To allow yourself a little emotional wiggle room, consider taking the next day off (or take off one more day after you get home, if you’ve traveled). That means no work and no other big obligations, if possible (and absolutely no working out). Keep it loose, and use that time how you want at the moment. “Give yourself that period to feel how you’re gonna feel—to either be excited and to have a really fun day, or to just sit on the couch and feel your feelings,” Gersten says.
Take care of your body.
Any big effort—especially a race as long as a marathon—requires significant recovery. Since the Chicago Marathon, Hoffman has been putting extra emphasis on refueling and hydrating, foam rolling, and staying alert for lingering pain that might be a sign of an injury.
These steps enhance your mental recovery as well as your physical. Take refueling, says Roth-Goldberg, who’s also a certified eating disorder specialist and intuitive eating counselor. Some people struggle to eat enough in the days and weeks after a race, either because they’re too fatigued or because they think that since they’re running less, they need to cut back.
But proper refueling not only provides the raw materials to repair the damage done to joints, bones, and muscles; it’s also important for your brain. “Your body’s used to eating with a certain frequency, and maintaining that can be really helpful for blood sugar and mood as well,” Roth-Goldberg says.
Make a real effort to celebrate your achievements.
If you’re up for it, you can start the night after your race: Go out for a special meal, and wear your medal if you’d like. If you so desire, keep it on for the next few days, too—then, find a way to display your swag proudly. Think about what feels celebratory to you and what brings you joy—maybe it’s a concert, a night out, a massage, or even a day of self-care at home. And if you know you won’t feel up to celebrating right after the race, you’re definitely not alone. After you’ve taken some time to rest, pencil in some future festivities.
On the other hand, if your race didn’t go as planned, or if you didn’t hit a PR you had set, giving yourself a pat on the back might not come as naturally. So first and foremost, know this: You’re allowed to feel disappointed if you missed your goal. But also, recognize the fact that you put significant time and effort into a meaningful pursuit, Gersten says—something that’s worth honoring. “Remember, it wasn’t just about that day, it was about the big picture,” she says.
And no matter what, you can find something that went well, Hoffman says. Maybe your cadence was faster than in past races, your breathing more relaxed, you made it through training without any serious injuries, or you high-fived some friendly spectators along the course. Maybe, as was the case with the most recent NYC Marathon, an uncharacteristically hot day made the race surprisingly challenging—and yet so many runners persevered.
Write about the race and your feelings surrounding it.
Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to tell your race story serves a few key purposes, even if you aren’t the type to share a recap on social media. First, there’s the practical: Remembering the things you did well, or could improve in the future. On the emotional front, the exercise offers you time to pinpoint and process any feelings you have about how things went, Roth-Goldberg says.