One of the things about doing physically challenging events is that these are also mentally challenging events for the athlete. A lot of things go through an athlete’s mind when they’re in the vast expanse and in a physically challenging environment.
There is a lot of conversation in the media about hitting the wall, but we really do have to talk about the fact that sometimes those athletes are hitting an emotional wall of trauma or triggers, or just buried emotional treasure that will produce uncontrollable crying.
Unfortunately, the bummer of uncontrollably crying is that the athlete will immediately feel betrayed or confused by what is happening.
“WTF- really???? Now???“
The processing of uncontrollable crying is usually emotionally bound. The athlete has no idea where it came from or why it’s there, but they just keep sobbing. The good news is that deep uncontrollable sobbing never lasts more than about 20 minutes, while random, wimpering tears flowing down somebody’s face because they’re processing something can last for about an hour.
Just know this, the “normalness” piece of information for an athlete that has been startled by the fact that they can’t stop crying is receiving incredibly important support. Assure them that sometimes this happens and it may be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and it usually is a completely positive change in their psyche as an athlete.
My response when I have someone in this predicament is “congratulations, you just won one of the most difficult personal wins an athlete gets to achieve, releasing a piece of emotional pain that you couldn’t get rid of any other way,” and I usually just sit with them because sometimes deep sobbing also comes with puking.
Please be aware that this is an incredibly personal moment and getting them away from the mass crowds is the best answer. Losing your shit can feel very vulnerable.
The questions to ask them are
- do they want to stop and work through the deepest part of the crying
- do they need additional medical intervention, or
- do they want to just cry through the internal event?
As of this day, I have never had anyone pull out of an event with uncontrollable crying, but I have had them take a small break, get the deepest part of their mourning or grief through and just keep going. And by the end of the event they are actually quite cleansed.
For most of those who I’ve been through this with, we actually laugh about that day and can reflect on how big of a deal emotional health is, because it is.