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Morning After Syndrome

Paying for a big day out.

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This essay appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Trail Runner. Join today


“I’m going to need some morphine.”

The text to my partner, a nurse practitioner, fell on unimpressed ears.

She replied, “Get your ass out of bed and eat some ibuprofen.”

I just lay there. It was the morning after, and I felt like someone had beaten me with a bag of hammers, dragged me through a gravel pit, and donated what was left for NFL linebacker practice.

The night before, I had passed out on my bed after single-handedly demolish- ing a large pizza.

During the day, my pal Brendan Leonard and I had ticked off the legendary Presidential Range Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Twenty-two miles long with 9,200 feet of vertical, it’s one of the most technical runs in the U.S. In the Northeast, trail runners flock to the Presi traverse to test their mettle.

Since it’s been in my backyard for half my life, familiarity has bred a far too casual attitude. My prep for this 20-somethingth pass through it? A three-week training block that was spent almost entirely at the computer. Now I was paying for it.

“Strava says we each burned 4,000 calories… “That’s four pints of cookie-dough ice cream. Each.”

Morning After Syndrome is usually the result of a perfect storm of undertraining, overenthusiasm and a big day out. Unlike that found in many other aspects of trail running, research in this field is woefully inadequate. In fact, I am the country’s leading expert, having studied it in depth over several decades.

First, I took a mental scan of my body—a technique that I’m pretty sure my yoga instructor never thought would be applied as triage. The reports added up like a 50-car pile-up. Calf muscles were one twitch away from spasming. I was pretty sure there were blood blisters on my feet, though it would be another few hours before I was able to stretch enough for a visual. My head was pounding with dehydration headache, so much so that I thought the morphine was being unreasonably withheld. The medical phrase “compassionate use,” normally reserved for one’s final weeks, came to mind. 

According to my hard-earned system, when you’re ready to start moving, the key is to ease into it. In this case, I opted for 20 minutes of social-media calisthenics, gently swiping and tapping with one finger. Soon, though, a full bladder forced my hand and, over 30 seconds or so, I pivoted and stood. My back cracked on the way to the bathroom where, let’s just say, I confirmed the dehydration and some bonus severe male chafing.

I ransacked the bathroom for ibuprofen, finding only a prescription bottle, once used for a small meniscus tear, that I had relabelled “trail-running pills.” There were a few pills left, but the expiration date was two Presidential administrations ago. I kept rummaging.

“You know you love it.”

RELATED: The Morning After UTMB.

The follow-up text from my partner arrived as I was casually grinding a few pounds of coffee. I shot back a dozen emoticons: confusion, pain, crying, and (yes, it’s there) a hypodermic needle.

She countered, still indifferent: “The morning after is half the addiction. You’re talking about a weird bunch of overachieving suffer-seekers. Who doesn’t love to lie on the couch with every cell screaming, gloating about how much misery it took?”

The gloating segues naturally into smugness and self-congratulations, which of course necessitate a reward. And in this era of constant overwork, what’s more of a reward than a guilt-free day of doing absolutely nothing?

But that’s not the only reward, as Brendan soon pointed out.

Remember Brendan? Somewhere near midday, agonizing groans indicated to me that he was either emerging from his own coma or taking his last few breaths. Bren- dan stumbled down the spiral staircase, hit sunlight that was filtering through the picture window, and recoiled. He regained his bearings, then pointed at his phone.

“Strava says we each burned 4,000 calories,” he observed, then paused, doing some math in his head. “That’s four pints of cookie-dough ice cream. Each.”

Well, I had to go out for ibuprofen anyway. I pulled on my shoes more quickly than I’d done anything all day, envisioning the rows of colorful Ben and Jerry’s lids in the local convenience store. The pain is real. But it does have its upsides.


Doug Mayer lives in Chamonix, France, where he manages Morning After Syndrome with chocolate-almond croissants and a liter or two of cafe au lait.

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