Thursday, 30 April 2009

Oh shit.

Yesterday I returned from our last training session knowing that the final chance to fix any problems was over. Fortunately, all went reasonably well and I left the gym feeling well prepared. Experience shows that this is a feeling that will gradually vanish over the next couple of days, while a sensation commonly described as “nerves” takes over. It’s the “oh shit” phase of training and lasts until I hear “five, four, three, two, one, official top” (top = time of performance, for those who are not familiar with a freediving countdown). As soon as my head is under water, everything is ok. I hope.

I managed to get back on track after the week of gloom and misery. A couple of days rest did the trick, and I felt ready to push myself again. Martin left me to go off and enjoy himself in Prague for a weekend, so I got my friend Steffen in to replace him. Steffen is a scuba instructor that I helped to teach, so I know he can handle a problem and will stay calm. At the same time, he has only recently started to do a bit of freediving and is as excited as a child with a new puppy. Coming along to be my safety and coach had him all jittery with nerves, which was rather amusing. Since static had been such a disaster, I decided I would take it easy, change things around a bit and not push myself. So I did a ‘two, three, four’: two minute breathe-up, two minute hold, three minute breathe-up, three minute hold, four minute breathe-up, four minute hold. I told Steffen that I would most likely stop at four minutes or soon thereafter. When it came to the final hold, contractions started early but didn’t feel too bad, so I carried on a bit, and then a bit more, and then it was five minutes, and before I knew it, I ended with a new pb of 5:23. Poor Steffen nearly had a heart attack, but did very well, even telling me that I was “looking good”, which he said about a minute into the hold, at which point I would very well hope to still look alright! Anyway, I was very grateful for his help and felt safe in his hands.

Monday saw coach Martin return, and we had a couple more tough sessions, finishing with a 75m DNF and 100m DYN done for the cameras of the local TV crew. After the pool, they followed me up to the gym and filmed me doing my strength training routine, which was a rather strange experience. I couldn’t help feeling a bit naff, cycling and lifting weights with a camera crew in tow. Fortunately it was quiet, so not too many people saw us. The final product is aired tonight, I will censor it and then decide whether I post a link or not. In the last few days, we have been tapering off, just doing some maintenance and relearning the turns with the fin, which I seem to erase from memory on a regular basis. Hopefully I can keep the information stored until Saturday this time. All is on track now, it is a question of eating, eating some more and resting for the next two days, or so I thought. Then I woke up this morning with a totally stiff neck, unable to move my head. An emergency visit to my physio later, I can now turn my head again, but am still very sore and aching. He says there is enough work for a few sessions, and that it may yet get worse. I am beginning to wonder whether I am destined to ever do a freediving performance in the pool while fully healthy? Anyway, there was some saying I heard along the lines of: “suffering is inevitable, pain is optional.” It’s all in the mind. Still. Mine will be a nervous mess come tomorrow lunchtime.

Wish me luck everyone!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Beat the negative mind

Generally, my own ability to be stubborn never ceases to surprise me. I have been battling with the negative mind, as Sara calls it, throughout this endeavour, which, considering my attitude towards all things to do with pooltraining, does not come as a surprise. There have been a few negative-voice-highlights so far. When Elisabeth was here to help with my technique, I had decided to do a max attempt in dynamic. The first thing that went through my mind upon waking that morning was “Am tired, want to stay in bed, don’t want to do any stupid dynamic”. As I drove over to pick up Martin and Elisabeth, I was preparing my excuses. One: I need a break. Two: since Elisabeth is here, it makes much more sense to train technique. With these and a number of other good bailouts well prepared, I was starting to feel less glum already. Until my two coaches got in the car, that is. They were having none of it. Feeling grumpy, I went on to prepare for my max, mostly preparing how it was going to be awful and I was going to just stop. As soon as I pushed off the wall, I wanted to surface. Right, I thought, this is just nasty, will stop at 50m. Then it struck me: if I come up at fifty, Martin and Elisabeth are going to make me do it again. I don’t want to do it again. Ok, I bargained with the by now very negative mind, 75. As I hit the wall, I decided a turn and a push would get me into the safe, non-repeat zone. As soon I had turned, I was thinking: 100m is not so far and will look like I have made an effort. At 100m, ambition kicked in and sent me on to 125, nice and clean and not feeling grumpy anymore at all.

I suspect part of my secret is that I think all stuff pool is so horrible, I don’t ever want to do it twice, so I just keep going no matter what. Sometimes I am able to relax and tell myself that all is well, that contractions are good for me, that it’s not far, etc. etc. Other times, I just want to stop, the whole time, and am mostly bargaining with myself and calculating where I can come up without being too embarrassed. In competition it is usually the latter, or has been, so far. Martin, who is rather good at being encouraging or tough as the moment requires, seems to have worked out that in general, I will do whatever he says, and has used this to my own advantage. The whole of last week I was miserable, with motivation at an all time low. We have been training static and my maxes have been getting shorter every time, so now I am back down to something like 4:30! It’s like some kind of weird reverse-training. The other day, I simply had enough and announced to Martin that instead of doing no fins after static, I was going to swim the 600m and then go home. Just when I was finished, he came over with a neckweight and announced that it was time to do one 50m DNF. Alright then, I thought, just the one, let’s get it over with. Counting my strokes along the way, I realized I didn’t feel too bad, and before I knew it, I was at 75m, clean and easy. The best thing was to see that even though I felt bad enough to want to stay in bed, I could get away with 75m no fins, without preparation. Suddenly, the negative mind was all quiet.

