Friday, September 29, 2006

Um. Now what?

So it's not an all-out illness yet, but there is something brewing. It's tantamount to that first sneeze, maybe, that two days later has one huddled under blankets in bed. When I feel that kind of sneeze, I try to head off the impending illness. Rush to the store for some OJ and health food, get more rest, get in the mindset I will not get sick...I will not get sick...I will not get sick... So in the same way, I'm trying to head off this feeling, before it gets worse. This illness I speak of, of course, is PIFD. Post Ironman Funk Disorder.

I've alluded to it, trying to talk it out, get it into the ether, so what that does. I know a lot of my fellow Ironman athletes from Wisconsin are feeling it. They're either open about it, or I read their blogs and they're all kind of scratching their heads like I am. Excited about life after Ironman, excited of course to be an Ironman. But wondering, with increasing urgency, now what?

It's important to understand this thing for what it is, and for what it is not. It is not about Ironman. I feel completely satisfied with my Ironman experience. Utterly fulfilled. It's the most fun I've ever had. The greatest day of my life. Truly. So I don't need any processing of Ironman itself relative to this, and I don't have any regrets or lingering unfinished business that is slowly infecting my day-to-day and is now manifesting itself in some kind of unrest.

What it is is about the unique state of affairs, physically and mentally, that I'm experiencing now that Ironman is not the pinnnacle obstacle on my horizon. Of course there are many joys in life, and there are far more important things in life than Ironman, and I'm interested in exploring and pursuing all of them. This isn't about putting Ironman in contest with anything - it's just the unique position it held in my atmosphere for so many years, and now that it's gone...I feel random. There are professional endeavors, family goals, personal objectives that I can and will and do focus on and work towards, but those things require their own strategies. I miss the strategy required of Ironman. Specifically, uniquely.

I actually googled the topic, to see what other athletes might have experienced out there. I found an interesting piece by a woman named Laurie Quinn, and she writes, "And I did have a problem. After Lake Placid, I had a problem resting. I missed the company, the community of effort, the endorphins, the fight to get strong, the single mindedness of the thing. I hated recovery. I crashed. And all those little things I did not do because I was training were not interesting enough to fill my time, to make me feel like I was accomplishing something. I still rode a bit, and tried to get my running legs back, they would not come back. I still swam, but not with the same heart. I had a few decent race performances, but as my legs were still shredded, I did not always do well, and really, I learned to deal with that. But emotionally I was so off my game. I felt foolish. How can I be so simple minded that I cannot be happy without this huge goal? It felt wrong to give in, but it was there, that feeling. I had been told about this, after my first marathon. But I did not suffer after the marathon, not at all. But I had it bad after Ironman.

I was relieved to see somebody feeling so precisely how I am. I run, and I swim (haven't been on the bike...), but I don't have a finish line in mind. Each season, starting in 2004 when I started triathlon, I had a season goal - my first Olympic and 10 mile race, then 2005's first Half IM and marathon - and each of those season goals were designed around the 2006 overall goal of the Ironman. So I was always driven. Everything was always purposeful. It was useful to me to head into the winter offseason having to think of strategies for the next season's goal and the larger, looming goal. I felt intentional. The things I did, the decisions I made, they had purpose. I'm lacking that fire now without that purpose. I'm swimming or running...but technique isn't as important without some tangible reason why it should be. The workouts themselves just lack meaning. I don't have a reason to fight for those last 50 yards. And I miss that fight.

It's not just the emotional or mental focus that I'm missing - my body is in all out withdrawal. I've spent most of the last year in a state of elevated everything. Endorphins, adrenaline, bloodflow, energy, a result of consistent and continuous workouts and hard effort and intentional rest. Now...what. Recovery sucks. Being out of the game sucks. This is why Jordan unretired 3 times. Seriously. If this is how you spend your whole life - much less my 3 years - what on earth do you do afterwards? I'm not sure how Peter Reid will do it.

And like Laurie says - I feel like an idiot. That's partly why I'm writing this, to get it out there, make some admissions. Was I just an addict the whole time? Am I so absurd as to be that single minded? Am I incapable of just relaxing, enjoying the nothingness of things? Worst - am I just an obsessive, sort of doomed and shackled to require some larger-than-life goal to pursue for the rest of my days? Do I so utterly lack perspective? I don't want to be one of those people. Like the guy who drives too fast and jumps off cliffs and climbs rocks without ropes, never able to satisfy his need for adrenaline, always having to up the ante. I don't want to be that guy, who has to be on his bike for 8 hours each weekend, else he just doesn't feel like he's doing anything. That's not fair to anybody. But is that what I've become? Will I be unhappy with nothing less? I think that's conduct unbecoming of an Ironman, after all.


