Ironman Addiction

I wrote a post last year about exercise addiction. One thing was very clear from the responses to that post; many of us are exercise addicts. I believe there is a special subset in that group, those who are not only addicted to exercise in general, but to Ironman specifically. Year after year, in spite of the time commitments, financial burden, and physical and emotional toll, athletes clamor to sign up for Ironman races.

A recent conversation with an athlete I coach centered on this very issue. She has raced Ironman every year for the past many years. Next year, work obligations will not allow her the time to train the same number of hours and so she questioned her ability to appropriately train for Ironman. I offered her a very radical suggestion: Take a year off from Ironman and focus on the other distances. She was incredulous at the very notion, she had not thought about not doing Ironman. When we talked it though, though, she became excited at the prospect of doing shorter races and honing her speed.

My last Ironman was in 2008. My gut shut down yet again, rendering me dizzy, depleted and unable to finish the race. I decided that it would be my last Ironman for a very long time. It seemed silly to continually damage my body doing a distance it seemingly rejected, especially with so many other racing options.

Triathlon is very Ironman-centric and I, too, was heavily on the band wagon. I could not imagine planning an Ironman-less season. I anticipated that my training and racing would be unfulfilling in some way, that I would be less of a triathlete. I could not have been more wrong.

My training evolved to fit my racing goals. I substituted much of the long distance training for shorter and more intense workouts. I began to really enjoy the training format. I did not miss Ironman after all. I originally thought I could not be satisfied without that smug feeling of contented exhaustion from training all day. But, I was.

It has been 11 months since I raced my last triathlon. I have not ridden my bike for almost as long. I have again been surprised that after the initial feeling of loss, I am not discontent. Just as the transition out of the Ironman realm was relatively seamless, so has been my transition to running.

I have realized that I don’t need to log the endless training hours to quell my addiction. I need to have concrete training and racing goals, and if those are met (or almost met), I am satisfied. I am still able to push myself in training and see the fruits of my labor on the race course. That is what my addiction craves.

Triathletes have trouble breaking their Ironman addiction, even if their bodies are shattered or their personal lives unable to handle the strain, because there is a belief that the high from training for Ironman cannot be replicated by training for other events. Or, there is a fear that training fewer hours will result in being less fit. Perhaps, there is a sense that anything less than Ironman is unsatisfactory. Yes, there is a certain pride in telling others that you have finished a gazillion Ironman races.And, of course, there is the Kona carrot beckoning year after year.

Take a break from Ironman for a while. Recharge your batteries. Get faster. Experiment with other races. Change up your training. Work on your weaknesses. Try to qualify for a World Championships at another distance. Ironman will still be there when you are ready to revisit the distance, only this time you will be renewed, faster and raring to go.

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9 Responses

  1. MarkyV says:

    Do ironman….be slow.

    Wanna be fast race and train for super sprints.

    If u like the long stuff….still train like the above… With the occasional long ride/run

  2. It is very true. I am wrestling with this right now – I have yet to complete my first Ironman, and I am finding it very hard to get over that fact! I was supposed to race IMWI last fall, but had a death in the family and didn’t even get to train (whole year just fell apart on me, nothing to be done but roll with it); I had a great spring training for IMCDA this year, and then got really sick three weeks out. Bad bronchitis, lasting 2+ weeks (I have asthma and general respiratory stuff always plaguing me), and when I was still feeling incredibly sick and hacking stuff up 6 days out from the race it was clear I had to pull out. I really want to try for it again next year, but it may well be that the sensible thing is to wait till 2013, certainly there are many useful and indeed enjoyable things I can do in a 2012 season without a full-iron-distance race – but oh, the lure of Ironman is so fatally strong!…

  3. glad to see others in my same boat….

  4. GREAT post, so well articulated!!

    Two years ago, as an outsider considering triathlon, it seemed like there was an expectation that everyone should and must strive for an ironman. I found that concerning and intimidating. I got a coach and first thing I told him straight up was Ironman was not for me and I immediately took that pressure off of myself. I’ve never regretted it and I’ve enjoyed plenty of success at Sprints and Olympics. The best thing is I haven’t crossed the line to where my family resents me or the sport and I am WELL trained for sprints and olys. There’s plenty of challenge and reward at the shorter distances.

    As with you, the satisfaction I get is from the concrete training and racing goals.

    Thank you for the wise insight!!

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments!

    Jenny, I do hope you get a chance to complete your first Ironman. Until then, embrace the racing you can do.

  6. Billy says:

    As per our discussion JZ,

    Addiction just seems to be an abused term…our country is addicted to using addictions as an explanation.

    I agree with a lot of what you are stating and I offer obsession as a more appropriate term here.

    Finally, I don’t want anyone who is “addicted” having to cut out all their triathlon, like an addict would need for complete recovery.

  7. Bob Mitera says:

    I call it “Iron fever”. Doing my first Xterra race has opened a new world. Same with adventure racing. Way more fun. Races like the Death Race are where it’s going. Still love Ironman- but my days of doing one every yr are over.

  8. BCPChicago says:

    I find it really messed up that Joanna tells Jenny that she hopes she can complete an Ironman distance race when Jenny states no desire to, sounds completely fulfilled, and seems to have a balanced approach. Joanna, you prove Jenny’s point. The sport does stress that the only way to reach success is to complete 140.6. Isn’t this just more bs about conforming? Set your own standards for success and met those.