Monday, June 30, 2008
It would have been nice to go back to lake Constance for 6 or 7 hours of more waves and cold water - but it was too complicated with helpers, plus I have to watch my expenses... Also the official lake temperature had become "hot" - about 23°C - hard to tell what the temperature in the colder parts would be. I googled the web for cold lakes, but they were all too far away - considering I am going to Dover on Friday for a weekend.
Since the forecast for my home lake, the "Silver Lake", was windy with medium temperatures and slightly overcast, I finally was happy to stay. Instead I decided to use the opportunity for a long split swim: 7 hours on Saturday and 5 on Sunday - or so. And to leave early at 6:54 - which I did, at least on Saturday.
In 1985 I had done a 12 hour swim at the end of June in preparation for my scheduled Channel swim end of July (which finally only happened in September, due to the weather). Back then it was something totally new, so of course I had helpers in a kayak, to feed me every 30 minutes when I reached one of the shores. We had come to the lake around 6 o'clock in the morning, the early morning atmosphere had been simply breathtaking with its peace and purity, and we had a great day together on the lake, with other team members joining for shorter periods of time.
I still remember my first attempt at using Channel grease (the water was much colder then): I put it ON my bathing costume! When I stepped into the water, the bathing suit started to bulge, the grease hardened in the cold water and I felt like a buoy - resistance training or what? My friend had to drive back home (20 min. one way) to get me another swimming suit while I was bravely swimming the first lap "au naturel" all by myself. (The other helpers only came later.)
So this time the 12 hours would be split - which I thought was fine with much more long distance background. I didn't want to bother anybody to help, since I am quite happy alone at the lake, and if you are just a helper it can be quite boring. Plus, of course, I am in no way alone - lifegards, kids, families, surfers - a big lake family again.
By the way, my helper-friend from 1985, who was 4 years younger than me, passed away only recently due to a brain tumour. I was kind of dedicating these 12 hours to her. It made me aware again and only strengthened my determination: You never know how much time you are given here on earth - so always try to fulfill your dreams here and now - not in some distant future! Like some coaches say: at the end of your life, what counts is not how much money you earned or how many hours you worked in the office!
The first two hours of the 7-hour swim were difficult again - no sun, everything bleak and dark, water not too warm, but also not cold (around 20°C). My mind seriously tried to convince me to go back home and have a good day's rest and swim more tomorrow! I asked my mind, if it really thought it would feel at the right place at home. And also, what would I write on my blog? Then the wind picked up and it was fun punching the waves again - even for my mind. Then the surfers came, and I was told I was in the middle of a regatta again and could I not swim closer to the shore. Amazing effect: after a slight feeling of annoyment (this is OUR lake) I got out of my old routine into a new route - and that newness gave me joy! Again - so often in life we stick to our patterns and get annoyed if someone disturbs them - but it can bring joy to try and discover something new!
During the 6th hour, when my arms and shoulders were hurting from the waves, I had to argue with myself - go home and do 6 or 7 the next day, or continue? But who knows what will happen tomorrow! Now the sun was out, it was not even 4 p.m. - o.k., one more lap. The water felt colder than in the morning - my system still needs much more training! Or too much coffee lately?
Next day I started late to avoid the morning regatta - only to find the windsurfers had left, and there was no wind anyway. So 5 easy hours, I thought. The sun came out soon, it warmed up during the day considerably, but I often felt chilly and allowed myself longer breaks. The first half lap felt like slow motion - or even swmming backwards, with muscles all stiff from the day before. But it was only 2 min. slower than usual. Then I got into the rhythm again, as if as a continuation from the day before, counting not 1,2,3 etc. laps but 8, 9, 10.... Why can't you start at the 3rd hour - or even 7th? When the fun really starts...
