The triathlon offseason can be a dark, aimless, unmotivated, junk food-filled place. It's like The Upside Down from "Stranger Things," but with more indoor bike trainers and treadmills.
During the summer when we triathletes have goals to reach and regular training schedules to follow, we're a focused bunch. However, once the final few steps of our last race of the season are complete, we all go through what I like to refer to as the 8 States of Offseason Grief.
STAGE 1: Human Trash Compactor1 of 9
After crossing the finish line at our final race of the year, most triathletes dive into the post-race buffet like a kid jumping into a pile of leaves. Bagels, bananas, chips, peanut butter and Gatorade—it all needs to get into our bellies faster than a race official can yell, "Athlete 3118: one minute for drafting!"
Why? Well, we have no upcoming races to maintain our figures for, and hell, we just completed a triathlon, so of course we need to eat half a jar of peanut butter spread generously on a double-decker banana and bagel sandwich.
STAGE 2: Blissful Regret2 of 9
Triggered by the combination of a sugar crash and a tired stomach that can't digest the brick of food you just pounded back, this stage typically sets in on the way home from that final swim, bike, run. Aided by our supportive race Sherpas, most triathletes will ride home in a sugar-induced semi-coma, proud of our accomplishments but afraid of the ramifications of the decision to eat that third bagel.
STAGE 3: I'm Amazed I'm Not Sore3 of 9
Many triathletes will spend the day after that last race in a form of shock. Still riding the high of the previous days' heroic activities, soreness will have yet to set in. So, being the dopes we are, we think things like, "I'm so fit I'm not even sore," "I wonder if I can squeeze in another race this year," or even "This is probably what it feels like to be a pro."
Sadly, our triathlete bodies are brewing a lactic acid and joint stiffness soup so rotten, even stray dogs would turn their noses away from it.
STAGE 4: I'm So Sore and Tired I Can't Even Open a Jar of Pickles4 of 9
Two days after our final race of the year, reality sets in. We feel as if we've lost a hammer fight, small flights of stairs look like Mount Everest, reaching our arms overhead to put on clothes is a team effort and don't even get us started on standing up from the toilet.
Often accompanied by a season-ender flu, this stage can knock us off our heroic perches. All the weekend warrior glory achieved just days before is counterbalanced with an inability to reach down to put on our socks.
STAGE 5: I May Never Work Out Another Day in My Life5 of 9
In the offseason, most triathletes take a few weeks off training—a few glorious weeks off training. Coaches are blocked on all phones and social media accounts, and alarm clocks are turned off. These weeks are as close as triathletes will get to living a so-called normal life. In other words, if you want to have dinner after 7 p.m. with your multisport friends, this is your window of opportunity.
For many, this stage is bliss. The memory of our last race is still fresh enough in our minds to provide a constant ego boost, our clothes still fit well, we're well-rested and our bodies don't smell like chlorine.
STAGE 6: Without a Race Why Is Life Worth Living?6 of 9
Unfortunately, the dream world of Stage 5 is not reality. Triathletes without a daily dose of endorphins are about as pleasant as a poop-flavored lollipop. Once the memory of the final race of the year gets fuzzy, their sense of self-worth can plummet. Even worse? In a moment of weakness, they may accept a phone call from their coach that nets a 4:30 a.m. wake-up time, with no race motivating them to do so.
Like a dog without a home, a boat without a rudder or peanut butter without jelly, a triathlete without a race to train for doesn't have a North Star. With nothing to incessantly tell all their non-triathlete coworkers and friends about, their self-esteem is left hovering around zero.
STAGE 7: Is That the Last Notch On My Belt?7 of 9
This stage is a triathlete's "Matrix" red pill or blue pill moment. We're faced with our greatest fear: We may, in fact, not be a superhuman athlete anymore, and we have to decide what we're going to do about it.
This offseason crescendo happens in the blink of an eye—or the pop of a button. The moment comes when we pull on our favorite pair of jeans to find the waistband is suddenly very, very tight. It's like we're staring the Grim Reaper himself in the face as we fumble with button, zipper and belt. We question which road to take: Quit triathlon for good and sign up for a Cake of the Month Club or decide that it's officially time to take training seriously again.
STAGE 8: Time to Enter a Race8 of 9
Fortunately, the Grim Reaper from Stage 7 claims very few victims. Triathletes are a dedicated bunch, and all it takes is one sniff of a hot tire on a bike trainer resistance wheel to snap us back into action and enter a race.
Once a race is selected and paid-for, we gleefully tell all of our non-triathlete co-workers and friends about our upcoming heroic event over and over (and over and over). At last, life can begin again.