Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Swimming in Denmark
Jellyfish, hypothermia and chaffing
By: Alex Harling
“Do you want to swim ten kilometers in frigid, jellyfish-infested Danish Waters five weeks from now?” Most people would have answered, “No, but feel free to proceed without me, you lunatic.” I got the answer to this basic question wrong.
Usually, such questions are just the chest-beating test-charges of wannabe alpha males. But this particular gauntlet had been laid at my feet by none other than The Insane Dane, Jasper Mikkelsen. He is no Friday night big-talker and doesn’t shy away from the kind of challenge that makes the brains of most normal people boil in fits from making mental excuse lists. Together with 1,800 other criminally fit and equally insane uber-athletes, he has recently enjoyed taunting death for ten hours and completed the Hawaii Ironman – the epitome of physical fitness, endurance and insanity.
The Super-Dane and his family had a visit planned in July, to their home island of Aeroskobing, Denmark. Well-rounded individuals dream of a promotion, a better car, or getting out of work ten minutes early on Fridays. Jasper was dreaming of swimming the ten kilometers between five Danish islands, with the added pleasure of running three kilometers on the rocky beaches of those five islands. I guess he thought that might sound like fun to me. He was right.
Jasper’s challenge happened to coincide with an emerging passion of mine to take on ludicrous challenges without troubling my brain to assess my capabilities.
I had swum competitively at school in England and had even been good enough to receive a soul-crushing defeat in the 50m and 100m breaststroke events at the National Championships at Blackpool in 1988. That was 1988. A great deal of beer and kebab-filled time had passed since those inglorious defeats. I had only been reintroduced to swimming in the safe, calm and warm Caribbean waters three and a half years ago. By then I was an overweight, washed-up old Mako Shark, who even the Stingrays laughed at.
But these days, I swim regularly and am probably fitter than I was at 21 and can now get up three flights of stairs before the wheezing sets in. My evening routine is treated as a mini-triathlon, comprising 1.2 miles of pleasant turtle-spotting, a weary 50-foot walk to the bar followed by endurance beer-drinking. It was obvious that even this strict regime would leave me ill-prepared. I made the tough decision to commit to swimming a little bit further now and then...if I felt up to it.
A black rubber suit is seldom attractive on a grown man; certainly not when it’s two sizes too small. After picking up my hastily ordered full body swimming wetsuit (necessary to prevent instant freezing of the blood and death in 55 degree Danish waters) I panicked when it appeared to be have been made to fit a pre-school pigmy leprechaun. There wasn’t time to have another one shipped. This suit stopped halfway up my arms and didn’t care less whether my shins got frostbite. A hasty phone call to Danish Yoda confirmed that yes, being ill-fitting was the wetsuit’s deliberate evil bonus feature, designed to ensure that I couldn’t have felt any more self-conscious had I turned up to a church fête in full rubber fetish garb.
My sense of unease wasn’t helped by my first and only Cayman test swim. My extra-buoyant feet stuck out of the water and kicked at fresh air, I rocked uncontrollably from side to side and overheated to the point that I felt like a boil in the bag swimmer. Everyone else I swam with that day beat me. The suit was supposed to make me faster. Not a good omen.
I arrived in Denmark via two flights, a train, bus and finally a boat to Aeroskobing from the large island of Funnen. The final boat ride into the Danish sunset caused a year’s worth of stress to run out through my toes. I fell asleep as soon as we arrived at the Mikkelsen’s house.
The island and town were beautiful. Pastel-shaded, timber-framed houses lined the streets. Foxgloves and other wild flowers grew along the sides of the cobbled streets.
Later that first day we cycled to the calm, shallow bay that would be the site of our first Danish test swim. We suited up, this time with full protection –a rash vest underneath, dive booties, ridiculous Spanish Inquisitor-style neoprene hats, rubber swim caps stretched over our skulls and goggles.