At the 12th lap I would have loved to add one more - but my body didn't want to, and I didn't feel comfortable to push myself. So I biked back to Mannheim again through the fields - and enjoyed the afternoon sun and the quiet countryside with a deepened sense. I chuckled. Christian Hübner, how had swum the Channel on Tuesday, had been asked after a 24 hour swim, how he felt: His answer was "clean". That is also true in a deeper sense, like Alison Streeter, "Queen of the Channel" says: these long swims can open secret inner doors, behind the everyday garbage or rubbish. It occured to me again, that "exercise", training, and the latin word "exercitium" for spiritual discipline are closely related.
In the evening I watched the soccer finals in a restaurant garden with friends in a quite detached mood - and was very happy for the Spanish to win because they clearly were the best team (sorry, Germany, but second place is a great achievement, too, and also progress).
The next morning I felt like I had been in a retreat, a deep sense of inner calmness, tranquility and serenity. Difficult to get back into office mode.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Christian (middle) won the 12 hour swim in Zürich 2008 with 34,9 km
I had met Christian Hübner last year at the Zurich Lake Marathon Swim where he gave us a few Swiss Fränkli for some pre swim ice cream (they would't take Euros in Rapperswil) and again in February at the 12 h indoors swim in Zürich, where he told me he was training for the Channel. Of course, some Channel-talk and advice-giving followed.
He was booked with his pilot for Tuesday. The weather forecast looked promising, only the wind was southeasterly and seemed to increase. The day before (you are supposed to call your pilot each evening to check, because weather conditions can change very quickly at the Channel) his pilot told him: either Tuesday or maybe Thursday, but Tuesday looks better (as it turned out, nobody could start on Thursday). So Christian decided not to wait maybe endlessly but to go on Tuesday, adding a bit tongue-in-cheekily: "So I can watch soccer on Thursday." From this the rumour started that that he was kind of giving priority to soccer over his swim... (German humour is difficult to understand anyway.)
In the afternoon of Tuesday it suddenly occured to me that Christian must be out in the Channel swimming. I asked on the Chat Group for news and immediately got 2 answers in my mail: he was out there but not making any progress for 3 hours. The wind had picked up, supporting the current, and he was swept out towards the Atlantic in 2-3 foot waves at windforce 5 - as if we had changed his mind and wanted to go to New York.
Usually, once you are swept past Cap Griz Nez, they say you are "lost" - no chance to finish the swim and touch French ground. Christian proved that this is not true. Actually, Vedika Bolliger, a member of my team, who has swum the Channel 5 times and done a Channel triathlon Dover-Paris, had proved this before in her 23 hour swim! After 8 hours into his swim, Christian had thought to himsel the Channel swim felt easier than the Zurich lake, but shortly afterwards his experience changed.
By the time he had swum 3 hours in place nobody thought he would be able to make it any more, except his wife. He just thought to himself that 2 years of serious preparation was definitely worth sticking in there for 6 more hours or so until the tide changed. And the tide did change and he was able to finish in 17 hours 16 min. - way down the French coast. Congratulations! Great "never give up"-spirit!
This is the route of his very unusual swim:
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Progress! Not in hours, but in quality. An international gathering of our Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in Kreuzlingen on Lake Constance offered a great training opportunity: 4 hours on Saturday and 5 on Sunday (approx. 25-27 km) in the pure, quite cold waters of the largest lake in Germany, bordering on Austria and Switzerland.
I had not been sure how many hours I would be able to last. A few days ago the lake was still below 17“ C – so far the coldest for me was 19°C. Right now, distance training is still more important than really cold water, but best a good combination of both. Again, someone „upstairs“ seemed to support my efforts benevolently: the weekend turned out to be almost pure sunshine with air temperatures up to 30°C plus. The lake had warmed quite a bit in the last few days, but near Kreuzlingen and Konstanz, where the Rhine river passes from the mountains through the lake into the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen, the temperature is much colder than in Lindau and Bregenz, where the data are taken, as can be seen on thermic satellite maps. So in spite of some warmer patches, I suppose the water was between 17-19°C with some really cold spots in certain places. Since my tide is between August 7-17, the Channel should be around 17°C by then.
The youth hostel in Kreuzlingen has a canoe station where we rented a bright red kayak which was very visible for motor and sailing boats. By the time we had carried the kayak down to the lake it was around 1:30 p.m.
