Day 185 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Summer rain heaven and worries about carpal tunnel syndrome

On the day before the longest day of the year, the temperature hit a new summer low. After weeks of rainy weather, the temperature sank to 6 degrees centigrade (42.8 Fahrenheit). People tweeted jokes about snow coming and buying winter jackets. So when I got the chance, I grabbed my bathers and rushed to the outdoor pool.

You see, there is nothing better than cool and rainy days in summer here if you’re after a long, solitary swim. Yes, the indoor pool was chock-full of people. On weekends with bad weather, the indoor pool with its slides and bubble jets and warm water in warm air is a haven for families, oldies and tourists alike. When I arrived, a long queue was waiting to get in. I nicked past, since I can use the “annual pass” entrance, dodged an American group in the change area and several old Bavarian geezers lumbering around in the showers. I waded through a school of little kids drifting in and out of the baby pool and briefly checked in with the lifeguard. “Oh, outside? The water’s only 18 today!” (64.4 Fahrenheit). I thanked him, made a joke about lasting a lap or two, and then weaved my way to the door that leads to the outside area.

Day 185 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming adventure on the Garmin Fenix 3
Day 185 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming adventure on the Garmin Fenix 3

As I stepped through, the crisp cool air hit me. To my left, I could here the low murmur of the bathers sitting in the indoor/outdoor hot water pool, their faces red shapes behind white veils of steaming heat in the cold. Before me, the pristine 50 meter outdoor pool lay, perfect blue glass under leaden grey skies. The rain had ceased, and the surface was still. I could feel dozens of eyes following me as I walked up to the water and dipped in a toe. It felt almost warm! I jumped in, pushed off and stretched myself out into the cool, silky wet, wrapping itself around me as I took my first tentative strokes. It felt quite good actually, I though, and decided to aim for 300m. My thinking was something like this: If I could last 6 laps, I could last the distance I had set for myself: 100 laps – equalling 5k.

Whilst I still was not very comfortable, I felt at home in the slight chill after the first two laps. It felt like childhood winter swims in South Africa to my muscle memory. And then my middle-aged body finally had warmed up sufficiently and I realised: This was doable. So without stopping to stretch and adjust, I ploughed on through. A few times on the way, I thought of cutting the exercise short. Hey, just doing two k would be fine!? No need to overdo it! And so on. But I just turned my mind back to relaxing, keeping calm and swimming on. I reminded myself of the value of disciplining my body a bit, which even has spiritual benefits, and that I needed to host a barbecue for my son’s birthday party, with about ten boys in their early teens running mad around me, and this swim was the only me-time I would have today to charge the batteries. So I swam on through, and even put in a decent sprint at the end. The result?

5050m in 1:26:51 at a pace of 1:43/100m 

What these numbers fail to show of course is how and why this was an amazing, indeed – if you pardon the hyperbole – heavenly experience that I am very grateful for. Like others with introvert tendencies — according to Myers-Briggs I am supposed to be an INTJ, though I am not sure if that is a useful methodology and form of categorization at all — anyway, like many people, I savour the rare time I have to simply unwind and recharge, and I prefer to do so by myself or with only a good friend like my wife. This is one of the many, many things that I love about swimming: It is a meditative, solitary, quiet and yet challenging sport.

Enough rambling. Suffice it say, the 185th day of this adventure was special. Every now and then, a single brave soul would join me in the giant pool. After a lap or two, they would disappear. Most of the time, this aquatic world was my oyster – I was in summer rain heaven; a truly splendid isolation. I could feel my mind unwinding after another particularly stressful week, lap after lap after lap after lap after lap.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? My wrist hurts!

Of course, before even hitting the half-way mark of 50 laps, I was reminded of my earth-bound limitations: My right wrist started hurting. It felt like the cold water was constricting the muscles and tendons that run from the thumb to the arm. Or like the nerve was inflamed. So yes: Symptoms of the carpal tunnel syndrome. And yes, I had spent too many long hours in bad posture at a keyboard again this week, done no stretching before the swim, and was in cool water doing a repetitive stroke. So that might be the reason. The pain is all but gone now as I am writing this a day later – and I hope it was a one-off. Will try and add these stretches to my normal stretching regimen (I do some light stretching after my warm-up swim in the water normally).

Wimmers Woche: Das Schönste an “Laudato Si”

Die neue Enzyklika von Papst Franziskus selbst lesen: Das sollten alle mündigen Christen tun. Und getrost erst einmal die Explosion der Einschätzungen durch Experten – echte wie vermeintliche – vermeiden, die alle versuchen, mit ihrer Exegese die Deutungshoheit darüber zu haben, was Papst Franziskus “wirklich sagt” und “eigentlich meint”. (Das gilt auch für diesen Kommentar!) Bei einer solch klaren, wenn auch langen Übersetzung des Lehrschreibens ins Deutsche ist das vorab weder nötig noch hilfreich.

