Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Lessons learned and aching legs

This is it: the freediving competition season is finally over for the year. I cooked dinner for Daan, Eric and Martin on Friday night (we were all in the long night of apnea the next day), which was very nice, since I was able to do all the moaning that is part of my preparation, and they listened to my growing list of excuses with calm and understanding. I won’t say much about the competition itself, except that it did not go as I wished, since I had a splitting headache and a fever. I did learn from previous mistakes, though, and came up safe and clean at 107m dnf.

We had fun watching Daan do a beautiful 169m Dynamic, taking the Dutch record from Eric. After that, I went on to coach Jesper in the evil discipline 16x50. Since Jesper had made a tactical error earlier and had not checked what Polish man Robert had done in dynamic, he was now behind in points and needed to give it his all to try and still win the competition. My job was to make him dive every 48 seconds. He took around 35 seconds per 50m, leaving him less than 15 seconds to breathe. After the fifth dive, he started to look kind of bad, so I switched him to 50sec intervals, and then pushed him as hard as I could – amazingly, he did what I told him to and came in at 12:59, looking a bit dead, I have to say. After all that, he still lost, which I (no mercy) teased him with as much as possible for the rest of the night.

Coach Martin, in a moment of boredom and, one might say, madness, had had a bright idea a few weeks earlier and entered us under the team name “Hypoxic Runners” into the Berlin Team Marathon for the day after the competition. This took place at the beautiful old airport, Tempelhof, and had a total of 1100 teams entered.

Here are four of the five hpoxic runners: Elisabeth, Martin, Jesper and I:

Thinking that Jesper is a fit athlete and seasoned runner, we had asked him if he would like to join us and take a 10km section of the run, and he said yes without hesitation. Then, after having done a killer 16x50, he announced that he had not run in twenty years! A 3km on the running machine a couple of weeks before left him unable to walk the next day. This was not encouraging news for our overall result. In fact, we were getting worried about making it inside the 4.5 hours maximum time allowed. Still, my offer of swapping my 5k section for his 10k was instantly declined. It’s a man thing, I believe.

Having jumped out of bed far too early, we established our team base at the Tempelhof airport and got ready to send Martin off to run the first section of 12,195k. He returned in 1hour2min, which was a great start, and handed over to Steffen, who discovered his competition gene and pushed himself to run 10k in 52min.

Here I am with Steffen, hypoxic runner number five

I was next and need to write a letter of complaint to Polar: minutes before I was due to start, I discovered that my nice new training watch does not have a stopwatch function! So I arrived back at 30min8sec, passed over to Jesper, who was nicely nervous by now. Getting ready, Martin watched him in amazement as he removed the price tag from his brand new running shoes! He arrived back after the first 5k round looking like it was hurting, but in a good time of just under half an hour. Here he is, passing the plane in his shiny new shoes:

This had us all thinking that the second round would surely finish him off, and we would not see him again for a long while. There we did not count on quite how competitive he can be, since much to our surprise he crossed the line, close to death but breathing, after just 1hour1min. Elisabeth had the last 5k to run, and stayed just under 30min, taking us to the finish in a total time of 3:56:and a bit.
It was a fantastic event, with a total of 1100 teams entered. Since we all have the competition gene, we immediately decided to do this again next year, and are hoping to have at least one more freediver’s team to compete against – so get your running shoes ready, guys!

Jesper says his legs are fine. I don’t believe a word of it.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Sled and rain in Athens

I finally had to give in and face the truth: I was not going to make it to the world championships in the Bahamas, much as I would have liked to go. Fellow sad no-goers Liv and George managed to talk Stavros into rescuing us from the approaching winter blues and organise a mini training week near Athens. We were joined by Dave Tranfield and Greg, whom Stavros recruited during a course, and who had thought freedivers were reasonably normal people until he met us lot.

I was so looking forward to seeing the sun, I happily packed my bag full of all the items a girl needs during such an occasion: a range of bikinis, denim miniskirt, shorts, assortment of flip flops, several pairs of sunglasses, sunscreens, aftersuns, skimpy tops, etc etc. I was just done with all this when my friend Jens called me, to complain about me going off to sunny shores while normal people were stuck back in the rain. He asked me what the weather would be like, and I said, no idea, sunny, of course, what else? Ha! Shouted the man and went to check the forecast on the internet. Well. I detected a hint of glee in his voice as he read out the bad news. They involved such things as rain, clouds, storms, and freezing temperatures. I put the phone down, unpacked my bag and filled it with fleeces and woolly hats.

The week was wonderful, in spite of the rather accurately forecast weather conditions. There was not much to do in the afternoons, so we had nice picnic lunches, hung around drinking tea, read, slept. Stavros and Giota took fantastic care of us, driving us around, cooking us lovely dinners, and generally making sure we were having a great time. Most days, I dived with the sled, doing head down variable to 60m, to practise equalization. This was the fastest I have ever gone: I reached 60m in 27sec the first time round! What was most beautiful, though, was diving the mini blue hole they have near Athens. It is more like a black hole, really, as it looks completely dark from above. There is a down current which means the descent feels amazing, simply effortless. At the bottom, the current disappears into a tunnel that has been blocked off to stop stupid divers from going in there. Foivos, who was looking after us lot with amazing safety diving, made me do statics down there, since he has promised to take me spearfishing next time and this was part of the training regime. I stayed for up to one minute, which was a lot nicer than doing a static in the pool, I tell you.

Here is a video Stavros filmed:

Next weeend it’s the Berlin long night of apnea. I have announced DNF. I do not want to do anything at the moment, in fact, I have been overcome by a great feeling of laziness. Anyone want to come and give me a cold? Please?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Note to self: stick to the plan!

This would be a moment for my friend Roland. He would just smile calmly and see everything confirmed that he believes he knows about me, and unfortunately, he is right. Seems like I can be a bit impatient at times, and get overexcited if the diving is going well. Now Roland is forever telling me to chill out, relax, calm down, let the diving come to me. I am beginning to see that he might have a point. Note the sheepish look on my face in the picture, with Martin, and also the lack of Champagne.

It would also be a moment for my fabulous tech diving instructor, Aaron Bruce. One of the first and most important lessons he taught us was “plan the dive, dive the plan”. This is an iron rule when you are going down to the depths of the ocean on trimix, with the invisible but potentially deadly decompression ceiling above your head. It means you are going to plan what you are doing meticulously, and you are going to stick to this – no cutting corners, and most importantly, and here we have thing that would have served me well yesterday: no getting carried away.

So here we were, at the RMC in Wiesbaden. The pool is wonderful, bright and spacious, and has a great vibe. I was suffering from the usual nerves, or maybe not quite, since this time I was busy feeling nervous about the dynamic no fins dive while I was breathing up for static. Nothing like being stressed out by a discipline that is not due for another five hours whilst listening to the countdown for another one. As things were, I had overcome my static low point form earlier in the week and popped up at 5:24, where I stopped because I did not want to tire myself out too much. Did I just say that? I did a static of nearly five and a half minutes and stopped early? Incredible. I am still trying to understand how this has happened. I will share the secret with you as soon as I have figured out which of the yoghurts that I eat is responsible for this mysterious change.

After coaching Martin I was off duty and had five hours to sit around and get more and more stressed out. Talking with Eric van Riet Paap later in the restaurant, he claims that I did not look nervous at all. This comes as a surprise to me, as I am always under the impression that I have “Oh SHIT” written across my forehead in giant letters. I guess he did not hear me say “I want to go home. Can I go home?” to anyone who cared to ask me anything that day. Having been abandoned by my Danish team, who all opted to stay away with flimsy excuses such as work and illness, I found help from Olga Martinez Alvarez, who came and kept me company 20min before my dive. This is very important, as I need to have someone to moan at, which gets rid of some of the nervous energy and distracts me from the fact that it’s nearly time to go. Once underway, all nerves were forgotten, as usual. I had the standard moment of wanting to quit at around fifty meters, but I have figured out a perfect way to get myself over that: I just distract myself with making up various reasons for why I came up early. Playing through the different scenarios and actually planning how I am going to explain the chosen one to Martin keeps me busy for at least 25m. Once I have turned at 75, I can usually push on. It all gets interesting after the 100m turn, because this is when I start to get excited about doing a great dive. At this point the plan should have come into play, which was the following: turn at 125, push off, come up - bingo - have record. Just as I practiced in training only a week ago. I stuck to this perfectly, until, and here is where Aaron will be laughing (do NOT get carried away...), I got quite pleased and excited by the fact that I had pushed off the wall and was still swimming along. It was only six meters! Anyway, I surfaced at 133m, totally forgot to do any decent breathing, took off my goggles and noseclip and squeezed out “I am ok” through a fit of the giggles brought on by the fact that I was already sinking with no hope of recovery. I was still laughing when the two safety divers held me and did not bang my head against the side of the pool in frustration at my own stupidity, as one might have expected. The first thing I said when I was done laughing was: “Oh no. Now I have to do this AGAIN!”