The water was heaven - clear, turquoise, with the sun glittering on the waves, and the lake really felt alive: moving, breathing, with swells even when the surface looked calm – great training for arms, shoulders, the whole body, all the muscles were needed to stabilize. Especially on Sunday, the frequent tail waves from motor and passenger boats gave some extra training, reminding me of the waves at Jones Beach, New York, minus the seewead and the jellyfish, or the „washing machine“ in the Channel.
Valishta on her mobile - "Sorry, we are in the middle of the lake - could you please find a replacement for the cooking crew?"
The water felt quite cold and I had goose bumps when I clung to the boat for feedings, but I was amazed how fast the body adapted.
Feedings were not exactly according to Channel rules (where you are not supposed to touch the boat or even a helper) – but I was grateful for the opportunity to cling to the warm kayak briefly every hour while grabbig my drinks and food from the back seat, shivering when I stopped in the water, but fine when I started moving again.
It was great to have a friend as company for a change and to swim at a good distance to the shore and still be protected. Sometimes sailing boats would come really close – only later we discoverd we had been swimming right through a regatta!
Like always, it took me 1-2 hours to get into the flow of the swim, to experience these peaceful and often deeply joyful states of „no-mind“ or calm mind, of just being, just swimming, swimming into infinity. And looking forward to more of it with increasing endurance and power. The goal is actually not just to be able to make it across the Channel, but to prepare in a way that I can have the confident feeling I had in 1985, when I was sitting on top of the White Cliffs, the French coast visible in the distance: to be ready and eager to go, looking forward to giving it my all. My attitude is not to try "to conquer" it – like in the title of a book by Tom Hetzel that inspired me a lot back in 1985. For me the Channel feels like a friend – I love to feel one with the water, the waves, the vastness, but the Channel is powerful, so it demands to bring your own power to the fore - physical as well as inner ("mental" is not my term, there is much more to inner power than just the mental aspect).
Saturday my helper had to stop at 6 p.m. So I got out to help bring the kayak back and after some consideration called it a day to participate in our evening meeting. I could really feel my muscles and shoulders, and the effect of the cold and heat combined on my metabolism and the whole system. Before going to bed I was treated to a great sports massage by my next day's helper Kastura, a judo champion from Russia, who was visiting Zurich.
After a sound but short sleep, usual morning meditation and some good Swiss breakfast including some müesli, we headed off back to the lake. By the time we had the kayak water-borne, it was past 9 a.m. The sun was already warming. Kastura had to be back at the meeting place by 2 p.m., which again left only about 4 hours time. So we went out for over 2 hours up the lake and less than 2 hours back, „downhill“ with the current. This time I noticed that I was longing for something salty and firm for the third feeding in the cold water – and enjoyed a bit of Kastura's bread and cheese.
We returned the kayak but then I went back to the lake for a last 1 hour swim by myself closer to the shore before catching the train back to Heidelberg. I really enjoyed this last hour again, and became determind to come back for more training, possibly next weekend if the weather allows. (Kastura must have sensed it and already offered her help again.) Towards the end I had to think of a German actress, Ruth-Maria Kubitscheck, living near Kreuzlingen on the lake, and her book about angels and spirits of the earth (similar to the devas of the Findhorn-community), which she had signed for me with a beautiful poem many years ago, where she describes with love and insight how each part of the earth has benevolent „protecting spirits“. Suddenly, when I looked up at the sky, a peculiar cloud formation caught my attention. It was like a curved feathery soft angel wing with a second cloud next to it that looked like an abstract Japanese or Chinese brush painting of a human figure rising upwards (reminding a bit of the Olympic logo). It gave me so much joy! But my camera was already back at the Youth hostel and by the time a got there the "angel" had dissolved.
(Painting by Ruth Maria Kubitschek)
On the train back I felt exhausted and chilly (air condition). Arms and shoulders hurt, and I was only looking forward to get home, stretch my back and lie down. I felt no inner joy, my whole system was just trying to cope. 17 hours in the Channel? Not quite yet! Plus biking and running?
