I wrote this a few weeks ago. I wasn’t going to publish it, but thought I would put it out there anyway. For myself. For everyone who’s ever gone through a post-race—or post-anything awesome—funk. This one’s for you. And then, I promise, more food blogging.
Four weeks ago today I stepped over my first Ironman finish line in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Months of hard work spent pursuing a single goal culminated in one of the most memorable days of my life. People have told me since that no finish will ever feel the same; I am glad that I fully soaked it up on the day, and revelled in it for days to come.
And then, boom. Life resumed, as it’s prone to do. The race, like an animal inside that I’d spent so much of the year feeding, suddenly lost its appetite. What had given my life structure was suddenly gone, and it left an unexpected hole. I’ve always been the kind of person who came down rather hard from life highs like these, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. The end of summer camp? Tears. Graduation? Nostalgia. The end of an epic trip around the world? Emptiness. Nope, transitions have never been easy for me.
Despite all the advice I sought for the race itself, I never stopped to think about the aftermath. It’s not as if I fell into deep depression, but life after Ironman was, well, different. For those of you Ironman rookies who’ve never been told what it’s like, here’s a week-by-week breakdown of how the journey went for me.
My Ironman high lasted well beyond the finish line, as it should. The first few days were marked by indulgence. My body welcomed the concentrated rest with a great sigh, like being flung into a hammock. My mind was ready for a shift in focus. I dove into work with new vigor. I slept in. I stopped tracking calories, and didn’t turn down a single happy-hour invitation, of which there were many.
I swam once, for fun. My first run, an attempt to stave off the threatening cloud of restlessness, ended after one mile with some very unhappy quads. I trudged back to my couch, and unfortunately, back to what was beginning to look like a bona-fide Post-Ironman Funk.
The week I normally allow myself after a half-Ironman morphed into a second week. I sprinkled in a few more ocean swims, and began to ride my bike to work. I didn’t change my newfound hobby of indulging in every possible edible craving. Random breakfast cereals I hadn’t bought in months. (Overrated). Doughnuts from down the street (not overrated). Pasta and bread and chips and crackers—as if I’d handed my body over the the gluten gods to have their way with it. The food I was eating was probably exacerbating the bloated, blah feeling starting to flood my brain and body. Call me weak, but I didn’t care.
Pushing the thought of my next goal, my next race, my next anything out of my head became a game. Just breathe … just be … all that hippie talk was exactly what I needed. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
At the end of the second week, a simple evening beach run on well-packed sand, at the edge of low tide, opened up vistas for me. I was ready to move again—without training schedules or mileage goals. That one run was the symbolic beginning of cleaning up the mess left by a debaucherous feast.
Thoughts of future races began to creep in. Should I do a bike-focused block? Sign up for a half marathon? Follow a friend’s “30 runs in 30 days” challenge? Pieces of my former type-A/anal/obsessive self lay around every corner, tempting me. I was mostly successful at resisting them.
Just when I thought things were on their way up, a rather empty long weekend reared its ugly head, and I descended again into that “what do I do with myself” state. I was back in withdrawl, needing distraction. I went to a street fair. Sat on the beach. Did a kitchen project or two, telling myself all the while, this too shall pass.
Thankfully, work came through again by throwing a five-day trip into the mix. I began to start running more regularly—when I felt like it, not because I “should.” Four or five miles here or there. Sometimes on back-to-back days. Beach, hotel treadmill, wherever. Finally, the death-by-processed-grains hell I had been putting my body through started to get old. I craved nutrients, and began mixing in healthier days while continuing the general “if you want it, eat it” approach. There were still many many beers, and at least four more pumpkin muffins (swoon). But there were also blueberry-kale smoothies and midday salads (courtesy of the Whole Foods in Henderson, Nevada).
This past week I got back on the yoga mat (note to self: do that much sooner after your next Ironman), renewed my commitment to daily bike commuting, signed up for a November half marathon, and copied a training plan into my Google calendar. I got up and ran before work. I tested my running fitness on a lunch-hour five miler and was happy with the results. Sure, my happy hour participation remained far greater than normal, but started to feel more authentically happy instead of just providing a distraction.
I’m finally feeling like myself again.
So what does it all mean?
The power of the post-Ironman funk surprised me. As a friend put it, your training directs all aspects of your life for a period. Without you fully realizing it, your social life, sleep schedule, daily rhythm—all of it—falls under the Ironman spell. Its reign is invisible until it’s dethroned.
So what have I learned during these four weeks? First, that while it’s important to indulge cravings (for both food and inactivity), if I let the period drag on too long it can end up fueling the vicious funk cycle. Second, that having a fulfilling, challenging, and fun career is as important to my training as brick workouts and post-run smoothies.
But the most salient thing to come out of all of this is that as attractive as off-season activities like surfing and hiking and long, meandering walks seem sometimes, what I truly love is swimming, biking, and running. It’s as simple as that. Racing aside, I love the rhythm, the variety, and the sense of order these activities give to my life. I love the different people they bring into my life. I love how simple, daily movement—let’s call it our version of play—is mixed with loud rush of pushing limits and pursuing goals.
I’ve learned that I’m not a bucket-lister. I’m not the one-and-done type. And as long as my body will cooperate, I’m in this Ironman game for another round at least. Thankfully, I learned a lot through this month of coming down off a “first Ironman” high, and I’m certain that the next one will be smoother sailing.