Take advantage of high stress situations. When you are put into high stress situations, it is often because others believe in you and your ability to succeed based on the previous work you have done. Use that to your advantage
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewingHans Christian Tungesvik.
Hans Christian Tungesvik is a professional long-distance triathlete from Norway. He has been competing professionally for the past 3 years. His career highlights include: World Champion Xtreme Triathlon 2019 (Norseman winner), Norwegian Champion Long Distance Triathlon 2018, 18–24 IRONMAN World Champion (Hawaii 2016) & Personal best IRONMAN time: 8:28 (Florida 2019). He is a former competitive cross-country skier and holds a master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a very active family. On the weekends, I would take part in various activities with my brother and parents. We all love nature so spending time outdoors was a major part of my childhood. I played soccer until I was 15 years old. My father was a cross country skier, so I learned how to ski competitively from him. I did this until I was 20 years old. When I was 21, I started competing in triathlons and the rest is history.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
I would say that is a 2-part explanation. First off, I wanted to commit to becoming a triathlete in the greatest capacity, rather than just participating in the races as a hobby. I was on a mission to explore my potential and becoming the best that I could be.
The second part of this was my experience in the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, which is considered one of the toughest races in the world. Athletes race through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Norway, and those who are able to finish at the rocky peak of Gaustatoppen (located at 1,850m above sea level) can say that they travelled one of the toughest full distance triathlons on planet earth. And in addition to the grueling physical aspect of the race, the weather can range from beautiful and sunny to windy blizzard like conditions, sometimes all in one day. This race is inspiring, incredible and insane at the same time. Before even starting with triathlons, I was extremely intrigued by Norseman. I always thought it would be an amazing experience just to be able to participate. I applied for a slot for 6 years, without any luck. Eventually, I got the opportunity to participate through an engineering summer internship in 2016. It was the most overwhelming feeling I’d ever had when I crossed the finish line in 11th place. Still, I thought I had more in me. The following three years were all about one single thing — winning the race I had been dreaming of for years.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people who helped me along the way from family and friends to coaches and training partners. The one person who encouraged me to be the best version of myself was my grandfather. He had the most positive outlook on life. He taught me how to be grateful. He also showed me that it’s important to smile, it makes things more fun.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I participated in a half Ironman last year in Great Britain. I was so excited for the event. I spent a lot of money and traveled long distances to get there. I was half way through the bike course when I punctured my tire. I tried to fix it while I was stuck in a field where it was cold and raining (not ideal biking conditions). I found shelter in a coffee shop while I waited for help. I was offered a car ride back to the finish line, but I decided to bike back and finish the race. While I fell behind in the bike race, I made up for it in the ½ marathon race where I beat my personal best record. The key learning is that even if you are stuck in a miserable situation, you can turn it around and focus on the good.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
I think there are two important pieces of advice:
- Set goals and be ambitious with those goals. Dare and dream to go big. And set long-term goals to focus on. This will allow you to get better each day.
- Be patient and consistent. If you are training to be a triathlete, you need to gradually grow, day by day, week by week, year by year. If you go hard too quickly, you will sustain injuries. Take your time and focus.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
While only being able to swim and bike through the summer and fall due to a stress fracture, I was searching for a suitable goal. In July, I stumbled upon the Norwegian Record for 200k individual time trial cycling. The record was 35 years old, and I thought the time was within reach with proper preparations. After weeks and months of specific preparations on training, equipment, and race organizing, it was finally time to do a record attempt on September 27th. Despite wet roads, rain and windy conditions, I had an amazing day on the bike, and was able to take the record home by a 5 minute margin. I am really proud to be holding the Norwegian record on the distance.
Without my running injury in May, this would never have happened. The ability to turn negatives into positives, and always look for the possibilities instead of the limitations, is a great learning experience I take from this record attempt. The negative aspect of a serious run injury resulted in a Norwegian record and a fantastic feeling to end my 2020 season.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
- Take advantage of high stress situations. When you are put into high stress situations, it is often because others believe in you and your ability to succeed based on the previous work you have done. Use that to your advantage
- Look at things objectively. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen and set your expectations.
