Marathons Are Emotional

After the Richmond Marathon, I was upset.

I had a goal; I didn’t reach my goal. I felt extremely disappointed.

After all, I spent months working harder at running than I ever have before. For the first time in my life, I ran four and five days a week. I did tempo runs and intervals and speedwork and strides. I hired a coach. I put in all the work and on race day, I fell short.

It’s tough to put so much into one day — no, into a few hours — where anything can happen.

I posted a tweet about my disappointment. A minute later, someone else posted her own tweet. It might not have been in response to mine (though it certainly felt that way), but it got to me.

I don’t want to share the actual tweet, but the idea was that if you are upset about your time, it means you don’t respect the marathon distance. A marathon is something very few people can do and should only be treated like an accomplishment.

This felt like a rant against my emotions. Emotions I can’t control, emotions I feel only because they exist.

I thought a lot about this tweet: Am I wrong to be upset? Is my disappointment taking away from someone else’s joy about finishing? But how can I NOT be upset? I already know I can finish a marathon; I happily finished two before this one. So why am I judged for wanting to do better, wanting to improve, wanting to test my limits? Why can’t I feel like finishing 26.2 is no longer enough for me? Why is it wrong to express disappointment about failing at something I worked hard for? What does respecting the distance have to do with my drive to improve?

More importantly, how can one person tell another person her emotions are wrong?

Marathons are emotional.

No matter how race day goes, good or bad, the emotions are extreme. I can’t put into words how elated I felt after finishing the 2011  Richmond Marathon and the 2013 Portland Marathon. Finishing a marathon in good conditions is quite possibly the best feeling in the world. Why else do we runners do marathon after marathon, always trying to chase that high?

Alternatively, the disappointment I felt after the 2013 Richmond Marathon was  also extreme.

So why is post-marathon happiness considered an appropriate emotion yet post-marathon upset considered a lack of respect for the distance? What does disappointment in oneself even have to do with the distance?

And what about the time I didn’t finish the New York City Marathon in 2011? I was so upset I couldn’t read Twitter, Facebook or blogs for a week because I didn’t want to hear about the race. Is it OK to be upset about not reaching your marathon goal if you don’t complete the distance? How is that different than being upset about completing the distance but not in the way you hoped? In both circumstances, I put in time and effort and made sacrifices in my personal life, all for something that did not go well in the end. And that is disappointing.

You feel these strong emotions — and then time passes and you move on. Yes, I was deeply upset after Richmond. I didn’t want to talk much about the race and I was unable to even feel happy that I set a great PR. I felt guilty for not feeling pleased about running a marathon time I never imagined possible just a year before. But I couldn’t help it. This was how I felt.

Then time passed and I got over it. Without the cloud of these emotions, I can now see the race for what it was — just a  race.

And I am glad I experienced these strong emotions! If I didn’t feel disappointment in not putting on my best performance, what motivation would I have to improve? I’m not wallowing two months later. I felt sad and then I moved on.

And my next marathon? Whether I achieve my goal or not, I can guarantee one thing: it will be emotional.

15 comments on Marathons Are Emotional

  1. Ellen
    January 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm (4 years ago)

    I had a very similar situation happen after I ran Philadelphia in 2012. I tweeted something about my recovery and someone tweeted right after about how people who just ran marathons should be sitting on the coach eating all the carbs. I took it very personally. It still bugs me to this day. I really dislike passive aggressive behavior.

  2. Krissy @ Shiawase Life
    January 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm (4 years ago)

    I could NOT agree more with this post. I cried the last mile of my last marathon because I was so close to my goal but I could not finish as strong as I imagined I would. I absolutely respect the distance, and am humbled by it – but that doesn’t mean I am not human and feel every single emotion amplified after running 25 miles.
    Krissy @ Shiawase Life´s last blog post ..wordless wednesday.

  3. Victoria
    January 15, 2014 at 4:04 pm (4 years ago)

    You’re allowed to feel however you want to feel after a race! A marathon puts a toll on your body for sure, and once those post race endorphins fade we’re often left with a bit of depression. It’s common so definitely don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s totally normal to be more emotional, a bit down, and more critical of yourself after a marathon. But those feelings of dissatisfaction will give you clues on what to improve upon. Find the positives and work on improving the negatives.
    I had to do that for a suuuper shitty race I had just over a year ago, I ran my personal worst time by 20 minutes. But my cat had died a month before, I was an emotional wreck and totally forgot how to feed myself the day before the race. But, I didn’t quit, and that’s my silver lining for that race.

    I’m glad you’ve come out of your funk. :)
    Victoria´s last blog post ..Goodbye, comfort zone

  4. Cathryn
    January 15, 2014 at 4:15 pm (4 years ago)

    Totally agree – marathons are incredibly emotional. You throw your heart and soul into training and all the expectations you carried with you through 16 (or however many) weeks leading up to race day rest heavily on your shoulders. You are never more raw (as a runner, anyway) than during or just after a marathon. When I finished my first marathon (Philly 2012), my fiance (then boyfriend) hugged me after we crossed the finish line ntogether and suddenly we were both sobbing.

    When I pulled off to the side at Marine Corps this past October and said out loud: “I need to drop out,” I burst into tears, even fell to my knees to weep. I still get emotional thinking about it. I couldn’t stand reading people’s MCM race reports, couldn’t stand the emails I got from the race photographer, which only caught me walking shortly before I DNF’d, couldn’t deal with the condolences and the “18 miles is still an accomplishment!” Not after all that time and work and those 20-milers! It SUCKS. You toe the line knowing you did the work, and you want everything to play out for all the hay you put in the barn. The disappointment rankles. It aches. It burns. It’s okay. Cry. Scream. Rage.

    The most important thing after all that is letting go of the anger and disappointment and letting it just be the fuel for your fire for your next marathon. Go get ’em, girl.

