Calling Bullshit

In advance of this, I’ve been digging into the whole Corporate Warrior community the last couple days to see what had been keeping Lawrence busy.  By the looks of it he’s done really well in gathering a huge amount of HIIT based research and experts and information in one place, which is really great.  He’s also looking pretty shredded, which means if nothing else he’s walking the walk–always a good thing from a marketing standpoint.

Now I actually really like Lawrence’s philosophy, particularly much of what he says in this piece.  Although it is geared more towards strength based HIIT contains a bit of blog vanity (hey, what blog doesn’t?), it mirrors many of my own thoughts and experiences as I’ve navigated the HIIT for endurance landscape.  I also really like that he recognizes the widely ranging points of view that dominate the HIIT landscape, the potential confusion that exists, and the difficulty in making sense of conflicting thoughts and theories.

But to his credit, he presents it all through his podcast.

So now I’m getting to the point.  It was in pulling metaphorical books off of Corporate Warrior’s well stocked shelves this morning that I found the motivation for this particular blog.  It’s motivation that stems from something I’ve been thinking about with increasing fervor this past year and a half, something that may even result in another book (eventually, Skyler, eventually!).  It is the motivation to call Bullshit.

Here it is:

Now in this particular case I’m not taking offence at Discover Strength per se, or their trainers, or their cool animated video (though the form on the curls is just such an easy target), but one of the key points of their message, is, in my opinion, part of one of the biggest bits of misinformation that is pervasive in the fitness culture in general. It comes right at 1:46 in the video.

Come on everyone.  This isn’t what we should be promising. This isn’t even what we should be aspiring to, unless of course we’re talking about improving as a person in general.  But constantly improving fitness?  The belief that we can and should always be better physically can be toxic.  It keeps us from being happy when we meet our goals.  How fit is fit enough?  Because however we answer that question (assuming we do it with some genuine reflection and level-headedness), we ought to be able to get there.  And once we’re there, we ought to be content with just staying there. But this video seems to assume that there is a de-facto understanding that more is always better. Bullshit.

This culture of more doesn’t just exist in fitness if course, but this is a fitness blog so I’ll contain my pseudo-rant and keep it from spilling into other realms. For now at least.  And, speaking of this blog, well, it for one won’t always be improving.  Nor will my time trial swim-run time, towards which I now turn my attention.

Happy training (and improving…or not).



A Long Hiatus (GodZone)

The race start--I'm on the right at the front pushing the pace.  I led for a while, about 2 minutes in. It didn't last long, but it was fun while it did!

The race start–I’m on the right at the front pushing the pace. I led for a while, about 2 minutes in. It didn’t last long, but it was fun while it did!

In January of this year my brother and sister in law came over from the states with their family to hang out and race GodZone, a bit expedition adventure race.  W did some training together, bought them a house, and enjoyed the southern hemisphere summer.

GodZone came and went, and for me anyway, it took a lot with it.  I’ve finally escaped from its gravity, however, and the tremendous momentum that it generated in my life has subsided.  Thus, I’m once again interested in adding some of my more pertinent thoughts about wellness to the online landscape (for what it’s worth).

As a first offering, and as a record of what caused that gravity/momentum that became a driving influence in my life for roughly a third of a year, I’ve included a few photos and links to a more timely written recap of the event, courtesy of my awesome sister in law, Chelsey.  It is very much worth the read, has heaps of photos, and a video from the finish line:

In the end we managed 7th place out of 78 teams in our category.

Our team, thanks to some top secret pack-rafting innovations,  was able to claw our way back into the lead an hour into the race for a few more illustrious (and photogenic) moments at the front. After that it was all over.

Our team, thanks to some top secret pack-rafting innovations, was able to claw our way back into the lead an hour into the race for a few more illustrious (and photogenic) moments at the front. After that it was all over.

My feet post race. I was unable to walk for longer than the race took. And unable to run for nearly four times as long.

My feet post race. I was unable to walk for longer than the race took. And unable to run for nearly four times as long.

Working for a living (Part 3, days 4-5)-Xroads

I was feeling the effects of the first three days (Day 1, Days 2-3) on the fourth day when I had to hump all my gear up and over a pass to a new Bivy. It was exciting to get a change of scenery, but the pack was heavy as I was carrying gear for the days trapping plus all my overnight kit plus the damn laptop and Ipad and book and journal that I’d decided to bring (the former two having long since become little more than dead weight).  I tried to convince myself that it was good training, and maybe it was, but man it was hard work!   But once at my new digs I got to lighten my load and explore some cool country, including some wicked and precipitous ridges on the last day.