Jasper had given me a ten point list of tips to ease my entrance into the freezing water. One tip suggested I put my face in first whilst still standing, to prepare the rest of my body for the shock. Another advised me to breathe slowly and deeply and try to relax. However, as the icy water crept relentlessly up my thighs, I flopped forward into the water and found that each lung-full of air was becoming faster and more shallow. I had become a wild-eyed floundering, semi-frozen, thermally castrated guinea pig and there was only one way to overcome this problem...to swim faster and warm up.
Jasper had almost successfully convinced me that the Moon Jellyfish, common in these Danish waters, was benign. I was somewhat less convinced by his assurances that the other Danish jellyfish – the Lion’s Mane Jelly, despite possessing the stinging capability to paralyse a small child, was rare and tended to inhabit deeper waters. We probably wouldn’t see many Lion’s Mane jellies, I was told. One of those statements wasn’t a lie, although I didn’t see any drooling comatose children to prove it. There were literally legions of the “rare” Lion’s Mane Jellies, however, most of them small enough to creep under my jellyfish radar until the last second. As I accelerated to “defrost setting” I became swirly-eyed by the various forms of jellyfish whizzing past, inches from my face. I had to swerve and weave and nearly pulled my neck muscles, stopping dead, to prevent imminent death by facial paralysis. I decided on a new tactic – to swim directly behind the Danish Jellyfish Death-Dealer. I’d let him batter them out of the way. Instead of having a jellyfish-free trail blazed for me however, this caused the unpleasant effect of swimming behind a human propeller, who was churning up jellyfish and chucking them violently towards my face in a bubbling explosion. This did nothing to ease my cold-induced near cardiac arrest through reduction of lung capacity.
Maybe the fun would begin on day two?
Exiting the water miraculously un-stung, glad to be back on jellyfishless dry land, I was horrified to see Super Dane’s kids laughing, wearing Moon Jellyfish on their heads and throwing them at one another on the beach. That evening we ate outside, overlooking the yachts in the tranquil lagoon and watched a three hour sunset paint the sky red and orange, as the sun dripped into the ocean. I was able to relax...somewhat, although knew that more, longer test swims lay ahead.
Concerned that we would be able to cope with total body numbness and jellyfish-induced panic attacks, fate came up with a new ploy - chaffing. The chaffing in question was on our necks and looked and felt more like burns. This became my new biggest fear and was preventing me from swimming for more than about fifteen minutes. After a somewhat self-conscious afternoon trawling chemists with Jasper and explaining we needed something to prevent chaffing, we tried large plasters and beeswax. The plasters floated off in seconds, but fortunately the beeswax solved the problem - almost.
We were as ready as people can be to submit themselves to a pointless, non-competitive, gruelling test of fitness and perseverance. All we had to do was wait for sea and weather conditions to be right for our swim.
After a couple of days of high winds, a swim-perfect day arrived suddenly and without fanfare.
On the long boat ride to our drop-off point we suited up again, this time knowing it was for real. I dived headfirst into a cold-induced psychedelic headache. Then the churning began.
It was like all other challenges we set for ourselves or are forced to face. It was a battle of mind and the other part of the mind that wants to go back to bed. And, like all challenges, the toughest part was just willing myself to keep going and going and going.
I started off in good spirits, despite the poor turnout of perky pompom-waving cheerleaders.
As we reached the halfway point between the first and second islands, my mental brass band was packing up and heading off down the pub. Even my imaginary family supporters were shaking their heads and tapping their watches. Before I reached that second island Jasper was relentlessly churning away into the distance and I was left alone. I started to worry that I wouldn’t make it.
With only my faithful lunatic imagination to keep me company. I started to pray that a swarm of ten foot-long jellyfish would swiftly put me out of my arm-aching, shoulder-cramping, chaffed-raw misery. Instead the little stingers just sailed past, hypnotising me. It was like being on the bridge of the Millennium Falcon making a slow-motion, four-and-a-half-hour jump to hyper-speed except that I was cruising through was a cold, wet stinging asteroid field, as the jelly-specks zoomed towards me, filling my field of vision.
