Readers Roundtable: Have You Ever Had the Post-Race Blues?

Feeling down or upset after a major race? You are not alone.
Feeling down or upset after a major race? You are not alone.

After any major life event, a graduation, wedding, birth of a child, you might experience sadness, anger, or random moments of crying at commercials. A goal race is a major life event! Sure, it may just be running, but after pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into training day in day out for weeks, the days after a race can feel like a big let-down. This is the post-race blues and it is an actual thing and yes, it’s completely normal, even if you had the race of your life.

I know first hand, it happened to me after my spring marathon. The first week after the race, I was cranky, irritable and cried at the drop of a Geico commercial.

How about you?

Have you ever experienced the post-race blues? What was it like for you? What helped you to feel better?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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31 comments

  1. I was really happy to see this post — I just ran Chicago and after my elation about my new PR wore off, I totally went through withdrawal. In fact, I even googled “post-race blues” to see if it was normal! Judging from this post, it seems like it is! I’m feeling better now (despite an injury, which probably added to the post-race blues), but I still feel a little out of sorts without a training schedule to follow! I have Boston in the spring, and I can’t wait until training starts, but even having that to look forward to didn’t stop me from feeling the letdown after my last race.

  2. OMG…. I recently posted on Facebook about how lost I felt after my recent 100K finish. For four years, the Oil Creek 100K had been my carrot. I DNF’d it two years (once for stomach issues, last year for hypothermia), and one year I had to drop to the 50K due to cancer med side effects, so this was my third attempt. Since finishing, I’m still lost. I don’t know what goals I want to try to achieve now.

    1. Well that’s a huge build-up of excitement and anticipation! As others have said, seems like our most-anticipated and biggest accomplishments are the ones that lead to the worst post-race letdowns. Now you know you’re in good company! Hope picking the next big goal or something else lifts the fog soon. And CONGRATS on the amazing accomplishments all around! Total #rockstar!

      1. Yes, congrats Gale! Sounds like there was a lot of extra factors leading to the finish line. Good luck with your recovery. There is no rush on figuring out the next goal!

  3. I’ve been feeling a little blue since my 10K a week and a half ago, which was the last race of my ‘season’. The whole thing feels really anticlimactic since I got injured and DNSed my A-race, and I finally feel like I’m in really good shape and now… nothing. Winter. I had such crappy runs last week I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off until I find motivation again. Like once I start signing up for next season’s races!

    1. Yes, impending winter does a number on the mood. I got a late start for the fall racing season as well which caused some blues because racing in the winter isn’t as ideal. Sounds like you have a good plan in taking some time off and getting ready for next season. Good luck!

  4. Great article. Yes, I get the blues after races– it’s that sense of reason/purpose/organization to my life following a plan that I crave! So here is my nerdy/science teacher/behavioral psych degree addition to what those types of blues are. . . They are part of a phenomenon called Extinction- where a behavior that you did a lot (and found very rewarding) is suddenly removed. This results in everything you describe- depression to varying degrees, a sense of lost purpose, etc.

    I taught a class where all my students got actual young rats that they trained to do long-jump, rope-climb, weight-lifting, hurdles, & tight-rope racing using operant conditioning techniques. They trained everyday for months, and then competed in what I called the Iron Rat Competition at the end of the term. After the competition, there was always a couple of weeks until finals where the rats came to class but there was no training. They all showed the blues/extinction– morose, sluggish, stopped eating, increased grooming. This lasted a week or so until they kind of pulled out of it :)

  5. I haven’t really ever gotten the blues after a race. I think it’s because I usually plan my big races out about a year a head of time, so I always know what’s next. I’m not saying go out and run another race right away, but I have already committed to the next one before I’ve even crossed the start line. This way, I don’t spend too much time dwelling on the race I just run. If it went well, I celebrate, take some time off and get ready for the next challenge. If I went poorly, I overanalyze for a it, take some time off and get ready for the next challenge!

  6. I’m anticipating feeling a little blue after my marathon this coming weekend. For me I think the blues hit simply because I feel a little lost once the “big goal race” is completed (whether successfully or unsuccessfully). To go from super focused on one event to having no focus is tough on me mentally.

  7. I definitely have some mental fatigue after a long season! I wouldn’t call it the blues, but I find it really hard to get up off the coach for a while. :)

  8. Reading everyone’s responses is super interesting. I usually only get bummed out after races if I have to take time off. This has been one of the biggest struggles for me in pursuing longer race distances. My legs need more time to recover than they do when I have run 5k’s/10k’s, but my brain does NOT like that AT ALL. I am a very routine-oriented person, and having my running routine disrupted (even if it’s because I just ran a long race) does not work well for me. Maybe this relates to the whole, “set a new goal” thing. If I can get after the new goal quickly, I’m happy, if not, I get angsty.