A ridgetop path straight out of LOTR. Wicked!

A ridgetop path straight out of LOTR. Wicked!

Burning the midnight oil...

Burning the midnight oil…

Glassy eyed, up-nosed self portrait on the morning of day 5.

Glassy eyed, up-nosed self portrait on the morning of day 5.

Tools of the trade--eggs, raw meat, and a drill.

Tools of the trade–eggs, raw meat, and a drill.

Looking south, planning future swim runs!

Looking south, planning future swim runs!

A nice tortuous ridge to walk on the last day.

A nice tortuous ridge to walk on the last day.

Even after 5 days of sun, the place was still wet and verdant!

Even after 5 days of sun, the place was still wet and verdant!

X-roads biv. Home sweet home.

X-roads biv. Home sweet home.

Working for a living (Part 2, days 2-3)-Astelia Biv

Although my island days (see part 1) were hard work, they weren’t that long.  Typically I’d finally muster the will to get out the door around 9:30 and on some days was back at the hut by 3:30 or so.  That leaves a lot of time for thinking.  Sometimes I’d spend an extra hour or so in the sun on a ridge above camp, but much of that time was spent in the bivy. Once my laptop ran out of charge (I got through two movies, but only by fastforwarding through then end of ‘the circle’–didn’t miss much with that one) I would read the old issues of whatever magazines or newspapers were lying around (except pig hunter, just couldn’t get into it) and do plenty of journal writing.  Oh, and cook and eat too. Here are a few pictures from days 2 and 3.

Over 200 traps checked and only 1 stoat caught.  We've gotta bag em for DNA testing...

Over 200 traps checked and only 1 stoat caught. We’ve gotta bag em for DNA testing…

The Astelia biv in the morning.  It sits in a pretty shaded valley. There was a skein of ice on the lake that never fully melted.

The view from the biv in the morning. It sits in a pretty shaded valley. There was a skein of ice on the lake that never fully melted.

Boredom and hunger can cause creativity.  Here I sample an avocado, salami, tasty cheese, and berry jam wrap.  Try it.  Delicious.

Boredom and hunger can cause creativity. Here is an avocado, salami, tasty cheese, and berry jam wrap. Try it. Delicious.

Astelia Biv catching a few moments of afternoon sun.

Astelia Biv catching a few moments of afternoon sun, just about to go into the shade.  Look closely!

Astelia Biv self portrait. There is not heat in the huts, save for the candles, but it is warmer than you'd imagine!

Astelia Biv self portrait. There is not heat in the huts, save for the candles, but it is warmer than you’d imagine!

A camera + candles + too much time on my hands means I have WAY too many pictures like this...

A camera + candles + too much time on my hands means I have WAY too many pictures like this…

I wasn't by myself the whole time...this Weka was good company during my stay, a bit cheeky though, inviting himself for dinner...

I wasn’t by myself the whole time…this Weka was good company during my stay, a bit cheeky though, inviting himself for dinner…

Working for a living (Part 1, day 1)–Island Life

One of my jobs is as a pest control contractor.  No, I don’t fumigate buildings or chase raccoons out of urban areas. This is pest control New Zealand style–trying heroically (and perhaps futilely) to dial back the clock and eradicate a handful of introduced mammals that threaten native (flightless) bird species like Kiwi and Kakapo.  I’m lucky enough to do this work in the largest of NZ’s national parks, Fiordland National Park.  And occasionally I’m super lucky enough to land a spot on a trip to one of the Park’s two big islands.

Resolution and Secretary Islands (the seventh and eighth largest islands in New Zealand) both sit in the middle of nowhere.  And a decade or so ago they were both chosen as sites to try to make pest free to serve as sanctuaries for native critters that were being decimated elsewhere.  After a decade of work, both are free from most of the non-natives that were threats to the indigenous birds.  But both are still subject to potential reinfestation by mustelids (stoats in particular), which can make the swim from the mainland when population pressure gets high enough.

So long story short, they cut a series of tracks around the islands and lined them with kill traps every 150 meters. It’s my job to check those traps and rebait them.

Secretary island from the tops. It is steep everywhere!