Wenn geschätzte Kollegen sogar vorschlagen, es lohne sich vor allem, im ersten Drittel und gegen Ende zu lesen, dann kann ich dem nur entgegenhalten: Moment! Es lohnt sich, den Text erst einmal ganz zu lesen. Mindestens einmal. Nur so erschließt sich auch eine einzelne herausragende Passage dieser Enzyklika, die es verdient, besonders gewürdigt zu werden. Sie stellt eine Innovation dar, die gerade keiner politischen Interpretation oder Vereinnahmung bedarf, und weit über den Lärm der Reaktionen ragt. Es ist der Abschnitt mit den beiden Gebeten, die uns Franziskus zum Schluss seiner Überlegungen schenkt. Das eine stellt ein bemerkenswertes Novum dar: Dieses Gebet können alle beten “die an einen Gott glauben, der allmächtiger Schöpfer ist”. Und das andere schenkt uns der Papst, damit “wir Christen die Verpflichtungen gegenüber der Schöpfung übernehmen können, die uns das Evangelium Jesu vorstellt”, wie er schreibt.

Damit leistet der Text etwas Bemerkenswertes: Er macht die Menschheit zum Adressat, zumindest alle, die an einen Schöpfergott glauben. Und er gibt der Christenheit gleichzeitig ihre Rolle, im Verhältnis zu (und aus dem Verhältnis heraus mit) unserem dreifaltigen Gott. Das ist für mich das Schönste an “Laudato Si”; nicht zuletzt weil der Text damit auch zurück zu seinem Ausgangspunkt kehrt – dem Sonnengesang des heiligen Franz – und diesen in einem Gebet und Anliegen aufhebt, das wir alle heute und durch die Zeit mit der Schöpfung teilen.

(Wimmers Woche ist eine Kolumne in den Münchner Kirchennachrichten)

Die Kirch des Hl. Franziskus von Assis in Coyocan, Mexiko (CC Image by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca vua Wikimedia)
Die Kirche des Hl. Franziskus von Assis in Coyocan, Mexiko (CC Image Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca vua Wikimedia)

Day 171 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: The importance of screwing up – and how to cure insomnia

Have you stuffed up today? It might be a good thing. 

But first things first: One of the many features of the Garmin Fenix 3 is that it tracks your activities (yep, just like all those other gadets, doo-hickies and bands do nowadays, including the ridiculously over-hyped Apple Watch to some extent). Anyway, I thought this was pretty useless, given two things:

a) I usually get up at 5am and fall into bed around 10pm anyway,

b) have calculated how many hours I slept the night before like a bad habit for about 20 years.

But you know what? I am actually finding this useful and I am definitely keeping better taps on my sleep patterns.

Since I have had a few days off, I have slept much longer hours – on average 8 to 9 hours a night – and better, too. Plus the odd nap, yay. I kind of knew that 6 to 7 hours a night is not enough given the crazy amount of stuff I need to get done every day. My beautiful wife often goes to sleep before me and gets up around 6am, and has done so for over a decade. But this sleep tracker has given useful numbers to the subjective experience and counting habit.

One crucial point to note here: Since I have embarked on the swimming adventure, I have not only gotten rid of my back pain but also my occasional instances of insomnia. Yes: regular swimming also cures insomnia, people. Of course, we all know that sleep (and rest) is vital to a good exercise regimen. As is nutrition, stretching (ahhh, those ham strings!) and the actual practice.

In theory.

(CC Image by Betty Nudler via Flickr)
I could think of worse spots for a bit of contemplation!  (CC Image by Betty Nudler via Flickr)

In practice, I screw all of that up on an irregular basis. And that is a good thing. Let me explain. Yes: Sometimes I will not sleep enough, I will eat and drink things I shouldn’t (but love and am grateful to God that he made them…looking at you, Bavarian beer), I often will work too much on too many things and get stressed and distracted, I will go to bed too late and will slack off in practice, not keeping to my intentions as planned. Let’s put it this way: I am fairly immune to pedantry or the sin of scrupulosity – maybe that’s why I am such a happy Catholic. But jokes aside, I do recognize the drive to perfection, as good as it is, is detrimental when it comes to exercise in general or swimming in particular. Here’s why:

  • Swimming is not a purpose in and of itself, but a means, a tool to keep you happy, healthy and sane. That includes Great Big Swimming Adventures!
  • Therefore, like meditation (or contemplative prayer as described here [or many more here] if you’re religious like me), it needs to fit your life like a comfortable pair of jeans. Not the other way around – beware of exercise narcissism as much as religious bigotry. (Side note: dear triathletes, given the amazing work load and gear required for this sport, you’re perhaps particularly at risk of the type of narcissism I am alluding to here. Not to mention the game of Golf or Football! Neither are an actual raison d’etre, gentlemen).
  • Recognising that we all are fallible and stuff up is the first step to actually both respecting yourself and trying to improve by making resolutions / setting goals and working towards them. Like a Great Big Marathon Swimming Adventure!

Ok, enough philosophising for today. I need to fire up the barbecue in a few minutes, as our neighbours are coming over for a little barbie/braaivleis/grillfest. I might even enjoy one of those brilliant beers or two.

We have been blessed with another perfect summer’s day today. So this morning I went to mass in our village church, did some errands and then rocked up at the outdoor pool a few minutes before it opened (that being 10am, as is quite common in Germany, unfortunately) and actually was the first to hit the water. When I left 1.5 hrs later, the place was chockers and a long line at the entrance. But I got to put in an uninterrupted session (apart from some friendly chats).

