When All Else Fails, Go to Anger... But Don't Go There Often
by Jan Hugo Svendsen
I was in the middle of a ride about a month ago in my big build before my second Ultraman UK when I had an experience with a lot of anger. Training was good and I was very well fueled, but it still seems like every time I'm close to my limits I get angry without anything in particular setting me off. Luckily I was riding solo!
I had the same experience the year I climbed Mt. Evans on a Endurance Corner camp. The same thing happened at the end of my double marathon at UM UK last year were I took it out on my crew.
The outward expression of my emotions becomes more pronounced when I'm close to my limits -- first quietness, then anger, and lastly, tears. I see many other athletes go through the same spectrum when close to their breaking point.
The first one -- quietness -- is easy to handle for those around me, but is also a warning sign of what is coming next. It is also easy to notice since I'm normally a chatty guy. The second stage -- anger -- is what I mentioned above and usually develops without any direct cause. Then, if still pushed, I ultimately break down, cry and feel sorry for myself.
In training, these are important warning signs. It goes along with all the other markers such as trouble sleeping and digestive disturbances. But we rarely read much about or talk about anger. I think mood changes are quite common in high performance athletes.
I asked Alan and Gordo for their thoughts on the matter. According to Alan, it is quite common in high performance athletes and is probably necessary in the short term as part of eliciting a deep enough training response. However, if these symptoms persist for too long you risk damaging your body's ability to respond to stress -- adrenal fatigue. Alan also points to feedback from your friends or partner that you're being a jerk as a reliable early marker of over-reaching.
Gordo's tip for managing unexpected anger (or sadness or euphoria) is to focus on your breathing. By maintaing your breathing, you can channel emotional energy into performance.
My key take away here is to accept that emotions will start to surface when you're at your limit and understand that they're a part of getting the most out of yourself. But, when they come up, don't try to push through for too long. Channel your emotions into an immediate outcome, but remember to back off soon after.
Jan Hugo is a Norwegian triathlete and longtime EC team member. He finished on the podium in both the first and second Ultraman UK.