Hitting the wall
All endurance athletes and idiots like me who have just enough endurance to work five days a week, swim every now and then and drink beer, fear “hitting the wall”. Whether your eyes start drifting off in another staff meeting; you run out of steam at mile five of your after-work jog; or simply can’t finish that fifth beer after three visits to the curry buffet, it’s a common feeling. You just want to stop whatever it is you are doing that is causing the paralysis-like tiredness. After crossing two islands halfway into the challenge I had become a runaway train, having jumped the tracks and crashed through The Walls of a million suburbs. I had hit many walls, each one a bit thicker than the last one. By now I felt like I was injuring myself just lifting my arms out of the water. Air became less attractive as each turn of my head strained my left shoulder and made the area of chaffing on my neck feel like I was being nibbled insensitively by piranhas.
I wanted to kiss the ground of the last island before we reached Aeroskobing. And then lie down on the last island and have a five hour rest and recovery sleep. That was until Jasper, who had been waiting patiently on the shore for me to plod and flounder over, told me this was the island of the killer bull. This bull would, Jasper re-counted with glee, rush into the shallow water for a good 50 metres and keep chasing its victim .My desire to rest evaporated. Anyway, I could see the finishing line by now.
The last crossing
The last crossing seemed mercifully short. I put on a show of my best and fastest swimming for the crowds at the finishing line, who by now were surely throwing their hats in the air and readying the champagne bottles, as they caught their first glimpse of the two intrepid heroes speeding towards them like sleek salmon – except without the leaping out of the water. About 50 feet from the finishing line I spotted the largest Lions Mane jellyfish I had seen all week, lurking just below the surface. I swam on.
As we climbed the seaweed-covered steps at Aeroskobing harbour the Tour de France style podium girls draped over the heroes and put garlands around their necks and champagne spray and brightly coloured streamers filled the air. The only problem was that that was happening somewhere else. In our reality we were met by only one person – the photographer and reporter from the local newspaper. She took one photograph on her tiny instamatic camera and gabbled some Danish to Jasper during which I think I heard the word “Englisher” and words that sounded a lot like “pathetically slow”. Anyway, after the 30 second mini-interview she ambled off, obviously under-impressed and bored.
I was left standing there with only with the calm confidence that comes from having met a stupid challenge head-on, in awe-inspiringly under-prepared fashion and having survived. An obstacle surmounted will grant you a certain calm confidence. Nothing seems out of reach. I hope that reading this helps you overcome your discouragement and exasperation caused by the head-shaking negative people when you accept a ludicrous challenge or set yourself a seemingly insurmountable or pointlessly stupid goal. They will still laugh, but at least you can point the finger at like-minded, overly-adventurous idiots like me in the desperate hope that I will be laughed at more than you.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Tobias took first place in his age group and was the lucky winner of a 16GB Ipod Nano. His winning contribution is shown below.
Click here to view other winning entries.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
The Consolidated Water Swim Meet and Carifta Trials last weekend threw up some great performances.
The swimmers had a tough task, as this meet was their last chance to qualify for Carifta.With the team being announced after the Sunday session, there would be no second chances. Anyone still needing to qualify for the team would have to do it at this meet.
Lara Butler set a new pool record in the 200m freestyle for girls 13–14, while Tobias Mikkelsen, only six, set a new pool record for the 400m freestyle for boys 8 and under.
Boothe’s 100m butterfly performance was also a new Stingray swim club record, along with Butler’s performance in the 200m freestyle and Mikkelsen’s 400m freestyle performance.
Ali Jackson and Tobias Mikkelsen claimed the high points award for girls and boys 6 and under respectively. In the 7–8 age group the awards went to Stephanie Boothe and Jona Narborough, with Alice Narborough and Cole Morgan claiming the high point awards in the 9–10 age group.
