Day 45 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Cracking the 4k and dealing with neck pain

My trusty and highly recommended Garmin Swim watch always shows how much you have swum this week. Yes, you can turn the feature off. But it is a great motivator (just don't start "bragging" with it; no one cares).
My trusty and highly recommended Garmin Swim watch always shows how much you have swum this week. Yes, you can turn the feature off. But it is a great motivator.

Brrr! I’ve just come in from an icy but breathtakingly beautiful morning outing with my wife. We took a refreshing (ok, bracing) walk in the snow up to a local hotel for a nice buffet breakfast (my wife won the voucher almost two years ago, and we finally got around to using it) and then we had a slightly mental return trip back down to our house by toboggan. Weee!

Best morning ever.

So before settling down to work on some stories for the paper (even though it is officially a day off from work; I just have too much to do – and I love being able to write in the peace and quiet of my own four walls), let me give you a quick update on where the swimming adventure is at.

  • Into my second week of the “new” swimming regimen, and despite massive snow storms making the commute cumbersome, the habit is settling in. And I am getting some serious pool time: From Monday to Wednesday, I swam 10,575 meters (check photo for proof). That may be yawn-tastic for a serious athlete; for me it is a serious improvement and I am happy about it.
  • I cranked out my first 4k yesterday; needless to say, I swam on cruising speed, just enjoying the ride and even doing stints of parallel and left breathing, sighting and the like to limber up. Still it only took me 1:09:13 hours. That means I swam an average of 1.44 minutes per 100m – or an average of 17:30 minutes per kilometre. Nice. Could I have kept it up for another k? Probably. But I also started to feel a bit woozy (perhaps because of the cold I caught on Tuesday; or perhaps because my body started demanding some fuel).
  • Physically and mentally, I feel better than ever. That said: There is a nasty cold I feel coming on, which I picked up at a strategy session on Tuesday by sitting next to a coughing, sniffling, sneezing person for three hours. Grrr. I sneezed so much in the office yesterday, my colleagues started making jokes about it. Hope this does not flare up later tonight. It is one reason why I am not in the pool today.
  • The mental (health) aspect is huge and should not be underestimated. Swimming for a full hour, my head goes into a very pleasant and deep meditative zone. The rhythmic breathing, lapping and turning, the sensory deprivation, the feeling of being held by the water and yet of flying through it (not to get pathetic but that is what it feels like: the pool is my warm, comfortable sky, and I am casually flying through it) – it insulates me against stresses and provides focus for the whole day.
  • On Monday and Tuesday, preceding the long swim, I focused on sprints again. Don’t like them at all and ideally would be able to find a Masters class to train with once a week for those unpleasant sets. However, it does need doing to help build base speed, muscle and power, not to mention that it adds more options to keep things interesting.
  • Be it from the cold, the driving on icy roads or swimming (breathing too much on the right?): I got some slight neck pain last night and will therefore do some serious backstroking tomorrow morning, and do all kick drills lying on my back, too.

Day 38 of the Great Big Marathon Swim Adventure: A week of getting up at 5:30 – plus nutrition, training plans and the thing about sprints

This is close to what my daily smoothie breakfast looks like, err, sometimes...just imagine about three glasses of that in a big Nalgene bottle. (CC Image:  Zoelizabeth via Wikimedia Commons)
This is close to what my daily smoothie breakfast looks like, err, sometimes…just imagine about three glasses of that in a big Nalgene bottle. (CC Image: Zoelizabeth via Wikimedia Commons)

Tomorrow, Friday, will mark the first week of getting up at 5:30 am, driving 45 minutes to the pool, then getting a subway to work every morning.

The initial euphoria has worn off, as was to be expected. That has advantages, too: Getting up at 5:30 still is a challenge, but my body clock woke me just before the alarm today and I actually felt like I’d finished sleeping (instead of interrupting my sleep).

It is simple, really: the single biggest benefit of hitting the pool first thing is the fact that I make sure I get my swim in for the day. Boom. The important other benefits I have already written about – they are ongoing of course …and they are the main reason why I intend to keep doing this.