Here we are. Instead of having a party month, as I had planned, I will be training – again – for the long night of Apnea in Berlin, which is coming up in six weeks’ time. Let’s see which lesson I will be learning during that competition.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Counting tiles

I have been busy counting tiles in the pool again. It was hard to get started with this after a week of counting the (admittedly few) groupers in the Greek sea. Funnily enough, motivation for pool training was at an all time low – weird, that. A phone call to Elisabeth confirmed that she was in much the same state, so I hatched a clever plan, kidnapped her boyfriend (coach Martin) and drove back to Aarhus for a much needed four-day-bootcamp. Here I am with training buddy Elisabeth:

We kicked off by going to Spanien. Who would have thought? Somehow, going to Spain to do some static does not sound so bad. Turns out it is a beautiful old swimming pool, right in the centre of Aarhus, where they are mad enough to let a bunch of freedivers do what they like after closing time – just switch off the lights when you leave! Doing some technique training for the dreaded no fins soon made me forget that I was supposed to be in Spain. Martin and Elisabeth were having a lot of fun watching me turn. It would seem that it is impossible to mess up the turns in no fins. Trust me, it is not. I managed to get my bottom sticking out of the water as well as dragging my chest along the tiles. Don’t ask me to explain. Coach Martin was in a state of shock and actually at a loss as to what to do with me for a moment. Next, we did some statics in the whirlpool, sadly without the whirling, which would have been nice. I like changing things ever so often, so opted for a no warm up max, and much to my surprise, managed 5min without too struggle.

Next day we were back at Elisabeth’s private pool, next to her house, where I did not get to observe the secret to the Danish success stories, since they all just sat in the sauna and chatted away. Stig was there and filmed me, followed by some much needed advice. He kindly picked the four worst things (turns...) and kept the rest to himself, so as not to confuse me too much. Training was alternated with eating lots – Elisabeth and Martin are making me – and fun things such as a run on the beach. What I did not count on was the fact that the beaches have mountains here, and Martin made me run up and down, which positively killed me.

After four days, I felt more or less ready again. Then I went off to London and got distracted by a wild party weekend back in Berlin – out till five in the morning Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night – and somewhere in there the Aarhus bootcamp was lost again. Since then, I have been busy in my Elixia pool, trying to remember how to freedive. The panic moment was Monday, when I could not get past 3:30 in static! Tuesday was acceptable, though, so I am feeling half ready for the Rhein-Main cup on Saturday.

Or am I? Shit.Quietly getting nervous here.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Sailing, cooking, catching dinner

I had it all planned out. First, train hard, then, compete in Aarhus for two weeks, then, work hard. Something happened to the “work hard” bit, and that something is called William Winram. Here I am, a good girl, at home, not planning any trips for a change, when I get this phone call from Will. A place has become available on a 15m yacht, cruising, diving, teaching (Fred and Will) around the Ionian Sea. Thinking that I would surely be saved by the non-existence of any flights at such short notice, I went online. Ooops.

A few days after the worlds, I found myself on a boat, about to set sail from the Greek Island of Levkas. With me were Fred Buyle, Will, Chris Marshall from New Zealand whom I met in Aarhus, Kattie Lussier and Kate Adams, plus Sam Tanner and Fabrice Enthoven. Fabrice, who managed to keep from us the important information that he owns a bar and a restaurant in Brussels (am on my way), let slip towards the end of the trip that he knows Fred from “the bar” and that he can testify to the fact that Fred knows how to “make good party”. Seems that Fred in the city is quite different from the “I am a healthy, in tune with the elements, sailor, diver, spearfisher” type person that was on display for the students during the week. On consideration, I guess my “London-Kings Road, handbag, high heels, designer shades, now give me my latte” persona has little to do with the saltwater afro hairdo, frayed denim and bikini top woman on the boat, too. Now Will – I think he might just be the same, wherever. Redneck out of the trailerpark, and all that. Never mind, you’ll get it when you meet him. Here is a picture of sailor-Fred:

First job was to make sure we’d be well supplied. When Will and Fred asked who liked to cook, I made a crucial mistake and stuck my hand up, followed by another crucial mistake in letting the guys go off to buy vegetables on their own. They returned with random items, including, in Greece, on a sailboat, 36°C in the shade, a CABBAGE! Why anyone would want to eat cabbage anyway is a mystery to me, but on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea? Needless to say, I ignored said item, which turned into a bit of an accident when the thing went off and made the whole fridge reek in the most evil fashion later on.

We had a few incidents involving apnea brain on this trip, the first one in the supermarket, when we all agreed that we needed salt and pepper, but no one put it in the cart. My excuse is, I just did a 6:12 static, which has clearly reduced my brainpower by 50%. It turned out that we needed at least two heads for any mildly complicated task, usually me and Fred. Examples included: turning off the alarm on the autopilot, operating the winch on the mainsail, operating the drain for the shower (this needed three people), and, the worst, switching on the strip light above the stove. I was trying to keep this one quiet, but Fred had no mercy on me and let it out, although I was holding his mouth shut as long as possible: he found me cursing over the pots, trying to turn on what looked like a lamp to me, but was in fact – this is so embarrassing - a blind. You can imagine the hilarity that ensued. Had I not been in charge of dinner, and therefore a VIP on the boat, I think it would have been a lot worse.

Before we got in the water for the first time, we were made to go through a Winram/Buyle tradition: we held a moment of silence. For all the people on the tube in London, Paris, Tokio. I think this is a very appropriate thing and am happy to give the poor people in rush hour a brief thought. We soon got on with it, though.The purpose of the trip was to teach us some aquaticity, which was wonderful. I have learned the spearo duck dive, and am leaving the surface a lot more quietly now, which is well necessary if hunting for anything in Greece. Fish here don’t live above 20m, so Chris and I were taken out to spearfish into the deep, blue water by Fred. The guys showed me how to swim with the gun so I wouldn’t shoot myself in the head or foot, then let me head on down, out of sight.

I tell you, I was not expecting to go looking for groupers as deep as 32m when I came on the boat. I did take a couple of shots, but missed, of course. Might have something to do with squeezing my eyes shut when pulling the trigger. Chris did not fare much better, and he has no excuse, being an experienced hunter, after all, and a man. He did point out that fish in New Zealand live above 15m, but it seemed he had no problem spending stupidly long bottom times down below 25m. In the end, it was up to Fred to show us how it’s done and catch our dinner. Here is a photo of me, stalking. Since we did not find any fish anywhere, I posed for Chris who was out with his camera instead. Just imagine that this is at 32m.

Will could not join in the fishing expeditions, because he was unable to pull the trigger. This is a longish story. Basically, we broke him on the first day of sailing. First, he tried to rescue an escaping rope (or sheet – sailors are weird) and got nasty rope burn all over his fingers. Then, he tried to rescue the escaping anchor chain and dislocated a rib, on the other side, so both arms did not really work anymore. Since I am first aid trained (it is a scuba instructor thing), I felt it was my duty to go in search of some disinfectant. The first aid kit produced nothing but an ancient bottle of Iodine. This they still use in surgery in hospitals, I believe, but usually only after they give you the general anaesthetic. Will asked me to “just pour”, so we went to the back off the boat and got on with it. There was a moment delay, so we all thought it was not the stuff that burns, after all, until we were treated to some pretty good screams seconds later. Chris had produced his camera from somewhere and documented the whole thing in a series of pictures that show an amazing range of grimaces, including Will biting his arm. I felt bad, is all I can say. Anyway, I could post one of these photos here, but have decided that it was a far too private moment, and am going for the following image instead:

Here are Will and I, looking kind of cute together, I think. Will’s wife gets terribly seasick, thus leaving the field open to us to flirt shamelessly with her husband. All my efforts were wasted, though, and this picture was the best I managed. I think I am losing my touch. It is tough on a boat, when a girl does not have important items such as spiky heels to assist her.

The week was just beautiful, I love sailing. It is a wonderful combination with freediving. Everyone learned loads, and I think even Will believes that my no fins technique might not be completely hopeless, anymore. Unfortunately, I will now have to go and practice this awful discipline. Maybe I’ll just go spearfishing instead. My only problem is, I just can’t load the guns, so I will have to find some male buddy to do this for me. Chris and Fred seem to think that this will be very easy.

Right. Want to hand a blond girl a speargun? Anyone?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Guide to worldchampionships

Take a look at this very nice video the guys from Aarhus made about the worlds. It shows the facilities, the divers, the competition. Right at the end, the girl nearly leaping straight out of the pool during the static competition, that is me, having just been told by Giota that I did 6:12...:-)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Record, then party

Yesterday we had the pleasure to sleep in, since the dynamic finals were not until four in the afternoon. Having woken up early anyway, I came across Japanese freediver Hanaka wandering around aimlessly on the way to the supermarket – she was in the B-final with me, and couldn’t sit still anymore, either. To give my head something to focus on other than yet another official top, I went over to the pool to watch the end of the CMAS competition. They have been running their world championships alongside ours, which has been very interesting. I arrived in time to see Stig, who has not trained for two years (information confirmed by fellow Aarhus freedivers), do a 238m dive, followed by the surface protocol in less than five seconds. I wonder what he eats for breakfast. He got disqualified, though, because he forgot to drop the little marker CMAS use to check the distance achieved.

