Sunday, December 29, 2013


Snow at Northstar, the day before the race.
Ironman recovery is a  physical process that takes time. Tahoe took even longer than usual. Maybe it was the combination of the travel, the cold, the altitude and the exertion. I didn’t even get to the run, but it felt like it, even to the point of losing a toenail.  For a month, I was very tired, needed a lot of sleep and had no stamina. Not finishing Ironman Arizona in 2008 was a similar experience, but not with the degree of fatigue that resulted from Tahoe. A nagging knee injury from a bike accident in August didn’t help.

Even worse is the mental recovery. Every time I thought of the experience, it made me sad.  My mind kept running loops of negativity. The world was blah and the stupid chores of life took too much effort. I googled post-ironman depression, but most of it assumed that you actually finished. The low comes as a result of being focused on a big project, and when it was done, the sense of purpose was gone At least a finisher would have their high first. I did find one piece that suggested taking the negative statements you are telling yourself and making them positive. I tried that and it helped some. Still, the experience was always a sense of something  left undone.

Tahoe was so difficult that it countered any shame of not finishing. Twenty-seven degrees at the start, 6,000 feet of altitude, cold water and over 7,500 feet of bike climbing was an exceptionally challenging race. I failed, but at least I failed big. It wasn’t for lack of trying and I didn’t quit.

The key to get out of it is to move on, plan a new race, catch up on undone chores, find something fun to do. I wrote a short story. I volunteered at a butterfly pavilion. The idea of doing a long race right away didn’t appeal to me, but the season couldn’t end on Tahoe. Even a 5k or a short open water swim wasn’t feasible for a while. I probably had the fitness, but not the desire.

Duathlon Nationals took place in Tucson in late October. It was a qualifier for Worlds in Spain. This race was well-organized, with friendly people, and a fast course that had enough hills to be interesting, but not too difficult. I raced hard and didn’t worry about fading later. People were happy to be there and weren’t dreading some Herculean physical task. It was a good antidote to Tahoe. I had found my joy again and could go to Spain. That was kind of a mood lifter in itself.

I debated signing up for another ironman. Usually one every other year is enough, but I needed redemption. The idea of training again made me hesitate. Three hour runs and six hour bike rides in the summer? The memory of last summer’s misery of biking and running in the heat hadn’t left me.

The only race that appealed to me was Ironman Arizona. Did I want to repeat my worst swim experience ever in the cold, murky waters of Tempe Town Lake? Suffer the boredom of the bike and run course? But the experience was known and the event doable.  It was a chance to beat my previous time.  I had already volunteered for it, so all that was needed was stand around passing out water at a run aid station for hours on end, then show up at registration.

The race atmosphere wasn’t the usual joy for me because Tahoe had jaded me. My knees ached standing for six hours. A run aid station wasn’t as much fun as the finish line, but I got to see people I knew who were racing as the parade of zombie-like racers passed by.  People were in their own world of pain. I said “hi” to an acquaintance who didn’t recognize me. I needed more breaks than usual and was really tired driving home. I had to get up early to register and didn’t get enough sleep.

I got to Tempe about six a.m. Already an huge line had formed, some with sleeping bags and chairs. This race had gotten absurdly difficult to get into, much more than it used to be. I ran into some people I knew and we spent the next 3.5 hours talking, which helped to pass the time. I wasn’t that worried about getting in-either I did or didn’t. I finally got registered about 9:30 a.m. Despite the hassle, I was excited about a race again.

The fatigue has eased, but is not gone. Inane chores are tolerable again. I did a 10k in a fairly decent, but not great time, with not enough power nor energy to run fast. The magic wasn’t there. The dark hole receded, but hadn’t disappeared.

Why a mere race should matter that much was incomprehensible. When I felt bad , bike riding for six hours in ninety degree heat, I got through it thinking that it would pay off. Big risks have huge rewards, but one has to be ready to face the consequences if it doesn’t work out. To finish a race as difficult as Tahoe would have been a great accomplishment. The question of whether the expense, tough training and time invested was worth it still eludes me. But it’s time to move on.