With the new routine locking in, I can focus on the next items: nutrition and an actual training plan for instance. Whilst I will avoid any strict plans, simply because that would remove much of the pleasure and feeling of freedom I get from swimming, I need a modicum of a training schedule to improve my times and endurance. After all, the goal is to swim a 5k Open Water race in a few months and a 10k race next year (2016). So far, I have just lurked around a few websites and forums (instead of doing actual research), and they confirmed to me that I should add some sprints to the mix.

So on two days this week, I played with sets of sprints. This morning, I warmed up for 300meters, then swam a straight 2k in 33:06 minutes, then added some mixed kick drills. With that under my belt, I put on the paddles, grabbed the pull buoy and with both equipped did a set of 12x50ms. On average I swam the 50m in 40secs, then took a breather of about 10secs, then hit the water again. I tried to increase the stroke rhythm, which is challenging with paddles, but it felt good (as in painful thus effective). I hope this will help me build strength and increase my “cruising” speed over longer distances.

Overall, I swam 3300m – 131 laps – in 54:30 minutes with a SWOLF of 33 (against my usual 35, for what it’s worth). And I burned 867kcals apparently – though the pasta I had for lunch more than made up for that I fear.

Speaking of nutrition: I am drinking a lot less tea and coffee with the new routine, and boy do I love my liquid breakfasts! Lunch is usually quite healthy, too. But man I need to pay more attention to what else I eat throughout the day, and stay away from the snacks after dinner in particular.

Day 35 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: Lapping it up!

Not the pool I swim in, but what an inspirational setup! (CC Image by Xander via Wikimedia)
Not the pool I swim in, but what an inspirational setup! (CC Image by Xander via Wikimedia)

Okay, this might sound more euphoric than I am. But wow! The easing into the new exercise regimen really has worked out well so far. Today was the second day of the changeover, and whilst this is very early days, and yes, getting out of bed was hard at 5:30 am today and on Friday, it paid off. And if I can keep it up, it will continue to pay off:

  • First of all, turns out getting your swimming done before work is brilliant. You are more energetic, relaxed and better able to concentrate – at work and for the rest of the day.
  • Secondly, I now have my liquid breakfast immediately after that swim, at about 8am. Just water before. Which means I eat within a twelve-hour-window, as you should.
  • Thirdly, building the swim stop into my commute the way I have means I can’t just weasel out of going. Once I am up, that means I am also swimming, even if only for a few laps. Or a proper work-out.
  • Fourth point: No more stressful lunch-time or evening swims, when you have less than an hour to get everything done. If you can add an arvo/evening swim, great. But there’s no pressure.
  • Fifth point: Though the pool is far from empty, the majority of people swimming between 6am and 7am seem to be actual swimmers wanting to do laps. Bliss. This means: No people breast-stroking to keep their hair dry and criss-crossing the pool whilst complaining about you splashing.  Not to mention other stuff. Hope it stays this way.

In terms of actual swimming, I did a straight 2k in 34:47, had a quick drink of water and then did another 1k in 18:22. Not sure why the last kilometre was so terribly slow, but hey. Added some easy drills (kick/back/pull) and a few laps of breast stroke to cool down. All up I was in the water for only 53 minutes and totalled 3.4k. Pretty happy with that.

Wenn Eltern ihre Kinder bekehren: Auch das ist der “Weg der Familie” für die Kirche

Wie vielerorts wurden am gestrigen Sonntag in unserer Pfarrei die Kinder vorgestellt, die in diesem Jahr zur Erstkommunion gehen. Wie vielerorts waren darunter Kinder (und Eltern), die wir jeden Sonntag sehen. Wie vielerorts waren darunter auch “Oweikis” (Ostern-und-Weihnachten-Kirchgänger) und solche, die sonst gar nicht in die Kirche gehen. Eine ganz normale Pfarrei in Deutschland im Jahr 2015 eben. So normal, dass es den meisten wohl gar nicht aufgefallen ist. Einem aber schon, wie mir mittlerweile klar geworden ist: unserem Pfarrer.