As the B-final was approaching, I was feeling less and less like diving, and more and more like having a party. Danish Maria was in a similar state. We both just wanted to have beer, without the diving. We spent the last half hour psyching each other up: Just two more minutes. Then beer. Have to beat x by at least ten meters. Then beer. Or: beer at two minutes to official top? This passed the time until Johan arrived to coach me, and took care to calm down my nerves just the right amount. As soon as I was swimming, I felt good, and even though the noseclip came off again, I swam 164m, beating my record from the day before by ten meters. Even surfacing to see judge Linda, again, with the piss-off card, didn’t bother me anymore. I was at the party.

There was just one small detail to take care of: coaching my training buddy Elisabeth in the A-final. She just swam and swam, towards the end mostly with her arms. Then she came up totally clean at more than 180m, which was amazing and got her into fourth place over all. The atmosphere during the finals was fantastic, everyone cheering and shouting as the eight divers were heading towards the medals. Now that it is all over, I can honestly say that as much as I did not like freediving in the pool, I have enjoyed these world championships enormously. We had some more suffering to go through at a slightly endless awards ceremony, with flags rising to the ceiling while hymns were being played. Since Natalia won three gold medals, we heard the Russian one three times, and it is loooooong! All very moving, but torture for a bunch of freedivers who had not eaten anything since breakfast. This we need to work on next time. Just throw us the medals, then give us food, then beer. This did fortunately follow eventually, and we spent the rest of the night dancing around in gym hall much in the fashion of a school disco, which was kind of cool. In the end, the security guard kicked us out.

A lack of Raki at the party means that I am feeling fine this morning, and will go off in search of the beach in a second. I heard that the sea is around here, somewhere.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Two new records in one day. What? How? What happened?

It has been a strange day. Linda would be pleased to hear that I am lost for words, which must mean that her “cut down on talking time” program is working, as was kind of proven this morning in static. Johan arrived to coach and spotted me right away sitting on my towel in a far corner of the pool. “You look terrified” were his exact words, which summed up the situation pretty accurately. I guess I was tired of being stressed, so when it was time to hold my breath, I relinquished all responsibility to Johan and simply trusted him to take good care of me. This meant that I was ready to just listen to whatever he said, so I relaxed again at around five minutes instead of fighting the dive. Somehow I heard him say something about six minutes, and he got me up at the perfect time with a pb, a ninth place over all, and a new German record (old one was 6:07) of 6:12.

This used to be the one I thought was unbeatable. All it took were two great coaches! Thank you so much, Jesper and Johan. I am definitely blaming this one you guys.

Done with static, Elisabeth and I went out in search for food, where we ate as much pasta as we could possibly fit in, hoping to get energy for the dynamic qualifying some seven hours later. Elisabeth was up first, and proved that our training had been working by going all out to do very clean dive of more than 170m. She was back in time to help calm down my nerves, and when I pushed off the wall I felt strong and ready for a good performance. I was just swimming along happily when (don’t ask me how) my googles and my noseclip came off at the 100m turn and were dangling around my neck. It took me a second to work out why there was water up my nose and I could not see anything. Then I thought, oh no, I have to come up early, then I thought, no way, I am swimming to the end. The interesting bit was turning at 150m not being able to see the wall, and although I still felt good I decided to be safe and came up with a new German record of 154m.

This has put me into the B-final. I am planning to keep my goggles on and see what that will feel like. Whish me luck!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Murphy’s law

When we arrived at the pool this morning we were faced with some shocking news. Here we were, thinking that we were in Denmark, a lovely place with a kind and welcoming population throughout. Turns out was is not quite true, after all, and we had somehow been transported to a far rougher climate, where people break into places and steel 50 000 Euros worth of equipment over night. All the cameras were gone, the big TV screens where results were posted, every computer in the place, everything. What amazed all of the competitors was the level of calm kept by the organizers in this situation, and the competition got under way with only one hour delay, so no good excuse material there, really.

Now I know how I have been going on and on about how I don’t like static. Although I have been busy convincing myself that I feel the love, this is still not quite the case. My cunning plan (my friend Roland might have called it wishful thinking) was to make it to the final in dynamic no fins, thus to have a perfectly good reason to ditch the static, thus getting out of doing any nasty statics during this event. As things go, it all turned out differently, and I ended up holding my breath for 5:40 this morning, much helped by Jesper, who calmed down the rushes of nerves that were hitting me while I was having my contractions. I had asked him to also protect me from judge Linda, who, as Murphy’s law would have it, actually ended up in my lane this time. She is wearing a card around her neck that says “piss off” on it, which she shows to the athlete when she simply cannot find any reason to give him a red card. This I can live with.

Next, I went on to coach my training buddy Elisabeth, who has had her brother on her heels with 5:19, so my mission was to make sure that she would beat him. This was easily accomplished, so I was telling her that she should beat me, next, and she went on to do 6:02, thus pushing me out of the A final into the B final. Oh well. Bad news is, I will have to do static again, tomorrow morning. Oh no!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A new experience

Here is a photo of Daan, who is on safety duty, and me. I have been busy over the last couple of days making sure I was good friends with any safety diver I came across, which turned out to have been more important than I bargained for at around 17:23.

I woke up with a case of nerves so bad that I found it hard to actually eat breakfast and had to force down every bit of porridge. I spent the whole morning going round saying “I’m so nervous, I’m so nervous” to random people, from whom I got varying degrees of sympathy, probably depending on how busy they were being nervous themselves. It was very nice to come across former (trying to get him to un-retire, but no luck so far) top freediver Peter Peterson, who gave me some good advice, although it didn’t help in the end, since as any other stupid athlete (believe me, there a lot of us, just ask judge Linda) I decided not to take it. As I was breathing up for my dive, I started to feel better, though, and as soon as I pushed off the wall the dive was running as smooth as you like. It all felt just as it did two weeks ago, when I did a nice and clean 127m in training. I was kind of aiming for something along those lines, especially since it was looking like 125m was possibly going to get me into the A final. Well. Which self respecting (and blond) athlete would not go for it under those circumstances. Not many, as the many black outs and LMC’s today prove.

Anyway, so there I was, thinking I am still nice and strong when I came up to do the 100m turn. A few meters later, I started feeling a bit odd, but decided (blond) that I was just imagining this and everything just had to be fine. At 115m I changed my mind and came up – about five meters too late. Apparently I reached the surface, took a look and put my face back in the water. It seems that I can’t even blame that one on coach Jesper - I made a crucial mistake by not having a copout ready before the dive. If Linda had been judging me I could have blamed her, since she has been stressing me out by threatening me with red cards, but I had Panagiota, who is one of my favourite judges ever, and was genuinely upset to have to show me anything but a white card.

The positive side to all this is, since I am now not in any final, I will have tomorrow evening off, and don’t have to do this whole no fins thing again. The bad part is that now I have to do a really good static. If anything goes wrong with that, it will definitely be Jesper’s fault, who has been kind enough to offer to coach me and take the blame. Unless I have Linda as my judge, that is, in which case it will all be down to her.

Good. Now I can go to sleep calmly, having all my excuses well prepared and in place, ready to be used as required.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Training at my first pool worldchampionship

It is time to put all the training I did in chlorinated water to good use, and to make all the beers I did not drink work for me. Martin and I drove to Aarhus on Friday, with a car miraculously filled up to the top with random items. Saturday we went straight to the pool, and I got my first taste of a 50m lane in about two years. It’s a bit odd, like it just seems to go on and on forever, but fortunately for me the middle is marked, so I can work my small blond brain halfway, then to the end, then halfway, and so on. All seems to be well, except my monofin technique, which athletes watching from across the pool could spot as still requiring some work. I’m on it.

Sunday morning we did some static, my favourite. Amazingly, instead of reverse training this (i.e. getting worse by the day) as I usually do, it has actually been improving and I have been consistently over five minutes, which is a nice surprise. Even better, it seems that I have finally found out what the problem with my static has been all along: According to Linda (who is here to judge) what makes me come up is not the urge to breathe, but the urge to talk! So I have been training all these nasty CO2 tables, wondering why nothing was ever getting any better, and it was all a total waste of time. I am very grateful to Linda for finally solving this mystery for me. She (together with Lotta) was my freediving instructor at the very beginning, so she is really the reason why I am here at all, doing horrible statics. She is still the best at spotting anyone’s problems and recently helped me realize that I am a muppet and need to pretend to have a mask on my face in order to equalize with a nose clip, but that is another story. Back to static: it seems that all I need to do is figure out a way to have convincing conversations in my head, thus overcoming the urge to come up to talk to people, thus getting over 6:07 to break the German record. Simple.