  9. I don’t. Not sure if it’s my personality or if it’s because I race quite often (15-20 per year). As soon as I’m done with one race, I focus on the next race. At the end of spring and fall, I’m tired of training and racing, so I really enjoy having a break. Then after a couple months, I’m eager to get back to racing.

    1. I think personality is something to take into consideration. I am prone to depression and anxiety so any kind of life event is going to trigger some symptoms. I like your approach with racing often! I am looking to race a lot more in 2016, for both practice and just enjoyment of the atmosphere.

  10. I had some massive post-race blues after I ran my first marathon (Twin Cities Marathon) in 2012. Even though it wasn’t my fastest race ever, it still sits in my mind as the best race of my life. Everything since has sort of paled in comparison!

  11. Funny, I DIDN’T have post race blues after I bonked at Wineglass 2013, which was a major let-down, but I did have it for two months after my 16 minute PR at the New Jersey Marathon this spring, which was my finest effort to date. I wonder if bonking gave me something to be angry about, a place to focus my bad feelings?

  12. oh yes. After my first marathon, it’s been hard to find a marathon to compare haha. I ran Boston 2013 for my first and only made to mile 25 when the bombs went off, each marathon since has been good (and finished!) but still doesn’t have the UMPH that Boston does….

    1. My first wasn’t nearly an impactful experience as yours, but I feel the same way! My first marathon was AMAZING and none since then has ever felt nearly as satisfying. Interesting!

      1. Wow, that adds a whole other level (i.e. potential post traumatic symptoms from the bombings) but I am so glad to hear that you’ve continued on with marathoning successfully. I’d imagine certain races can’t compare to others.

    1. That stinks! I asked Ginger for more info, but I think if you’re still feeling down about it and it was last year that it might be more than post-race blues.

      1. Congrats on the marathon HooDoo Honey! It is normal to feel that way after the race. For the short term, it helps to write about your race experience, start planning for your next race, or get involved in different activities while your body recovers. But if the feelings do not subside or get worse, it’s not a bad idea to talk to a professional- whether online through a service like Talkspace or Betterhelp, in person with a therapist, or if your employer has an EAP program- they usually have a hotline you can call to get some guidance over the phone.

        I’m curious though- what made it such an intense letdown?

  13. Oh yes! The year I ran my PR marathon I had my wedding three weeks later! After the wedding I was … TOAST. I felt like garbage running for months after that. In fact, looking back, everything I went through during that time was very similar to what I experienced when I feel into the overtraining pit of despair. There must be a connection between post-race blues and overtraining, but can’t quite put my finger on it.

    Also, just wondering what is normal. So it’s normal to feel a little blue after a race. How long should it last? What are some signs it’s something more than feeling blah for a couple of weeks? When should someone seek help? And why the hell does this happen – can it be prevented? That’s a lot I know, but would love to know more. Maybe we need another post on this. Great topic!!!

    1. Yeah, another post would probably be a good idea but in the meantime, you bring up some great questions. I mentioned above to Sage’s comment about burnout stemming from negative race experiences, which can cause a case of some post race blues. I would say there is a definite connection but would need to do more research.

      Like any post-(insert life event) blues, it’s normal to feel such a way for usually a couple weeks to a month or so but beyond that, if it starts to take over your daily functioning (i.e. making it hard to focus, continuing to cry, feeling extremely tired, irritable, cranky, and can’t seem to snap out of negative thought patterns) it’s a good idea to talk to someone, even if you start with your primary care doctor. How much of an intense effort can throw off your hormonal balance? We need more research on that too!

      P.S. Marathon and a wedding- holy cow! I did not know. Also, I wish I knew you back then. I bet it was a fun wedding!

  14. Exactly! My goal for several years has been to try to get back to running at least half marathons (gave up on longer distance as each time I tried, the hamstrings screamed). The three-weeks ago race was sweet and justified all the effort. But now with recurrent injuries I wonder if I did the right thing? Or if the feeling, regardless of injury, is the blues?

    1. You had such a good race! It might be a combo of many things, especially considering that you’ve been struggling with the hammy issues for quite a while. We usually associate the blues with feeling down after a good race- one you put a lot of energy into and met your goal, the sort of “now what” feeling. But experts also say that it can happen if the race didn’t go so well, you dropped out, or became injured. I’d think you’d need a longer recovery/rest period before your next race if the result was the later because you wouldn’t want to risk burnout.

  15. Isn’t this why the best thing to do after a race is to immediately pick another — before you are recovered or even run another step — just so that you a reason to try and get injured?