When I was younger, I've told you I worked at a place called Shores. It was an amazing experience, as I'd spend my summers with incredible friends at an incredible place doing incredible things. And when the summer ended, you felt a little like your heart just got ripped out. You felt this punch in your gut, this lump in your throat. I understood later in life, with much greater severity, that it was a kind of grief. And we'd all of us just spend our winters waiting for summertime again. So each winter we'd have this thing, this Thing, on our horizon to get us through, to keep us going, to drive us ahead. And when it finally came again, when late May finally arrived, it was like finally exhaling.

This feels a little like that. I think there are some actual elements of grief in here somewhere. Or at least loneliness. But I'm not a kid anymore, and don't wish to just let the winter come with me waiting around. I don't want to just "get through" the places between paramounts. I want to explore the other side of the mountain, you know? I just don't know how. I don't know what to explore over here, or what I'm exploring for.

It's not like I didn't know this would happen, or that this was coming. I did. I knew all along. Doesn't matter. This wasn't the kind of thing to give my energy or attention to when becoming Ironman. This was a bridge to cross when I got to it. Hello bridge, I've arrived. So now what?

Probably this will pass, and probably I know that. And probably I just need patience with it, which is an art I should have learned in becoming Ironman. I'm not in a panic, I'm not in a frenzy...but I do feel confused. A little unsure of what to do next. Of how to begin doing it. I've thought - next year I'll do lots of short races. Olympic or shorter. I think that sounds fun. But the "fun" of triathlon for me has always been wrapped up in some larger goal. Part of the fun is the insurmountability of it. The impossibility at hand. Will it be enough for me to just go out there and race for the sake of it? I've thought - work on improving your times. Maybe chase a podium finish. But...meh. The speeds, the finishing times, the placements - I've never been gifted enough at this game for that to be part of why I play, and besides, they seem irrelevant after Ironman. It's just not why I do this thing. Certainly I'll chase my best times, try to improve, work on personal records, always in competition with myself. That's part of the adventure. But I don't think that chasing for chasing's sake is enough to inspire me, to invigorate my imagination. I like the battle of it. I like being chased by thunderstorms and taunting them. I like the Elements showing up with brass knuckles. I like feeling opposed by whatever, on a grand scale, on an epic adventure. I just don't know how to fulfill that right now.

I've thought - I'll try and do more charity events, or race with friends more. And I think I will do those things, and I think they'll be a blast. But it's more than fun I'm looking for. I don't do this for fun. I really don't. I have so much fun doing it, but I play video games for fun. I eat nachos for fun. I own the new Justin Timberlake record for fun. These things I am not passionate about. Triathlon, and particularly Ironman - that is passion. I pay to play that game, and it's worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. I don't think I'm capable - or interested - in relegating triathlon to strictly "having fun".

I feel like I'm not explaining how I feel very well, but I think the athletes out there get it. I think you know just precisely what I'm talking about. Maybe anybody who's worked so hard for anything so singular knows what I'm talking about.

So the obvious answer might seem: Do another Ironman. But that's not the answer. For starters, it's just not on the list right now. Intentionally. I don't want to do another Ironman until the time is right - and I'll know when the time is right, and it's not right now or probably in the next 2 years at least. (Incidentally, man how sweet will it be the first time I go out there again in training for Ironman?!?!) More to the point - that doesn't solve anything. I think I need to learn to live outside of Ironman, to train and become...something additional. I have to have a solution to this problem, rather than a plan to flee from it.

So hey - I'm listening. Any ideas? On any level? Opinions about what I'm experiencing, ideas for my future, ways some of you have handled or are handling this kind of thing, whatever. I'd love a little guidance in this. A little home remedy for beating this thing before it becomes a full blown soul-cold.


Pharmie said...


Well written, as always. I am going through some of the same things, but since I'm signed up for next year, I don't have quite the same lost feeling. It's hard, though, when all of your time/thoughts/energy have been consumed by this one thing. Letting it continue to consume you would, in my opinion, just be silly. I'm trying to get my focus away from it all for a little while, too. I don't know that I have an answer regarding what to focus on. I suppose I'll be in the same boat next year.

My initial plan before signing up again was to sign up for a whole bunch of the midwest multisport series races. I'm not fast and wouldn't win any of them, but I thought that it could bring me closer to my local tri community (yours too). You start to see a lot of familiar faces out there, and there are door prizes (hence Tony):)

Maybe I'll just let you pave the way, as usual and follow in your footsteps at this time next year. You wouldn't be interested in doing a 10K in International Falls this Jan, would you? I've always wanted to find someone crazy enough to do that race with me:) Good luck with your search, and keep us posted!