The German team of Ilka, Barbara, me, Ulli, and Martin (Legat) has been joined by a new member: Sergio Martinez-Alvarez , who has brought along his lovely wife Olga. She is busy doing safety for all of us, plus a few other athletes, such as Carlos Coste and the rest of the Venezuelan team. Sergio is a bit excited at the moment because there are so many fancy freedivers around everywhere. Unfortunately he will soon realize that we are all no more fancy than he is, and then he will not be impressed anymore by anything I tell him. At the moment, he is still listening to me, so I have had a little talk with him and told him to let go of the brake (advice Stig once gave to Jesper, and look what happened), so he did a pb in static by almost forty seconds right away. I am sure he will have a great competition, and most of all, a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I have been training with Elisabeth, who has been doing some very nice statics, too. We decided that I would coach her in the competition, since I know exactly how to lie to her convincingly. I still need to figure out who is going to tell me that I am at four minutes when in fact I have gone past five, and will be hunting around for a coach at the athlete’s meeting later on. Performance announcements for dynamic no fins have to be made in a couple of hours. I am going to spend some time on my bed now, figuring out what to put down and quietly getting nervous. I think I will go for 105m, thus forcing myself to turn at hundred.

By the way, I forgot to mention that Linda is of course the best looking judge around, by a long way.

Oh shit. Nervous already.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Turning into a poolrat

Seriously. I think I am growing green hair, produced entirely out of Chlorine. Since I returned from Greece, I have been a very good freediver and followed a well prepared, regular training plan. The only thing wrong with it, to my mind, is the lack of open water. The reason behind it was the brief panic that seized me when I came home and realized there were only five weeks left till the pool world championships in Denmark. Fortunately, Elisabeth Kristoffersen was in Berlin for a whole month, staying with Martin, and ready to get going. We discussed said training plan over dinner, and ended up with the following: Monday rest, Tuesday dynamic, Wednesday static and dynamic no fins, Thursday dynamic, Friday rest, Saturday no fins, Sunday morning static, Sunday evening the evil interval training spinning class, with breath holds on the bike.

Thinking that I was well trained and adapted after all, and expecting to be pretty much where I left off after my record attempt, I hit the pool with Elisabeth for our first session. It was a shock. It appears that deep diving broke my pool diving. My body didn’t remember a thing. Swimming with the fin felt awful, being in the pool felt awful, holding my breath felt awful, doing a decent turn was impossible. Five weeks seemed like a very short time. The week did not improve, in fact the low point was yet to come when I came up at barely four minutes in the first static session, having started contractions at around two minutes. I blame it on Jesper. While I was floating there, trying to drift off and relax, I was suddenly thinking about his advice for static: that you have to love the horrible feeling and welcome the fight. Merely thinking about the horrible feeling obviously ended any ideas of relaxation for me. At least things were not much better for Elisabeth either, so we had the comfort of moaning together afterwards in the showers, which is the real reason why Martin has to wait so long for us girls to be ready.

My initial plan had been to start off with a max in each discipline, but considering my disastrous performances, I decided to leave it be and focus on doing several long, but sub-max dives, trying to recover a shred of technique. In DNF I was sometimes using 3.5 strokes, sometimes four, sometimes 4.5, sometimes five! It was chaos, to say the least. As we got into the second week, both Elisabeth and I decided that the time for messing around was now over and we would focus properly. To do this, we got into the habit of telling each other what our minimum dive was going to be that day. This seems to work very well, at least for me. As soon as I have announced to someone that I am going to do, say two times 100m, I then feel embarrassed enough not to quit. I surprised Martin, who was on safety duty, when we went to train no fins one day: I had told Elisabeth in the changing room that the target was to turn at 75m. Martin was expecting me to do a shortish warm-up dive, but when I was swimming along, I just wanted it all to be over so badly, I went to 84m straight away. This was interesting in some way, as I realized that I could do a fairly long dive without warm-up.

Having got our heads back together, training progressed a lot better into the third week, with some tough cycling on Sunday evenings thrown in – lots of contractions included. The guys in the spinning class are used to us by know, and ignore us when we shout “five, four, three, two, one...!” at each other. Both of us have found that we get extremely lactic on the bike, but it has been getting better every session, so we hope it is good for something. It has to be. Right?

In the pool I was focusing on doing longer and longer dives with no warm up. I am finding that this is building my confidence very much: if I can do 100m no fins after swimming, with no count down or proper breathe-up (and a pb of 113m), it seems to me that more must be possible with good preparation. Meanwhile, Elisabeth was working on her main problem: she lets herself quit sometimes. I think she has definitely fixed this, and did some beautiful dynamics, very much ready for more in Aarhus. It was her final week here last week, and I had planned to go for maxes in DYN and DNF. We took proper rest and set out to do the dives on Tuesday. Waking up in the morning, I had one feeling: I don’t want to go. This was a lot worse than usual, and when we arrived at the pool, I decided not to dive for the first time. It felt strange. I was feeling physically weak, and neither physically or mentally ready to do anything. The plan was to rest for a day and try again on Thursday. Thursday morning came along, I pushed off the wall and immediately felt stressed and tense. Without even realizing it, I was swimming faster than usual, which probably didn’t help matters, as I got lactic legs at 50m and quit at 90m. This was a new and depressing experience for me: so far, I had never quit before reaching the minimum goal I had set myself, no matter how hard it was. This time, though, there was no way I was going to go to 125m and turn. I guess sometimes it is important to know when not to push it, bad as it may feel.

Things have been going surprisingly well in static, of all things. This is mostly due to Martin, who took a new approach to coaching one day and simply tricked me to a pb of 5:27, making me realize that I could fight for over three minutes in the process. Frustrated by my dynamic disaster, I went on to do another pb of 5:41, which pushed Elisabeth to do 5:47, the longest static she has done in a long time. After all, she had to beat me, which just shows that it is great to have a muppet on your heels, chasing you. After some rest over the weekend, I have beaten the dynamic devil and feel that I am back on track. A last max in DNF tomorrow, plus a bit of static training, and I am ready for Aarhus.

I hope.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

90m variable weight video

I got a guy I know to help edit the 90m video. This was interesting, because while we were watching the footage and then getting the dive into sequence, the guy was nearly having a series of heartattacks from sheer excitement. When the film was ready, he could not sit still to watch it, but had to pace around the room. I was kind of realizing then that what I have been doing in Crete is fairly extreme, at least to the normal person. I get so used to it, I don't feel like it is anything very special, after all I was down there and it did not feel extreme to me, at the time. The dive was easy and I was busy being annoyed that I am still not equalizing as well as I feel I should. Also, there are guys all around me there happily popping to those depths without the help of sleds, so I really don't feel like I am diving all that deep.

The whole thing would of course not look anything like as dramatic as it does if it wasn't for Stavros' new safety tool: the depth sounder. You can hear the guys shouting out the depth, which, although I did not have a camera with me all the way down, gives an impression of time passing and makes it quite exciting, I think.

Here it is:


P.S: I did not kiss everybody, in case you were wondering, although it was nice to be allowed to do so by the head judge.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Gossip & pictures from the Meditteranean Freediving Meeting

As promised, all the boring news of x-meters done by champion freedivers is now done, and I am ready to come to the real stories. As soon as the last diver was back on shore on Saturday, beers were cracked open as the party season began more or less right away. That evening, we all gathered at the all to familiar Lotos Bar, where things turned out quite mellow, since we managed to hide from the evil Raki-wielding safety divers by going to sit next to the beach.

Still, although there was no singing and dancing going on, before we knew it, it was three in the morning and somehow we were on our way to the nightclub Fortuna. There we encountered said safety team, who, since they couldn’t find us, had drunk all the Raki themselves and were in an amazing state of intoxication. This was a bit interesting, since Stavros was planning to do a no limits record attempt to 140m the next day, and had gone to bed early. Now his crew did not look like they would be good for much. In fact Andy, chief safety diver, said to me: “Aaannna. You wille come tomorrowe, you makee the safeety for Stavros, yes? I thinke is maybe better. I wille be on the boat, makee the countedown, withe beer in my hand, yes!!” Somehow, this did not inspire me with confidence. I had planned to stay reasonably sober, but more beers just kept appearing and before I knew it, the sun was rising and it was six o’clock. Back in bed, I slept for all of two hours, before waking up in search of a breaksfast of orange juice, more orange juice, and then some orange juice. Plus coffee.

More slightly ill looking feedivers appeared throughout the morning, but Stavros' safety crew stayed in a coma for most of the day, making any record attempts quite impossible. I went back to Lissos (a secluded beach an hour’s hike away, which we visited on a day off earlier) with the Danish team, since the guys had been planning to make a rock running video for days. For this, they picked up some enormous stones off the beach, walking them along the bottom of the sea to the designated location.

