Post-Race Depression: Battling The Blues

Two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom shares his secret to avoiding post-race depression, which includes a donut and a road trip.

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Two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom shares his secret to avoiding post-race depression, which includes a donut and a road trip.

This article was originally published in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

Post-race depression, or the “Ironman blues” as it’s commonly referred to in our sport, is a very real epidemic. You’ve spent months training. Every minute is planned for optimum performance, every calorie is counted to properly fuel your body, and every spare moment is used to recover and visualize the race ahead. Then, almost immediately after crossing the finish line, you come down with a physical and mental case of the mopes.

This epidemic can be particularly debilitating if your race falls at the end of the season, when a longer break from training is mandated and your next race is a winter away. There is hope though. In 2001, the Hawaii Ironman was at the end of my season, and I came up with a surefire plan to avoid any kind of letdown after the race.

First, and probably most important, is to just go ahead and win the race. Second place sucks. It’s actually worse than third because you constantly reexamine all the little things you did wrong that may have changed the outcome. Believe me: Those second-place blues do not go away easily.

The next step is to go back to the finish line at midnight and cheer on the final finishers. It is such a great experience. It’s like a big party for everyone’s accomplishments that day. There is no way to have even the slightest bit of melancholy in that environment. You may even get to put the medal on the final finisher!

The morning after the race is vital to break the pre-race routine. I suggest a trip to the nearest donut shop. I don’t know about most of you, but donuts are not regular items on my training menu. Maybe that’s what makes them so decadent. The first bite of a fresh glazed donut puts a smile on my face that can last for days.

After indulging at the bakery, it’s time to take all the family and friends who traveled to watch your ordeal (and put up with your selfish behavior the past year) out to breakfast. A big plate of cheesy eggs and greasy bacon will replace all the salt and fat you burned during the race and ensure you don’t get “hangry” (hungry/angry). In addition, it always feels good to slap the credit card down and pay for everyone’s meal.

Your body may begin to feel the need for a little activity at this point. It is not accustomed to inactivity for even one day, so it would be best to visit a nearby beach. You can take a quick dip, catch a wave or two, and that should trick your body enough to think you exercised.

After so much family activity, you may need some alone time. You are used to countless hours training by yourself, and if you go cold turkey, the mopes could set in quickly. If you’re lucky during the race, the camera crew will focus on you most of the day, and you will get to know them rather well. One will offer to lend you his motorcycle to go for a ride around the island. A ride like that will definitely keep the blues away.

After all that, you should make it through the first day unscathed. Now it’s time to go to the awards banquet. The race will give you a free table in the VIP section for your entire family and then ask you to come on stage and say a few inspirational words to a couple thousand people. The pre-speech nerves simulate pre-race nerves nicely, so your body will be adequately tricked into believing that its routine is still in place.

After the awards ceremony, it’s time for the post-race party. Everyone will want to say hello, and you will not have to buy a drink all night. Your entourage will shut down the party and then head over to the local Denny’s for some pancakes to avoid bonking. Count on waiting for a table, since this part of the plan is no secret! 

The next day, one of your siblings should get married. Weddings are always fun and keeping busy is an important part of the plan. It provides a reason for more family members to watch you race too. Catch the redeye flight that night after attending a luau with the wedding party. Inevitably, the airlines will recognize your name and bump you up to first class.

On a whim you decided it was a good idea to drive from Colorado to California for the last couple of weeks of training before heading to Hawaii, so you have to drive the car back. This will now act in your favor. Nothing is better than hitting the open road with your beautiful spouse and no schedule. Take your time, enjoy the sights and eat anything you want. (After all, your body continues to burn for at least two weeks after such an intense effort, right?)

When you finally arrive home, your two sweet dogs will bound out the door to greet you and show how much they missed you. Your spouse will then inform you that a party has been planned in your honor. All your friends and supporters will be there to celebrate your glorious return.

This plan worked wonders for me; I highly recommend it. If you follow it closely, the Ironman blues can be defeated. For at least a week. After that, you’re on your own.

Look for Tim DeBoom’s “At The Finish” column in Inside Triathlon.

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