Secretary island from the tops. It is steep everywhere!

This last trip I was on Secretary.  Five days of work out of a tiny hut.  A helicopter commute on both ends and communication once a day via inReach.  Being in Fiordland, the weather is often pretty, well wet.  But this last trip I got all time lucky and had 5 days of sunshine.  My socks stayed dry (thanks to some fancy footwork) the entire time.  Such a feat is simply unheard of–normally I’m soaked to the skin from the knees down within 10 steps out of the chopper. But I digress.  It was a great trip.  A great jumpstart to hill training for GodZone, and an awesome way to earn some dollars to keep food on the table back home.  Because of the fine weather I even decided to carry my camera with me for the duration to share some of the vistas and document my luck.  Enjoy!

Tracks along the ridge can be nice, or they can be gnarly. Thankfully, periodic wands with markers lead the way

Tracks along the ridge can be nice, or they can be gnarly. Thankfully, periodic wands with markers lead the way

My day's route ends up over that peak that in the distance...

My day’s route ends up over that peak that in the distance…

The pad for 5 days. Cozy.

The pad for 5 days. Cozy.

Brussel sprouts for dinner!

Brussel sprouts for dinner!

Good looking surf break down there...if only I'd brought my board!

Good looking surf break down there…if only I’d brought my board!

A sunny day in the mountains, looking at other mountains, is good for the soul!

A sunny day in the mountains, looking at other mountains, is good for the soul!

Train to Maintain (an Ode to the Plateau), and for the next sixty odd years...

Ongoing…now, and for the next sixty odd years…

I’m getting older. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got many decades of adventuring and races left in me–thousands of kilometers yet to run, bike, paddle, swim and climb. But the full ‘weight’ of my life and all it’s glory is on my shoulders–a family including two boys, several jobs (grassroots entrepreneurship ain’t easy), and cumulative injuries. All of this makes trying to achieve greater fitness in all of the disciplines my myriad ambitions demand little more than wishful thinking.

Thankfully, this last year I’ve worked hard on letting go of the idea of ‘getting better’ at things, which is a good thing because in truth I just can’t figure out how to make it happen. Sure, I could certainly get faster in something–running or biking for example–but the only way to do this, as far as I can tell, is to sacrifice the level of general proficiency I’ve developed in something else. I’ve long said (here and elsewhere) that my ultimate goal is to be able to ‘do it all’ at as high a level as possible, even if this means being less fit in a single discipline than I would be if I focused my efforts more.

And as I’ve taken this journey, I’ve realized that very little is written about the idea of maintenance in terms of fitness. Everyone (who’s writing at least) seems focused on how to improve–to run further, bike faster, lift more. This, I think, is terrible.

Because, as I see it, if we’re doing this right–if I’m doing this right–so little of our time should be spent seeking these aims. After all, I’m not a professional athlete. I just want to be fit enough to do what I want to do. How long (really?) should it take me to get to that stage?

Based on the overwhelming sense I get from the internet, it seems like it should take forever. The message boards and forums and blog posts appearing in my feed seem to be telling me that I can always get faster, go further, and be stronger–that I should always (and can always) be improving.

It’s a lie though.

To be honest, I’ve been there–here, at my ‘peak’–for years. Now I’m not saying that I couldn’t get faster if I wanted to, or be stronger, but as I mentioned, I’ve realized that–more or less–my life is, and has been for some time, in relative balance. I’ve long since achieved a level of fitness that I’m happy with–more or less–and one that enables me to do pretty much whatever little ambitious thing I desire. It’s a great place to be.

balanceBut the growth culture is pervasive. So do we somehow feed off these ideas of improvement, feeling like we’re better people when we’re actually getting better at things? Maybe that is the catch. Nobody is writing about maintaining fitness because we are creatures who are programmed by culture to want more, no matter how much we actually have. We become satisfied by achieving our fitness goals, but that satisfaction disappears quickly, and either we slide back to a state of lesser fitness so that the same goal can be achieved (and satisfy) again, or we aim to achieve more, at greater and greater personal sacrifice, until we finally can take no more and resort back to the first option. This is fitness’s version of the Hedonic treadmill. Perhaps. I’ll admit that it was hard to let go of constant attempts to improve myself. It was hard to be o.k. with the idea that I’m not going to get 11 of those slow chins* anytime soon. Ok, maybe ever. My weekly set is just going to stay right between almost getting 10 and deciding that I wouldn’t get the 11th one even if I wanted too. And to be fair–that is a pretty good effort. I’ve similarly come to terms with my mile time trial hovering between 5:35 and 5:50. My swim times are unlikely to come down much either.