TriSaraTops said...

With ya on this. Wish I had the answers. I'm trying to focus on doing things that I "missed" during my IM training--mountain biking with my husband. Running a few local 5K's and trying to get my time down on those. Thinking about starting a family, too....that's another kind of scary training plan. My husband and I have a trip to Hawaii we planned in advance over the holidays, so that's been great to keep my mind off things. I'm eyeing IMFL in 2008 and thinking about a half next summer, trying to get my half IM time down, etc. I feel like I have so many little goals, and so little time! For me, the hard part is moving from one HUGE overwhelming goal (IM) to reaching lots of smaller goals. Part of me is definitely sad it's over, but a part of me is excited, too. I'm excited to see what's next. I'm trying to focus more on the "excited" side than the sad side. It reminds me a little of my wedding day....all that planning, all that excitement, and in 24 hours it's over. But what comes next is even more fun, if that's possible.

M said...

"I feel like I'm not explaining how I feel very well, but I think the athletes out there get it. I think you know just precisely what I'm talking about. Maybe anybody who's worked so hard for anything so singular knows what I'm talking about."

Oh, no. You've done so. Very well, indeed. I'm sorry I don't have any "Chicken Soup" for you. But I think you may already know the answers you are seeking. It is so hard to just live in the present after living in the future for so long. Be patient. Listen. You will hear.


triteacher said...

x, my best words (and they suck, but hey, it's not an easy time in which we live) - This too shall pass. Truly.

RunBubbaRun said...


I wish I had some answers for you, but right now I can't figure out how to stop to fill that void of IronMan. To many races still on my schedule, for better or for worse. But I plan to leave my watch at home when I go play (ride a bike, swim, or go running). Go play with more training groups and just enjoy working out with people again. Put those long solo days behind me for now.

D said...

I tend to have a similar problem after big's what I do...knowing that I would have a letdown after IM, I commited to a 5K team race the following Sunday(which I got out of at the last minute!)and also signing up for 2 fall marathons with Boston 07 being the goal race as it will be my 50th marathon...
IMW, HUGE accomplishment...but we need to move on to the next challenge...Boston Marathon? NY Marathon? Why not spend a season seeing what you can really do with your running? You have a LOT of untapped potential!
So take some rest...find THE goal...and if you go for it the way you did IMW, success will SURELY follow!

FeGirl said...

You never cease to amaze me!! I can understand where you are coming from and I really wish that I had an answer for you, but unfortunately I do not.

You worked incredibly hard to get to this point and with in a few fleeting hours, it is over...

It leaves you with a lot to process and a lot of reflection. But then you are able to regenerate and begin again. Looking for the next high.

When I used to be really really inspired by races (not that I was ever fast, my only goal was to finish and never give in to my weaknesses while I was out there on the course!!) I would have a list of races that I wanted to do. That way I had the next goal not too far in sight and I would not have a lot of time for the release of emotions after I had finished what I had set out to accomplish.

I was not just in it for the race, but the people that I met and the experiences that I gained.

I look forward to hearing about your next venture, but in the meantime, here is one ride that you might want to look into!! It is a hell of a ride, really fun and will kick your a$$...

Eric said...

Funny hearing you say certain things in your post.

"I feel like I'm not explaining how I feel very well, but I think the athletes out there get it."

I think that each time I try to post something long and "meaningful", at least meaningful to me. Your own worst critic.

Heading into IM Lake Placid I made sure I had a good exit strategy. "what next?" So I settled down to recover and did some short ramp ups to a final tri (which turned into a du) and the Baltimore Half Marathon on 10/14, why not put the good base to work.

I've also planned my '07 season to focus on short tris to work on speed for my "first" marathon fall '07. IM was my 1st marathon so I want a solo effort.

Anyways, we each have some of the same feelings but also have to find that one thing that moves us. As Curly Washburn said in City Slickers, "Only one thing matters." But it's different for each of us. Take your time, look around, become balanced again like all triathletes strive to be. You will find the spark that will start the fire. Some of us find it quicker than others.

Looking forward to what you find out about yourself. For now, enjoy the afterglow of being an Ironman, it's nothing to "sneeze" at.

The Editor said...

Sounds like you're suffering from a case of Restless Energy Syndrome, something hard-wired from conception.

This translates into, as you say, Passion.

I have many interests but no Passion. Ironman France seems like just something to do in June.

I'm not sure what's better or worse.