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.