It’s probable that I will train harder and more and improve my fitness in some respects leading up to events, but this sort of improvement seeking is more pointed–it has a specific goal.

The truth is that we can’t always improve. There comes a time where the amount of effort that we put towards something in a sustainable manner reaches an equilibrium with the outcome of that effort. This is the dreaded plateau that for years I struggled to get past–along with almost everyone else according to the magazines. And a problem with most mainstream training protocols is that they aim for improvement–to avoid or climb beyond the plateau. But it can’t be avoided. And once we reach it, the programs that will lead us off of it are never really sustainable and thus are doomed to fail eventually. Yes, you can get super fit following any number of high level training programs. Super strong too. But if they don’t actually fit into your ever changing life, then eventually you will give them up. I tried to overcome this fact, trust me. I mixed things up, added volume, added weight, added supplements. It only ever works temporarily.

Thankfully, those days are over.

These days I celebrate my plateau. After all, the view from up here isn’t too shabby and I’m not always struggling to climb up higher, unless I’ve actually got somewhere higher to go.

*Done with continuous tension in the muscles using an interval timer–5 seconds on the way up, 5 seconds on the way down–without releasing tension in the muscles at the bottom or locking off at the top. Try it!

It’s (not) Not About the Bike (AKA the sound of money)

My brother visited me in New Zealand a year and a half ago and brought his fancy bike with him to do GodZone, one of the world’s most competitive adventure races. I wasn’t jealous until I lifted the bike.  It weighed half what mine did.

It’s my bike now, although I’ve hardly ridden it since.  But I got it out today for a spin. Is it a coincidence that it’s also the day I signed up for my own chance to tackle GodZone?  Probably not.

Me, an $8000 bike, and a shipping container.

Me, an $8000 bike, and a shipping container.

As I was pulling it out of the shipping container/garage I remembered something Jason had said to my son, Keegan  (who was also enamored with the bike) way back during his visit.  He’d been revolving the pedals backwards when Keegan asked him what the sound coming from the rear cassette was.

“That, nephew, is the sound of money.” Jason said.

(Rumors are that the bike is valued at nearly $8000, though I’m sure I got it for less)

So, anyway, after adjusting the bike to my body’s geometry (I share the bike with my wife…only way she’d approve the purchase!), I took it for a quick spin around my old ‘in town’ time trial loop ride.  The loop is only 2.68 miles long with no traffic and a gradual quarter mile climb about a third of the way through.  I used to do it once every couple of weeks but it has been nearly four months since I’d been on the bike, so I wasn’t expecting big things.

But…I used to do it on a hand me down mountain bike–an old Avanti Hammer aluminum frame beast. My best ever effort was around 8:40.

Today I manged 8:05.

Sorry, Lance.

Sorry, Lance.

I want to be clear here–I’m not doing a flip-flop all of a sudden and arguing that you need to sell your kidney ($15000 if you do it in India–you’d have change to spare!) for a bike to train on. I still standby the words of wisdom I so eloquently penned for Breathe Magazine back in 2015  that espoused the superfluousness of high dollar gear for training purposes.

But I am saying that this out of shape biker just beat his former PR, off the couch, by 7%, thanks to a little bit (or in this case a lot) of carbon fiber.

I’m also saying, that, at least this time, Lance got it wrong.

Happy Training.

Making Do vs. The Right Tool

Home renovation projects are like multi-sport training...

Home renovation projects are like multi-sport training…

I’ve been spending waaay too much time on projects around the house recently. Mostly because it’s a brand new house and there are waaay to many projects that need doing, but also partly because a little part of me gets satisfaction from ticking things off of a list. I won’t get into the psychology of list ticking (maybe that’ll be another post) but I will get into what I’ve found to be pretty different psychological approaches to life’s little problems and goals, whether they involve drill-bits and caulk or not.

In many ways there are two competing schools of thought when it comes to problem solving.  There is the ‘get the right tool for the job’ school and then there is the ‘make do with what you’ve got’ school.

Can you guess which school I’m in?

