I FINISHED AN IRONMAN… NOW WHAT?
With the end of the summer comes the end of triathlon race season for most all of us. And for many a not too unusual ending is that big Ironman race. From first timers to grizzled vets, the experience of an Ironman is a life memory – one I hope we all find something in to cherish for years to come. And as someone who has watched years of post-IM euphoria explode it is no surprise to me that “IM Fervor” catches fire within many – for all those that races, fanned, or simply stalked at home.
As someone with far too many miles under his ass and years under his feet it is rewarding to see so many caught up in the Ironman spirit and potential lifestyle. But beyond the excitement, fun, and wish to be part of such an experience, whether it be for a first, second, third or sixteenth time, lie some very important questions and realities to consider.
QUESTION 1: HOW DO I HANDLE LIFE POST IRONMAN
For many the 9-12 months of working towards your IM were a journey of highs and lows. Post IM will definitely be the same for potentially a few months. The highs come quick – really immediately after running under the finish banner and hearing “You Are An Ironman” a level of positive emotions will have flooded you like potentially only one or two other experiences of your life. All I can say is embrace these days and weeks of joy – you have earned it.
However, there is a darker side. The post IM blues that will creep in for a large number; first timers in particular. Some get the blues quick, others it will take some time – but it happens to most. Really what you are going through is a cycle of loss – loss of direction, loss of working towards a large goal, loss of structure, loss of shared struggle/camaraderie with fellow ‘IM soldiers”, possibly in some way loss of identity. The one thing I will say is that simply signing up for another IM will not cure these “blues”, at least not in the long run. More than anything you need to find your ‘normal’ – whatever “normal” might be in your life, as you just spent the past year following a dream that was anything but normal. HAVE SOME FUN!
The natural question for triathletes then is – when do I start to train and or race again? The key point is simply do what you want – not what you think you MUST. You have just put your body through a year of stress (physical and emotional) unlike anything you have ever done before. Quite honestly, even if you don’t manifest any visible injuries, your body is broken, and it won’t take much to bring those “broken” parts out. As you get back to training the mantra is: slow and steady, speed kills, sleep is your best friend, and if it hurts STOP. Work your volume up gradually. However, doing nothing is equally bad.
One of the best ways to help motivate you to getting back is to register for a race. There is nothing at all wrong with starting small, in fact for the majority I’d suggest it – pick something that you will truly enjoy or possibly a new adventure – but get something on the schedule to work towards. Ultimately it is without a doubt the best time to work with a COACH to determine how to get back into the game.
Question 2: Should I do another IM (or for some should I do my first IM)?
Think back to as recent as mile 20 of your IM run! I will venture a guess that more than a few of you were not thinking at that moment, “I can’t wait to do another IM – this is the best moment of my life!” Rather the words, “What the heck! I’m never doing this again!” was probably racing through your brain. Let’s not forget all the dark moments you endured through the training process. Bottom line is, bring yourself back to reality before deciding about the next epic IM adventure.
First timer or not; are you ready for the commitment of training for another Ironman? there is no such thing as cramming for IM – the fail rate on such an approach is very high. Can you realistically maintain this lifestyle – will your family, work, and personal happiness accept this new reality? Do you in brutal honesty have the capacity to create life sustainability within the demands of Ironman training and will you find happiness doing it? Ironman is about finding purpose and happiness in: slogging out 15+ hour training weeks, in suffering on the 100+mile ride or 3 hours run in the cold and rain, and, in willingness to make and follow through on the hard decisions. If this is what excites you, then more IM is in your life.
In the end there can be a huge amount of joy, fun, pain, or misery in doing an IM. Whether a seasoned athlete, or first timer. However, the reason to do Ironman is more than simply what you see at the finish line and weeks afterwards. It’s a deep meaningful journey as everyone discusses. And it is one that deserves an equally deep, meaningful, and thoughtful consideration of whether to do – a first time or, a first time again. Ultimately it is an opportunity – one to change your self and possibly your life – the question is what will you do with that opportunity?