Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Life after the Ironman / Ask Me Anything

It will be soon 2 months post IMMT and I still haven't written any of those navel gazing posts about my life "as an Ironman". But here it is, you cannot escape it now. I've been asking myself what to write because this whole time felt like a 12 step recovery process that took me through all kinds and ups and downs. But I must be at least at step 5 or 7 right now and thankfully I haven't yet signed up for another Ironman, which makes this post as objective as it could be, or so I hope.

The week after the Ironman - all happy, all the time. In retrospective, I blame the endorphins for it. Not only I didn't feel much pain and I even thought that my knees were healed thanks to this race, but I was also ready to climb mountains and swim across oceans and bike across Canada and the US. I actually continued not to feel any pain for about a month, which allowed me to hike up Mt Tremblant, walk 10km a day for 4 days in NYC, and even sign up and complete another (sprint) triathlon.

After coming back to work at the beginning of September, I was convinced that I had to sign for another Ironman race and I found myself hitting several registration pages and abandoning the process while flipping the card to grab the numbers on the back. Every single day, I could not keep myself from thinking about racing again. The fact that I had kept my bracelet and made the silly promise to myself and everyone around that I would only remove it when I would sign up for another one, was like pouring gasoline on the fire.

I was also crying, a lot. For no reason, and I was coming back home every day, feeling lost without a goal, without that shiny carrot that helps me moving forward. At the same time, the aches returned to into my joints and muscles - back, knees, hips, neck - the usual suspects - but all at once for good measure. And of course, I had maxed up all my RMT, ART, PT, Acupuncturist and Chiropractor allowances. No more TLC from medical professionals  - just me and my foam roller (ugh). I was constantly wallowing in self pity and it was rather pathetic to watch.

After volunteering at Muskoka 70.3, and once my birthday came along, I finally made peace with signing up for another 140.6 "right now". I decided that I would do at least Muskoka 70.3 next year (and will probably sign up early to take advantage of the early bird price) and continue to work towards a healthier, stronger ME in the meantime. It's going to be my gift to myself - a more able body to take me through more Ironmans - but only when I feel ready physically to tackle another one. I am 40, for crying out loud, and I only started "playing triathlon" 3 years ago, because it looked like a lot of fun. I was not born or built like an elite athlete, so for me, it's all about enjoying life and the process of tackling new challenges - not qualifying for Kona or finishing on a podium - the kind of discipline that those feats demand sounds absolutely terrifying. I choose to believe that I am not defined by my performance or my physical appearance, but rather what I have in my heart... and if it takes me to pushing new limits, so be it, but if not... No biggie.

Not working out in 3 different sports like before left the space to boredom, and after a few weeks of sitting on my ass and not doing anything - nada - I could feel the mojo leaving me and even thinking "what if" triathlon was not the answer to my happiness after all. I got in a sort of funk. The less I was moving, the less I wanted to get moving. I just didn't feel like doing anything, but at the same time I was hating myself for it.

Once I finished the Lakeside Tri and the pain returned with full force in my legs, I made the decision to start working with a personal trainer. I know that it will be a long process, but I am finally ready to let go of my current fitness and focus on the things that I can improve, such as imbalances and weak glutes. I am looking forward to starting with fresh legs. I have not run since Lakeside, exactly a month ago and I plan not to run until my knees and ITBs give me exactly zero signs of distress, even if it takes them three more months. I will continue biking, ellipticalling and swimming, and of course, strength training - all in moderation - but not running.

So now I am back to training, but I am not following a specific program. I am just trying to stay active and keep the blood and the endorphins flowing. I talked to a coach once and I ended feeling pretty shitty about myself when I admitted not being able to train without external accountability and/or a coach. I cried for 2 days afterwards and I was ready to unfriend half of my contacts on Facebook, but eventually I got over it. Not everyone IS a coach or has her innate drive and dedication. Some of us live with this thing called dependability and don't get me wrong - I know that it's a crutch and a handicap at once, but I am now dedicated to reducing some of this dependability and stand on my own a little more... baby steps, yes, even at 40.

Okay, so that's 7 mental steps to recovering from the Ironman. Are there MORE? I am looking for feedback from those who made the trip down this rabbit hole and came back alive. Do I need to hire a shrink? Or do I need to sign up for another one to put an end to my misery? Here's that dependability again... Oy vey.

But enough with the questions. For the next post, I decided to answer yours. Ask Me Anything - for real, and sorry that I don't have Reddit. Nothing is taboo around here.

(I did not include any photos on purpose. Are you sad?)


  1. Cupcaketrigirl/SandyOctober 14, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    "I talked to a coach once and she made me feel pretty shitty about myself when I admitted not being able to train without external accountability and/or a coach"
    That person sucks! We all need a carrot on the stick. For some it's races, others a coach/training partner etc. Shame on that person.

    1. Sandy - I read this comment and it made me sad because truth is, the person we are talking about is someone that I admire and respect a great deal, even though I don't think we could be friends in real life... Because she expects only the highest standard from their entourage and I never felt that I could reach that level... anyhow, I prefer not to talk about other people, especially when they are not part of the conversation, and I talk full responsibility for my own feelings. The fact that I felt shitty after our discussion, in which she only said "this is where we differ" - is because I often feel inferior to top level athletes and coaches... Especially when they point out such differences and all I hear is "I'm better than you". I suppose it's their personality that clashed with my uber sensitivity. I changed the text in my blog because it wasn't fair to her. I bet she didn't mean to hurt me. I learned my lesson not to get into such conversations with people of her caliber as I may end up hurt again.

      And I am totally ok with having that carrot dangling in front of me, don't worry. Loved that you wrote so passionately though. Don't change a thing!!

