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Post Marathon Depression
- By Doug Kurtis


Post Marathon depression is a common phenomenon for marathon runners of every experience level.  The excitement of the marathon season is over and the intensity of preparation is behind them.

For some runners, there is a sense of relief and they welcome the opportunity to relax for a little while. For some, if there isn't something to replace all the hours on the road, the lull of TV boredom sits upon them. The sense of focus and purpose is lost

Completing a marathon is a very emotional and physical process.  This is especially true if running a marathon was used to overcome a difficult time in one's life, such as a divorce or loss of someone close. It can also be true when the accomplishment is the highlight of a runner's life. What do you replace the activity with? 

According to Dr. Suzanne McAllister, a former member of the New York Marathon psych team and a marathoner herself, "runners get accustomed to the endorphins kicking in when they run.  It helps them to be happy.  When the endorphins are no longer released you have a greater chance of depression setting in. Runners need to find a replacement physical activity if they don't plan to continue running."

Some runners move past the let down by falling into what Dr. McAllister analogizes as the George Plimpton syndrome, "someone who pushes themselves for the experience and adventure. They then continue the process by doing one new thing after another so as not to feel depressed."

Dr. McAllister puts it another way as well.  "After completing the marathon runners move from the unknown' to the 'known  "Can I do this?" to "I've done it". They are different feelings entirely. From fantasy to reality, i.e. you see the woman across the room - then you hear her speak, find out a little about her the original mystery is somewhat over."

One week after a marathon it becomes important to be aware of how you are feeling. Do you feel energized by the accomplishment or have your thoughts become negative? Do you become tearful or irritable easily? Have your sleeping patterns changed? Other signs of depression are low sex drive, anxiety, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating. 

A slightly different aspect of post marathon depression could be derived from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects moods especially in winter when darkness lasts longer. This disorder is four times likely to effect women. Many of the same depressive symptoms occur except increased sleep and daytime drowsiness are more likely. Also, increased appetite, especially for sweets and "comfort foods" such as carbohydrates, which may cause weight gain.

I've overcome post marathon depression by focusing on lessons learned. I've often discovered more about myself from bad races than the good ones. I spend my post race time running and collecting thoughts about what the experience was like and what I could have done differently. I often used those thoughts as reference to be used later when a similar situation presented itself.

If you start to feel sluggish and tired then think about getting back out on the road or in a fitness center for an easy run. If you find yourself not being able to enjoy simple things then find a friend to confide in or seek professional help to move forward positively.

Contact Doug Kurtis at Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Fort St. Detroit, 48226

or [email protected]

Doug Kurtis the former Race Director for the Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank International Marathon is the world record holder for most career sub 2:20 marathons (76) and most marathon victories (39). Doug is a five time Olympic Trial Qualifier 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. He was voted into the RRCA Hall of Fame in 1998 and Michigan Runner of the Year - 1985 and 1990. Doug coached two 2000 Olympic Trial Marathon Qualifiers.

Personal Bests:
26.2m - 2:13:34, 25km - 1:17:58, 13.1m - 1:04:51, 20km 1:02:37
10m - 48:33, 15km - 46:01, 10km - 29:44, 8km - 23:25



You can e-mail Doug at:
[email protected]


Doug Racing at
Dexter Ann Arbor


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