There, they went on to loose their speedos, to then run along the ocean floor with said huge rocks on their shoulder, naked, looking all manly in a stone age cave man kind of way, or maybe like the ancient Greeks? Anyway, if you must know, this is the secret to why all the Danish guys are doing 200m dynamics. There were some plans to involve Maria and myself in this endevour, in the manner of dragging a (naked, of course) woman/mermaid along behind them by the hair, to round of the cave man image. Needless to say, Maria and I stayed safely on the beach, well away from such indecent proceedings. That evening after the banquet and official closing ceremony, all freedivers were treated to the video of said Danish training methods at the Lotos Bar. It was greeted with much hilarity and Jakob and Jesper, the protagonists of the movie, are deliberating whether it is wise to release said film on youtube, or if this would give access to the 200m secret to too broad a range of freedivers, therby possibly sabotaging the Danish chances at the worlds.

This evening, I did not manage to hide from the Raki as well as the previous night. The evil perpetrator was not one of the safety team, though, but Johan, which was an attack that definetely came from an unexpected direction! Somehow, when I had booked my flights while sitting safely in the bookshop, it had seemed like a good plan to leave on the first plane out of Chania on Monday morning, meaning that my transfer was leaving at four. The only other freediver who had sufferd such a lapse of brainpower when booking flights was Johan himself, so it was the two of us in a taxi. I told him straight away that if he insisted on giving me Raki, it would be entirely up to him to get me onto my plane, a responsibility he accepted quite happily, making me drink a shot in the process. Alkohol consumption in general was rather higher than the night before, with good spirits all around. Unfortunately, I did not manage to stay quite sober enough to observe the gossip potential around me. Sorry! I promise to do better next time.

Four minutes to four saw me running to the hotel, where Johan, clearly better orgnised than me, was already loading his bags in the taxi. Me, I still had to do some packing. This is not how I usually behave when going to airports. I am normally very well on top of such things. It was the Raki, honest. Whith Johan’s help, I managed to get into the car and we went off on our two hour ride across the mountains. Without his company, this would have been quite disorienting, if not a bit depressing, but we passed the time nicely, with a mix of sleeping (mostly me, I’m afraid, watched over by Johan) and enjoying the last of the whole freediving experience. By the time we reached Chania, I was fairly comatose and may very well just have passed out in a corner at the airport for a few days, but Johan was good to his promise and took care of getting us and all bags onto the right flight.

Now I am back in Berlin, feeling more or less recovered from the two day party, thinking about actually doing some work. Or maybe not yet, but soon. Very soon.

Meanwhile, there is one more thing I would like to share with you: I have compiled a list of the top ten excuses for not making a dive. As you know, freedivers are never short on explanations for things not working out quite as they might have wished. Feel free to comment and add to the list. Here goes, from last to first place:

10: The waves were too big
9: I got seasick
8: I made a mistake: I ate before the dive
7: I made a mistake: I did not eat before the dive (choose freely between 7 & 8 as it applies)
6: It’s the photographer’s fault, he got too close and distracted me (me, after missing my depth)
5: I was forced by the organizer to dive in the afternoon. My noseclip only stays on in the morning (me, loosing air from my noseclip)
4: Jakob forced us to walk all the way Lissos on our day off, so we got tired (the Danish team)
3: A sense of guilt weighed so heavily on me, I couldn’t focus (Jakob, having made the Danish team walk to Lissos on their day off)
2: I was suffering from testicular freezing (Will Winram, having ripped a big hole in his wetsuit bottoms)
1 – the absolute winner -: I WAS TOO DEEP ( Johan, having blacked out at the surface after his 101m dive)

In general, we have found that it is best to have your excuse handy before you even get in the water, and the most successful excuses are those that blame outside circumstances or third parties, such as photographers. Fred Buyle makes a perfect victim. Anyway, we apreciate further additions to the list, and will vote on the best pool excuses in Aarhus.

Danish team with the conveyor-belt coach

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Action at the Mediterranean Freediving Meeting

happy freedivers from Denmark:

As usual, I woke up early this morning with the familiar rush of nerves, suddenly quite glad that I didn’t give in to any of the announcement devils that were hopping around in my head yesterday afternoon. After the oatmeal-banana-honey breakfast that has served me well on recent deep dives, I headed down to the beach to let Michélè distract me and keep me company. There I encountered a new rule for the surface protocol, written on the information board – as if we don’t have enough rules to remember already – that said: “ALL athletes are required to kiss the in-water judge after their dive. No exceptions. Rebels will be punished” This had everyone asking who the in-water judge was going to be, and some serious faces on the male competitors, as they were preparing themselves to kiss judge Kimmo or Alexis. Michélè has been very busy during this meeting, managing the onshore organization, checking athletes are present at the mandatory 60min before official top, and do not disappear on their own to the toilet any more after that. In fact, she send Rob King, also known in the freediving world as Robert the King, to go with Jakob one time, where he checked the bathroom for oxygen tanks that might be hidden in the trash, or any other forbidden items, such as bars of chocolate. Rob has been diving ridiculously deep, which makes me feel quite inadequate, as he was only about five meters ahead of me when we met in 2007, but now he’s happily popping down to the eighties. I think it must be the bright pink stuff he keeps having, which he claims is a sports drink, but we believe is in fact radioactive. We’ll check tonight, if he starts to glow in the dark, we know something fishy is going on.

I went out all by myself today, with no one to look after me. Sniff. As I got to the line, it was just getting a bit rough, but anyone who has dived next to the platforms surfing on the waves in Sharm last year cannot be phased by such minor details. I was worried that the sled might have broken my constant weight again, and I sure felt pretty weird and disoriented to about 20m, where I just started to freefall and everything was fine. Before I knew it, I was at the plate, thinking “hurrah! I made it” and “should have announced more...” Some things never change. Minutes after my dive, I started the coaching conveyor belt, which included Maria, then Nicholas Guerry, then Jesper. Maria wisely turned early, feeling a bit worse for wear from her great dive yesterday. Nicholas turned early, too, which is a shame, but better to be safe. By now the waves were pretty huge and the organizer’s team just did not keep up with the ironing! Guillaume Nery did another super easy 80m free immersion dive, he seems relaxed and is diving very well, with an obvious love of what he is doing which is nice to see in a world class athlete.

I went to find my next Danish coaching project, which was Jesper, who once again had to dive first. Unlike yesterday, when he needed stressing out, it was pretty clear to me that my job was more along the lines of “it’s only two more finkicks” and “all you need to do is equalize” this time round. By the time I got him onto the rope, the waves were enormous, but he was so focused, nothing seemed to bother him much. There was true excitement in the air when he left the surface. Stavros has introduced a great device this year: a top-rate sonar, on which they can follow the divers progress the entire time. A guy on the boat shouts out “seventy meters – seventy five – eighty...”, which makes it incredibly exciting for all spectators. Hearing “touchdown – coming up” was an amazing moment. As soon as Jesper appeared back at around twenty meters, it was clear to me that he would make it, he was still looking so strong. He certainly did not need his coach on this dive, and well deserves to celebrate this amazing performance with a lot of beers tonight. Next up was Jakob, and I think we were all truly hoping he would make this dive, too. Again, the shout “touchdown” from the boat had us holding our breath, but as he reached the surface he just could not recover quick enough and briefly nodded off after taking a couple of breaths, leaving Jesper the sole new Danish record holder. Considering that Jacob only started competing last year, this was a fantastic dive, especially since he said he equalized all the way there without problems. More will come from both guys in the future!

A new fashion has been taken on by a handful of freedivers at the last day of competition: the kamikaze headband. It sports the kamikaze logo and is a very useful item, since it is made to hold the Velcro tag, which the freediver now only has to slap onto his forehead. Even athletes with the worst case of freediving brain should be able to manage that and it eliminates the irritating question from the judges who like asking for the tag, when it should be totally clear from the smile on the diver’s face that he has got it. Well, now it is right in front of them. Here is a picture of British diver Stuart Bond after his successful 58m cw performance:

Now there were lots more great dives, but I can’t talk about all of them, and anyway, I believe I have a party to go to. I am aware that everyone is well tired of hearing about all these dives all the time, and waiting for me to get to the real gossip, which I promise is coming up as soon as I have recovered from the likely three day hangover.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Oh what to announce on the final day

First of all, I instantly have to confess to making a grave mistake, and apologize to my very good friend and longest training buddy Sara. How could I forget? I guess I have been so imersed in the little bubble that is the mediterranean freedving meeting that I have blanked out all previous experiences, and when I mentioned in my last post that the tlc I recieved from the Danes was possibly the best ever preparation for a performance, I neglected to state that it can only ever be a close second to the pedicure I got from my coach Sara just before it was time to warm up for static at the worlds in September. While most athletes were busy streching, yogaing, meditating, and generally being very serious, I got pretty toenails and went on to do a pb. Sorry Sara, it won’t happen again!

