Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Stillness


I had it all planned: wind up the freediving season with two final weeks in Sharm, finish with a nice dive in a small competition, then head home tanned and healthy to face the crazed winter customers. All was going swimmingly, I did not catch any nasty colds in Berlin or London and thought I was home free - until I set foot on the premises of freediving world apnea center, that is. There, I was instantly infected with a killer virus, which knocked me out within 24 hours and is still with me four weeks later, thwarting the "healthy" bit of my plan long term!


Since the sinuses simply would not unblock themselves even though I stayed mostly dry, I decided to go for a novel experience on the final competition day by announcing – wait for it - 21m free immersion! In a dive time of 2min! Ha. Evil coach was ready to disown me, but I had the best time ever. It’s the shallowest official dive I have done since I started freediving, I stopped to equalize every 15cm and I was not nervous at all - amazing!

Stillness. Photo by Daan Verhoeven
People have asked me why I even bothered to compete. I just wanted to be out there and look after my freediving buddies and have a laugh. I think it’s essential to be a bit lighthearted around all of this and not take yourself too seriously. When things don’t go as planned I grumble and moan, but I don’t throw my toys out of the pram and it does not mean I can’t still smile and be happy with my friends. Otherwise, what could possibly be the point of it all? It’s not like I’m going to get rich here. The sea was lovely and even though I could barely leave the surface, I had those moments of stillness underwater that all of us love so much.

What else could there be? This is what it’s all about. Don’t ever forget to take in the colour of the sea around you, say hello to Luda the barracuda and smile at your freediving friends. Now I just have to get through Christmas bookshop madness – then it’s time for my other love: snowy mountain season! Wonderful (white) moments of stillness are to be had there, too, by the way.

And maybe a beer…or two…or three….!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

World Championships: review


I’m back home and glued to my desk in the bookshop, enjoying the beautiful autumn days in the city, coming down from the epic closing party and getting used to not putting on my wetsuit every day to head out to the ocean.

photo: Daan Verhoeven

The 2013 WC was a rollercoaster for me. As if the injury wasn’t enough, I ended up losing two nights of sleep in a row right before the constant weight competition day. This is a special story – some pretty crazy stuff in the room next to us had Liv and I still awake and high on adrenalin at 03:00am, calming ourselves down by drinking beer in reception, which the sympathetic security guard had gone out to get for us. Not quite the right preparation for an 81m dive, with the uncertainty of how the pain from the fresh stitches would affect swimming up from depth. Luckily I had Liv, who was a brilliant partner in crime and, when it all went way too crazy moments before I had to put on my wetsuit, just said to me: “Anna. Just go to your happy place. Happy place, happy place..!” Someone should have been there with a camera – you could not have scripted this if you’d tried!

photo: Dann Verhoeven
I was pretty stressed before the dive, but once I left the surface, I remembered that I was ready and the descent was amazing: constant pressure on the ears to 81m, diving with a mask, and a certain feeling that there is a lot of room still. Swimming up was no breeze - being tense because of the pain gave me cramps in both legs starting in around 70m – but there was no way I was going to quit and I surfaced only a few seconds off my usual speed. Admittedly, once I was given the white card (fifth place and my 26th German record), I may have yelled “get me off this f#@*g line, I have cramps!” instead of smiling sweetly at the judges. Oops - sorry judges, and sorry Liv!

photo: Daan Verhoeven
If constant weight was the challenging dive under the circumstances, free immersion was a tactical decision – getting the announcement game just right: 73m put me 1m ahead of Aurore Asso from France, left me with an easy dive and landed me with my third Bronze medal in as many world championships. Groundhog day or what! Thing is, this was also a dreaded moment for a very special reason. Coming across a shop filled with incredibly dodgy sparkly dresses earlier on, Liv and I (we are claiming temporary insanity) had made a bet: If either of us should accidentally win a medal, she’d have to get a truly awful outfit and wear it at the final party. Who could know that we would BOTH get medals? Who??? Evil coach was having a field day, and with our brains fried by too much leopard print, we forgot to confiscate his camera. I have a feeling we are never going to live that one down - NEVER. Guiliano from Polosub even offered to make me a leopard print wetsuit…oh noooooooooo!


