How to beat the Ironman blues
Credit: Daniel Seex
Training > Long distance

Ironman blues: How to beat them...

You’ve trained for years, had the date circled for months and finally completed your Ironman. And then… nothing. Your body aches, training motivation is non-existent and the sofa is all too appealing. Let Martyn Brunt guide you off it, and on to the next challenge…

YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!’ So bellows the announcer as, with finisher’s photos in mind, you smile and raise your arms for the first time in hours, as you cross the finish line of the long-distance race you’ve been training for months to complete.

But the fun doesn’t end there, because straight after you complete your IM, Challenge, or non-branded equivalent, you get what you’ve been working so hard for – the glory, the medal, the slice of pizza you’ve been craving, the agonising leg massage or perhaps 15 minutes on a drip in the medical tent.

And the fun doesn’t even end there. You’ve still got the awards ceremony and, best of all, knocking about all day in your finisher’s shirt to look forward to. But, after that – now what? This is the point at which many a triathlete can start to view the world with a strange, neutrally vacant feeling, which may soon kick into feeling actually quite down in the dumps. The ‘Ironman blues’ phenomenon is common even among bargain-basement triathletes such as I, and is a consequence of the fact that the goal you’ve been striving, training, suffering and sacrificing for, for months, even years, is done. Your body aches, your motivation (even need) to train is gone, and attractive people in bars seem strangely unimpressed with your ability to run a marathon after 112 miles on a bike.

Even I, with 15 Ironmans and budget-alternatives under my belt, have struggled with this over the years. Most memorably after Ironman Florida when I unwisely decided to stick around in Panama City Beach for a few days only to discover that when the Ironman bandwagon rolls out of town, everything else there closes down too. I was left with literally nothing to do except stare into the abyss and slip slowly into madness.

So, what can you do about it? Well, based on my experiences of suffering many a post-race comedown, occasionally in a town where even the one horse had sodded off, I’ve developed some strategies to make sure that physically AND mentally I’m back to my mediocre self as quickly as possible. Read on…

Do some light training

And I mean ‘light’. Often the thought of doing any form of post-race exercise is as appealing as a phone call from a no-fees lawyer, so why not make it a gentle, social 12-mile bike ride to a café or pub for a long lunch, with a stop on the return for an ice cream. It turns the legs over, replenishes your calories, and gives you the chance to explain, at length, how your race went to your unfortunate companions as you pedal gently along.

Enter a shorter race soon afterwards

Not long after completing Ironman Austria I did a standard-distance race at Milton Keynes. It was one of the most fun events I ever did because I was on to a guaranteed winner – if it went badly people would say, ‘Well, he has just done an Ironman’, and if it went well people would say ‘And he’s just done an Ironman!’. Make sure you wear
your IM finisher’s shirt at bike racking. No one will mention it, but everyone will clock it.

Go on holiday

This isn’t my idea, it’s my wife’s. And it’s not so much an idea as a condition. But there is wisdom in her passive-aggression because it gives you something far removed from racing to look forward to. After finishing my first-ever Ironman in Canada we spent a memorable week visiting Vancouver Island watching orcas and grizzly bears, kayaking around Knight Inlet and consuming my own bodyweight in maple syrup. Races are often held in beautiful places so take some time to enjoy them afterwards – although be careful you don’t overdo it, after Ironman Lake Placid we headed to New York for a holiday where I spent three days sightseeing on foot until I folded like a red hot mars bar.

Find a new challenge

When you fall off a horse, get straight back on. This, I know from first-hand experience, is rubbish because they just throw you off again, but it makes a nice cliché so we’ll stick with it. A surefire way to help your brain cope with the yawning emptiness left by having nothing to train for is to give yourself something to train for by entering another challenge. I coped with the chasm caused by completing Ironman Lanzarote by entering Ironman Austria – hey presto! Reason to get up in the mornings restored. The fact that I did this within 24 hours of finishing Lanza without any family discussion, was a source of some tension in the Brunty household when it was discovered. But threats of physical violence don’t scare me, I’ve fallen off horses.

Wear your shirt

You probably don’t need my advice to do this, but wearing your finisher’s shirt at every opportunity for weeks after the race has proven medical benefits, not least because wearing it makes you walk taller, exude confidence, leap over tall buildings and deflect bullets with your granite jaw. Going for a run? Wear your shirt. Going shopping? Wear your shirt. Off to the gym? (absolutely definitely wear your shirt!). After finishing Challenge Almere with a new PB I wore my shirt for so long that it stood up on its own. But there’s no better way to banish any blues you may be feeling than proudly displaying the fruits of your labours. I’d draw the line at knocking around wearing your medal, though.

Stay off social media

Facebook is largely a collection of betting ads and pictures of cats with fruit on their heads, but for triathletes, it’s also the main playground for humble-bragging about the training you’ve just done. It’s a modern rite of passage to post pictures of your Iron success on social media, and receive in return many memes declaring you to be awesome. But if you’ve got a touch of the post-race blues, there’s nothing worse than seeing posts about other people going training when you aren’t (or don’t want to), so spare yourselves any wholly unfair feelings of inadequacy or guilt by giving the whole shebang
a miss for a bit.

Take up a hobby

Triathletes are attracted to obsessive behaviour like store detectives to a hoody, which makes us ideal types to take up some sort of pastime as an outlet for our spreadsheet-focussed minds. In between Olympics, Bradley Wiggins was a famously obsessive collector; whether it be guitars, Belgian beers or tattoos. A lack of available cash having spent it all on post-race merchandise has limited my capacity to embark on collecting anything more substantial than dust, but while resting in between Ironmans I have been known to plough through entire box sets of The Sopranos, or audio books of everything John le Carré has written, in one go. After completing the Outlaw I infamously took up playing the piano, which as well as giving me a non-tri outlet for my energies had the added benefit of causing my family to beg me to start going back out on my bike.

Recognise that it is completely normal

In as much as anything associated with triathlon can be called normal, experiencing a comedown after a big race is indeed perfectly normal, and can happen to you whether you’re Lucy Charles or, at the other end of the spectrum, my mate Tobias who once stopped for a bratwurst and a giant pretzel halfway round the bike course at Challenge Roth.

You’ve spent weeks, possibly months, with a relentless, death-ray focus on your goal; you’ve experienced
an emotional rollercoaster of excitement, nerves, confidence, doubt, exhilaration, fear and a hundred other feelings; your body has been awash with endorphins and adrenaline; you’re chock full of carbohydrates and energy gel; and now, suddenly, you’re sore, standing still, and at a slightly loose end.Experiencing a dip after all this turmoil is perfectly natural, so ignore all the ‘Just do it’ and ‘HTFU’ slogans, which try to guilt you into immediate activity, and instead, take the time to make your way to whatever you might want to do next – at your own pace.


 
 

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