Well, I’ll give you a hint.  I use whatever screws are available, often substitute knives for scissors, rocks for hammers, and like to design my projects around the cuts of wood that are lying around my yard, rather than what is in the yard of the home improvement store (unless they are giving it away).

It drives my wife nuts–she’s more of a ‘get the right tool for the job’ gal.  She gets it from her father–an incredible craftsman and builder who always had exactly the right type of fastener and fastening device for whatever he was doing.

hammer vs. rock

hammer vs. rock

It’s not necessarily that one is better overall, but in my opinion for the vast majority of people being a ‘right tool’ kind of person can make it harder to get things done, especially when it comes to certain types of projects including big endurance based efforts.

Maybe you think i’m stretching it a bit, but hear me out.  In order to have all the ‘right tools’ to pursue a big multi-sport adventure, let alone to train for it, you’re going to be shelling out nearly 20 grand, especially if you’re in colder climates where things like drysuits and skis start coming into the picture. But more than the outlaid cost, having the ‘right tool’ mindset can quickly become an excuse for not doing something.  I can’t compete in that triathlon because I don’t have the right bike–my shoes are mountain bike shoes, not road shoes–I’ve got an old model pack-raft/kayak/paddle. My backpack is too heavy, my ski-s are too straight.  I would, if only I had the right gear/food/training program.

It is these attitudes that are a recipe for not. Not doing. Not trying.  Instead, the making do philosophy, while it will occasionally lead to an epic, at least allows things to get done.  Sit on top kayak for grade III?  Not ideal, but it could work.  Flats on a steel bike for a triathlon?  You’re not going to win, but were you really going to win anyway?  Making do with what you have encourages a creativity and problem solving and puts the emphasis back on what you’re doing, instead of the equipment that you’re using.  And remember–whatever old, dilapidated, and out-of-date gear you’ve managed to scrape up in service of your next adventure, it was probably new and cutting edge at one point.  20 years ago people were plowing through a meter of fresh powder on those stick skis that can still be bought for $5 at thrift shops today–not taking advantage of that fresh dump because you can’t afford the latest $1K pair of boards is just a bad excuse.

In the end, there is no argument that the right tool can make things easier and/or more fun. Lighter bikes are more responsive, shaped skis float and carve with superiority, and the modern pack-raft tackles class III with much more ease than the old style boat.  But what is the alternative–not doing?  Exactly.  

Truth be told,  if I ever have a massive amount of disposable income I too will probably shell it out on the right tools and end up with a gear shed worth many times what I paid for my house. But until then, I’ll keep doing everything I want (which is just about everything) by simply making do with what I have.

Back to Basics


There have been a few things in my life recently that have made me spend some time evaluating what I really think is important.  And while most of the resulting thought has little to do with the subjects of this blog, at least a bit of it does.

Because fitness–in as much as it gives me the ability to wholly participate in and interact with this fabulous physical world of ours–is important.  And for me, because I’ve enjoyed so much personal growth at the hand of what I’ve termed ‘success enabled by suffering’, the level of fitness I seek is, at least by many people’s standards, relatively high.

The route--3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

The route–3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

But how high?  When it comes down to it, what level of fitness am I going to need to keep finding that optimum balance of having time and energy to focus on other aspects of my life while maintaining the physical and mental platform from which to keep chasing the benefits of epic challenges (like my latest effort, a swim between cities), and able to keep up with my two boys so that I can share in some of whatever (fingers crossed here) wild missions they come up with as they get older.

I wonder this because in the face of my recent evaluation, many of the motivations that have ordinarily sustained my drive to maintain a high level of fitness have all but disappeared.  I no longer feel very competitive.  The lure of forging this new and novel path–using HIIT to approach ultra endurance, has faded.

If my happiness depends somewhat on a minimum level of fitness, then by defining that minimum level I can simply use the minimum effective dose (MED) to get there and think less of training, and more of just living. And if/when my ambition returns, even if it does so spontaneously as it did last weekend with the swim, I’m well positioned to suffer my way through an epic adventure or two.

Basic Fitness Goals–to always be able:

  • Run a sub 6:00 mile
  • Swiw a sub 6:00 400 meter (open water)
  • Strength: Perform 90 seconds each for continuous tension (CTL) chins and push-ups.

Simple and easy as.

