Ironman race day arrives and you are left thinking how quickly the time has passed since you registered a year ago. Yes, an entire year has passed since you stood in line to register or pointed & clicked on your computer. No matter how you did it, it has been a year filled with planning, preparing, and a lot of time and hard work.
The cannon goes off and the day begins. Before you know it you have completed your 2.4 mile swim and it‚Äôs into T1 to prepare for the ride. Off you go thinking positively about how you can manage this 112 mile ride. You‚Äôve put in lots of time on the bike and you just need to be patient. The half way rolls by, special needs bag available if you want, and here comes mile 100 and you are just about at T2. Off the bike, into the changing tent with only 26.2 miles to go. You patiently take each mile as it comes and continue to follow your race plan. There are 6 miles to go and you are starting to wonder how this incredible day, that you have spent a year planning for, is almost over. There it is‚Ä¶the amazing finish line of Ironman. People everywhere yelling and encouraging you to the finish line, the big screen tv, your family running to the finish with you, and then across you go. The emotions and challenges you have taken on throughout the day, the year of training, come streaming out of you in the form of tears.
The first week you continue to revisit the emotions of that finish line. It is nothing like you have ever felt as an athlete. You can not quit smiling knowing what you have accomplished. You are exhilarated by the emotions, but tired enough not to need to go out and train. That passes and then you find something is missing. What is it? What‚Äôs wrong?
To quote a good friend, training buddy, and someone I have had the pleasure of coaching to two IM finishes, ‚ÄúAmy, it‚Äôs like losing your best friend.‚Äù Joe Poszgai this said to me about a week after he finished his first IM in Arizona. This is one of the great ways I have heard the sense of loss we start to feel following IM. If you ask me if I believe we feel a loss or depression following our IM, I will comfortably answer, ‚ÄòYES!!!‚Äô It is real, something to recognize and deal with.
Think about how you feel regarding planning for a wedding, baby, graduation, Christmas, vacation, etc‚Ä¶anything that takes time to plan for has somehow grabbed your attention more than normal. It has made you think things out, plan, prepare, and somewhere along the way, you have sacrificed doing other things you may normally do. Is IM a wedding day or the birth of a baby‚Ä¶NO‚Ä¶but it is a day that we have invested in emotionally.
Consider this though, just like big emotional moments in your life, you plan for an IM for almost a year. With the growing popularity of IM we don?t have a choice but to commit to this very early on if we want to do one. So, this thought is in the back of our mind and we revisit it many times over the course of the year.
So, how do you deal with ‚Äòlosing your best friend‚Äô as Joe described it? One very helpful thing is to recognize it as ‚Äòreal‚Äô and know that you are okay. Seek out another triathlete you know who has done an IM and talk with them about it. Do not come home following an IM and close the door on training. Talk with your coach about a post IM training plan. Do you need to train like you had been‚Ä¶absolutely not, but having some type of structure will help you. It is amazing how nice it can be to have a training plan that only has a 30‚Ä≤ walk on it, a 1,000yd swim, and a 30‚Ä≤ bike, for a couple of weeks, and eventually a little running. It might be more of a comfort to have the training plan than doing the actual workouts. Another great thing to do within the first week is to write a race report. This written form of your memory that already has a permanent place in your heart and mind, but one that is nice to go to from time to time remember certain pieces of your race day. It is also a nice way to share your IM day with family, friends, and fellow triathletes.
Once you‚Äôve given yourself a few good weeks of relaxing, light training to keep the body moving, consider your first race for the next season. Sit down with your coach and start making plans for your winter base training, and sport specific work. Talk about several different races you would be interested in as A races and look at your goals for the following year. Use the energy from your IM finish to help you begin planning and preparing for a new season.
Is IM depression fact or fiction? Again, only you can answer this question. In my camp, it is real, but also easily managed with some self awareness and thought on moving forward. I would not trade my IM finishes for the IM blues ever. When you have committed yourself to something that is so meaningful to you, worked hard, been disciplined and followed it through to the end‚Ä¶there is nothing better than hearing Mike, my favorite announcer say‚Ä¶‚ÄùYOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!‚Äù