  2. You have spent months on a tidal wave of endorphins. You pushed yourself mentally and physically. You reached the top of the mountain. The natural tendency is to look up and wonder what to conquer next -- and to feel lost when you see nothing. Have you stopped to admire the view? Have you looked back at the path you took to get where you are? Can you still see where you were, all those many months ago, before that first run? What about the prep for that first 50k on the bike? Did you take the time to recognize that? You aren't a princess; you have never been - you work hard and from my perspective, you've been inspirational to many people (including me) by taking the time to SET a new level of the bar... let a lot REACH and SURPASS that level. Have you thought about developing a new skill on a new (but related) tangent? Take a pole dancing course. That will kick your ass for a bit. Join Toastmasters. Exercise your mind in a non-lateral way. What I'm trying to say is... you've done so much. Spend a few mental cycles thinking of what else you could do. You don't need to do the impossible - you've proven that doesn't exist - you just need to DO. I admire you. So very very much. I don't have a coach -- I need one. I'm inherently lazy and I spend my life wishing I wasn't. I live my life with coulda, shoulda, would. You are the epitome of could, should, would, did and WILL.

    1. I so wish I knew who wrote this, because I would want to look you in the eye (picture?) and say Thank YOU. That gray silhouette is not very inviting to talk to, but I will reply anyway. You are right - I could spend time trying to develop a new skill, and if my list of goals for this year could speak, it would tell you that I'm always up for a new challenge, of any kind. And strength training IS a major challenge. Only thinking about it gives me urticaria, as I never liked doing it. So here's something I do outside of my comfort zone. It could definitely not be fitness related, but just like I said to someone on Twitter (maybe you, who knows) - exercise IS my outlet. I spent many years of my life depressed and I depend on exercise to remain ... happy. It's what works. I have not tried anything else and truth is, I am terrified of going back in that black hole. Putting back the pounds, starting to hate myself again, not finding joy in anything, neglecting my family. I don't need to do MORE, to climb a higher mountain, to break new records. I just need that minimum of sweat and pain to get my heart pumping so I feel alive again. So when I found myself going from 100mph to 0 and not being able to start the engine again... that terrified me. DO-ing - that's exactly where I am right now. Anything would be great, but as I said before, I used to depend on a coach and now that I no longer have one, I need to find myself, that drive to keep moving forward - only for health. I hope it makes sense... Yikes.

    2. One more thing - I did not ignore your questions, but they will most likely require a dedicated post. You are right, I should look back at the past as much as I look towards the future and be grateful, so grateful for making it thus far. It's all a gift, really.

  3. I admire your honesty so much! It takes a lot of courage to share something so personal, so openly. I'm guessing a lot of athletes go through something similar in their own personal way - I know I have been there more than one time myself, even if it's not exactly the same.

    It makes me sad that this coach made you feel so crappy regarding the external accountability. We all find motivation in different ways, internal or external, and it is nobody's place to judge. Without knowing her or the whole story, my guess is that she would say something like that to make herself feel better... making you feel worse was simply a by-product.

    Anyway, kudos for taking these baby steps, and finding your way in a NEW way! You are always learning and growing as an athlete but also as a person. I know I have learned so much about myself this year thanks to injury, and it sure has been a bumpy road. This "return to running" has been my first time "training" without a set goal or plan. It was rocky to start, but I am getting the hang of it and I'm hoping that in the end I will be a better/stronger/more balanced runner as a result. But who really knows?!

    I'm rambling now... all that to say, I'm proud of you and I wish you nothing but GOODNESS on this journey! Thanks for sharing. <3

    Oh, and a question.. hmmm... What has been your FAVOURITE part about no longer being in Ironman training?

    1. Oooh, I can't wait to answer that one! :-D
      I've always been too honest on social media and it hasn't always helped me, but after retiring old blogs or making them private for fear of repercussions, I think I reached a stage where I say "f the haters" (not that I had any so far, knock on wood) - but living in fear is no longer an option. This IS who I am dammit, you either stay or get the f out. Sorry for the f bombs, but I realize that I need to start using these a little more because they come somewhat naturally now. We always grow and make new connections, but paying attention to those who matter is the key. <3

  4. Ah Irina. I'm giving you a huge virtual hug. I've been there, heck I'm there right now and I didn't even do an IM this year. My body has flipped me the bird and I'm trying really hard not to slide into a black hole. Running is my sanity and to not be able to do it is killing me.
    Post IM is tough. I took a lot of time off after my first one and just did what I felt like. I didn't race at all - in fact I didn't do another tri until 2 years later. I spent time working on the garden and generally just puttering and that seemed to be good enough for me at the time.

    1. Big squeeshy hug back to you!! Thank you. <3

  5. What's your favourite long ride? It's Saturday, and you have 4 hours to spend, so where would you go?
    What's your religious affiliation, and how does it affect you motivation?
    What movies are you most likely to pick if you are going to put on something you have already seen?

    As a word of encouragement, I remind you that surely you got into triathlon as a sport because you like to ride, and you like to run. Those adventures are still there for you, even though you aren't training for a big event. ...and they are just as much fun now as before you signed up for the Ironman. Go for a ride with a best friend, just for the joy of it.

    1. Such great questions!! Will answer them all, no worries.
      As for rides with friends, my Saturday long rides have always had a big social component to them, so I am still trying to ride "for fun". It's just the length and the landscape that makes them more or less fun, but I am not being too hard on myself these days. I just go out and enjoy!

  6. oooooh, I have a question for you! Can you write a bit about balancing work/family/kids etc with Ironman training? Did you ever feel guilty about things like long rides? That's what's tripping me up when I think about 70.3 training next year. Am I being too selfish/a bad mom if I take off for a 100k ride on a Saturday, am I paying enough attention to my kids. #momguilt, it's an issue for me.