When I was working on passing the crazy Master’s exam I took during my second year in graduate school, I spent what felt like every waking moment studying. I prepared for that exam from about June or July the year before I took them until the following April. I passed with what one of my professors called “the flyingest of colors”. And then I got totally depressed. I had so much spare time, no obligations, and absolutely no purpose whatsoever. For me, nothing could be worse.
Depression after a marathon is similar. You spend quite a bit of time preparing for the race–training, thinking about it, tweaking your eating habits, making sure everything will be perfect the day you run your 26.2 miles. Even if, like me, you wish in retrospect that you had trained harder, chances are that you still devoted a lot of your time and energy to the marathon. And once it’s over, you feel like you have nowhere to go. It can be difficult to deal with. I’d say with about 95% confidence that I’m the midst of one of those post-marathon depressions right now. Doing a little bit of research into the subject, I was surprised that there may be a biochemical explanation for the after-race blues:
It has been documented that choline, a neurotransmitter precursor, is depleted with marathon-like efforts. Perhaps marathon efforts impact neurotransmitters, thereby having a bearing on depression in a similar way.
That’s both interesting and good to know. But I don’t think my problem is neurotransmitter-related, I think it has more to do with the fact that even though I’ve been running for years, I’m not entirely sure that I really know how to do it. I mean, obviously I know how to put one foot in front of the other, and I understand the basics. But I don’t really know how to train for maintenance, without a specific race in mind. I would really like to establish a base mileage that will allow me to transition into my next marathon training period with a lot less difficulty than I had this past time. Ideally, I would do weekly long runs of 8-10 miles, maybe as much as 13, depending. I’m nervous, though, about not having an actual plan. I do well with plans and structure. I don’t do quite as well when things are free-form and open-ended. It turns out I’m not alone:
all too often, runners plan their premarathon training and race-day activities in great detail, but they fail to plan for the hours and days and weeks after the marathon. It’s almost as though, once the marathon is completed, they lose their running focus.
The solution, then? Well, focus. Obviously. And that’s why I was very happy to find this. Structure! A plan of some kind! A chart to look at that will tell me what to do and when to do it! I’m irrationally nervous that in the past two weeks that I’ve spent not running, I have lost a lot of fitness (I also feel like I’ve gained fifteen pounds. I never claimed I was not very susceptible to emotions and completely, 100% logical), so I like the idea of starting with something that will build me back up. If I follow this plan, I’ll be running about 9-10 miles by the end of the four weeks, which will put me where I want to be in terms of long run distance. So, post-marathon goal number 1? Check.
Post-marathon goal number 2, also related to establishing a solid base mileage, is to run between 25 and 30 miles a week initially, and work on getting closer to between 30 and 35. Toward the end of this program, I should be in the 25-30 mile range. Check once again.
Now this is not to say that I really have any idea what my running will look like once I’ve worked my way through the next month. The good news is, though, that now that I have this plan to work with, I also have another month to figure it out. Ultimately I’m aiming for a well-rounded training program, so I’m planning on looking into what a standard week in running should look like, how I should split my mileage up, what sort of paces I should be working with, etc. Research, ahoy!