It’s always a little weird being back from a world championship. It takes so much energy, focus and luck for everything to work out, it’s a bit like living under a bubble. I still have a tendency to feel that my medals and record competition dives are some kind of lucky accidents, but I suppose with yet another medal, it may be time to start to believe that I’m not doing too badly. Then again - this one might just have been Murphy’s law forcing me to wear leopard print for the first (and last…) time ever! Evil coach has been making plans to get me into silver or gold medal outfits - imagine....oh no....

I think I will have to quit the sport before the next WC.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

World Championships!



I have spent the last twelve days thinking: "tomorrow I will put my fin on", with common sense kicking in every morning. In fact, I ended up spending three whole days dry after the accident, and then stuck to free immersion like a really good girl. This was mostly due to my freediving bodyguards arriving from Sharm to take care of me (and the other athletes - they have joined the safety team), with evil coach giving me a taste of his sternest voice on a daily basis. It goes something like this:

Me: "I was thinking I might try to put my fin on tomorrow"
Coach: "No."
Me: "But...but...I could..."
Coach: "No."
Me: "But...but...I want my monofiiiiiiiin, I want it I want it I waaaaant it...."
Coach: NO!

photo by Daan Verhoeven

What is a girl to do?? Instead, evil coach pushed me right ahead and made me announce 76m FIM in the Kalamata mini competition we had going on before worlds. This was a little interesting because I knew well the dive time might be on my limit - in the end, it took 3:03 which was certainly long enough, but it was also one of my most beautiful dives with amazing equalization (constant pressure all the way to 76m!) and my 25th German record. I love free immersion, and so on. Did I mention? I want my MONOFIN!

photo by Daan Verhoeven

Since then, I have taken it easy, hanging by the pool and helping my training buddy Liv to figure out a strategy for the no fins world championship competition and going out to coach her. We made a brilliant team as she came up clean and smiling for her first bronze medal! Go Liiiiiv!!

Yesterday I finally managed to break my coach, put my fin on and swam down to 65m. It was not a pleasant experience, and my coach may have had a point as now the wound is worse. But I needed to test myself before announcing my depth for tomorrow's competition day. All that's left to do is cross my fingers, hope for the best and remember the doctor from the hospital:

THERE IS NO PAIN!!!

Easy.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Monofin attack


The first week of training at the 2013 freediving depth world championships has come to an end. Mostly, it was brilliant! I reigned in my freediving devil and took it easy, spending time on getting acclimatised to the beautiful mediterranean sea. Our favorite freediving waterworld is back out there, 2 miles from shore! There is something magical about diving into nothingness so far away from land. It makes that moment at depth feel all the more intense.


I had a really good dive to 75m on Friday - swimming up has never felt so easy, all the work I did to get the legs in shape is paying off - so yesterday I was mentally geared up to give myself a bit of extra rope and set the plate to 85m. Feeling nicely excited about this excellent plan I was walking down the beach, straight into the arms of Mr. Murphy, whom I have been dodging since April. My 5kg monofin slipped from my hands and landed on my foot with the sharp edge of the blade, giving me a nice clean cut all the way to the bone.

In classic freediver mode, my first thought was: oh no! my fin!! Having examined the blade for damage, I was relieved to see that it was fine. Next, I looked down to check my foot, thinking: oh, a bit of a cut! I was just considering if I needed to tape that before getting into the water, when Liv came over, took one look and went: "OH FUCK!!!" At this point it started to dawn on me that I might have a small problem here.