Read the full article here.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
His current PBs are as follows:
25m Butterfly 28.03
25m Backstroke 29.35
25m Breaststroke 32.64
25m Freestyle 22.81
50m Butterfly 1:06.96
50m Breaststroke 1:04.66
50m Freestyle 46.68
100m IM 2:03.35
400m Freestyle 7:33.58
I was a bit nervous before the 400m freestyle event, but there was no need, he easily ploughed through the 16 lengths and finished strong with a 52 second last 50m.
Tobias and I have been practicing in the sea lately and I am looking forward to doing this years first 800m sea swim with him 4 April.
A few pics from the event below. Granddad explaining timing to Christoffer.
The Three Amigos
Good as gold.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Mange af Havanas bygninger er meget smukke, men stort set det hele trænger til istandsættelse. Den gamle del af Havana, er man ved at renovere. Man kan forestille sig hvilken leben der har været i velmagtsdagene. Det har været et Mekka. Bygningerne som er så rigt dekoreret og alle de store veteranbiler, som stadigvæk er på vejene afspejler den storhed byen engang havde.
Landet er fattigt, hvilket betyder at mange af de gamle biler efterhånden ligner blik biler, fordi de har været lappet så mange gange og oliefilter "er en by i Usbekistan", for de forurener mere end de værste TukTuks i Thailand.
Jasper var der for 16 år siden og dengang var turister et sjældent syn. Nu er der forholdsvis meget turisme, hvilket forhåbentligt vil give noget valuta til et meget trængende land.
På trods af at folk er fattige, så er der få der tigger og de få der kom og spurgte efter tøj osv. (i det skjulte) var rene "normalt" klædte mennesker. Folk så generelt heller ikke ud som om de sultede. Der var nogle enkelte som kiggede efter mad i skraldespande osv., men det var sjældent.
Udvalget af mad er stærkt begrænset. Den første aften spiste vi i hotellets restaurant. Vi bestilte bl.a. kylling/løgsuppe og en anden opbagt kyllingesuppe. Det var så afskyeligt, at jeg kun spiste en skefuld. Jasper spiste hele portionen, fordi han følte sig forpligtigede. Det resulterede i kvalme hver gang vi efterfølgende kunne lugte kylling. Jeg tror, at den var lavet på kyllingefedt eller lignende, jeg får gåsehud ved tanken.
Vi havde taget mysli og weetbix med til morgenmaden, så vi var sikre på et godt morgenmåltid, men det kunne vi godt droppe, da mælk heller ikke er en dagligdagsvare.
Børnene især levede stort set at pizza de dage vi var der. Vi fandt en kiosk hvor de solgte små snackpizzaer, som vi alle kunne lide. Derudover fandt vi en bager, hvor man kunne købe flutes og fortræffelige kager.
Vi var inde og se det nationale kunstmuseum med flot og meget interessant cubansk kunst. Vi så også lidt kunstkeramik, som jeg var meget betaget af. Det meste var ekspressionistisk lige efter min smag. Der var også en lille engel, som var det sødeste jeg længe har set.
Havana er meget forurenet pga. udstødningsgasser, på trods af, at der ikke er så mange biler. Det er helt normalt at se biler køre med en stor sort giftsky efter sig. På vej til lufthavnen kørte vi i en gammel Lada med nedrullet vinduer. Jeg har aldrig været i luft der var så forurenet, selv Bangkok blegner i en sammenligning. Børnene og jeg trak vejret igennem vores tøj, den halve time køreturen tog. Det værste var når vi kørte bagved de gamle Amerikaner bil fra 40’erne eller ældre lastbiler og især når vi holdt bagved dem i et lyskryds og de satte i gang ved grønt, hvor de spyttede en kæmpe sort røgsky bagud, som havnede inde i vores lille lavt kørende Lada. Derudover forurenede vores egen bil så meget, at ikke kun andres udstødning gennemtrængte luften inde i bilen, men også vores egen udstødning. Jeg forstiller mig, at den køretur er lig med at kæderyge i en halv time. Cubanske taxachauffører, kan ikke have en høj levealder.
