What to Expect After Completing an Ironman

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 by Coach Kristen

Kristen Codish becomes an Ironman

On August 30, 2010, I became an Ironman.

Two days later, I was in a sort of depression and beginning a curious journey through the “other” side of Ironman.

I’m not writing this post to discourage anyone from doing an Ironman. In fact, my hope is to help you better prepare for something most triathletes don’t think much about: A potential journey you might venture towards after completing an Ironman.

This is my journey. Your mileage may vary, but I’ll bet that if you’ve completed an Ironman, we stopped at a few of the same rest stops along the way.

(By the way, you can read about my journey up to the day of the race in my IM Louisville Training Report, as well as the actual race day in my Ironman Louisville 2010 Race Report).

Now What Do I Train For?

As most Ironman athletes do, as soon as I crossed the finish line on August 30, 2010, I’m pretty sure my first thought was “thank God I’m done!” I was so happy, and relieved, to have accomplished something that less than one percent of the American population can say they have attempted, let alone completed.

My second thought was “now, what do I train for?”

I could not believe what an extreme let down I had once it was over. I had achieved one of my dreams…one of the biggest dreams a triathlete can have. But not less than two days later, I fell into a sort of depression.

I was lost after focusing so much of my life on this one thing. I now had 15-20 extra hours a week that I didn’t know what to do with (now those of you that know me, know I’m a workaholic so it didn’t take long to fill some of that void). I was hurt going into the event, so now I had no excuse to train through the pain any more.

I had no reason to train period…and it was killing me.

Figuring Out What is Best For Me

This was not the post-Ironman high I was expecting. I was worn out, depressed, and almost ashamed for not being motivated. I was angry with myself for still eating just as much as I was before Ironman. I was sad that there wasn’t another event on my schedule to train for.

I was confused about why I was having these thoughts and feelings and how to battle them. What I did know was that I did not want to schedule an event simply for the sake of having something to train for or doing an event that sounded crazier to my friends and family than an Ironman.


That’s really what it came down to: what I thought people expected of me. I had to set my mind straight. I’m not a pro, and yes I do train people for triathlons for a living, but no one expects me to do anything except have fun and enjoy what I’m doing. So I started thinking about what was best for me.

My Road to Mental Recovery

First, I needed to get healthy. I had to put in place a small plan of doing activities that didn’t hurt so I could rehab my injuries. It was simple, but I think it’s something that people need to have lined up for after their race. Keep it realistic and small, but be consistent. Involve family and friends. Mine was walking and strength training twice a week with the help of a friend to hold me accountable and keep me motivated.

Next, I returned to mountain biking after taking the year off to prepare for Ironman. Surprisingly, I had no motivation to even do that. Talk about a funk! But my passion quickly came back with the help of some friends.

I was now up to five days of activities a week. I took it slow, but I did have a plan. I think this is where a lot of Ironmen make mistakes. By this point, most triathletes have already put another event on the schedule and are still training while injured, or remain injured because they didn’t give enough time for recovery, or burnt out but still forcing themselves to do other events (half-marathons, marathons, or other triathlons, for example).

I highly suggest giving your body some down time. Around 8 weeks is pretty good…possibly even 12-16 weeks. It was 20 weeks before I was finally back to a “training” schedule.

Doing the Pantry Shuffle

Next on my list was to stop eating like an Ironman in training. I had gained 14 pounds in 12 weeks. Not acceptable in my book. I could have prevented it.

Looking back, I wish I would have cleaned out the pantry and refrigerator either before we had left for the Ironman event or immediately when we got back and started with fresh food.

I also wish I would have immediately gotten on board with a calorie counter. I am a big believer in the concept of calories in should be less than or equal to calories going out. This would have helped me be aware of what I was eating and how much. I had gotten away from fruits and vegetables because basically in the heavy training weeks leading up to Ironman, I could eat what I wanted and still lose or maintain weight.

It took awhile for the light bulb to go off to say I am eating too much instead of I’m training too little (which I believe is the thought process of the triathlete), but once I thought about it that way, I started changing my habits. I heard USAT’s Olympic Strength and Conditioning Coach and Nutritionist, Bob Seebahor, once put it as “the pantry shuffle.”

So I shuffled my pantry around and started eating healthier as well as less. I did have to track my calories (first day I counted it on I was at 3800 calories…had no clue I was that high). I brought it down to a more reasonable 1600 calories a day, which is where I need to be when I am just exercising, not training.

It was tough at first, but I had to work at retraining my brain to acknowledge hunger instead of cravings. For the next four weeks, my focus on nutrition helped me establish my self-discipline again.

Answering the Question: Now What Do I Train For?

Last but not least, I had to finally answer the question I asked after crossing the finish line: Now, what do I train for?

I waited until 16 weeks after Ironman to finally decide what my 2011 goals were going to be. I had to figure out what motivated me (see Coach Tommy’s article “Why Do You Do What You Do”). I wanted to enjoy what I was doing and be intrinsically motivated. I didn’t want to go long. I didn’t want to travel too far for races. I knew I only wanted to allow anywhere from 8 – 12 hours a week training. I also wanted to be able to have fun training with friends again. With those parameters in mind, I pared down my options.

Training time constraints meant it had to be a sprint or Olympic distance season. I also enjoy being dirty (riding and running on the trails that is). There are several Xterra races not too far from Dallas, so why not compete in a few of those? It’s something I’ve never done, something that will challenge me, and something that friends will join me on for parts of my training, if not all. I will achieve happiness and enjoyment by doing races that are healthy for me this year. That’s my goal. Picking events is something to put time and effort into, AFTER your Ironman…not before.

There is Life After…and Other Than…Ironman

I know first hand how difficult it is to deal with the post-Ironman blues. But if you give yourself time to heal in the brain and body, you’ll stay healthy mentally and physically. Don’t let yourself get lost in crazy thoughts and be sure to involve friends, family, and/or teammates to keep you moving.

There is life other than Ironman even if it does take some time to figure that out.

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