An hour later, I was in hospital, getting x-rayed to check for possible damage to the bone and stiched up by a young Greek doctor, who shook his head and then, as he proceeded to stich me without the slightest thought to anastethic, did an interesting mind thing: he told me to take a breath (now, this could mean many things to a freediver - how big should it be? Full? Half??), pushed the needle in and said, in a commanding tone: "no pain! There is NO PAIN!!!"... Aha. I thought I might mention that there was, indeed, some pain - my exact words were: "well, there is a bit..." - to which he responded: "NO! THERE IS NO PAIN!" At this point I finally got what he was doing - a mind game! Brilliant! I'm a freediver, so I get mind stuff. When he was done he told me to keep it dry (hmmmm) and  sent me off to contemplate if I could possibly get in the water the next day.



I needed various drugs, so after lunch Liv and Stavros took me to the pharmacy and then for a coffee and we soon realized that it was possibly not safe to have me out on the streets that day. First, I dropped my waterbottle right onto the injured foot. Then, I got out of the car and the bottle jumped out of my bag and fell on my foot - again! Next, I tripped on the stairs going up to the cafe. At this point, my freediving buddies decided that they were going to put me on a safe looking chair and forbid me to move. Thinking I was in the clear, I reached out to pick up the beautiful looking Latte the waitress had put in front of me in a large glass, when Liv suddenly shouted NOOOOOOO... the glass had a crack from top to bottom, making it ready to explode in my hand and send me right back to see the nice doctor for more mind games. Attacked by monofins, waterbottles and coffees in one day! Clearly, the only safe place was my bed.

Since then, I have managed to spend the night without further accidents, and have also come to my senses a little bit, realizing that I cannot put my fin on for a few days. That means I will have to train one of my least favorite disciplines. Urgh.

New mantra: I love free immersion, I LOVE free immersion, I love it....

Monday, 19 August 2013

Freediving




Since the ORIS video has gone online, I have had many positive reactions, as well as some speculations and comments on the meaning of the voiceover. First things first: the text was written by Pietro Federico, a scriptwriter and poet. This was a perfect match, since one of my loves in life (aside from the water...and snowboarding...and shoes...and coffeeeeeeee) is poetry. Someone commented on the last line: "Dive...Now is the time" as in how this was scillfully inserted into a watch commercial - hahaha!

Fact is: neither Pietro nor I ever thought about "time" in this context at all. The text, including the last line, is the result of a long conversation we had, talking about what happens before, during and after a dive, what I feel and what it is that has drawn me to the depths since I was a child. Reading the observations of others has made me think about Pietro's words, and how well they express what I tried to relate to him.

Reflected in Pietro's poem is what has been fascinating me since the first time I put my head under water: The second I leave the surface, the world is left behind. Its' worries, cares, joys, anything at all, have ceased to be. It is an experience of intense freedom, while at the same time intense connection to what I am doing. I challenge myself - and to me, it is of great importance that this is personal, is mine - and within this challenge I discover myself and my place in the sea. It is a moment of joy. A moment that belongs to me alone. Free of everything.

Leave the surface
Leave all failures, attempts,
Your dreams not fully dreamt.
Challenge your thirst
Your own desire
And in that thirst you'll find a deeper thirst
In that desire,
A deeper desire.
And it will be as though you'd never wept.
So leave your fears behind,
Free your mind,
And dive into the depths.

One of the essential things in freediving is the moment in which you have to commit yourself to your dive. This is similar to many other "extreme" sports - a skydiver leaps from the plane, a cliffdiver from the rock, an extreme skier throws himself down the mountain, etc etc. But -  a skydiver needs to just work up the nerve to take the leap - he has crossed the threshold, the decision over, there is no turning back. This is different for us freedivers - we have to continue to submit ourseves to what we do. I can stop and turn with every kick of my fin, brake every meter the sled draws me down towards the bottom. Until I reach my target, the maximum depth, I can still abort the dive early, give up, quit. This is one of the reasons that freediving is, before anything else, an enormous effort of the mind.

Before I dive, I go deeper and deeper into concentration, until I finally take the last breath, hold still for a second, and leave the surface. From this moment, I have to commit myself to the ocean, mind, body, everything. Without this, you cannot dive successfully to such extremes. You take the last few breaths, and in your mind, cross a line, a line that is yours to cross and no one elses.
It is time to dive.