Nach der Messe standen wir vor der Sakristei und warteten darauf, dass die Kinder heraus kommen. Wir, das sind ein bunter Haufen Ministranten-Eltern: Einige gehen seit Kindesbeinen in die Kirche. Aber nicht wenige sind ehemalige Oweikis. Das fiel mir erst gestern auf, als sich die Sakristei-Tür öffnete und der Pfarrer den Kopf herausstreckte: “Griaß Eich Gott!” lächelte er in die Runde, und sagte dann mit Blick auf ein paar meiner Ex-Oweiki-Freunde: “Mei. Hoffentlich werden auch wieder viele unserer neuen Erstkommunionkinder Ministranten. Dann kommen nämlich noch mehr Eltern wieder regelmäßig zur Messe. So wie Ihr auch!”

Aha. Unser Pfarrer sorgt also erst einmal mit den Tischmüttern und Mitstreitern dafür, dass die Mädchen und Buben gut auf das Sakrament vorbereitet werden. Dann ermutigt er alle Kommunionkinder mehrfach, Ministrant zu werden. Die Folge ist nicht nur, dass wir in unserem 2.500-Seelen-Dorf keinen Ministranten-Plan brauchen, und an hohen Feiertagen schon mal knapp 30 Minis im Altarraum stehen. Die Folge ist auch, dass einige Eltern über ihren Nachwuchs (wieder) Zugang zur Eucharistiefeier und dem ganzen Gemeindeleben darum herum haben. Wenn Kinder Oweikis bekehren: Das muss jetzt nicht gleich ein Erfolgsrezept für die Neuevangelisierung sein. Aber es zeigt, was alles gemeint sein kann, wenn das Arbeitspapier der Familiensynode – Familiaris Consortio zitierend – Familie als “Weg der Kirche” beschreibt.

(Ursprünglich veröffentlich als Standpunkt auf

Day 31 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Changing daily routine and habits

Right! So I am on the last train ride out of Munich for at least a week. No, I am not taking a break from work. After a smooth and easy return to the pool yesterday, I will tomorrow start the experiment of a new training regimen to step up the weekly swimming load ahead of the 5k race I plan to swim later this year.

CC Image by Sun Ladder via Wikimedia
CC Image by Sun Ladder via Wikimedia

The regimen means trying out a change of daily routine; getting ready in the evening and then heading off quite early. Given my commute and work hours, this needs trying and experimenting. I need to give it a bit of time and there are some unknown variables in the equation. The biggest of these is the question whether there actually is any good swimming to be had at 6am or 7am. Another is whether I can keep this up mentally and physically, in particular the driving. Anyway, the plan is as follows:

-Prepare a breakfast smoothie (what I like doing is this: a pinch of linseed and wheat bran, almost a porridge worth of crushed oats, plus yoghurt and a dash of milk, frozen/fresh fruits according to availability, maybe a dollop of peanut butter, maybe a spoonful of honey – this is mostly inspired by Donal Buckley)
-Prepare a sandwich/lunch when the day ahead I don’t meet up for lunch with someone
-Pack swimming gear and work stuff plus clothes into the car
-Lights out at 10pm

-Get up at 5:30 am and jump into a warm tracksuit
-drive to pool (50 minutes, the computer reckons) with audiobook / fresh podcasts for company
-hit the water at about 6:30 am
-swim till about 7:30 am
-shower and get ready for work
-at about 8:00 am take the subway – which is only a few minutes’ walk
-Subway is a good ten minutes, so at work 8:15 am, which is perfect

In summary, that gives me one solid hour of swimming a day, which makes for a daily average of 3k or thereabouts – and a weekly base load of 15k. Add to that a swimming date night with the gorgeous wife and/or family pool sessions, and that should be a solid amount for the time being. To ease into the habit, I will try this out starting tomorrow for a week – till next Friday – and then evaluate how things are going.

Day 30 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Easing back into it

Feel like a bit of a sook (as we say in Australia; the German word most closely resembling this is probably “warm water showerer”, i.e. Warmduscher), but it probably was the right decision: I gradually am easing myself back into the swimming regimen. Today was the first swim since 25 December, after which I took ill for several days. I almost rested up for a week before returning to the pool. Mind you, like a right sook I am still sniffling and sneezing and coughing, but no more flu symptoms thankfully, and otherwise I feel fine.

Now, I have blogged before about the feeling of hitting the water after an extended leave – almost three weeks certainly is “extended” – but today was different. No real exhilaration. Just a feeling of being in a good environment, in other words: comfy.