I have also been aware that the pictures I have posted previously of top freedivers William Winram and Stavros Kastrinakis have not shown them at their very best. Now I couldn’t leave you with a wrong impression and would like to state that both of them are naturally extremely handsome. Here is a picture, just in case, showing them in top shape:

Now that’s much better.

I was out all day today coaching a total of six athletes. It was just like a conveyor belt, one out, one in, with hardly any time to even leave the competition zone. I was more or less a part of the equipment! Things kicked off to a fun start when I went to get the zodiac taxi with Jakob and Jesper, both going out for their 85m dives, and Jesper mentioned that he was feeling almost too relaxed about the whole thing. Clearly, I was facing a totally new coaching challenge here: how to stress the athlete just enough to get him focused? Things such as “It’s a very deep dive” and “it’s definitely going to be a max” might have been said. Aparently it worked, since he once again broke the surface already smiling, closely followed by equally happy Jakob a few minutes later. Maria did an amazing 70m dive, but all my yelling did not induce her to remove her noseclip, so she has collected a red card but is having another go tomorrow. Will Winram turned early, tired, so I just ignored him when he came up. I am too busy to waste my valuable coaching time, after all. The challenge of the day was Christian, who had gone off to visit the fourth dimension and it took me shouting at him for 13 seconds to get him back to planet earth and through the surface protocol. In the end, he listened, and collected a white card for a 58m no fins dive, which has qualified him for the worlds in the Bahamas.

After all that drama, I was suddenly feeling very tired and decided to go off to sleep for a few hours, to ponder my anouncement options in my dreams. The moment I was on my bed, I was wide awake, with lots of interesting ideas going through my head. This I kept up for three hours, until I had only minutes left to announce, when I felt so stressed I quickly wrote down sixty meters constant weight and handed it in before I could change my mind. I encountered the Danish team outside the organizers room, and I know I have been going on about them, but really, this is getting to be quite fun: the gentleman’s agreement is still firmly in place, and both Jesper and Jakob have announced 91m, a Danish record! Even William (who is going for 77m no fins again) was impressed, to the point of threatening to buy them both a whisky if they did those dives. I can already see where the party tomorrow night is headed.

With such go for broke dives to do tomorrow the two boys (I’m not convinced one could call them men) deserved some tlc themsleves tonight, so were treated to a massage in turn. Let there be no excuses! I will be out there to coach them and a whole host of other lonely freedivers, so I will be able to report back firsthand from all the action. This will hopefully include a positive result from Johan, who is having another go at breaking the hundred meter curse. Maybe he needs stressing out a bit before the dive, like Jesper? I shall find out and offer my assistance. Now it is very late, and I should be sleeping, so I will leave you to ponder more important things and report back from our little freediving universe tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

90m! A new German variable weight record at the MFM

Sorry, I have been offline for a while, too busy sunbathing, drinking orange juice and talking about freediving. Oh, and training a little, occasionally. We’ve had mixed days out here, with some pretty rough weather making things complicated, mostly for organiser Stavros who was faced with 32 athletes all wanting to train at 10am sharp. Meanwhile, I still got to go out early to do my sled dive, but felt the pressure with a line up of freedivers behind me foaming at the mouth, ready to go. As bossy boss Stavros had forced me to put the rope to 90m, and I always do what men tell me, I was headed down there when I got hit by a nasty cramp in my calf at around ten meters. My first idea was to stop and try again, but I realized that I would end up at the back of the grid, so I took my cramp all the way down to 87m, where messy equalisation finally stopped me. The next day all sled people got banished to the afternoon. I woke up tired, and kind of knew I should rest, but was so annoyed with having missed the target the day before, I couldn’t get myself to do it. I was sort of hoping the weather would turn bad and take matters out of my hands, but no such thing. Warm-ups were terrible and had me considering such options as a shallow dive, or, even better, bed, when I heard myself say: “90m” to Stavros. There are some lessons my brain just refuses to learn, as I quickly found out when I was distracted by a strange gurgling noise on the way down. It took me 35m to realize that my noseclip wasn’t on properly, and the bubbling sound was the air escaping with each equalization. Needless to say, there was not much left, and I stopped at 53m, fully aware that I should have stayed in my room, asleep, all morning. Having learned this lesson the hard way, I decided to take two days off, which left me free to coach people on the first competition day.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been hanging out with the Danish team. Now they used to always strike me as kind of quiet, but excellent divers, very focused on their training and all annoyingly good at dynamic. Saturday night taught me not to assume anything anymore. After dragging me off to a new restaurant where they proceeded to order two bottles of wine in quick succession, they made me drink the free Raki that came with the meal and then, to round off all the things you should not do in the middle of training, took me back via the Lotos bar. Here Jesper and Jakob ordered Mojitos, Maria a Cuba Libre, while I stuck to a beer. Rune was the only one who stayed sober, no idea what he must have been thinking about us lot. Things got worse when the waitress came over with some free shots, followed by another round, followed by some beers on the house. I crawled into bed at three thirty in the morning, and am still trying to work out how they managed to get me involved in this kind of shocking behaviour. One would have thought that I had learned to be wary of all Nordic people by now, but a suggestion by said Danish team to head for the beach on our rest day seemed like a good plan. Unbeknown to me, they had gathered information from fellow Dane Sofus, about a very beautiful, secluded beach that we should visit. After wading around some rocks, we found ourselves in a pristine cove, surrounded by picturesque cliffs, and – here we go – a whole load of naked people! Needless to say, we kept our bikinis and swimming trunks on, but Maria and I were treated to a charming display of the local wildlife strutting up and down in front of us suggestively when our good-for-nothing-men went off hunting for some caves instead of looking after us.

Come Monday, I was impressed with the overall Danish stamina when I went out to coach Christian to his first no fins competition dive with 50m, Maria to a great 65m and Jesper to 75. Jakob also did 75m, and you should have seen their smiles. We stayed out to watch the exciting dive of the day: Johan had gone all out to beat the 100m curse and announced 101m constant weight, a dive we were all sure he could do having seen him come up clean from 97 in training. Things turned out differently this time and he treated us to a good Viking show after returning to the surface – he took two breaths, kind of realized it wasn’t going his way, starting cursing, and blacked out. As soon as the safety divers picked him up, he came round and cursed some more! I saw Per Westin do something similar later on, so they seem to have some kind of Swedish-man-thing going there, I’ll find out some details if I can. After a days’ rest Johan went for it again, although he made the critical mistake of reducing from 101m to 100m, which he should have known would be bad luck since he was aware (I didn’t even know it myself, I swear, I just have “the room at the end”...) that 101 was my room number. Don’t ask how he knew, he just did, and it’s all innocent, in case you were wondering. Anyway, back to the mistake, a meter less didn’t help, and where he was too slow on the ascent on the first try, he was too slow on the descent the second time round, and the lights went out at 7m. Now we are waiting for the final try on Saturday, when, provided he announces 101, I am confident that he will make it.

In the middle of all this, Stavros has been up to his tricks from last year, showing us what a bunch of pussies we are, by managing an entire competition plus training for a bunch of annoying athletes, safety diving, filming, and quickly popping down to 111m in record time when there is a break , to set a new Greek record in variable weight. Here is a picture of him breathing up on the boat. I didn’t take that charming shot, you have to blame his safety divers.

Will Winram and Rob King both had a bad moment when they were glad to hear their alarm as they were freefalling towards the bottom, which apparently means that they are not far from the plate and can stop equalizing, only it didn’t mean this at all in this case, since it was some random alarm set on the official gauge. They both had to turn early, which should teach the officials to check gauges for alarms, and possibly teach athletes not to rely on such things. After a brief moment of “I quit”, Will has recovered his competitive spirit and announced 77m no fins for tomorrow, closely followed by Guillaume Nery who has been breezing down to depths such as 90m constant weight and is having a go at 75 no fins. Jesper and Jakob have been having some fun agreeing on the depth they will do and then announcing the same thing – yesterday the y both did fantastic 80m dives, easy as you like, and the smiles have been growing by the day. They look like a couple of ten-year old boys with a new toy, who are generally up to no good.

In the midst of all this, I had a go at 90m in a record attempt. This took place on Stavros’ new über-sled, which, since I am diving variable, was missing the tank and liftbag that normally creates a nice bit of drag, slowing the monster down somewhat. Add to this that unlike Stavros and Will, I cannot fit 9 litres of air into my lungs, (3.6, actually) and was wearing a 3mm suit, and you can see where this is going. Shortly after I released the break, I had already shot past photographer Fred Buyle and was out of sight before he could take a picture. I was going so fast, my noseclip was flying off, so I had to hold it on, which got me very distracted and before I knew it, I was well behind with equalization and stuck at 73m. Grrrrrrrrrr. I decided to go back to wearing the mask and give it one more training dive, which I had yesterday after the competition. This time, Stavros took some weight of the rocket sled, so I a bit more time to think on the way down. I still ran out of air for my ears, though, and, thinking I was somewhere around seventy, hit the brake. Back at the surface, I saw that I had been at 86, and could have pushed it to the bottom! This at least gave me the confidence to have another go today, early in the morning, especially since I realized that my mask was equalized at the bottom, instead of my ears. Mantra: pinch the nose, pinch the nose...