Find freedom in a step
Beyond your fear.
Feel the blessing
Of every single breath
And cross the line
That no one sees
But you.
And when you return
From the silent depth,
No one can take the freedom
You carry deep inside.

Dive.
Now is the time.

The thing I love about this video is that it actually shows one of the most beautiful dives I have ever done. It was perfect in every way, one of those rare moments in life when what you have been working hard for is suddenly flawless. The sea was stunning that day. This is what I have been diving for, with or without tanks, for years.

Wake up call tomorrow is at 05:30am. Maybe it will be one of those mornings!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Chaos Day


First things first: after two and a bit weeks of training, I tricked my coach who has been taming my (typical freediver) desire to push for more depth - focusing on building strength and adaptation instead - ignored my depth alarm which was supposed to stop me in 75m and sailed to the plate to swim 80m back up. The next big number! Feels good to have done a pb and thanks to all the pain in the gym and to the evil coach training approach, it was a nice and easy dive. Hurrah!


Since evil coach is merciless, he put the 75m I did not do yesterday on the plan for today. Going out there, it soon became obvious that today was simply not going to go according to plan: I started the session with contractions after 42sec on my warm-up. Next, I went to sit on the pool noodle, ready for my dive, lanyard clipped on, only to realize that I was not wearing my mask. It was still safely on the platform. Having rectified this small mistake, I started the descent, only to be hit by a massive contraction before the freefall, losing the mouthfill and turning in 65m. Needless to say, I did not enjoy the way up either. Even evil coach saw that I was a liability and suggested some repetitions to 30m without weights instead.

After a bit of rest, I slid off the platform only to realize that the seam of my pants had produced two holes: one on the back of my upper thigh, one on my right bum cheek. For a very good reason, kicking was now out of the question, opening the holes any further to be avoided at all costs. The boys suggested that they would look the other way, but I was having none of it! After some discussion, I agreed to do some FIM dives, testing my new weighting. Preparing for the dive on the noodle, the mask fogged up, so I took it off, cleared it, put it back on and thought: "hmmmmm...I was sure I had my snorkel..." Looked down to spot snorkel leisurely sinking away in 15m. Took half a breath, leapt off the noodle and swam after it. As it was also drifting along with the current, ended up doing constant no fins to 20m together with a dynamic no fins which had me surfacing on the outside of the other platform, where evil coach was busy fixing the sled for Will. Faced with my explanation as to what I was doing there, he shook his head and said: "Ok - you are going home!!"

Back at the center and safely out of the water, I made Will laugh with my tale of chaos diving. He headed off to train, I headed off to remove my suit in the shower (which happens to be located out of the backdoor of the center and down a corridor, under the hotel swimming pool). Stepping out, I realized that I did not have my towel. I did not have my bikini. I did not have my shorts. I had nothing but my suit with the torn pants. Made a dash for the center changing rooms, half hiding behind my wetsuit, fortunately without encountering the Egyptian cleaner, and thought: phew! This has to be it! Got dressed and took my banana, milk, water bottle and spoon through to the table to have breakfast. Realized I have left my muesli behind. Got up to go fetch it, picked up my iphone, went back to the table, sat down, picked up the spoon and thought: something is missing.

Muesli was still in my cupbaord. Had my iphone instead.

Have gone home, locked the door and will not leave the house - for NOTHING!!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Pushing hard!


It's been months since I have been in blue ocean waters to do any serious freediving training. Painful, but I thought I'd make the most of it and experiment with something different: to see how hard I could kick my ass in the gym over two and a bit months, and then to see if this would have any effect - positive or negative!


In any case, this has been sweaty and fun. I continued to follow the painful advice of sports doctor - I should have known that going to see him was going to hurt long term - and refrained from endurance training, focusing all my efforts on intervals and sprints instead, trying to push my heartrate as much as possible. Anaerobic 
training. All the time. Did I mention it? Pain.

