Finisher vacuum: silence before the endorphine ecstasy

The days after finishing a race my emotions and dopamine hormones are so piled up that it keeps my brains from functioning. Hence I need to structure my thoughts (and laugh/learn from my mistakes) in the shape of a race report. Many athletes suffer from this form of post-exercise ADHD, resulting in thousands of blogs about motivational quotes, ferrari’s pulling caravans, run courses resembling a drawing of a 2yrs old, and the like.

Interestingly, I don’t recall anyone ever writing about what happens to the athlete directly after crossing the finish line. It is a strange silence before the endorphine ecstasy. In this space and time vacuum the athlete chooses to let his/her supporters – that spent the whole day in the burning sun – wait for another 45minutes. For an outsider, observing the vacuum in the finisher area must be like watching an episode of Dawn of the dead*. For the athlete, it is a very intimate moment before converting into the extrovert talk-machine that wants to share emotions and experiences, and to hug the support crew.

The Finish line

You are head over heals that the suffering has come to an end, but before you know it you’re forced to make a difficult decision:

(A) Press the stop button of your Garmin at the finish line and having an awkward finisher photo staring at your watch.
(B) Push the button after the finish line, and having an underestimation of your running pace on Strava**.

Sometimes you feel like fainting and medical aid worker will drag you onto a brancard. In that case you can’t be bothered with your data. Been there, done that.
If you make it to the podium you also won’t be bothered with your data. Then you just want to find out when the award ceremony takes place. Those that win must be puzzled what to do with the finish line tape in their hands through which they just ran, I assume. I’ll write a blog about that when that happens.

Once the data is saved you just want to lie down at the carpet underneath you. But there is always a safety guard preventing you from doing so. Instead, you get an executive order to move on to the next stage. During your crawl to this stage you somehow get a medal around your neck.

stage 1 the Tantulus tent

In the first white tent the Tantalus experience is waiting for you; There is a huge banquet with tables filled with food and beer, you’re craving and thirsty, but can’t eat as you have a saliva-free mouth and are too tired to chew. Luckily, I found a loop in the Tantalus-system. And it resides in my streetwear bag (the bag you hand to the volunteers prior to the start and that you retrieve straight after the finish): a delicious 500mL of chocolate milk. The magical mixture of milk and cacao is somehow the only form of nutrition my body can handle after finishing. While ad fundum’ing it, it feels as if the 20gr protein is enough to repair the 20kg of muscles that just got destroyed during 226 kilometers of racing.

Experience thaught me that a sip of chocolate milk isn’t the only thing that can make you happy as a child when you’re exhausted from doing extreme sports. At such moments the stupidest most common things are priceless. So I make sure my streetwear bag is full of such stuff. I happily carry the bag to the next stage.

stage 2 The shower

It takes about ten minutes to get to the showers, that are typically 20 meters away from the previous stage. Here, one of the most epic things of being a girl is waiting: plenty of space in the showers (there are usually only 10-15% female participants but an equal amount of showers for males/females). On top of that, if you performed well there is a bonus reward: having these showers all for yourself. That is even more luxurious than at home.

I take my time to have a seat and slowly install all the items from the happiness bag for the most joyful moment of the day:

(1) to undo your smelly trisuit in which you swam in salty water, vomited, biked, peed and ran for a full day, to take of your wet socks and shoes, (2) to put on your most comfortable flip flops and (3) shuffle into the shower.


Here I take 15min to inventorize the damage I did to my body, to count blisters, scrapes, wounds and missing toe nails. To use betadine scrub and Sudocrem, to wash my hair thoroughly, to rub myself with body lotion, to brush my teeth and to leave the showers in a dry hot pants and my favorite t-shirt. There was one very special occasion that I made it to the podium in a full triahtlon, after having an awful crawl-marathon, and didn’t have time to go into this procedure as the first and second women had been waiting for me for a long time. An hour after the ceremony my sister took care of me in the showers; She sat me on a chair and washed my hair and scrubbed my body. At that moment, it felt like the happiest 15 minutes of my life.

The next stage is the massage tent.

Stage 3 The massage tent

Dozens of physio’s and massage therapists are positioned in the final white tent, ready for the happy ending of the finisher vacuum: a very gentile massage. It is the first moment where you can finally lie down, not having to do anything. The therapists usually are very quiet and zen. It is perfect. My leg-caressing usually takes twice as long as that of the other participants. Credits for my the showering products in the bag. Most other finishers skip stage 1 and 2 and carry their smelly bodies straight into the massage tent.

Dear support crew, my apologies for the extra 45 minutes of waiting.


* Zombie movie. Which may explain why Ironman shields this zone with big white tents like a crime scene.

**Yes those 3 seconds on 8 to 16 hours are relevant for most people on Strava

***Tantalus (Ancient Greek: Τάνταλος Tántalos) was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.

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