How do you run after a marathon?

June 29, 2017


It sounds stupid, doesn’t it? How do you run after you’ve  JUST RUN 26.2 MILES? Lots of running, that. You definitely know how to run.

But…

Like…

I couldn’t run? It’s a thing. I’d heard of the thing and I oh-pish-poshed at the thing, and then I ran a marathon and thought I could, and would, never run again. 

It might have been the ‘post marathon-blues’ or something completely different, but this is how I became utterly fucking terrified of putting one foot in front of another post-ACTUAL MARATHON.

I actually did parkrun the weekend after this year’s London Marathon. I felt absolutely fine physically AND mentally, had heard that it’s possible to get a 5k PB the weekend after a marathon, and most definitely wanted to show my medal and finisher’s tee off to everyone. 

And guess what? My legs felt like feathers. I ran that Southwark parkrun course with such ease and tore through my PB, bringing it down to 30:31. So close to sub 30! It was incredible. I texted a friend in excitement and she said I MUST write a blog on this because even she had the post-marathon Fear and hasn’t even run one (yet). 

I said it was absolutely going to be the next blog post I write, because I’ve proved everyone wrong and this is wonderful and we are strong and everything was going to be fine. 

Then Morgan Freeman popped up and said, “Everything was not going to be fine.”

Granted, over the next month I then moved flats, had some work-related trauma, had a family trauma, went on holiday, and fell into a deep depression that I’m still swimming in. I did not, categorically not, run. I could barely walk.

I had my very valid excuses and didn’t beat myself up for not running, but the longer it went on, the more adverse I was to the thought of starting running again. 

- What if my legs didn’t work?
- What if I couldn’t breathe?
- What if I couldn’t run for more than a minute again?
- What if my running gear didn’t fit anymore?
- What if our new park was awful?
- What if I got attacked?
- What if I was back to square one?
- What if I’d ruined everything I’ve worked for?
- What if… God forbid… I didn’t enjoy running anymore?

If I didn’t even try then I wouldn’t have to answer any of those questions. 

But if I didn’t try then those questions would become more important than my wellbeing so, finally, when things became a little more settled and my depression was dangling my trainers over a fire, I snatched them back and threw myself out.

I only managed a mile, but it was the most releasing mile I’ve ever run. I forgot how it felt to be moving my whole body, for it to be working as one, for my feet to be flying. 

It was hard, yes, and my lungs were absolutely shot to pieces. I’ve learned that it’s my insides that lose fitness quicker than my limbs. But once I’d done it, it didn’t take much to get out again. I’d broken the vacuum-packed bubble I’d got myself in.

AND EVERYTHING WAS AGAIN FINE AND WE LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER…

Oh, how we laugh. No. I soon began to struggle in different ways. I couldn’t get my breathing right still after a few weeks, for a start. That frustrated me. Why couldn’t I regulate it better, damn it. I could breathe before. I kept getting the shits, too, but I WASN’T RUNNING 15 MILES PLUS EVERY WEEKEND SO WHY THE DODGY TUMMY. I also couldn’t run more than 5k and had totally lost my pacing ability. But was that my body or my mind telling me that? Maybe I'd lost some mental resilience but maybe my body was yearning for those 15mi+ weekends that I'd stopped giving it so abruptly and it had screwed me over.

And I didn’t have goals anymore.

Why was I running? My running since March 2016 had been towards the biggest goal you can have - a marathon (ultras don’t count, let’s pretend they don’t exist). My running focus - and whole freakin’ all-consuming life focus - had been the 2017 London Marathon. So what was going to motivate me now?

(That question can be applied to my whole life at the moment but before I splurge my crisis all over this page, I’ll bring it back to running.) 

I’ve had to re-learn my love for running itself. I’ve had to throw myself out and tell myself off when I’m having bad I CAN’T DO IT-type thoughts. I’ve had to train my body back up and I’ve had to learn patience and gratitude. When I first started running, every day, every step was an achievement. But I know that I can run 26.2 miles in one go now, so if I can’t run 5k then why the LIVING FUCK can’t I run 5k? Y’know?

I’ve had to appreciate my body again, too. I wrote about the admiration I felt for my body after being contacted by Anthony Nolan but, conversely, I’ve also been picking at parts of me. Our relationships are complex, what can I say? 

My body changed after the marathon. I lost a bit of muscle, and therefore weight, and my shape changed. I felt different in my clothes, and especially my running gear. That’s why I got Ryan to take that photo of me, up there, before a run last week. I wanted to see my body. I wanted to see if from a different angle, I wanted to see it how I don’t usually see it, and I wanted to see it before it challenged itself. I can easily point out the parts I don’t like, but I was surprised to actually be ok with what I saw in general. I saw a runner’s body, a strong body. There’s still some fire in me.

So, what now? 

I know I need to just run for the sake of running, but girl needs her goals, so: 

- Sub 30 5k
- Sub 60 10k
- Sub 2hr30 Half 
- DO ALL THE PARKRUNS
- Run three times a week: one super short and fast, one closer to 10k, and parkrun
- Get a bloody Garmin 

A sub 30 5k is coming. I am pregnant with a sub 30 5k. I actually set that goal before the marathon so I was prepared, but I underestimated how hard it would be mentally to find the motivation for a comparatively much smaller goal, even though a sub 30 5k for me is still a hard one to achieve. 

We’ve been doing different parkruns over the last month and I keep rubbing photos of Forerunner 235s in Ryan’s face to subtly let him know that my birthday’s soon. I’m gagging to get that three run week routine down, and the sub 60 and sub 2hr30 goals are pipe dreams, but I’ll get there. 

I’m glad I’m finally running again but that month break wasn’t catastrophic. I was allowed that. If you need a break, for whatever reason, take it without guilt. Don’t let your head tell you that you’re ruining everything. Running can be a huge support for your wellbeing, but sometimes it’s not what you need.

I know you’re not here for a lecture but you’ve stuck around for over 1,000 words now so I’ll carry on. If you’ve just run a marathon (or any big race for you) and you’re struggling with the sudden switch in why you’re running, or not running, then remember that you ran a marathon, of half-marathon, or ultra, or 5k. You’re pretty fucking badass, pal, but our heads are complex and badass too. Sometimes bad and sometimes an ass. Go easy on yourself and ease yourself back in when you’re ready. Regroup then carry on, even if it's just 10 minutes, even if it's just for a mile.

Who said running was easy?

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1 comments

  1. It is surprisingly hard to get back into running after doing a marathon isn't it. The thing that helped me was signing up to a couple of short, small local races over the Summer months after my marathon last year. It meant I had to keep on running over the Summer and I got to enjoy running some different types of events like little trail races and night time races. But one run at a time and you'll soon get back into it and find your routine.

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