After an hour of sprint intervals on the running machine and bike, I would then get straight to weight training. My time was limited and my toughts were: the sprinting bit seems more important for the moment. In any case, it worked surprisingly well, culminating with today's last session before heading off to Sharm: After breaking my legs nicely sprinting (well. sprinting for me!) faster than ever before, I jumped onto the leg press and some devil made me stick the pin into 140kg. And no, boys, the weight is not in pounds, grams or ounces!


I did not think I could even move it. Three sets with eight repetions each later, it was time to switch directly to 70kg for a superset of 100 repetions. Then I stopped, because it was boring and I was getting a cramp. Ha!! Seems that maximum strength and strength endurance are not so bad...If anyone doubts if it was me lifting the weight in the pictures - here is the state I was in afterwards:


The picture is a little out of focus - my hands were shaking! Now the question is: will this make me worse or better at freediving? If the answer is: worse, I am going to eat ice cream and chocolate and just lie in the sun for a week, until all the muscles are gone and the fat has returned.

Hmmm. I wonder which outcome is preferable??

Friday, 5 July 2013

Memory lane


Last week I took a trip about as far out into the wilderness as you can get three hours from Berlin: I was invited to give a talk to kids aged around 12-14 at the boarding school Schloß Torgelow. Turning down a final bumpy, tiny, aged looking country lane framed by nothing but green meadows and trees on either side, my friend Matze (who was kind enough to drive - I love it when men drive me) and I realized that we were on our way to the perfect boarding school location: stunning nature all around, and no bus stop within a ten mile radius. Brilliant!



This was a bit of a trip down memory lane, too, since I had the good fortune to spend the last three years before my A-Levels (Abitur) at a boarding school on the shores of Lake Constance (Bodensee), which was nothing short of a teenager's paradise and happend to be the place where I first learned to scuba dive. Freshly qualified, me and my fellow adventure-seeking-kids convinced the school to buy us three sets of scuba gear, thus allowing us to try and see if we could find the bottom of the enormous - and enormously deep - lake Constance, which we did, having all kinds of fun. There was a science week project, too, where we came up with the smart plan to test the water quality of the lake - "forcing" us to do lots of dives to depths ranging from 60m-10m (before the days of diving computers..) to collect samples. If only I could convince my dad that my dangreous activities are long in the past!


The sixty-odd kids at Schloß Torgelow were one of the most engaging audiences I have spoken to so far. When I asked a question at the outset, expecting to have to give the answer myself (as is often the case with adult groups before you have managed to get them involved), I was amazed to see ALL of them with their hands up! It was so much fun to deal with such bright and lively kids. I was asked some of the smartest questions, too - such as: why does the balloon not burst on the way up in no limits diving? (!!) - and as they appear to want to try just about anything new that comes their way, I think a proper little freediving workshop might be in their near future.

To finish off my visit, I got a special invitation: the opportunity to whizz down the slide that has you flying down a tube through a series of fast corners from the top floor of one of the new buildings. These youngsters have obviously understood a top secret yet key element of successful apnea diving:

We freedivers simply can't resist anything fun!


Monday, 17 June 2013

Funky partner


Right, here it is, I have some news to tell. I suppose since I took 20 journalists diving with me at a press event in Mallorca last week, the cat has jumped right out of the bag: I have started working with Swiss watch company ORIS. They are as mad as I am, I suppose, and decided it was a good plan to give me a watch and put lots of logos on my wetsuit.


I was not going to disagree with them, especially since I just love my watch! It's beautiful! Also, they have been looking after my freediving friend Carlos Coste for some years now, which I like, and I suppose this means the ORIS crew is well used to the various quirks and silly habits of people who like to hold their breath and have patience with nerdy freedivers. Phew!


We were filming a funky video (coming soon) in Sharm early this year, part of which has me doing a 100m dive. I took one of the first models of the brand new ORIS Aquis Depth Gauge watch down there with me, which has a really clever yet simple system of showing how deep you are to 100m - so hey, this one has been to target depth! There was only one problem after the dive...


I had to give it back to it's owner!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sniff...