- Listen to your body. Your body will let you know how it is feeling. Personally, I get very nervous before a race. After a while, I understood this and learned to accept it as my body knowing how to effectively prepare for the race ahead.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I don’t have a special technique, but I think my body naturally goes into “race mode.” Everyone prepares differently, but for me, I perform at my best when I am happy. I listen to happy upbeat music to help me get to that place.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
I don’t have any specific rituals, but I do like to focus on the daily work. There isn’t any magic that happens overnight. Each day, I focus on training, recovery, consistent & healthy eating, and fueling my body with the nutrients it needs. Some of those nutrients include carbs and fats for energy and protein for recovery. Before training I try to fuel my body with a solid combination of fats and carbs. Healthy fats are good as a long-term energy source for me as an athlete competing over longer periods of time. For the healthy fats, I eat a lot of nuts, oils and avocados. During training, to cover for the high intensity work, I need to fuel on carbs. Here, it’s all about sugar and glycogen. Snickers bars are my go-to when I am out riding. For proper recovery of the muscles after training, I focus on protein through shakes, tuna and eggs.
To ensure that I am getting all the nutrients I need to support my training, I also take supplements. I do take calcium as I have low bone density, and Vitamin D as I don’t really get too much sun living in Norway during the winter. I also take krill oil, which is a complex of omega-3s and choline that has proven benefits for athletes. Endurance athletes experience significant choline depletion which can potentially limit their performance. Krill oil targets this choline depletion during physical activity.
In fact, a recent field study led by Aker BioMarine (the krill oil leader) investigated if pre-race supplementation with phosphatidylcholine (from krill oil) can increase levels of choline and some of its metabolites in athletes during extreme triathlon competitions like Norseman. This is the first time a field study like this has ever been conducted on this topic and the results were positive. The results showed that the reduction in choline is dependent on race distance and that consumption of krill oil prior to endurance competitions increases overall levels of serum choline. It also showed a significantly greater increase in serum choline from race completion to the day after the race. This is very encouraging for athletes like myself and validates that krill oil should be included as part of an overall nutritional strategy for optimal training and race day preparation.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
For me, it’s important to have structure in my daily life. As an endurance athlete, you don’t have a regular 8–4 work day. You need to be accountable for your own routine and stick to it.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
I think a “bad habit” is personal for everyone. What might be considered a bad habit for you, might not be for me and vice versa. For example, it’s considered a bad habit to engage in too much screen time before bed. Many people believe that it reduces sleep quality. This might be true, but I think it’s important to have proof and science to back up statements like this before believing that it is specific to you. In addition to screen time, your quality of sleep might be affected by your diet, activity, etc.
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
In order to experience flow, you need to take part in the activity that gets you to that level. I achieve the state of flow by not putting too much pressure on the experience. I just do it and have fun. Finally, challenge yourself. By allowing yourself to leave your comfort zone, you can experience a new type of flow by accomplishing something out of the ordinary.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
Focus on what you have been able to do versus what you can’t do. In preparing for a race, don’t focus on what is missing. I once received a tip from multiple IRONMAN World Champion, Craig Alexander, who said “before a big race, go through your training log to see everything you have done as it’s easy to forget all the work you have put in.” That always makes me realize actually how well prepared I am and also makes me ready for the task ahead.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope my story inspires others. I received my master’s degree in engineering, but decided to chase my dreams despite having a good job. By daring to take that leap into an uncertain future, I was committed to making it work. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure it was enjoyable. I hope to inspire others to chase their dreams.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Consistency is key. To achieve greatness, you need to work, nothing comes overnight.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a chat with Michael Phelps. He was able to pull off incredible results even when he had to come back from his lowest points in life. Also, swimming is my weakest discipline in a triathlon, and I would love some tips from him as he is best in class!