Det skal dog siges, at da vi ankom til Cuba, kørte vi med en nyere og større taxi, hvor der var airconditioner og ingen åbne vinduer, og derfor ikke var generet af osen. Vi betalte det samme både til og fra lufthavnen, så det gælder om at vælge de nyere taxaer på Cuba.
Vi boede på et trestjernet hotel. Værelset var fint og havde nogle gode senge. De var gode til at rede seng (se billedet nedenfor, hvor man kan se sengetæppet redt som et hjerte), men selve rengøringen var helt håbløs. Gulvet var fyldt med sorte hår og jeg er ikke særlig vild med andres hår, så jeg tørrede gulvet over. Den efterfølgende dag efter at stuepigen havde været der, var der lige så mange hår igen. Jeg tror at hun tørrede gulvet over med en klud fyldt med hår.
Det er ikke billigt at være på Cuba, på trods af at det er et fattigt land. Vi betalte ca. 500kr for et dobbeltværelse på et middelklassehotel og fik lov til at have begge drenge ved os, selvom man normalt max. må overnatte to voksne og et barn i et dobbeltværelse. Mad er heller ikke billig, hvis man vil have et ordentligt måltid.
Generelt virker Cubanerne venlige, men ikke påtrængende. Desværre taler jeg ikke spansk og når man ikke kan komme i dialog med befolkningen, mister man helt sikkert nogle af de oplevelser, som er med til at gøre en rejse ekstra spændende og god. På trods af sprogbarrieren, var det 4 spændende dage og jeg vil meget gerne tilbage igen….. Næste gang med en anelse spansk i bagagen.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Upon my first view of the video I focused mostly on the movement between Europe and North America which made me think of a swarm of bees feeding on nectar and pollen on one continent and then returning to their home on another. Interestingly you will notice that remapping the global surface to a rectangular image results in planes seemingly moving faster as they approach the Poles.
Monday, December 08, 2008
As can be seen, this blog has become very sports specific of late and focused more heavily on my personal achievements than on the family and the kids. As a consequence I have created a new blog "trinomics" as a forum for my thoughts, plans and results in the world of triathlon and related events. I will still blog about triathlon here but to a lesser degree.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Nearing my late thirties one would think that the window of my peak performance potential as an endurance athlete would begin to close. But I just can’t see it happen at the moment. This year I completed my first Ironman distance triathlon event. Simply completing the event was major highlight and accomplishment for me, but I was also able to pull off a finishing time of 10h17m43s, which exceeded my expectations. Last weekend I set a PB in the Olympic distance triathlon, clocking-in in a time of 2h11m23s beating my previous best from 2 years ago of 2h17m38s. And I think I can go faster in both events.
Past-prime athletes frequently report that their top-end speed is the first thing to go. During the Pirate’s week 10k a few weeks ago I ran a 39m34s. I decided to pace that race very carefully and aim for sub 40. I can honestly say it was not until about 3 km to go that I felt any real pressure and even during the last 3km I was not killing myself. It is difficult to explain how much of a high that is, to run at a speed that is close to the fastest I have ever run over the distance (my PB is 37m58s about 12 years ago). Next year I believe I can quite possibly beat my 10 km PB and that at an age of 37.
Looking to world class endurance athletes there are actually many over the age of 35 that are more competitive than ever these days. Haile Gebrselassie set a marathon world record in Berlin this year at 35. The winner of this year’s Olympic Women’s Marathon was 38.
I’m not expecting to slow down in 2009 – no way. 2008 was an incredible year, but 2009 will be even better!
Below is a good picture taken of Majken and I taken while setting up in transition at the Turtle tri last weekend.