By now I was starting to get annoyed with missing my depth, so as the day progressed, I steadily got more nervous. Fortunately, I had the Danish team to distract me, who made me go back to the naked beach, and took me out to dinner in the evening. This had been part of a plan they made to thank me for lending Maria my wetsuit. I was presented with the following choice: one: drinks, two: dinner, or three: a massage by Jesper and Jakob. Hmmmmm. I was still considering my options when they took matters out of my hands by feeding me, making me drink some wine, and then taking me down to the moonlit beach, where we (and I would like to state clearly at this point that Rune and Maria were present at all times) sat on some blankets with a candle and takeaway peppermint tea, listening to the waves and some music from Jakob’s eclectic collection. Before I could protest, I was treated to the third option, with Jesper massaging my head and Jakob my feet. Once we overcame a fit of the giggles at the all around cheesiness of this situation, it actually turned into the most relaxing preparation for a record dive I have had so far. How could I possibly fail to go to 90m after so much tlc?

This morning I woke up at five, with the usual fit of nerves. This seems to be good for me, though, as it really gets me focused. There is no more messing around. Conditions were just beautiful, calm, no waves, fantastic visibility. I had Jesper with me to coach, and the other Danes for moral support and to take pictures. Just before I got onto the sled, I had a brief moment of nerves over the amount of people around just for me. All this vanished, as usual, in time for official top, and as I released the brake I was concentrating on my new mantra: do not put air in the mask. I was keeping my nose firmly pinched, while still going well fast. Somewhere around seventy I decided it was time to slow down, so I stuck my elbows out create a bit of drag, and was just running out air for the ears when I heard the 80m alarm and was at 90m seconds later, with a squeezing mask but room left for another five or six meters. The whole way up, I was grinning to myself, pleased as punch. I just saw the surface video: I come up, do the surface protocol in four seconds, then break into a huge smile and start laughing, then finally remember to take a breath. Oh well, who needs to breathe when they have made it to ninety meters!

Tomorrow I am having a day off, which leaves me free to coach five people. Exciting will be Jesper and Jakob again, who are sticking to their gentleman’s agreement and have both announced 85m. Maria is going for it big time with 70, as is young Rune with 63. I am hoping to see a load of white cards. Now, I am off to bed, to contemplate what to do on the last day of competition. As usual, I have the odd funky idea in my head, and will soon let you know which devil is winning.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Blue people at the mediterranean freediving meeting

I made it back to Crete for the second Mediterranean Freediving Meeting. Truth is, it was a close call: I had a particularly blond moment at Athens airport, where I forgot to put my watch forward by one hour and was still happily sitting in the McCafé, reading, when I heard my name from the loudspeakers, asking me (plus a couple of other blond people) to please make my way directly to gate 31, where my flight was now closing. I ran through the airport and thought I was clever when I put my divewatch in my bag at security, to stop it from setting of the beeping thingy. Unfortunately, it did set off the very slow guy who was x-raying my belongings, who had to ask his boss, who had to tell another equally challenged underling to look at my bag, who had to rummage through all the important things we girls carry around with us. When I arrived at the gate, they had to call the captain and ask if there was time to get me to the plane. Moments later a guy pulled up in a Volkswagen Golf, and drove me across the airfield, tires screeching in the corners. You can imagine my relief, and my surprise, when I found the flight full of freedivers, most of whom had spent four hours at the airport, too, but had all made it to the plane on time, since the only blondes (William Winram and Bérangère Duclos) had Will’s wife Michéle to take care of them. A taxi ride across the mountains delivered us to Sougia, where we headed straight for the beach and the Lotos café, our favourite hangout from the year before, to kick off the freediving meeting with one of their fresh juices. Raki will follow on the last night.

We are around thirty freedivers this year. Most have been attracted by the raving of the ones who were here the last time. In a way I am having mixed feelings: on the one hand, it’s nice to see my friends, on the other hand, it’s a bit like one of those secret holiday spots: you tell everyone about them and before you know it, busloads of Thompson package tourists have arrived. Never mind, I’m sure it will make the final party even better. Organizer, head safety diver, and general man of all trades Stavros has set up a list with slots for everyone to sign into training times. He is a little less energizer bunnied than last year, mostly due to a very well trained crew of safety divers, whom he has given radios, so he can now boss them around at all hours. I went to sign up for some sled diving right away and was fascinated by a note stuck to the pen that reads: “If you remove this pen from this list, it will selfdestruct and all your apnea capabilities will disappear instantly”. Apparently, and I am not mentioning any names here, plans have been made to plant this pen on fellow competitors as a fantastic new way of sabotaging opponents. When the first person fails to leave the surface as they attempt to duck dive in the competition, we’ll know that the pen has found its victim.

Training was off to a good start for most of us. I remembered how much fun was to be had whizzing down on a sled when I headed right down to sixty and then seventy meters in the first two days. Many of us have commented on the fantastic conditions, how calm the sea is, and how blue the water. Stavros claims that he has been out painting everything blue every morning and then ironing the waves, but I think he is lying, and has in fact passed this task to his safety slaves. I have been out early with William Winram, Stavros and Nicloas Guerry, to dive on the sled. William had obviously not had a good enough word with (brunette!) wife Michèle before he set off to dive, and had proper blond episode at 120m on the new giant no limits sled. It is a clever construction: When you hit the bottom, you pull out a pin that releases the weights. Then you inflate the liftbag, and off you go, minus thirty kilos, at ridiculous speed, back to the surface. Now Will, combining blond hair with a male thought process, decided to be extra clever and inflated the bag while the weights were still attached, to the point where the sled was beginning to move. Then he pulled out the pin and dropped the thirty kilos. You can imagine what happened next. The sled, now turned rocket, took off at warp speed, smacking Will’s foot but mercyfully avoiding his balls as it blew past him. He tried to grab hold of the kneebar – not a chance – and shot of the bottom attached only by his lanyard, which he had to climb along to get back to the sled. He spent the next 100m hanging on with one hand, while clutching his goggles and hood with the other one, screaming, in his own words, “fuck, fuck, fuuuuuuck” all the way up. At least he was screaming in his head, and gave me a very convincing demonstration of the facial expression he wore during the twenty seconds it took him to get from 120 to 30m. Here’s a picture:

Yesterday the weather turned and a strong wind moved in some biggish waves. I was out on the first zodiac taxi again, together with Nicolas Guerry, whom I managed to elbow out of the way (well. Ladies first, after all) to head down to 80m before he had a chance to get on the line. It was a great dive, except that I did not manage to pack very well, due to the fact that I was submerged in waves all the time, and then had no air left to equalize at the bottom as planned. As soon as I was safely back up, Stavros announced that the anchor was dragging and we were getting into shallower water by the minute, so he cancelled all diving for the rest of the day. Somehow, and I am not quite sure how precisely, Nicolas has decided that it was all my fault and I am to be held responsible for his missed dive. Now, and feel free to express your opinion here, in my experience it is usually the men who are to be blamed for everything? Anyway, I believe I have been made to make up for it, so all is well. Today he went out to do some more variable weight, and returned having decided that he does not like sled diving. Something obviously didn’t go well, but since I am having a day off, it was not my fault this time, honest!

The Danish team is here, represented by Jesper, Maria, Rune, Jakob and Christian, who was training with me in Dahab. He has been steadily heading deeper, but said he chickened out today, a habit we will not allow him to pick up. Meanwhile, Maria’s luggage just stayed behind in Kopenhagen, so she has spent the days in her sarong, and the time in the water in my 3mm suit, which fits her perfectly. I am convinced she is headed to 70m, which Jesper passed today with a pb of 73m. Every time he gets in the water, he does a pb, it seems, and then he had the cheek to complain that he had air in his mouth but could not figure out how to use it. This seems to be a very desirable problem to me – I would love to have air in my mouth at seventy meters. In fact, I would love to be at seventy meters constant weight, period. Jakob is even more annoying, diving to wherever he wants with plenty of air to equalize and strength to spare. The brits are represented by George, Liv, Dave and Stuart. It was Livvy’s birthday yesterday, so George organized a special treat for her: a birthday swim with lots of freedivers, all dressed in blue. Now Liv has a special thing about men in blue, you have to ask her for details, but since plenty of them turned up, it was a right birthday treat. I promise to get hold of a picture and post it here soon.

In the evening, we all headed to Lotos (again) where she was given her present of an enormous blue inflatable shark. Yannis, one of the safety divers, also had his birthday, so the guys went out and got him an inflatable turtle the size of an island, which looked like it could eat the shark for dinner. Things were going fine when Rob King turned evil and started to bring out the Rakis, getting Liv into great spirits pretty quickly. We reached the peak of excitement when she discovered the longest eyebrow hair ever on one of the safety divers, which, and I have seen this with my own eyes, reached down to his cheek. Liv was so fascinated by this, she started to go round to measure the eyebrow hair of all the guys, until she was taken home by George and Stuart, who were beginning to worry that she might develop a bit of a fetish for men who wear their eyebrows long enough to have to flick them aside when they look at you.

