Why I love rainy Saturday mornings 

So the air is cool at about 13 degrees centigrade (55ish Fahrenheit) and the balmy water, ten degrees warmer, feels like silk. The pool is yours to lap, only three or four other people show up and no one gets in each other’s way. Bliss.

(I can’t really understand how people will rather stay in the indoor 25m pool when you have this beckoning outside. But boy am I grateful they do. )

My first swim session just over 3k this year. Slower than previously but could not care less. Really feels like I am back in the groove after spending the last 18 months mostly on dry land, setting up the freelance business and launching CNA Deutsch.  Still don’t really have time to swim but am doing it because I have missed it a lot and it keeps me sane, healthy and bloody happy. 

 

Day 153 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swim Adventure: Slacking off and cultivating mental toughness

(CC Image via BK/Flickr)
(CC Image via BK/Flickr)

If you are anything like me, you will have days when you try and find an excuse for slacking off or leaving the pool/gym/track/bike early. It’s cold, it’s early, there is too much work on, too many appointments, too much travel, too little sleep. On and on.

Stuff that!

Part of this “Great Big Swim Adventure” is to tell the little demons to shut up. To develop and cultivate the mental toughness required for swimming well. And for anything else in life that is worthwhile. On the website Swimswam, Olivier Poirier-Leroy just posted what he sees as the 5 Habits of Mentally Tough Swimmers, including welcoming the hard stuff, keeping cool and not getting lost in what others are doing.

Check out the full list and points there, it is great. Well, at least in theory. What about the practice? Today was a case in point. Though I plan to swim between 4 and 5k every morning, I put in an underwhelming 3.5k.

  • 200m freestyle warmup in 3:13
  • 1000m free in 16:13
  • 150m free in 2:27 (then had to interrupt to change lanes)
  • 1000m free in 17:10 (slacking off again!)
  • 100m kick drills
  • 100m butterfly kick drills
  • 3x50m butterfly sets at about 55″ each, with a 20″ break in between (that was tough)
  • 200m freestyle with pullbuoy (working on intermittent breathing)
  • 250m free with pullbuoy and paddles (working on stroke)
  • 100m back and breast to cool down

Sure, I had to be at work even more early than usual, (I am drowning – get it? – in work, haha). But would another 500m really have made a difference? Of course not. I would still have been more than an hour early for work anyway. And yes, sure, I put in some butterfly sets that hurt. But I wimped out on those too, doing one less than I had planned.

So my three rules for cultivating mental toughness are along these lines:

  1. Set realistic goals and stick to them. If you ever When you drop the ball, pick it up again wherever you left it and carry on. For me, cracking the 1k in under 15 minutes was a major goal on this adventure so far. The 10k is the final one – and a realistic one too. I could just swim it right now, though badly. And I want to do it well.
  2. Take the long view. That includes not getting distracted by things that appear larger than they are just because they are close/nearby – like a looming appointment or chores. It also means being aware of why you are doing this in the first place and just how much you are getting out of this.
  3. Swim to live, don’t live to swim. Swimming is an admittedly awesome tool to help you be a more fully rounded person. Someone that is happy, healthy and sane. But that is its purpose. It is not a purpose in and of itself. I wish someone had explained that to some of the over-ambitious Moms and their “prodigy” swimmer kids when I was little. Thankfully, my parents never were that way; and I hope I am not like that with my own children.

Day 146 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: First Impressions of the Garmin Fenix3 (not just) as a swimmer’s watch

Lots happening on the Great Big Swim Adventure and I haven’t had time to blog!

First off, an overview of today’s workout:

  
As you can see, I am finally able to post data from my Garmin Connect account again! Yay. No, not because I bought a new connection for my Garmin Swim watch. Instead, I upgraded the watch itself. Behold, my new timepiece and training computer: The Garmin Fenix 3. A very nice birthday present from the love of my life.

  

  

There are plenty of reviews out there of this watch. Most of them are rubbish. However there is one that is comprehensive and outstanding, click here to check it out, it’s by the highly recommended DC Rainmaker.

Now, suffice it to say, the Fenix 3 has more features than I will likely ever be able to use. But yes, I will use two of the features very often:

  1. pool swimming
  2. open water swimming

But just how good is the Fenix 3 as a swimmer’s watch? After the first few training sessions, here are my initial impressions:

  • For pool swimming, the automatic stroke recognition, lap counter, drill timer, rest and lap timer etc. is very reliable and the same as that of the excellent Garmin Swim (it does not identify my butterfly for some reason, but that might be due to my technique).
  • The display can be set up in a variety of ways for your activities, in just the way you like it – and in all cases it’s excellent to read, even under water.
  • What I dislike: Some of the cool features for running, such as an alarm after a certain distance, are not available in the swimming function. A software update will hopefully address this minor quibble. (Bloody preferential treatment of runners!)
  • The battery lasts for a week or so with heavy usage, including blue tooth and WiFi sync.
  • The GPS works well, but since it is still too cold for outdoor swimming, I have not been able to test the Open Water swimming function.
  • Since the best swimmer’s watch is the one you always have with you, this matters: The Fenix 3 looks good enough to wear as an everyday watch, even for casual business attire (unless you have tiny wrists. It’s a big watch.) In fact, it is far more attractive than the oddly-shaped and somewhat dated-looking Apple Watch and most Android smart watches out there. At least in my opinion.

