Shortness of Breath in the Days Leading up to a Race…

Posted: September 30, 2010 in 1-Sports Psychology, Top Performance Consulting, TriAthlon
Tags: , ,

You are a competitive endurance athlete (triathlons, marathons, etc.) who frequently wins or places at local/regional events (takes competing quite seriously), and are having an issue with shortness of breath in the days leading up to big events.

You describe it as feeling like your airway is constricted but your doctor has been unable to identify any physiological cause. You believe this feeling is linked to the anticipatory stress of racing, because it goes away after the race and will not reappear until the days leading up to the next one.

You are concerned both about the discomfort that the shortness of breath is causing, and also about the possibility that this breathing impairment may be hurting your race performances.

As a triathlete, I experience the same thing although unlike you, I don’t actually win the events or even make it to the podium!!

This constricted breathing also happens to me when I am highly stressed in other situations. It has happened at jobs I’ve hated or before meetings with people who made me uneasy.

What I most experience is this strange inability to complete a ‘yawn’, so I’m forever attempting to yawn, often, and with my mouth wide open for a length of time, while on-lookers certainly find it amusing.

It first happened to me in Israel in the 90’s and it was diagnosed there as “Behavioural Breathlessness” or “Psychogenic Dyspnea.”

Some of the other suggestions of diagnoses included acid reflux, anxiety, and vocal cord dysfunction.
None of these were the cause, but they often are for others who go through this…so check these out!

Nevertheless, it was suggested to me to read about Hyperventilation Syndrome and so I did.

The context of your problem appears to be mostly anxiety-related, but before you pop an anti-anxiety prescription drug, please consider reading up on Hyperventilation Syndrome and see if it possibly fits your case.

Click here for a fairly technical article describing the syndrome.

Although the article seems to be more about excessive breathing than shortness of breath, I feel that if you are at this high level of fitness, your condition could be catalyzing the conditions upon which this disorder lies.

For less complicated reading, here are other articles (some more technical than others):

Article 1

Article 2

Article 3

Article 4

My coping mechanisms revolved around whole body progressive relaxation (while awake, sitting or doing other activity, focus on all body parts in a sequential fashion, then systematically tighten and relax the muscles), diaphragmatic breathing with the exhale longer than the inhale, and standing with my head tilted back, open mouth, and deep breaths in and out (3 usually), then place head back in neutral regular position.

Hopefully, this will give you some information from which to make a deduction. Or if it’s not this, you can cross off one more possibility from your list while you attempt to discover the cause of your problem. Feel free to comment on this blog, or even to contact me personally for any assistance with this situation.
I wish you all the best!

Good luck,
Anna Weltman

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