Tomorrow we are hoping that Stavros will have found the off-switch for the wind again, although he seems to be too busy being bossy to pay attention to small matters like that. Dave Tranfield, known to his friends and builders up north as Trannie, has been inching his way deeper in constant weight no fins. Today he was pleased with a result of 45m, and showed great common sense and unusual macho man reserve in announcing that he would go for 46m tomorrow. Stavros, in bossy mode, was having none of this and told him that he should go for 47. When Dave said he felt that 46 was plenty, Stavros said: “47. It’s my rope!” Whatever next? He has told me that I should set the plate to 90 tomorrow, do I dare to disagree? He is shorter than me, but in terms of body mass, I’m afraid I might lose. I’ll report more soon. So far no one has got off with any people they shouldn’t have, so I apologize for the lack of interesting gossip. If none is forthcoming, I promise to make some up.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A small matter of Egyptian plumbing

I have just returned from Dahab (first visit since September!), where I stayed with Sara in her lovely, luxurious new house. Most noteworthy is the guest bathroom, which sports a previously unseen, top-notch item: the steaming toilet. We are undecided as to whether this will catch on in the high-end fixtures market, but remain hopeful that others will see the advantages to having such a versatile fitting. Here’s the story: apparently, the boiler didn’t work, so Sara got the plumber in to fix it just before I afrrived. So far so good, all was well, hot water working. A couple of nights later, Sara was woken up by an almighty bang that sent the glasses rattling in the kitchen. When she ran out to see what had exploded, clouds of steam were billowing from the guest bathroom, much in the manner of a hamam. On closer investigation, it became clear that the steam was pouring out of the toilet bowl! Trying to turn off the water supply, she found the tap too hot to touch. The whole toilet was literally boiling. When we removed the cover and had a look into the cistern the next day, all the plastic parts had melted. Amazing. The plumber had removed the maximum temperature cut out setting on the boiler, so the water just kept heating and heating. Eventually, a valve blew, and the massive pressure found the only way out, which, and this remains a bit of a mystery, seems to have led into my loo. Welcome to Egypt.

Small household problems aside, I went out to the blue hole for the first time in eight months. The plan was to take it easy and have some fun, since I was sure it would take a long time to get adapted again. Imagine my surprise when I hit 57m in three sessions – only 2m off my pb from the previous year. All the dives felt remarkably easy, no lactic legs, hardly any contractions, feeling relaxed and happy down there, taking a good look at the arch every time. Pooltraining is now beginning to appear in a whole new light to me. What is also working very well is training with my second computer: I dive on the long line but use a depth alarm. Since I like having a target, I set the alarm to the minimum depth I want to reach. If I feel good when it goes off, I count to three and turn. This allows me a certain amount of room in the warm up training phase, to progress as fast as my body will let me. At the end of the first week, I was back at 60m, with a big smile on my face.

Meanwhile, Sara has been working towards her ultimate goal, the 100m dive. Danish diver Christian was also with us, he has been hiding from the other Danish freedivers, and never met any of them! This will be changed when he comes out to Crete next week. He has set himself a good target of 56m unassisted, and was getting steadily deeper as the week progressed. With his help we managed to safety Sara in a couple of nice, deep training dives, where she was looking strong – she’s on track. In my last deep session I wanted to see what I could do with my mouthfill, and put the rope to 67m. I held on to some air long enough to hit a new depth of 66m, feeling excited but also like there is more work to do: I arrived there with no air left to equalize. In the end I enlisted the help of number one Italian coach Linda, who tweaked my technique during two sessions. First one was mouthfilling only, and I improved enough to take the mouthfill a good six metres deeper than before. Then, in the second session, came a revelation. Apparently, I am a freak of nature, and can only equalize with a noseclip when I have mask on my face, which I fill with water. I know it’s weird, but there you have it. When my alarm went off, I was taking the biggest mouthfill ever. Where did all that air come from? We think what has been happening is the following: since I can kind off equalize hands free, I don’t need a lot of pressure to push against. It looks like I have not been pinching my nose very well on the way down, thus allowing a bit of air to escape on each equalization. This is most likely the reason why I don’t have anything left when I get to sixty. I am very excited to test this theory in Crete next week, where my new mantra on the way down will be “pinch the nose, pinch the nose, pinch the nose...!”

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Hemmoor no fins comp - a laugh

I know I am a little late in reporting from Hemmoor. My excuse is that I am back to the chaotic travel lifestyle, and have been sidetracked by a myriad of things such as motorways and airports. Anyway, Hemmoor was wonderful. First of all Martin, Elisabeth and I arrived quite tired at 2am, having been bossed around all day by the demanding Planetopia TV crew (they were actually very nice), who were in Berlin to film me training in the pool and gym. I definetely owe a big dinner to Elisabeth, who ended up having to jump trough hoops all day without breakfast, just so she could be my coach and safety for telly. If ever she has a TV shoot, I promise to be at her disposal. We drew the line at filming human interest at around five, since we had not eaten, or packed, and I still had to drive us to Hemmoor, a mere four to five hour trip. Finally ready to set off, I turned up to pick up Martin and Elisabeth, only to find that Elisabeth had brought the entire library from her university and Martin had countless things that were all indispensable for our competition. Now I do have a nice car, but it does not magically turn itself into a truck when I snip my fingers! I think I packed and repacked the entire load three times, until we squashed in Elisabeth behind her monofin and books and got on our way.

In Hemmoor we had some changeable weather to begin with – blustery and cloudy, and fairly cold. Elisabeth and I got into the water on Thursday afternoon to check weighting and see if we could find a good rythm for swimming down and equalizing, or if the water (in your dreams) might be warm enough to go with just a noseclip. Rarely have I laughed so much in freediving. All I can say is that I am very glad that no one saw us – it was the most ridicoulous performance of my career so far. I know I mentioned in the last post how I was hoping that on the way up, I would not fall down anymore between strokes. Surprisingly, this did not prove to be an issue, largerly because I could not get down past ten meters in the first place. In fact, I had the reverse problem: I was bobbing back up between strokes, much in the manner of a cork. After wondering for a moment how she could help me, Elisabeth simply gave in to a fit of the giggles. There was not much else to say. I had my share of fun when she ended up with her legs sticking out of the water after the duck dive, waving her feet in the air helplessly, while trying to swim down. At this rate, it was not looking good for star performances only two days later, and I was not sure how I would get myself down to 35m and back up again without at least a week of training. As if to agree with our dire performance, the weather unleashed an almighty thunderstorm with floodlike rain and hail on us as soon as we got out of the water.

The next day I went back in with Elisabeth and Chris Ernest, ready and determined to do a deepish dive and do it well. 27m certainly felt deep, but unfortunately did not feel well, making me wonder if it would be ok to announce 35m, or if this would set me up for my first real problem in competition. A lot of deliberating over a barbecue cooked mostly by Chris and Elisabeth later, I did what I always do, and just announced the dive anyway. After some discussion with Elisabeth, I made a little pact with myself, that meant that if anything should go wrong during the dive, I would bail and pull up. Elisabeth’s ears had not been playing along so she was free to coach me, which was wonderful. First of all she made me eat a huge portion of porridge, which had me feeling like I was going to sink extra fast until 45min before the dive, when I just felt like I had energy. It did not help to calm the nerves, though, which were in overdrive, made worse by the arrival of the Planetopia TV crew, who were all excited to see record performances. As always, the nerves were gone the instant my face was underwater, so I swam down fine, turned, and got my lanyard caught after two strokes. I took a moment to free myself, but decided to stick with the pact and pull up, as I really was not sure how this dive woud go otherwise. In two years of freediving I have never been stuck – trust this to happen the one time you have a TV camera there! Fortunately, I had another chance the next day and made it easily enough, bothered only by contractions that started shortly after the duck dive and lasted all the way down and back up again. I was extremely pleased to see Daan (Verhoven) who was on safety duty, at what I thought was 20m – only he did not meet me at 20m, but at 25. I did wonder why I just wouldn’t start floating...aparently, he got bored, because I was soooo slow. „There is room for improvement“ are not quite the words he used, but he suggested something along those lines. Me, I am glad this is over, and I am more than ever determined not to do no fins again until I have had some tuition from someone who knows how to swim, like Will Winram. Help!!

The things I really enjoyed about Hemmoor are some of my favorites in freediving: the companionable atmosphere, and the great people. A thank you to Martin for organising this, and a big thank you especially to Daan, for being the knight in shining armour and rescuing me and Maria from the monster spider in our bedroom. Diving down to 80m does not scare us, but an insect big enough to have a face is enough to have us run shrieking from the room. Don’t ask me to explain.