More on the watch in the next updates to the Great Big Swimming Adventure…stay tuned.

 

Day 115 of the Great Big Marathon 10km Swimming Adventure: Just a perfect day …with Sammy Save-Up

(You don’t have to hum Lou Reed as you are reading this, but now you can’t help but hear the song in your head, right? Right??)

Oh it was just a perfect day. Certainly the start. Woke up ahead of the alarm clock, refreshed and ready. Left well on time and got to thepool just ahead of the gym’s opening time at 6am. And then had the whole pool to myself at first! I guess lots of people are off on their Easter hols this week. Felt really good and grateful to be able to carve up the lane like this so I decided to enjoy the situation as long as I could and skipped my warm up and stretches for the main set, a straight-up 5k swim. 

After about 1.5k or twenty-odd minutes one other regular joined in, just as I was getting bored. I took this as a sign to keep going. She did her usual morning rounds, then left soon after a friendly old guy (who always pops in for a round of awkward back paddling) rocked up. At this stage, my brain zoned out again for another k, and I experienced that awesome “flow”, to use the pop-psychological concept. Except that I did so both figuratively and literally, of course. 

You can actually buy Sammy Save-Up caps!

 And, just as I was about to approach the 3k mark, cruising comfortably and all alone again, a young chap jumped into the one swimming lane with me. He clearly not only felt like he was too fast for swimming in the now completely empty normal pool. Oh no. Like these guys (they’re always guys, never girls) usually do, he also thought he needed to keep up with me. And yes, he tried really hard! Sprinting like mad, he almost could keep up with me for about 25 m, then would slow down, then would either stop and wait for a few laps to try again or add in a lap of breast stroke. I just kept cruising. This went on for about 20 minutes and kept me somewhat entertained. The Sammy Save-Up, as this particular swimmer type is known, is a classic.  Then, after a brief attempt of using his gigantic pull-buoy to keep up, he left again. 

The last 1k or so I was left alone in my lane again, though some other guys hit the pool, and I swam out the full 5k in 1:23 hours, with a nice sprint over the last 200m. 

Since I had a bit of time and energy left, I added some backstroke variations, some butterfly arm drills with the pull buoy …and a short cool down. I clocked 6k in total, and felt great. 

Need I mention that after the swim I quickly found an excellent parking spot too, had a decent subway seat and was at work very nice and early? 

Day 114 of the Great Big 10k Swimming Adventure: Getting wet after Easter and some shoddy metaphors

After four days out of the water over the Easter weekend, I finally got back in the pool today. Yay!

What our village looks like this fine April
What our village looks like this fine April

Coming in out of the -2.5 degree centigrade weather (that is 27.5°F for all you Americans), snow still thick on the car after a 45 minute drive, there is no better feeling than jumping into a hot shower and then into the pleasantly cool pool. Having a lane to myself and sharing the pool with only two other swimmers at 6am already was glorious.

Mind you, I noticed during the warmup that I was not 100% comfortable physically. I wonder if I am catching that cold that the rest of the family is struggling with after all. Also, I had to finish 30 minutes early because there was a lot of urgent work today before the newspaper could go into print at noon. That said, it still was just bloody glorious to swim off everything on my mind and gear up for the day. Training-wise, I added some individual medley sets to the mix, since I am tackling the fly as part of this adventure now. That gets the old ticker pumping. Total time swimming today: 1:12:52, overall distance 4.000m (160 laps)

  • 200m freestyle warm-up (3:19)
  • 6x4x25m individual medley  (so that’s fly, back, breast, free for 25m each, and four sets of those) in – on average – 1:50 minutes
  • 1000m free in 18:10 (with some bilateral and intermittent breathing, but just feeling a bit crappy)
  • 500m free with pullbuoy and paddles in 8:13
  • 250m free with just pullbuoy in 4:01
  • 100m kickdrill front
  • 100m kickdrill back
  • 1100m free in 18:08 (you can tell I now was properly warmed up and felt a bit more comfortable)
  • 100m another IM just for fun in 1:49
  • 100m just relaxed cooldown

There are many metaphors to describe the joys and wonders of swimming. One that I keep coming back to lately is that of a reset button, but not in the sense that I press that button by swimming. It is more like you actually swim to get to a stage where you can reset yourself for the day…a stage that you have to swim down to (during the warm-up?) and then you can actually press. If that makes sense.

