When preparing for an Ironman, everyone talks about training, nutrition, power readings, sleep, which race wheels to use, recovery, training thresholds, tactics on race day, and the list goes on…
But no one seems to talk about what happens after the big day. What happens when the adrenaline and elation of finishing this ‘beast’ of a race wear off? What do I do with this extra time I now have?
It has now been just over three months since I finished the gruelling 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. The first week post-race was spent at the family beach house on the Coromandel. I managed a couple of recovery swims with Dad,lay on the couch reading, enjoyed a few alcoholic beverages in the evenings, had some good conversation and coffee with Mum and went for some walks with my fiancee Tania.
At this stage, I think I was in a bit of a vortex where it still hadn’t sunk in that I had achieved this amazing thing. I was pretending everything was ok and that I was happy! But in that clear retrospective vision that I have now, I wasn’t happy. The only way I can illustrate it is that it’s very similar to the grieving process. For anyone who has ever lost a friend, family member or even a pet, you will understand. At first, I felt isolated; like I was the only person going through this, even though there were a thousand people racing with me on the day. A few weeks later I began to get a bit frustrated and angry that I still didn’t have the desire to get out for a ride on my bike or go for a run.
The next stage felt something like depression. I had a major lack of motivation; I wanted to sleep in instead of getting up early to train. I would choose a beer over going out for a run.
Now, finally, as I write this article, I’m coming to some form of acceptance as to where I am now, forming new goals and getting on with normal life! Whatever that is.Wow! 3 months later! I didn’t think it would take this long! I must have delayed reactions. Or is this normal? What is normal? These are some of the questions going through my head. So, I decided to do a review of some of my peers, the ones who battled out there with me on race day. The 1,400 or so competitors who wear the IRONMAN badge. A few coffees and conversations later I came to a very simple conclusion: everyone deals with this in a different way. Some had done the same as me, slowly trudging through the grieving process for the past few months, only getting back to some form of training now. Some tried to skip the whole process and just throw themselves back into training (ignore ignore ignore!). Some have decided they don’t want to do another Ironman again! Some, the hardened Ironman athletes, signed up the following day so they had no excuse for next year!
On some self-reflection and analysis, I came to the conclusion that my response is normal for me. I’m a physiotherapist and wellness consultant. I am very aware of the recovery needed after an event of this type. My body had taken out a huge overdraft. Muscles needed to repair, inflammation needed to settle, joints to be offloaded. Most importantly, my ‘hard drive’ (my brain), wanted to go into sleep mode for a while. Or at least be used for something other than 5am wake ups, 7 hours of straight training, deciding on which nutrition to pack and which fluoro speedos I should wear for swim squad. Putting it simply, I was craving a break from the highly repetitive and time-consuming days that were Ironman training.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute of the build-up and the training. Smashing out a 200km ride to the Coromandel, swimming in 2-3 meter swells off Takapuna beach, 7-hour brick (swim/bike/run) sessions followed up by 2hr 40min runs the following day. I loved the camaraderie of the long training sessions, the silly conversations at 180km of those really long rides where nicknames were bestowed. I would imagine every training session as though I was a Spartan warrior preparing for battle! Except Spartan warriors didn’t have gels or water laced with special protein and carbs.
So what next? Another Ironman? A marathon? Or just continue cruising, training when I feel like it, having a few beers and sleeping in. What I have learned about me in this process is that I miss the routine, the early starts, the buzz I get from training, the clarity of mind a hard training session gives me. I love that build up to my next race. Pushing my body and my mind is just part of what makes me tick! But I have also realised that I love what I do in business every day. I help people reach their physical and mental potential. I help people through their various injuries, improve their running style. I lead a run squad, motivate people. Essentially the journey of Ironman has just added to my professional toolbox. I have been through one of the physically hardest and most mentally taxing races out there and come through the other side wanting to do another one. Not necessarily to beat my time, but to enjoy the journey and the value it adds to my life. The ability to achieve something like this can cross platforms to achieving goals in business, personal relationships and other life goals. My new mantra: Get comfortable being uncomfortable!!
Disclaimer: Make sure you enjoy appropriate rest and recovery in between!!