6 Tips for Beating the Post Ironman Blues
You've taken your steps down the red carpet. You've heard the voice of Ironman yell out your name and those beloved words "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN". The multi-day post race high has diminished and you can finally stand up off the toilet without groaning or yelling for your mate to come lift you off.
Your training peaks is empty or at a minimum it telling you to just walk the dog with all this extra time and increased recovery so you'd think that you would have all this extra energy. Yet you find yourself barely getting through the day, falling asleep at 7:30 pm, brain super foggy, and struggling your way through your work day.
You just spent the majority of the past year in a constant state of swim, bike, run, eat, sleep, and repeat with all of your waking moments focused on that "Your are an Ironman" moment. Now it is either all over or it is time to turn your focus to another race and start the process over. This can be exhausting or even overwhelming and lead yourself deep into the post ironman blues. The Post Ironman Blues or even Post Ironman race day depression is a real thing and it can be very debilitating, and even derailing for getting back on track with life in general or trying to motivate to move on to your next race.
Seems like a myth. The messy feeling of post Ironman, I mean you just accomplished something amazing how could you be feeling blue? Well even as I sit here, having just started back with my own training for my road to Kona, I struggle to put words on paper not necessarily because I don't have the energy but it is as though my brain won't totally function.
The week after Ironman Texas looked exactly like that for me, and while it was not the worst case of the blues I've ever experienced it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks. I spent the days after Texas staring at my computer screen during work and not seeing much, my fingers which normally fly across the keyboard barely moved, the checklists that I normally tick off quickly just grew longer. I found myself just wanting to sit on the couch, despite it being beautiful outside, staring at the TV and barely made it to 8:00 pm every night. I had less energy with all the recovery I was doing than the days I put in 7-8 hours of training in.
Being female I am unsure as to whether men go through something similar, as I do not have first hand experience, but the week after Ironman my hormones go all kinds of wacko. Things that I normally could just let slide get stuck in my brain like a parasite and things that normally would not make me cry sure as hell did. I am happy to say that those crazy feelings didn't last too long, but sadly the teenage level breakouts sure did.
As I know that I am not the only one who goes through these emotions and feelings after a race I wanted to share some tips breaking through and beating the post Ironman Blues. Here are my Six Tips to breaking through the Post Ironman Blues:
Keep the "rockstar" feeling alive I do not know about the majority of you but whenever I complete a full or half Ironman I feel like such a rockstar, and selfishly it is one of the reasons I continue to return to Ironman time and time again. It isn't every day that we get a chance to feel that way, no matter how confident we are, and it is very addicting. Part of the Ironman Blues are that once this feeling diminishes we are left with an uncertainty about ourselves and combating that comes from keeping that feeling alive.
If you journal, blog, or vlog write about the day. Share it with your friends. Spend time writing down something about each of the disciplines from what you ate that morning, the swim, T1, the bike, T2, and the run. Not only does this keep it alive for you but it is helpful for the next race to learn what to do and what not to do. Writing is very cathartic and one of the best ways to keep those feelings at the surface. If you need an example of a race recap check out my Ironman Kona recap here or my Ironman Texas recap here.
On top of spending the time to write or journal about the day do not hesitate to share how you are feeling post race. Again, writing is very cathartic and sharing how you are feeling can help you untangle the emotional webs. You will be surprised how many others are feeling the same as you.
Accept it and let the body recover
It is easy to try to fit the feelings you are having. To ignore them and try to push them to the side. As part of the recovery time you have to give into it a little bit. There is a reason you are sluggish, slow, and tired you just put your body through something nutty. Rather than fight through these take extra measures to counteract them such as getting extra sleep, staying in your pajamas a little longer than normal, and keeping yourself out of situations that may make you edgy or set you off emotionally.
By accepting it you are acknowledging that your body, mind, and soul needs proper rest and recovery from you just put it through. Physiologically your body just went through hell and back from emptying your body of glycogen, increasing your core temperature as a way to combat the stress you are putting on your body, oxidative and mitochondrial stress, as well as a whole mess of other "stresses" your body goes through and while it will bounce back (that is the beauty of the human body) it needs time to do so. Allow yourself the time to recover and remember that it is different for everyone. Some people can physically, emotionally, and mentally jump back in after one or two weeks while others it may take closer to four to six weeks.
Indulge A Little
You just spent the last six months treating your body like a high performance car. Feeding it the best foods to fuel yourself for strength and confidence so you have to be careful when it comes to indulging as your body is not going to be used to it. Despite that it is good to give yourself a break even on a food and alcohol level. So indulge a little, eat that ice cream you've been craving and have those drinks you withheld from. This relaxation from the standard gives your mind and body a small break, plus its a lot of fun!!
However, this is a bit of a slippery slope as too much indulgence can have a negative affect on the Ironman Blues. Too much can result in weight gain, increased sluggishness, decreased muscle repair, and through those a decrease self confidence and ease of getting back into it. You have to remember as stated above you just spent the last six plus months treating yourself like a high performance car and no different than when you put regular fuel into a car that requires premium you can ruin the engine. So give yourself a break for a few days but then get yourself back on your regular eating routine.
Turn the Race into a Vacation (race-cation)
One of my favorite aspects of triathlon is that the races are often in unique and/or beautiful places and it forces us to travel to new areas - yes even Houston. While we did not turn Houston into a race-cation this is something that my husband and I often do. We spent the week in Arizona with my family after Ironman Arizona and you can't go to Kona, Hawaii without spending extra time there.
This allows you to spend some much needed one on one time with your loved ones as well as forces you to slow it down, not work, and not stress as much about not being on a standard plan.
Sign up for another race, even just a "fun" one
You crossed the finish line and maybe you said no way in hell I'm doing another one of those next year or maybe you couldn't wait to sign up for another one but no matter what after a week or so you will start to feel the itch. If you don't have another race on the schedule start doing some planning. Find one that sparks your interest and gets you excited again then go for it, sign up for it. Not only does this give you something to look forward to but it puts a goal back on your radar, even if it is twelve months away.
Planning for another race doesn't mean you have to immediately sign up for another Ironman (or 70.3) in fact you have to remember that you did just do one and signing up for another at the end of the year can make for a really long season. Rather sign up for something fun, do a 5k or a 10k with your family. Sign up for a mountain bike race that you've always wanted to do but didn't have the time. Getting yourself to the starting line of something low key can spark the competitive juices and remind you why you love triathlon.
Take time off of each discipline
Not only does this let your body recover but it gives you a mental break from the constant swim, bike, and run. Do something different or do things that you just didn't have the time to do during training. Taking time off of each discipline doesn't mean don't do them, for example maybe you love to mountain bike or honestly even ride your road bike but you didn't have the time because you were always on your TT. Spend some time with those beauties just going out for joy rides. Introduce yoga, or strength training back into your routine. Or even just spend the time reading that stack of books you were too tired to read.
Taking the time off of the discipline gives you a chance to recover from them but also gives you a chance to miss it. One of the number one signs you are ready to get started again is when you stare at your bathing suit longing for a swim (that never happens for me 😉).
Lastly, don't let yourself feel isolated. You are not alone in your feelings as even the best of triathlon go through these emotions. I promise you are not going crazy even if it feels that way. Some people handle them better than others but that does not mean that they aren't there. Reach out to others, the triathlon community, for the most part, is extremely uplifting and you can bet there is probably someone out there who will help you through whatever it is you are going through.
How have you worked through the post race blues? Comment below, I'd love to hear from you.