But then, next morning, after some rest: Great feeling, happiness, gratitude, looking forward to the next long training session and the first Dover-weekend, and confidence to be able to get ready in time for the Big Day.
Many thanks to my helpers – and those who committed themselves to be part of the August adventure!
June 25th: Just booked my train tickets and b&b for the first Dover training weekend July 4th to 8th!
Training during the week
Training during the week can be difficult: pools are quite hot and mostly crowded. Today (25th) I felt like in a certain Tokyo pool mentioned on the Channel chat group, especially when all the "Pink Jumpers" left the small pool and continued their aquajogging the the main pool. So my only goal under these conditions is: don't touch! And stay positive. Things could always be worse. Here is the proof:
"Tokyo Wave Pool Insanity"
Sunday, June 15, 2008
The weather forecast for this weekend was REALLY WET and REALLY COLD (down to 8 °C in the morning). Good for Channel training - but I was not sure if I would be able to do my planned 5 hour back-to-back swims under the conditions in the lake, again, all by myself (next weekend's long swim in lake Constance will be with friends). If I would be freezing after 3 hours in the lake I would continue in the nearby pool. And for Sunday, where rain was forecast for the whole day, I had already resigned myself to the idea of just pool-swimming - since biking to and from the lake to the train station in the cold rain with 5 hours in cold water did not feel safe.
Saturday: Big surprise. Almost blue skies and morning sun welcomed me at the "Silbersee" (Silver Lake) near Roxheim around 10 a.m and stayed out most of the time, resulting in an unexpected sunburn. The water was fresh (approx. 19-20°C) compared to the week before or the swimming pool, but not cold. And perfectly clear. The breeze, which picked up just a little, was much colder. 5 hours went by, in one hour laps from feed to feed, not easily but in a way that felt encouraging. Hot ginger tea with maltodextrine, egg wafers again, raisins and energy gel kept me going.
After 5 hours (15 km) I wasn't sure if I should continue for one more hour, since I still felt quite good and not too cold. Definitely I hadn't given it my all yet. But by now I was determined to come back to the lake the next day for at least part of the second 5 hours even if it was going to be raining and colder. So it felt o.k. to save something for a possibly tougher swim on Sunday.
So I took the 1-hour bike route back to Mannheim instead of going to the nearest train station, stopped by the MTG stadium to watch a bit of American Football for a change, which gave me a nice feeling of New York, Queens, (where the headquarters of our Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team are located) and some good laughs ("where is the ball" - even the stadium announcer lost track at times). Even if you are not sure about the rules, it can be more entertaining than soccer. Which reminds me of Calvinball. At home I felt I had done the right thing - good training, but still enough hunger for the next day.
Dancing With the Waves
Sunday: Almost a ritual now, catch the 7:54-train, arrive at the lake around 9:30. The weather forecast had mercifully changed to only bits of rain. When I arrived, no wildlife, but lifeguards already on duty. Sky overcast, but as I greased up and got ready to step into the water, the sun came out briefly. Good morning! The water was colder than the day before.
During the first 3 hours the sun would peep through the denser clouds every now and then. Half a lap later, a black cloud appeared suddenly, and immediately the rain started pouring down and the wind picked up as I was swimming back to finish my 4th hour. It felt great to have a bit of a challenge, finally some waves! A much better workout and much more inner joy. Swimming in the rain is actually very beautiful, feeling the elements, as long as there is no lightning.
As I got out of the water for some hot ginger tea and raisins and to see if my stuff was well covered up, the liveguards were leaving the empty beach. "Are you finished?" they asked me. "No, one more lap;" I told them. (They had been there basically just to watch me swim, it seemed.) "In this rain?" they asked. I chuckled. In the water it was much nicer than outside. And even warmer. So back again, enjoying the peaceful rain and especially past the protecting peninsula on the left, halfway into the lap where the lake opens more, really enjoying "dancing with the waves", with the wind pushing from the back. No need to occupy the mind anymore - just swimming and enjoying the elements and the movement and the feeling of energy and rhythm.