Here is the summary:

And the actual sets:  


The Swimmer Fight or Flight response – Why I am nervous about practice every. single. time.)

The Fight or Flight Response – interesting take on what all swimmers probably deal with


Last night, I couldn’t swim.

Okay, technically that’s not true. My arms moved. I rotated. I did something with my legs, maybe, and I managed to breathe.

I knew before going in that it was going to be “that kind” of swim day.

My nerves were as engaged as my core even before I got in the car.

Sometimes, you just know it. There’s a feeling inside you, which may, of course, be a cycle of self-defeating energy.

Sometimes, you just don’t have the swimmer inside of you.

And if I’m truly honest, I have to admit that the swimmer doubt, the swimmer insecurity, the “what if I can’t”, is a part of every single time I swim.

I have been swimming with my incredible team for nearly 14 years.

And yet, every single time I know I have to head to practice, I reconsider.

There are a million other…

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Day 170 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: Three months out from the race – the first outside swim of the year!

Finally! After more than seven months doing laps indoors, it was time to swim outside. As much as I enjoy my 6am swims in the indoor pool – this was a treat. And one I hope to repeat soon.

[Begin v/o with Morgan Freeman’s voice]

Imagine a balmy evening after a long, hot summers’ day in our valley. Picture yourself diving into the smooth, silky water of a 50 meter outdoor pool on a hillside overlooking a Bavarian Alpine valley.

Here is a live  webcam view from the “left hand side” of the valley; not the pool itself, but you will get the picture.

As you dive into the pleasantly cool, clear water and look around, you see that there are hardly any people in it – since they prefer the warmer water of the “half inside/half outside” pool. You almost have the pristine water to yourself.

In other words: It was bliss.

[/end of Morgan Freeman voiceover]

In numbers, I swam for a total of 1:18:03 over 4.400m at an average of 1:49/100m – if you have been following my progress (or lack thereof) you will notice that I was a bit slower than per usual. Perhaps because of the 50m length?   

Here are the individual sets:


Not all of these sets were freestyle. I swam an IM (butterfly, back, breast, free) in the third and sixth set, backstroke in the fifth for instance. Also, my warm-up and cool-downs are always “too fast”, it seems; I do consciously try to relax for them, but that needs work.

Note to Garmin: I would be happy to display the actual graphics of my data collected by my Fenix 3 off of Garmin Connect, but since Garmin still hast not produced a Chrome OS-compatible version of its site, nor an iPad app (it is just the iPhone one blown up), it would be too cumbersome.

Come on Garmin, please get with the times on this :) Love your work.

Swimming as a family thing – and a great opportunity to be a good father

One of the benefits of the Great Big Swimming Adventure is that my offspring have taken a bigger interest in swimming, too. The older kids in particular try and keep up for a few laps, and I give them little coaching sessions whenever we hit the water. They are very determined to themselves and me that they can do full laps, learn butterfly and tumble turns. I love having this as a shared activity, as does their mother. We are a swimmer family (no puns please). Mind you, I wish there was a rigorous swimming program available for them, but surprisingly for a place so keen on sports, there isn’t.

Three months out from the race

Not long now, and I should be able to swim on the lakes around us. We were on a daytrip to Austria yesterday, so we stopped at the Heiterwanger See. Since we walked about 20 minutes in the heat, we were keen to jump in when we got there. It was bloody cold – I reckon about 12 degrees Celsius (53 Fahrenheit) but very refreshing. No way I could do laps in it though. The Heiterwanger flows into the also stunningly beautiful Plansee. It is a 5 kilometres long and about 1,5 kilometres wide. Fancy a dip? I do!

Plansee (CC-Image by "Vince51" on Wikimedia)
Plansee (CC-Image by “Vince51” on Wikimedia)

Fernsehen, Kindheit und die Familie: Warum die Glotze kein Babysitter ist

Vor allem für bildungsbürgerlich Orientierte: Es gibt keinen Mangel an TV-kritischer Literatur. Neil Postman hat da ja ein ganzes Genre geschaffen, ähnlich wie Tolkien die Fantasy-Literatur. Aber praktische Wege für Eltern junger und nicht mehr ganz so junger Kinder, wie sie mit dem Medium richtig umgehen, sind nach wie vor Mangelware. Einen interessanten Beitrag leistet Juan Camilo Díaz Bohórquez’s Buch: Televisión, familia e infancia. Das 2014 erschienene Werk leistet einen praktischen Überblick auf Basis solider Forschung …und vor allem hat es einen wohltuenden Ansatz: Es verteufelt es nicht einfach die “Glotze”, wie Cecilia Galatolo in ihrer auf Englisch, Spanisch und Italienisch vorliegenden Rezension auf Family and Media betont. Gleichzeitig erkennt es Familie als “Schule der Werte” an – ein Aspekt, der auch nicht zu unterschätzen ist, wenn es um die richtige Einordnung der Thematik und die Verantwortung der Eltern geht.

(CC Image via Pixabay)
(CC Image via Pixabay)