And in a blink of an eye (or after many, many hours), Ironman Wisconsin 2021 is over.
It was a great day for a long distance triathlon. Overcast and cool enough without being cold. Some athletes finished in the daylight hours and were probably able to get a fair amount of food and hydration in before a restful evening. Others finished near midnight and most likely had little sleep as their excitement and adrenaline coursed through them into the daylight hours.
Some exceeded their goals. Some experienced heart breaking failure. Most finished. Some did not.
In my experience with age group athletes, most finishers feel a sense of exhausted elation after crossing the finish line. They will ride this high for several days and possibly weeks to months. They have just added a title to their identity that a very small part of the population shares— they are and always will be an Iron(wo)man.
If you have never participated in an Ironman you can still connect with the feeling of letdown in after a big goal or event. Giving birth after months of pregnancy and possibly a long and painful labor. The day after holiday celebrations are wrapped up. Getting home from a big, highly anticipated vacation. The experience doesn’t even have to be deemed positive or negative to feel the letdown after a long, emotional build up.
In my experience as an athlete and coach roughly 24-36 hours after you cross the finish line the adrenaline wears off and you feel overwhelming physical fatigue. Your brain feels foggy from glycogen depletion. You are thirsty. You are HUNGRY. In the weeks after the high wears off you might start to feel like a bit of a lost soul, not sure if the cure is to sign up for another race or just allow yourself to feel through the mental, emotional, and physical training withdrawal.
So, what is the answer?
It depends on the individual, but rest and taking the time to feel through it all will benefit athletes in the long run. After participating in a physical event like Ironman your body needs time to heal to avoid injury and to build back your fitness and strength. When going through emotional letdown if you allow yourself to feel through it you will learn that you can feel sadness, pain, loneliness, and a short term sense of uncertainty and still be okay. If you skip this step you risk hopping from event to event or possibly even race to race searching for the next adrenaline high.
Allow yourself the excitement and awe for as long as you feel it. And if/when you experience letdown I encourage you to not react in fear. Take time to enjoy some things you have not had time to invest in while focusing on more pressing matters. After a physical goal, give your body some love and appreciation rather than living afraid that you will gain weight.
Take a big breath. Let all of the accomplishment or failure or joy or sorrow soak in. Feel the high and then the letdown. And when you are ready, open your mind and heart up to the possibility of what’s next. You will find the new why for the next goal. Don’t chase the high, but dream of new experiences.
Now you know—Anything is possible.