Having said that, it has been busy all week, and I have been feeling progressively more tired. Martin is busy finishing off his bachelor thesis, which has given me two days off training in a row. I have suppressed the urge to go for a run in the Easter sunshine and am beginning to feel more rested and mentally ready to push myself again. Hopefully, next week will be better!

For those of you who were wondering: yes, I do talk to myself all the time whilst diving, and no, I am not mad and do not talk to my potted plants. There.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Half way point

My lovely training pool (We try to avoid the aquafitness classes)

The last three weeks have passed in a blur of training, working, eating, sleeping, training. It’s almost like Dahab, except for the ‘working’ bit in there, and, minor detail, the weather. Although, even we poor white, white people in Berlin have seen the sun for three days now. Not that I get to see it much, since I spend most of my time in the pool or the gym.

Coach Martin and I thought it might be good idea to start the mission with an honest assessment of the situation, to find out if I could remember what way round the mask goes on. In the first three days I did three max attempts: static was surprisingly alright with 4:33, and dynamic even better with 100m, only 14m short of my pb. The real surprise came when I decided to just keep going in dynamic no fins and ended up clean at 80m. This was only my second attempt at this discipline ever, so I felt I was off to a good start. I was soon brought back down to earth when Martin told me I had taken between six and seven strokes per 25m, and that he had suffered with me the whole way. Apparently, even five strokes are too many. Tell that to a non-swimmer like myself. What do I know? I just swim along, kind of. I think this was the moment where Martin saw what his role in this endeavour was going to be. He embarked on becoming the coach with the whip straight away and launched me into a technique training regime which I suspect is heavily inspired by his sessions with the Aarhus crowd. He tells me that the look on my face when he informed me that I was going to do four times 50m no fins without any warm-up, while still panting from the 600m swim, was priceless. Several sessions later, I have realized that 50m plus a turn is standard stuff that can be done anytime. It’s all in the mind, or most of it, anyway. So far, we have managed to improve my dreadful no fins technique and strokes have come down to four per 25m. I am now experimenting with four and a half, mostly because it is nicer to reach the end with arms outstretched, ready to do the turn, and also to improve my speed. Compared to 39sec/25m I am now down to 33sec/25m, which feels good.

Help with monofin technique, which is even worse than no fins, and yes, that is possible, as those who saw me in Egypt will be happy to tell you, came from Martin’s girlfriend and wicked freediver Elisabeth Kristoffersen. When she swims with a fin, it looks graceful and effortless. When I swim with a fin, it looks like hard work. First of all, she gave me various exercises to loose the stiff back and get the movement flowing through the body, while ignoring all other mistakes. This worked, since I stopped trying to focus on lots of things at once, and therefore getting none of them right. Then she made me swim with my new Glide Monofin, and although it’s a bit more work, the sense of shooting forward through the water with every kick is very nice indeed. I am beginning to see that this fin will take me to new places. To round things off she made me do a few sprints, although sprinting is maybe not the right word for what I was doing. Trying (and failing) to swim fast got my mind so much off technique, that a few things fell into place and when we analyzed the video afterwards, the whole thing did not look quite as ridiculous as before. There is hope. To let Elisabeth have the full experience, we dragged her to the gym afterwards to do weights, and then, my favourite, to the 70min interval spinning class I have been going to as part of the training schedule. Talk about anaerobic! To make the legs even more lactic, songs like Pink: Sober and Lady Gaga: Pokerface are perfect for holding your breath during the chorus. It’s a sure way to draw attention to yourself in the gym. I was getting nervous looks from my neighbour, who was obviously convinced that I was about to keel over any second. I think he might have been planning the CPR, just in case.

With Elisabeth Kristoffersen, in the gym:

Static sessions in between have been varied. A 5:01 was a highlight, but still far from six minutes plus – I think I might have to start packing. A few exercises with Elisabeth and a straw have pointed me in the right direction. I’ll report when I have beaten my pb of 5:08.

Some people have been asking me how exactly I am training, so here is an idea of what a session might look like, although these vary from day to day.


1. 600m swim, breaststroke
2. 4 x 75m plus turn
3. 4 x 25m with small fins on the surface, on my back
4. 4 x 25m with small fins under water, relaxed, big, exaggerated movements
5. 4 x 25m sprint with small fins
6. 4 x 25m with the big fin, relaxed
7. 4 x 25m sprint with the big fin

Dynamic no fins:

1. 600m swim, breaststroke
2. 4 x 50m plus turn
3. 6 x 25m no fins, no arms
4. 6 x 25m no fins, no legs
5. 4 x 25m, focusing on the right number of strokes
6. 4 x 25m plus turn, focusing on the push-off and glide

Afterwards: 20min run plus weights: legs, back, stomach, arms.

Evening: go to bed at ten and pass out.