The two fishing men on the other shore were still there (they had watched me over the last weeks from different places and today asked me about my swimming - it felt a bit like a small "lake family" with the lifeguards etc.), otherwise the lake was completely deserted.
On the way back to finish the 5th hour I was swimming against the wind, happily punching the waves. Great workout for the arms and the whole body. I should actually always check for bad weather to go to the lake even during the week! The rain was subsiding now, and the sun started to peep out again, making the waves glitter like silver.
My goggles, both pairs, had been giving me a lot of trouble today - a good reminder just at the right time to get a couple of new ones and swim them in for the big day. So I was just grateful there were no sailing boats or surfers out there today.
When I reached the shore, I was sure Freda would have sent me back in for another lap, or two, but I enjoyed the bit of warmth the sun was giving by now and took the opportunity to get to the train station dry before the next rain cloud would arrive. Back in Heidelberg, biking over the bridge in Ziegelhausen, the clouds were so dark and the wind was so "cold" (15°C, versus 13°C in Dover!!!) that thinking of having swum for 5 hours in a lake felt like it must have been on a another planet.
Next weekend will be longer, hopefully, at lake Constance, in colder temperatures
Monday, June 9, 2008
For next weekend, dramatic temperature drops are forecast, down to 18°C by Saturday noon! So I am planning on two 5 hour back to back swims in near Dover temperatures in the lake (not quite). I can feel my muscles growing, but there is still some way to go.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Maybe I was a bit too easy-going. Having overslept I only took the train at 8 p.m. to arrive at the lake in Roxheim at 9:30. Time enough for 7 hours of swimming, I thought. Rain was forecast for 11 and 5 p.m., but that doesn't matter much to a swimmer.
Again, no human soul around. This time I was greeted by a swan and 3 families of black necked geese, which at first were dispersed on the lake, but then strangely enough paddled to the shore within 50 meters of where I was sitting, one family following the other with altogether 10 little ducklings of visibly different age, soon grazing happily in the nearby grass.
Just before 10 a.m. I made it into the water - cool but not cold. Again sets of 2 laps, great feeling, "breakfast" after the 2nd hour, egg-waffles, plenty. I thought of the swimmers in Dover, who would have started around the same time, memories came up from my training there 23 years ago. My first swim in Dover harbour was a 7 hour test swim middle of July - and my training had started at the end of April! I remembered how much I enjoyed that swim - punching the waves in really bad weather and feeling good after 7 hours (with a few days of rest and a few good massages before). After lap 3 I was looking forward to complete the 4th hour - then it would be downhill. During the 4th hour, when my ellbow started to hurt and my arms started to feel a bit lame, I had to smile thinking of Freda, the "General" standing on the shore of Dover harbour with just one firm message: "head down" (great Channel swimmer mantra: "head down - until France") . So I put my head down - no thinking, no feeling, just swimming - and smiling!
Today I swam a great deal with memories, or visulisations, picturing myself in the Channel. My goal today was to do 6 hours plus one. 6 hours as equivalent to reaching the middle of the Channel where I could see both coasts in 1985, the White Cliffs of Dover and the French coast, which was a completely exhilarating experience. At that time I knew I would make it. The only thing was, it then took me 11 more hours from the "middle" of the Channel to France! The seventh hour today was supposed to be visualising reaching the French coast - like in this inspiring video taken from You Tube.
The video below is of Hugh completing his English Channel Swim on 7/8/2004.
After 4 hours again some food - more egg wafers, 2 bananas and some oats with maltodextrine and some sports drink (which didn't go too well with the food), back for lap 5 und 6. At times I was thinking of Lake Zurich or of long training swims in the waves of Jones Beach on Long Island.