Lessons From the Water

The route--3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

The route–3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

Last Sunday, on a whim, I texted Arno to  see what he was doing the following day.  I’d decided rather spontaneously that it was time to tackle the mission I’d been thinking about for over a year–a swim from Te Anau to Manapouri.  I’d planned on ‘getting fit’ for it and having a go in a month, but something inside me on Sunday told me I wasn’t really going to be getting fitter than I already was, and that I just needed to get it done.

With Arno available to pilot me down the 23 km or grade I river and carry my food for the journey, I had no more excuses. Details were hammered out and at 10 am on Monday I waded into the calm waters of Lake Te Anau for the first 3 km lake crossing.

One of the benefits of a spur of the moment decision to take on something somewhat epic is that you have less time to really worry about it.  Sure, there was still plenty of worrying between the time Arno committed and when I started swimming, but there was only a 12 hour window for that worrying to happen in and at least some of that time was spent sleeping.  

I worried about being too cold mostly. While the water temps have warmed up nicely from what they were this winter (15-ish degrees celsius vs 8!), my longest swim in ‘training’ had been roughly an hour–far short of how long I’d be immersed if I was to cover the 35 km of lake and river that lay between the towns.

I was full of nerves moments before starting the swim

I was full of nerves moments before starting the swim

Which brings me to lesson one: Most of what we worry about never happens.  Depending on your source, social and psychological sciences place the ‘needless’ worry at between 85 and 92% (or thereabouts).  Which means that an awful lot of mental energy is wasted on worrying about things that either we can’t control, cannot change, or that will never actually happen.  In this case, most of my worry, and my pre-swim’s fitful night’s rest, were the result of such a worry. Thankfully, there was a limit in my case, temporally speaking, to how much I had to sit with this worry. Once I started my journey it’s mootness became more concrete–I was wearing what I was wearing and I’d either get too cold or I wouldn’t, so worrying about it was pointless. I could just swim.

And swim I did. A bit more than 3 km across lake Te Anau–a good solid pace to start with but nothing too ambitious. My goal was to finish first, and push second.  I was feeling pretty good as I jogged the half kilometer gravel path around the control gates at the head of the river.  I was an hour in and took the opportunity to grab my first fuel, some gummy powergel snacks and a couple of swigs of Raro (a New Zealand version of Tang).

The river was awesome. I’d swum the first half of its 22 km length a number of times recently and so knew it well–it’s rocks and chutes and corners.  It was fast and exciting, especially the second half which I’d only swum once.  I had a bit more apprehension here–this section has a few tree choked braided sections where collision with something is a real possibility and there are frequent spooky moments where carcasses of ancient trunks reach up like claws from the abyss–the river carrying you relentlessly forward over their outstretched fingers.  But I had Arno as my guide (he really is a guide–regularly leading commercial packrafting trips down this section of water).

Perfect swimming conditions, nothing to worry about!

Perfect swimming conditions, nothing to worry about!

So I tried to relax and embody lesson two: go with the flow. There is simply no activity I have engaged in during my rather storied life where this lesson becomes so obvious as when I’ve been swimming down this river.  Any form of resistance to the literal flow is immediately felt.  The experience is visceral.  The more I was able to be at ease with what was happening and save my ‘reactions’ for what was genuinely occurring, the more relaxed I was both mentally and physically.  Awareness was a big part of this–in the section of the river that I knew well it meant planning ahead, understanding the nature of the flow from experience, and working with it. I lined up for the corners, allowed the current to sweep me towards the outside knowing that I wouldn’t get pushed too far, and enjoyed the speed.  I didn’t fight the rapids on the surface, gasping for breath against the chaotic waves, but dove down and rode the under currents for a smoother ride.  I saved my energy by stroking it out when the river turned placid and I could swim efficiently. I fought the flow only when it was absolutely necessary, when the consequences for not doing so were both unimagined and negative.  

And for the part of the river where I felt uncertain, I practiced lesson three: commit to trust.  While it is important to decide carefully who you are going to trust, when you’ve made a decision, commit to it.  I was lucky to have Arno with me as our relationship and his water reading skills made it easy to trust him.  Whenever I’d considered this section of the swim previously, even without a committed date, I’d been anxious about this section of the river. But with Arno as chaperone, I was able to relinquish that anxiety by knowing that he had my best interests at heart, would be attentive to those interests, and that as a result I could ‘let go’ of my need to control a situation that would otherwise have been very stressful.  The act of trusting is linked to the ability to take risks as well–those more likely to trust in general tend to be more likely to accept a certain level of risk in their lives. And at least in my opinion, the acceptance of risk (and the inevitably resulting failures) is a key factor in a robust life. And as I finally swam out of the river mouth and into Lake Manapouri, my life certainly felt very robust.