Not knowing whether there would be more swimmers joining the single lane available to me, and being on a schedule, I just swam a straight 1000m; also just to see how I felt about that. It felt good. I could have gone on. Took me 16:57 minutes, which is on par with my training before the break.

I added some drills with the pullbuoy/kickboard, backstrokes and kicks mostly, and cooled down with a few more easy laps, working on my bilateral breathing, and finished with a few breast strokes with dolphin kick.

All up this amounted to a humble 1450metres…ah well. I am back on track, and you have to crawl before you walk, right? In the meantime, I will remind myself of the water in Portbou, and that I will dive into this in a few months’ time.

The Mediterranean on the border between Spain and France
The Mediterranean on the border between Spain and France

Das Ende der Apathie im Umgang mit dem Islam

CC-Image by Sander van der Wal via Wikimedia Commons
CC-Image by Sander van der Wal via Wikimedia Commons

Die Terroristen und die Populisten haben eines gemeinsam – Sie wollen einen Keil treiben zwischen Europas Muslime und die Mehrheitsgesellschaften, in denen sie leben. Dagegen müssen wir alle etwas tun, meint unser Kolumnist. Besonders wir Christen.  

Zuerst einmal ein paar Tatsachen: Der Anschlag am Mittwoch dieser Woche auf die Redakteure, Karikaturisten und Autoren bei Charlie Hebdo ist nur der jüngste Gewaltakt einer ganzen Reihe gegen die Meinungsfreiheit – und die Freiheit, religiöse Gefühle zu verletzen. (Auch meine: Charlie Hebdo hat einige “Cartoons” unseres Herrn und Erlösers veröffentlicht, die ich nach wie vor zutiefst verletzend und beleidigend finde.)

Tödliche Anschläge und Gewaltakte von Menschen, die sich auf den Islam berufen (nennen wir sie der Präzision und Einfachheit zuliebe militante Muslime) gegen Künstler, Satiriker, Journalisten sind nichts neues: Wir kennen das seit über 25 Jahren. Von der “Fatwa” gegen Salman Rushdie über die Ermordung des niederländischen Filmemachers Theo van Gogh bis hin zu den Mohammed-Karikaturen der dänischen Jyllands-Posten: In all diesen Fällen haben militante Muslime die Meinungs- und Pressefreiheit mit mörderischer Aggression ins Visier genommen.

Fakt ist auch: Die Anschläge auf diese Grundfreiheiten sind Teil eines weiteren Kontextes. Es herrscht eine Atmosphäre der eskalierenden Aggression, die jederzeit in Gewalt und Terror-Akte umschlagen kann. Dabei kann es sich um Einzeltaten oder “kleinere” Angriffe handeln, wie etwa der Anschlag mit einem Kleinbus auf Einkäufer in Nantes jetzt an Weihnachten. Dabei kann es aber auch um eine systematisch geplante Kommando-Attacke gehen. Das Blutbad in Paris ist der zweite solche Angriff innerhalb von zwölf Monaten, der einen gezielten militärischen Gewaltakt gegen Zivilisten darstellt: Im Mai eröffnete ein französischer militanter Muslim in einer ähnlichen Aktion das Feuer im Jüdischen Museum in Brüssel. Vier Menschen starben. Im Jahr 2012 ermordete ein anderer Franzose drei Soldaten und vier Schulkinder sowie deren Lehrkraft in Toulouse und Montauban. Auch in Deutschland, Großbritannien und anderen Ländern wurden Menschen von militanten Muslimen unvermittelt angegriffen, niedergemetzelt, erschossen. Von diversen geplanten – und Gottseidank nur selten erfolgreichen – Bombenanschlägen ganz zu schweigen.