6 hours completed. Great! One more than last week. And one to go. My shoulder muscles feel a little sore, my elbow hurts a little, but I can put my head down again. As I step out of the water for a short drink break, I realise the black cloud on the horizon is growing and coming closer. The 11 a.m. rain never happened, so this one is almost on time. Before heading back into the water, I feel an urge to ask the life guards if a thunderstorm has been forecast or just rain. "Thunderstorsm", they say. "Didn't you see the lightning over there? And hear the thunder?" Still hoping it would pass in the distance I went back into the water to swim back and forth close to the shore as long as possible, but the lightning was closing in from 2 sides on the lake. No choice. The wind picked up, the clouds opened - I was one of the last people to leave the beach
So, only 6 hours for today. Come back tomorrow and cancel my long bike ride, because swimming seems more important now? Or be patient, get a good cardio and leg-workout on Sunday and do more 2 hour swims during the week and a 7 hour swim next Saturday and a real long swim of 8 hours the week after? One thing is to have goals, the other to stay flexible.
One poem-song came to my mind (again on Sunday), which can be helpful if you feel disappointed because something did not work out the way you wanted it:
By the way, when I came home, I found my official Channel Swim number in the mail - registration completed and confirmed! Ready to go!
Monday, June 2, 2008
Silbersee near Frankental
Finally! After thunderstorms on Saturday and the Mannheim Marathon Saturday before, I did my first long swim in open water this year on Sunday, June 1st! Since the 5 hour swim on May 1st I had only done 45 minute to 1 hour swims at most in the pool, since it was either too "cold" (19°C, still have to acclimatise) or too crowded..., plus some weight training, which my teammate Vijaya in New York had recommended strongly. In 1985 I never thought about weight training, but since last year in Zurich I could feel my shoulders after 11 hours, I suppose it is a good idea, especially since with the triathlon I need my arms and legs after the swim still. And it just so happened that Kieser Training were offering one week free training for each life decade = 5 free weeks!
(This foto is from the Zurich lake Marathon Swim 2007, but since the blog does need a few more swimming fotos I am cheating a bit...)
So on June 1st around 10 a.m. I went by train and bike to the "Silver Lake" near Frankental, where I have always trained since 1985 for my longer swims.
I love the peace in this natural reserve area in the early and late hours of the day, with neighbouring lakes full of nesting birds of all kind and other wildlife. The water is pure in the main lake, with sandy beaches, and I can swim for half an hour to an opposite sandy stretch and another half hour back - which makes a lap of almost 3 km. It is perfect - half an hour twice is "easy", it's ideal timing for the feeding break, and all you need to get 3 more km done is one short moment of "self-transcendence" getting back into the water. After a short break, even after three or four hours - it usually feels great again, even if something started hurting before, mostly the flow comes back immediately as soon as I am back in the water.
On longer swims I usually do sets of two laps, then a tiny bit longer break - just to divide "infinity" into digestible pieces and get a feeling of accomplishment on the way - cutting hours off the big cake. The last hour is usually the "icing on the cake" which I enjoy most, even after six or seven hours.
So on Sunday, with 4 weeks from my last long swim, I was happy with 5 hours - it was strong, smooth, rhythmic swimming, faster than May 1st. The water was calm, temperature perfect for now - fresh, but not freezing, at times even too warm on the surface already.
Next weekend the swim will be a bit longer, hopefully there won't be any thunderstorms. The water temperature may even go down by then. So from now on, longs swims every weekend.
I keep reading other Channel swimmers' blogs about their training in Dover - and kind of envy them. I'd love to swim in sea water - it is so much more alive! But I feel it is o.k. for me to wait - I would need more fat to swim in those temperatures now. The more you get used to the cold, the more you suffer in the heat - it will be a difficult balance for August. But I will go over early enough to acclimatisze.
When I biked back to Mannheim train station from the lake in the hot late afternoon (27°C or more?) I knew I would be praying for rain for the biking and running part in August unless some polar air will get swept down south.
"My heart swimming
In silver light,
My soul swimming
In ecstasy's height."
One of the aphorisms or poems which often come to my mind or repeat themselves inwardly like mantras during my long training sessions or events, like an expression of an inner state of consciousness I am experiencing - at times, that is. Sometimes I end up only focussing on or repeating single words like "silver light", with the rhythm of my breath or stroke.