July 4, 2014
What to expect after the big triathlon race
I was doing some homework I had assigned myself and I came across this email that I wrote almost 10 years ago (August of 2006 – after our team had raced Ironman Lake Placid). It’s old – and it’s made the rounds once or twice. But I’m certain there are many of you that have not had a chance to read it yet.
The rest of this email is being written to address an issue that many Team Z Rookies sometimes experience/deal with after racing for the first time. Or maybe racing a new distance for the first time. While we tend to see a higher percentage of our long course athletes talking about these things (in the email below), they can be experienced by triathletes at shorter distances as well. On that note – people that are not triathletes can find themselves in the same position dealing with life events. So I don’t think this is as much tied to “distance of a race” as it is to “how significant of an effort were you required to commit to achieve the goal”. How important was the accomplishment to you – and how much of an impact did it have on your life.
It is probably worth the read, at least to store away in the memory bank in case it should ever happen to you.
We tend to see these types of comments in the week or weeks after the big finish….
Athlete Comment: I don’t have any motivation. Not in my job, not in my personal life, and not for triathlon.
Athlete Comment: I am not sore, but I am dragging around incessantly. I can’t seem to focus on anything.
Athlete Comment: I am sleeping. Allot. When I take a nap, I feel like I need a nap to recover.
Athlete Comment: I am happy with my race, but the sense of accomplishment is not what I thought it would be. I am having a hard time “analyzing” my results…generally having a hard time giving myself any credit b/c I know I can do better (FYI – we all can, always. Nailing an Ironman is a life-long pursuit for many).
Athlete Comment: I am having all of the above, plus some more. Is this normal?
Coach Ed’s Response: Yeah, it sucks but it is. Not EVERYONE will go through this, but it is common enough that my friends have coined a term to describe what you are going through right now. It is called….Post Feris. For “after Iron”. Like, after Ironman. It is a play on post pardom depression. My friend John explained it to me when I was experiencing the same thing. He uses the experience his wife went through while giving child birth as the analogy.
Think about it. Once upon a time, long long ago…you signed up for Ironman (or whatever the race distance was). The goal itself was larger than life. Impossible really. But you were very excited, and the “Idea” of being a finisher alone was enough to make you feel like you could climb Everest. You had not even begun to train, and you had ZERO clue what you were about to put your body, family, social life and career through. Then it began. The process of becoming “A Finisher”. New hurdles were presented every week. Training became very real. The sacrifices started to appear. As you approach race day your workouts are getting bigger, and bigger. Your personal accomplishments are growing. Super long rides, hilly rides, hot rides, super long runs, hot runs, hilly runs. Having made it through another pair of running shoes without an injury. Then….
You are on taper. Your energy levels rise as your volumes decrease. Your “free time” multiplies, and you begin to spend every waking moment running scenarios and possible outcomes through your head. You are becoming jacked up. Each day, each minute that passes becomes more intense. Here you are, packet pickup. Next, filling the Transition and Special Need Bags. The alarm goes off. Holy Shit….its race day. It’s raining, you run all the scenarios through your head again. The gun goes off. 1,000’s of people are swimming, 1,000’s are cheering. You are on a world stage and you are in the race – you are doing this. This moment is something that you have worked for for more than a year. The day is huge, the event is huge. You cross the line, you get your medal. You hug your family and teammates, you go to bed. You wake up the next day. Then….
You ask yourself “what next”?
You have BECOME a person who trains for impossible goals. Just like we adapted your physiology to prepare for this race….YOU CHANGED. Period. EVERYTHING was about preparing for that finish line. It defined you. And now you have no definition. What are you supposed to do now? Its hard guys. I think the hardest thing in the world to do is not an Ironman. It is finding the focus, energy, and will to re-establish your direction and goals once you have accomplished the “impossible”.
I’ve been through this several times in my life. My first National Cut in swimming. Earning my Scholarship (life long goal). Finishing Graduate School, and 3 Ironmans. You don’t necessarily get better at dealing with it…you just start to recognize it and begin the search for focus sooner than others might.
On top of everything else, your body is WASTED. I spoke with a Dr after one of our races that said that it takes women longer to recover than men. I’m not sure if this is true or not. But I did have a conversation with another doctor who echoed her thoughts and even added that after an Ironman, a body can be so depleted of minerals and nutrients that it is as susceptible to illness as an HIV patient. What makes it so hard to recover is that many of these minerals and nutrients are not “readily available” in normal foods. And your body does not absorb them as fast as other things. So it takes a while for the body to find and “get” what it needs to get back to normal.
Look – what you have done is amazing. You have sacrificed MUCH to earn the title. And you have every right to let your mind and body crash for a little while. But, my STRONG advice is to NOT use this email as an excuse to feel “whatever” for yourself. My advice is to strap on the shoes, helmet, or speedo and get back in the swing of things sooner than later. I don’t care if you go “hard” or “have a killer, focused goal”. But I want you going through the motions and keeping active. Finding “direction” again is a hard thing to do. But it will be accomplished. I don’t want you adding additional obstacles to your “comeback” like 15 pounds of excess, zero aerobic base, and lost form/technique/feel. THOSE obstacles are even harder to come back from than post feris. You want proof?
Look at me. I’ve been struggling since Sept of 2004. And I’ve made very, very little progress. Guys, it takes much less to maintain what you’ve earned than it will to “get it back”. That is a promise. Right now you are all efficient, well trained athletes. Your bodies are like steam engines…burning through fats and carbs at tremendous rates. STAY THAT WAY. You have no idea how good you feel right now. Not until you let it go and wish like hell that you hadn’t.
Give yourself a mental break after your big race events and start jotting down ideas of “where you want to go”, or “what you want to be”….next. But in the mean time, get back on that horse and come be a mentor for a new Z’r, or one of the 100 teammates who need you to lead them and help them understand what they are about to experience as they achieve their “first finish” as the year progresses. You will each come around in your own time, that is a promise.
And if you can’t be proud of yourself just yet…. Just know that your coach thinks the world of what you have each accomplished. All of you.