Back in Sharm, I was faced with some of the wildest weather I have seen here so far. A storm that lasted several days smashed the jetty to pieces and tore the 150m long mooring line that anchors our platforms to the reef, seeing me and Freediving World staff Sergio paddling around in the waves, trying to stop the platforms from floating away over night. It was pretty hard work, and a different kind of training all together!


In the middle of all this, a filmcrew arrived to shoot a video of me freediving - of course! Who needs good weather for filming, anyway. When it was finally ok to get in the water, I went for a 100m dive and surprised myself as well as my coach by reaching the bottom with constant pressure in the ears and air in my mouth to equalize further - better than ever before! I was convinced that equalization problems were now a thing of the past and looking forward to lots of beautiful dives to 100+ meters.


Then again, things never go quite as planned, and what followed were three days with five to six hours in the water for the filmcrew, making me so tired I forgot how to be a freediver when it was time to train again properly. After some sessions getting stuck in various depths, it was time to take a break and get some rest. True to the tone of the training period so far, the weather chose to be stunning while I was out of the water, blasting us again with awful conditions as soon as I wanted to get back in. Feeling strong and ready to dive, I found myself landbased looking at the angry sea for four days! I even agreed with evil coach and got in the pool to train dynamics quite happily, with some nice long dives - adaptation and strength were all good, but that's only part of what you need for a world record in variable weight.


As soon as the weather improved we jumped in and I even got to do a beautiful 90m variable dive, sprinting back with no problems at all, before it all went wrong again for another week. With only ten days to go till the start of my attempt, no sign of improvement on the wind-and-waves front and considering the amount of rest I would need from the deep training dives, we have decided that we simply do not have enough days left to have a safe progression and that we have to cancel the attempt.

Of course, this is completely the right thing to do and the only way to deal with the situation. Nevertheless, it is really frustrating and hard for me - I absolutely HATE to quit!

I want to go snowboarding. When the weather is bad in the mountains, we simply go and drink coffee or Coronas!

Booooooohooooooo....

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Mid-training





It took three weeks to finally be well enough to get in the water. Evil coach, bored with his sniffling athlete, went off on HOLIDAY - shocking - and left me all alone with his new member of staff, Sergio. Left to test our (well - my) silly ideas, we went right ahead and destroyed ourselves so thoroughly with the TRX, we were both unable to walk for four days, with the stairs to our favorite coffee place becoming a major hurdle.  I added sprint intervals on the spinning bike and monofin swimming in the pool, and started to feel nicely tired instead of grumpy, restless and miserable.

This was followed by decent constant weight training when I was finally able to clear my sinuses. The time for a gentle start was past, so I jumped straight to repetitions, with dives up to 65m, 55m, 45m and 35m in one session burning whatever energy I had left after the TRX. It was beautiful to see the ocean and Luda Barracuda again, even if Murphy's law has provided the worst weather - as soon as I get in, a gale starts blowing and massive waves come up, leaving me banging my head into the platform while trying to relax, and as soon as I get out, it all stops! At least it's making my training extra efficient: nothing much will shock me any more. Think positive!


In week three I headed to Hurghada, to spend two days with SSI International Training Direktor Ronny the Kaiser Kain at his Instructor Trainer Seminar - the idea being that it is important to meet and share our knowledge ever so often. At least that was my excuse, while the true plan involved drinking a couple of beers and hanging out with people who know nothing about noseclips, monofins, mouthfills or similar.


I arrived in time to give the ten guys a tiny introduction into freediving - strangely, they all listened attentively and then proceeded to drop at my feet! It was not me, I promise, I was nice to them! I believe there was a sense of nervousness around regarding the dynamic required to pass the course, so they were all up for testing a few minutes of freediving breahting skills - anything to give them an extra couple of meters, I guess! Of course, watched over by me and Ronny they all did their swims easily enough, in a wide range of unorthodox styles - we'll fix that next time, guys!

Now I'm back in Sharm, and it's time to work equalization and see if the reef in 100+ meters ist still the same.

Can't wait!