Thursday, 13 March 2014

Maximum heart rate

Sunny weather is here and people are out in force, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to quit and go freediving! In the (brief) breaks between various attacks of colds, flus and sinus infections, I have been making attempts at getting myself in shape for this over last couple of months. Since I am following advice from my favorite evil doctor, who is definitely up there with evil coach, this has been a predictably painful experience.

Before I made his acquaintance, I used to really enjoy lovely long runs or cycles. This has ALL been cancelled. Of course, a self respecting evil sports doctor would not be worth his money if he did not replace something (nice, preferably) he cancels with something else, which had best be something the athlete is not going to enjoy, meaning that I am allowed ZERO aerobic training. Instead, I have been given the very un-lovely target of doing anaerobic training ONLY henceforth. This means: intervals. And then some intervals, and after that, some sprints. Continue as desired. Add to this a heavy dose of strength work and you have effectively removed all nice things from exercise. Except the results, that is! This has been highly effective for me last year, leaving me stronger and fitter than ever in the water during the world championships.

This year, I have added a thing called crossfit to shake things up. After my first workout lasted six minutes and left me unable to walk for five days, I knew I had hit on something evil doctor was going to approve of! Apart from being fun (in a weird, painful kind of way) it’s is an incredibly varied way to train a high level of anaerobic strength, making it perfect for a freediver who wants to push maximum heart rate as much as possible.

Feeling brave in a flu-free moment (of madness), I announced to evil doctor that I was ready for the horrible fitness test where they put a nasty mask on your face and make you cycle uphill until you’re ready to have a heart attack, while they look calmly on and leave you to wonder whether you might just be the unfittest excuse for an athlete they ever had through the door. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment I succumbed to the next killer virus, an excuse evil doctor did not consider impressive in the slightest. At my offer to think of something more creative, he just raised his eyebrow – clearly, none of it was going to do me any good.
As I was slogging away on the impressively uncomfortable bike (honestly, the seat is so big, you keep banging your thighs into it when you try to pedal hard and if my bottom ever fits onto that thing properly I will go into hiding until I have lost 35kg!), he started making his favorite …“very good”… “excellent”… noises, that I still view with maximum suspicion. After all, he can hardly say: “you’re a bit rubbish today, aren’t you” or: “that’s it???”. One day I will make him do a static and tell him how well he is doing at 34sec. And then I will give him some CO2 tables as homework, and then we will be even!
In any case, sad excuse for an athlete or not, the result turns out to be just what we wanted: a marked improvement in muscle that is working perfectly in anaerobic mode, thus not stealing my oxygen but making me stronger during the dive.
Crossfit, here we go! I am having visions of wall balls and burpees in my future…oh no…

Friday, 7 March 2014

Behind the scenes: Judges

Having offered my thoughts on the importance of the safety diver in the last blog entry, I'd now like to give thanks to another essential (easily spotted by their yellow colouring) creature of the freediving circus: the judge.

In the small community of competitive freediving, we tend to know each other and meet again and again over the years. This, to me, is also the magic of our sport at this point: it is small enough to feel intensely sociable and close knit, but large enough to have world championships with a good number of athletes competing hard for the top spots. The fact is: none of this would happen if it weren't for the time donated freely by freedivers who are willing to take on the role as judge. They do not get paid, they have to take precious vacation and fly half way across the globe to then sit in the blazing sun measuring ropes, creating spreadsheets, watching people go down and come up again, spend hours reviewing bottom camera footage to ensure all performances are valid and then file endless amounts of paperwork. To round things off, they get the joyful honour of watching athletes pee in a jar for the doping test.

judge Paola!
Through all this, they carry the responsibilty for often hard decisions, having to give a red card for a perfomance that has been trained for for months. If the athletes celebrate a white card, the judges are often forgotten and rarely thanked. If the decision was a tough one and the outcome not positive, they get complained at. It's a bit of a thankless job, and most of them do it for sheer love of the sport and because they are excited about the incredible things that keep happening before their eyes.

So - as much as the safety divers, the judges share my performance as an athlete. I have yet to encounter a judge who was not positive, excited and welcoming and did not want me to succeed with all their heart. When the crew around me goes quiet and the countdown starts, I can feel their energy and their crossed fingers radiating my way from the platform. They have as much a share in creating an environment that frees me to explore my abilities to the maximum as anyone else around me at this point. When I surface, there is nothing so great as to see a white card from a judge. They often are our close friends, and it breaks their heart to judge a performance not valid. They share every single competition dive with me, the successes as much as the failures. I have had great moments with judges over the years, and if it wasn't for the fact that I have to clear the rope for the next diver, I'd leap out of the water to hug them every time.

hugging judge Marco Nones after the 110m no limits German record 
So - a huge thank you for the time, energy and crossed fingers donated to me and my fellow freedivers over the years. Here are some who have judged record performances for me - Grant Graves, Bill Stromberg, Pim Vermeulen, Lotta Ericson, Linda Paganelli, Panagiota Balanou, Marco Nones, Stavros Kastrinakis, Ute Gessmann, Kimmo Lahtinen, Martin Müller, Paola, Christoph Leschinski...and all the  others - 

thank you!