 Wie gesagt, dies sind erst einmal Tatsachen. Wer sie verschweigen, schönreden, verbiegen oder verwässern möchte, selbst wenn es aus gut gemeinter Absicht wäre, der leistet der Demokratie, dem Frieden, der Pressefreiheit und unserer Gesellschaft insgesamt einen Bärendienst. Auch und gerade die Millionen friedlicher Muslime, die unter uns in Deutschland und ganz Europa leben, verdienen und brauchen eine freiheitliche und funktionierende Presse, frei von Selbstzensur, didaktischen Aussparungen und verkrampft gekrümmten Zeigefingern.
Wir, die (christlichen, muslimischen, jüdischen, säkularen) Menschen in den westlichen Gesellschaften (wie übrigens auch viele andere, asiatische und afrikanische etwa!) haben alle ein Problem mit Gewalt und Terror der militanten Muslime. Darüber müssen wir offen reden, um uns zu schützen, stärken und gemeinsam handlungsfähig zu machen. Das bedeutet für uns Christen – und für mich als Chefredakteur einer konfessionellen Zeitung – dass wir auch und gerade auf unsere muslimischen Nachbarn zugehen müssen. Dabei geht es nicht nur darum, sich solidarisch zu zeigen. Es geht auch darum, ein paar ernste Worte zu sprechen über die Unterschiede unter uns und gemeinsam dann zu handeln. Etwa der Frage nachzugehen, warum Salafisten überhaupt für junge Muslime (egal ob Konvertiten oder Türkisch-Deutsche der dritten Generation) attraktiv sind.
Ich habe diese Fragen dem Imam der Penzberger Moschee und Vorsitzenden des Münchner Forums für Islam gestellt und als Interview in der Kirchenzeitung abgedruckt. Bejamin Idriz gibt offen zu, dass die normalen Muslime, auch die Imame, in einer Hinsicht, so wörtlich, “versagt” haben: Es sei ihnen nicht gelungen, die Jugendarbeit zu leisten, die eine Radikalisierung uninteressant, wenn nicht gar unmöglich gemacht hätte. Wohlgemerkt: Der Imam gab mir dieses Interview noch vor den Pariser Morden, zu dem er auch schnell klar stellte, dass Terrorismus die schlimmste Form der Gotteslästerung sei.
Aber so wichtig diese Einsichten sind: Wir haben bisher alle noch nicht genug getan. Damit schließe ich mich persönlich ein. Edmund Burke wird folgender Satz zugeschrieben: Damit das Böse triumphiert genügt es, dass gute Menschen nichts tun. Dass der militante Islam eine Form des Bösen ist, gegen die wir etwas tun müssen, liegt auf der Hand. Positive Anfänge, Ausnahmen und Ansätze gibt es genug, gerade bei uns in Bayern. Da sind die Freunde Abrahams mit ihrem rührigen Vorsitzenden, Stefan Jakob Wimmer. Da ist das Erzbischöfliche Ordinariat in München, wo eine eigene Fachstelle, besetzt durch den hervorragenden Andreas Renz, einzelnen Betroffenen genauso hilft wie sie den interreligiösen Dialog insgesamt vorantreibt, zusammen mit Einrichtungen wie IDIZEM und anderen.
Die Terroristen und die Populisten haben eines gemeinsam: Sie wollen einen Keil treiben zwischen Muslime und die Mehrheitsgesellschaften, in denen sie leben. Die Apathie ist der Handlanger solcher Absichten. Wenn wir nicht einfach betroffen schauen und auf eine weitere Eskalation warten wollen, dann können wir dies nur gemeinsam mit der friedlichen Mehrzahl der Muslime tun, ihren Vertretern, wie auch den anderen, vor allem staatlichen, Institutionen unserer freien und demokratischen Gesellschaft. Wir haben keine andere Wahl. Unsere Apathie im Umgang mit dem Islam muss ein Ende haben. Die darin versteckte, gepflegte Feigheit widert mich an – auch an mir selbst.
Zuerst erschienen am 9. Januar 2015 in der Kolumne “Wimmers Woche” auf den Münchner Kirchennachrichten.

Why I published an interview with a Muslim Imam in a Catholic newspaper in the week of the terror attacks in Paris

Imam Idriz showing me the Penzberg mosque

The timing could not have been worse: that was my first thought, and I am ashamed to admit it, but I caught myself thinking it when I read about the deadly attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris today. (Then I briefly prayed for the souls of those killed – and their murderers. God have mercy on them.)