Day 106 of the Great Big Marathon 10k Swimming Adventure: The B-Word and some involuntary dry-land work

How much butterfly do you swim as part of a daily swimming workout? I used to dread having to do fly, even when I swam competitively as a kid. I never felt comfortable with the stroke.

All the more reason to tackle the discipline.

Hehe, look at the humans doing a dolphin kick mate! (CC Image by Sweetbananadreams)
Hehe, look at the humans doing a dolphin kick mate! (CC Image by Sweetbananadreams)

As part of the Swimming Adventure, I have decided make a go of it. Beat the B-Word. Also, when you consider:

  1. …there is a lot of distance to cover every morning. A bit of variety goes a long way towards making the daily 5k even more enjoyable.
  2. …there is no reason not to! I feel like I finally have enough strength, technique and endurance now to tackle the stroke properly. Or maybe just the cocky confidence since hardly anyone will see me splashing like a drunk dolphin just after 6am on a typical weekday morning.
  3. …others are doing it: I have been really inspired by the likes of Vicki Keith or Julie Bradshaw, who swam the English Channel in butterfly (!), Dan Projansky aka Mr. Butterfly and the amazing Sylle, to look at butterfly again. I struggle to do a proper 100m with that stroke at the moment, and these guys cover several marathon distances this way. Incredible.
  4. …it wil help to build both strength and endurance

Ok, so this past week I have asked one of the triathletes who are there regularly to look at my fly stroke and give me some feedback. She is a former competitive butterfly swimmer, and not one to hold back on opinions, so I knew she would give me something to work with! That said, she said my stroke wasn’t bad (that’s German for a compliment) and I should make sure I keep my hips limber (what is it with male swimmers and stiff hips?!) and stretch out more when the arms go to the front. Orrighty. Been focusing on that, doing some short fly sets, and a few IMs, and really am enjoying this.

Speaking of enjoyable: The weather this week was anything but. In fact, it was terrible and even dangerous.

We had a severe thunderstorm ripping through Bavaria, it took several lives; Munich’s central train station had to be evacuated for a while. Since then, loads of snow has been piling up. I was unable to actually get to work on Wednesday, so instead of swimming I spent an hour from 7am to 8am on the elliptical trainer that my wife has organized for herself. The experience wasn’t half-bad, all things considered; it also reminded me of a few muscles the swimming does not target the same way (the side of the shins and down to the ankles, for instance). And also that I really like my exercise in water.

Since this time is a huge and important festival for those of us who are of the Christian variety, with loads of festivities, family and community events, I am skipping the pool for four days this week. I will do some planks and push ups, but mostly focus on resting up a bit. In training terms, this will be a nice short break, and then off to proper exercise on Tuesday morning. I finished the week early on Thursday with a 5.6k workout, swimming almost a solid two hours before dashing off to work, and I am hoping to do something very similar early in the next week.

How to spot a swimmer on dry land

How do you spot a swimmer on dry land? It used to be easy: Just follow the faint trail of chlorine.

(CC Image by Daniel Oines)
(CC Image by Daniel Oines)

Not anymore.

With filtration systems improving these days, arguably the best way is to look for a certain type of person huddled in a large, fluffy parka, according to Mike Gustafson, who is dissecting swimmer lingo over at the USA Swimming website. He claims, in fact that

It’s easy to walk around and spot swimmers: They’re the large-shouldered, goggle-eyed individuals probably sleeping in some corner somewhere.

Yep. Now let’s get one thing straight: Mike Gustafson makes it sound like this is something younger swimmers are particularly prone to do. Let me assure you, the only reason older swimmers such as yours truly are not caught doing this is simply because we have too much other stuff on (like, errm, work) to get away with this, except on public transport and – some weekends or days off – at home, every now and then in a car waiting for the kids to pop out of whatever venue you have driven them to…… you get the picture.

Read the full story, it is worth it.

Day 100 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: Cracking the 1k in under 15 minutes – and some lessons from the first hundred days

OK, first off: Yay! I did it! In less than 15 minutes!

Yesterday, on the morning of day 99 since setting out on this adventure, I reached a major milestone: I swam the 1k in under 15mins. The watch says it took me precisely 14:50 minutes to do 1000 meters (in the 25 meter pool I train most mornings). Yes, dear haters, distinctly un-impressive by some standards, but for me, personally, an achievement that took a lot of work.

(In case you haven’t noticed, I am bloody pleased with myself.)