  5. fiona
    January 15, 2014 at 4:15 pm (4 years ago)

    This post really hit home. I’ve definitely been there, done that. I finished my first marathon on a high. I had a miserable race at Richmond. I finished untrained but happy at Big Sur. I missed my goal at Vermont. My knee gave out at Wineglass. Each of those created intense feelings of happiness, disappointment, frustration, anger, elation – the works. Yes, it’s only a race, but those race hours are the final step in a journey take took months of work to get there. And unlike other shorter races, there is plenty of time to contemplate any and all outcomes, making it even more emotional. So yes to everything you said.
    fiona´s last blog post ..Wineglass Marathon – Last Long Run is DONE

  6. Laura @werkitinnyc
    January 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm (4 years ago)

    Ask my husband about this, he knows it is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine when people tell me to cheer up or look on the bright side when things are sucking. Sometimes you just need people to say–‘yeah that is really shitty, I’m sorry’, instead of being all rainbows and glitter. Or, like this tweeter in question, make you justify your feelings. Anger, disappointment and sadness are real emotions and everyone should be allowed to feel them. I could seriously right a dissertation on this topic I have so many (justifiable) feelings about it.
    Yes, you were upset but like you said, it’s not like you went into mourning. You moved on and kept things in perspective. That being said, I don’t know the intent behind this person’s tweet, but I know sometimes people are only trying to be encouraging (even if it is sometimes misguided and frustrating).
    Laura @werkitinnyc´s last blog post ..Workout Review: Hot Yoga at New York Yoga

  7. Scott Ceniza-Levine
    January 15, 2014 at 4:47 pm (4 years ago)

    I do hate when people passive agressively tweet the thing they ‘don’t like’ shortly after someone else breaks their rule.

    Great post!
    Scott Ceniza-Levine´s last blog post ..Eye on the Prize

  8. Carla - Love the Run You're With
    January 15, 2014 at 4:59 pm (4 years ago)

    If the point of running marathons were just to say you did…well, I’d never run marathons. Improvement is a huge motivator. Disappointment over faling short after training hard is perfectly justified, especially if you’re of the variety who doesn’t run one right after the other and might not get another chance for quite a while.

  9. Emily
    January 15, 2014 at 5:05 pm (4 years ago)

    SO true. I was upset after my marathon (I was elated that I finished, sure, but I know I could’ve done so much better). Nobody should judge how you feel after a marathon. Who’s to say you’re not respecting the distance?
    Great post Dori!
    Emily´s last blog post ..Vega One #OneChange

  10. Kara
    January 15, 2014 at 5:51 pm (4 years ago)

    I’ve written multiple rage-filled posts about this very subject, but you said it much more eloquently than I ever could. People seem to think that if you don’t “succeed” (aka reach a time goal) then that means you didn’t put the effort in and didn’t “respect the distance”. The more I think about it, the more I really dislike that term. I’ve read a few articles about how people are downright angry that so many people who don’t have a lot of experience are running or walking marathons, because they think it should be some kind of elite, “professionals only” race. That’s when they throw out that people “don’t respect the distance”. It’s definitely not something someone should jump into, but not reaching a specific time doesn’t mean you didn’t put effort in. Someone who would say that seems short-sighted and frankly, a little grumpy. Okay now I’m rambling! Hopefully this makes sense, haha. Anyway all I want to say is that you are a huge inspiration and obviously such a hard worker. Marathons ARE emotional and that’s why we love them, right?!
    Kara´s last blog post ..Soho Strength Lab Class Review: SoHo Swoll

  11. Amelia
    January 16, 2014 at 4:23 am (4 years ago)

    The thing about emotions is that they’re often irrational and you don’t typically get to choose which ones you feel. They just sort of happen. And emotions are sort of dependent on our own *personal* perspectives of things. What we put into something or what meaning *we’ve* given something.

    Marathons are, indeed, highly emotional events and to not accept those emotions which come with the race into your life would be much more of a disrespect to the marathon than to try to simply put on a happy face. It would also be a slap in the face to the meaning you gave to the race and the heart you put into training. How can you respect something if you *don’t* let yourself feel? If something can’t make you feel as down as it can make you feel high, then did you really connect with it at all?

    The emotions you feel are valid and you *should* feel them because they’re yours and they are real, but emotions can still be irrational and stop us from being able to take a mental step back and look at the full situation. You still finished a marathon with a pretty solid PR, that’s not nothing. It’s actually a big deal and some part of you should be able to take that step back and be like “yeah, I f’ing did that!” Still, you can’t force your emotions to be on the same page as the rational thinking that can recognize the flip side of it the situation and you shouldn’t ignore how something makes you feel. What’s the point of life if you do?

  12. GB
    January 16, 2014 at 8:45 am (4 years ago)

    “An emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.” So says Mark Twain. Loved this write-up Dori! I’ve been trying not to think about how I will feel during and post my upcoming marathon. But I know, as in life, there will be some sort of reaction from within. Feelings are feelings. I choose strong emotion over no emotion 100% of the time.

  13. Stephanie
    January 19, 2014 at 6:42 pm (4 years ago)

    Such true words miss! I think you are completely warranted in every emotion you have. There are huge highs and lows that come with marathons. I get you 100%
    Stephanie´s last blog post ..When a moment changes your life forever

  14. Ines
    April 16, 2014 at 3:40 am (4 years ago)

    Hey Karen, I’m no marathon rnneur but I’ve started running recently and hurt my right arch too. Went to see the podiatrist and I’m not allowed to run for another week.


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  1. […] A marathon is the culmination of months of training for a race that takes only a few hours. What happens when those hours don’t go as expected and you don’t reach your goal? (Dori’s Shiny Blog) […]

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