Over the coming days, the readers of the Catholic weekly newspaper of which I am editor-in-chief will read, amongst other things, my interview with a local Muslim Imam, Benjamin Idriz of the Penzberg Mosque and the Munich Forum for Islam. As they will continue to receive news about how (three ?) terrorists, alledgedly shouting “Allah is great!”, killed my colleagues at a French paper in the name of Islam, they will read what I asked the local Imam about Islamophobia, the allure of Salafist/Islamist ideology and other issues – before the latest attack.

Many of my readers will react angrily. Several will no doubt write letters – some to me and the paper, others to the publisher or other important stakeholders. So be it. I had good reasons to interview the Imam; and today’s terrible bloodshed by members of his faith underlines the need to engage with Islam and its leaders.

No, it is not my job to protect Muslims from those members of their faith who threaten both me and them with their murderous ideological interpretation of Islam. Nor is it my job to point out that Islam has (probably inherent) political tendencies which – amongst other reasons – make it immune to effect the Enlightenment has had on Christianity, and prone to violence.

However, it is my job to publically engage and discuss problems, to help Christians not just talk about Muslims, but with them. One step down this road is to ask the questions I asked. Before you can discuss the differences between Christianity and Islam (and they are categorical on several crucial levels), you need to actually meet and establish some common ground on which to build everything else.

That was the reason why I undertook the interview – and that is why I thought that the timing could not have been worse. Those terrorists are trying to destroy everything that engenders dialogue, exchange and robust debate. They are cowards. And, for the record, they are guilty of “the most terrible form of blasphemy” – in the words of the very Imam I interviewed just before the attacks today. He, like many other Muslim leaders, quickly and very clearly condemned the vicious act of barbarity.

Perhaps the timing was not so bad after all. I just hope I can convince others – including many of my readers – to agree and also engage in this debate we so urgently need.

Day 22 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swim Adventure: Dealing with sickness and more

"1918 Influenza Poster" by the History of Medicine - the History of Medicine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
“1918 Influenza Poster” by the History of Medicine – the History of Medicine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A lot has happened over the last two weeks apart from Christmas. Amongst other things, I swam another 5.8k (over two sessions, one in a “new” pool which I hope to return to at some stage; it was a good experience despite a strange encounter in the locker area) and around 26 December I promptly got sick enough with a nasty cold and fever with back pain to have to lie in bed for several days. (Cue the “whiny men with flu”-jokes…or, actually, don’t as I have heard them all by now).

But first things first: Happy New Year! Have you picked a “Great Big Adventure” for yourself in 2015? Something to challenge your inner coward or sloth? Could be sporting, social, supernatural, or just plain fun. Let me know.

Ok, back to the story. I have not been in the water since 25 December. That sucks, and not just because I want to train up for a 5k distance this year. I miss the water. As it stands, I am not well enough to return to training this week…still struggling with a head-cold, running nose and niggling cough. How do you deal with this? Rest up and take it easy! Seriously. Only get back in the water when your body is ready. I intend to go for a casual swim early next week.

Obviously, prevention would have been better than any cure. However, when the ambient temperature drops to minus 10 degrees centigrade around Christmas and tons of snow arrive; when  you travel a lot with public transport; when you have several young kids sneezing and coughing in your face at home; …you get the picture. Infections  are hard to avoid. Add to that an immune system stressed by work demands, exercise (?),  family holiday pressures, and your body will be grateful for any excuse to take a time out. Certainly mine was.

(That said, I have a niggling feeling that I caught something at the pool after doing that 3k-swim. It is not the first time that I have fallen ill with fever and other cold symptoms plus back pain after a hard workout in that place. Could it be the air quality in the indoor pool area, or maybe something in the water? Probably not. Who knows. I swim there plenty and usually I am ok.)

Anyway. I need to get more rest, down-time, nutrition sorted. I did a lot of research on this online (whilst stuck in bed) of which I hope to write some more shortly – and I have started experimenting with smoothies (great recipe and more by the rather legendary Donal Buckley here).

For the record, I swam the 3k in just under 51 minutes. That is a pace of 1:42 minutes per 100m in a 25 meter pool, including jumping children, obese men who decided to simply stand in the water where I was lapping, and sudden interlopers including old ladies trying to keep their hair dry and young mothers with toddlers – in other words, typical swimming conditions in a German public pool.