(CC Image via Flickr by uberof202)
(CC Image via Flickr by uberof202)

This is not just a personal best, but a milestone that I set for myself many months ago. It feels good to set goals and then work towards achieving them, then reaching them. Especially when trying to achieve them has many side benefits, like keeping you happy, healthy and sane.

Since today marks the 100th day since I set out on this adventure, let me draw up a quick summary of the main points/events on the journey so far:

  • Gradually increased the swimming load from hitting the pool 2-3 times a week for practices over 1-3.5k to a daily 4-5k every morning, Monday to Friday. Which means that I swim about 20k a week currently. And I plan to do more.
  • Cracked the 5k distance in the 25m pool
  • Changed my daily routine to get up at 5am and swim from 6am to 7.30am-ish every morning (not weekends).
  • Changed my diet to a liquid breakfast and eating within a 12-hour-timeframe during the week
  • Given that I burn about 1500 kcal every morning in the water, too, I have lost almost 10kg of weight
  • I have not experienced any back pain since Day 1 of this adventure, and feel much healthier, fitter, etc.
  • Unlike normally, I did not succumb to any of the bugs and viruses that family members, friends and colleagues fell ill with

And, yep, I learned some important lessons so far that I hope to remember when the going will get tough (as it invariably does). Here are four that I want to share with you:

  1. Persistence really is key. Make yourself “auto-persistent”: Change your habits to “bake in” your workout (or whatever it is) into your day. Make it routine. Stick to it.
  2. Persistence comes from priorities! Ruthlessly prioritize your life. My – and most likely your – absolute priority, from which everything flows, is my identity. (Sidenote: Sure, you don’t have to be religious to have a sound anchorage in life and death, but boy does it help.) Knowing who you are and why you are here on this planet in turn helps you to focus. My focus is on my vocation as firstly a husband to my beautiful wife, secondly a father to those crazy kids, thirdly a professional worker, and so on. So, I hear you ask, where does swimming come into all of this? Well, it is essential! But “only” because it allows me to properly function in all these roles. Just like sound rest, good nutrition, and other things that are essential. (I wish young swimmers, some of whom get depressed from having swimming as the main goal in life, knew and understood this. Swimming – or any other activity – is not a raison d’etre by itself.)
  3. Persistence can be helped! Do what ever helps you to keep at it, within reason. Cameraderie or team training, friendships, saving up for excellent gear, finding inspiration by socialising with others passionate about the sport, online or offline….and write about it! One of the stated purposes of this blogging business is to keep me motivated and have a kind of public record out there to hold myself somewhat accountable. Your mileage may vary, but for me this has really worked.
  4. Regularly remind yourself: What would happen if I did not go down this path? How did I feel before making the change? This throws into stark relief the many fundamental motivational factors that can be clouded over by short-term concerns or moods – and makes you realise: You don’t really have an alternative that is preferable. Boom. Back to 1.

Though I rarely quote from the Bible, there is a real doozy from Psalm 103. A phrase that sums all of this up rather nicely, and using the metaphor of water no less:

inter medium montium pertransibunt aquae (the waters will pass through the midst of the mountains)

Day 51 of the Great Big 10k Marathon Swimming Adventure: A quick dip at Wave Mountain

Went to the nearest proper pool today at opening time. Since I could not do my normal routine (and won’t be for two weeks), I also wanted to see if this would be a good solution for the next fortnight.

It is not. Despite the very nice stainless steel 25m pool, friendly staff, clean environment and spectacular views of the Alps around. (In summer an amazing 50m outdoor pool, amongst other treats, turns this place into my favourite exercise spot short of swimming in the ocean).

You see, the Wellenberg (“Wave Mountain”) like most public pools here, has no lane ropes, no pool etiquette, but usually a good number of people either standing around in the lanes, or carefully breaststroking to keep their hair dry, or just jumping in from the side nilly-willy. Turns out that at opening time, the average age at the pool is about 65, and the average swimmer struggles to do a straight 25m doing breast stroke. Jumping? Not so much. Usually, people are friendly, but their attitude and understanding of how you behave in a pool has more to do with bathing than swimming, let alone doing laps.
Next I will test the waters after 7pm to see if that is any better.

Anyway, I got 1800m in, just a quick dip in other words, and did so pretty much squished to one side. Then it just got too full.

Warmup: 6×25=300m
Main set: 40×25=1000m in 16:02
Drills: 6x 25 kick/25 pullbuoy=300m
Cool down: mixed medley 200m

Tomorrow, I will get up early and stop on my way to a business meeting to swim in a place I have not been to yet. Will let you know how that goes. If possible, I will do 2x2k or 1x4k.

Berlin, junge Frauen im Strandbad Wannsee
CC image via Wikimedia