a result of low testosterone? It’s certainly possible.
What to do about it.
First of all, read #3 and decrease your cortisol.
Also, get enough sleep. Do you see a theme here? Sleep, rest, and recover. Only it’s true for testosterone as well. Studies show that less sleep = less testosterone. More sleep = more testosterone. Sweet dreams!
Get some Vitamin D. Especially if you’re living through winter in a place like dark, cloudy Ohio like I used to, you’re likely deficient in Vitamin D. Numerous studies show that getting some intentional sunshine or taking a supplement of Vitamin D can boost testosterone.
Take some Ashwagandha. Ashwa - who?? Ashwagandha is an herbal supplement often used to help manage stress. And studies show it does just that. After taking an ashwagandha supplement, you have lower cortisol levels than before taking the supplement. Remember that inverse relationship we talked about?
I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of ashwagandha on stress levels. Back in Australia, I was seeing a naturopath and she prescribed me some ashwagandha to help my nervous system. Stress, anxiety, and depression were my symptoms. Ashwagandha really seemed to help.
Not surprisingly, then, other studies show that taking an ashwagandha supplement leads to increased testosterone levels in your body.
Do I need to stop running so much?
No! The post run blues are likely to occur in extreme situations, like following a big race or a long training run. Utilize the above strategies to get through those moments, and running actually has benefits for your mental health.
This article from Hopkins Medical states that benefits of regular exercise include, “improved working memory and focus, better task-switching ability, and elevated mood.”
And running in particular has been shown to decrease depression symptoms specifically.
So if running truly brings you joy most of the time in your life, there’s no reason to give it up.
And that’s why I always say… Happy Running! ✌️😊
P.S. If you want a little more running joy inserted into your life, feel free to come join my weekly newsletter. I share weekly running tips, give running and non-running related recommendations, and open up more about my personal life. Sign up here.
Jillian Beckham is wife to Brent and has never actually run a marathon to feel those post marathon blues… and she’s okay with that. She’s also a health and wellness copywriter. Find out more about what she does to help clients with their SEO and other web content here.