My body, on the other hand, did not. As the adrenaline response from river section slowly faded, I became more acutely aware of how shattered I felt, and the BIG question as to how my body would hold up over the next 9 km of lake.  A year ago I’d had some issues with my right shoulder that required physical therapy and it continued to bug me when I pushed too hard, even on shorter swims.  By the end of the river it was already feeling pretty wrecked–would it last another hour?  Three?  Although I’ve got plenty of experience in land based endurance efforts, my longest swim ever was a 10 mile affair, took just over 4 hours to finish, and happened 15 years ago.  It was a rather outdated litmus test from which to draw strength for what remained ahead, especially considering at the time I’d been healthier (shoulder wise), fitter (swimming wise), and even then been plagued by such severe cramping in my left elbow by the end that I swam the entire last mile with on arm.

Thankfully, all that being said, I have learned a thing or two in the intervening year, one of which I’d been reminded reminded of via a FB post recently.

The final leg...9 km to go!

The final leg…9 km to go!

Lesson four: fatigue is all in your head.  Ok, maybe not all, but certainly the point when you decide that you’ve reached your limit is. When I started to really feel broken only a short distance into the final lake swim, I relied heavily on this idea.  I knew from all my big adventures on terra-firma that the general pain that I was enduring was self-limiting. If I was broken it was almost certainly in a way that was repairable.  The pain caused by low-impact repetitive joint use, on a single occasion (not chronic overuse such as in high volume training)–hardly ever leads to actual acute injuries.  And so although the pain was great enough that I would have traded my little finger for some ibuprofen, I didn’t allow myself to listen to the part my brain that tried to tell me I should stop because I was causing permanent damage.  But it wasn’t easy.  The 30 minutes in between feeds seemed to stretch for hours so that I was continually convinced that Arno wasn’t keeping track of the time. One of my achilles started to cramp.  Both hip-flexors threatened to join it. I altered my stroke in turns–windmilling arms to keep them straight for a while, then shortening my stroke dramatically to keep them bent.  I’m not sure whether the pain even got better, but I was able to keep going.  Eventually, I rounded the headland of Supply Bay and could see the finishing beach. It was still nearly an hour away, but that sight was all it took to let my head know I was going to make it.  After my last feed I was close enough to make out the car my wife had dropped for us.  Despite having stroked continuously for over six hours at this point, the fatigue (almost) disappeared and I felt as though I was finishing the last kilometer of a 2 km swim, not a 35 km one.

All in all, my shoulders (which I am having trouble moving today) carried me for 6 hours and 45 minutes of more or less continuous freestyle. It was an incredible experience and one I hope to offer to the public next year as a marathon swim event  ( Happy training.

PostScript: In addition to the above more profound lessons, I also learned a couple of other things that bear mentioning.

The first of these is why distance swimmers almost always rely on liquid diets.  I learned this the hard way as I nearly choked on my first water based feed that consisted of PowerBar energy blasts, a brand of gummy sports chew.  I almost choked! Swallowing food is so much harder than swallowing liquid and the act of chewing and swallowing while swimming proved almost impossible.  Thankfully, I had a couple emergency Gu’s that proved more easily consumable, and some sugared drink mix I was able to fall back on (I’d planned on primarily consuming the blasts), and it saw me through.  

The second is how awesome the NoNumb swimming device is.  Typically for me, after an hour of swimming my hands get cold enough for the claw to develop.  I’d toyed with the idea of wearing thermal gloves, but the downside of gloves is that even the best of them take on some water and thus add a non-insignificant amount of  weight the the hands.  Over the course of some 15000 odd strokes, a few extra grams really matters. The NoNumb device is an ingeniously simple piece of silicone (so much so that calling it a device seems silly) that slips around your fingers to keep them together.  The lack of water circulation between fingers keeps your hands warmer, and keeps the claw from making an appearance even when your hands do get cold. I’d tested it in a time trial of my standard training course, a 800 odd lap around a set of buoys, a couple of weeks ago and posted my personal best by nearly 30 seconds, so figured I’d give it a go on the swim.  It worked marvelously–my fingers stayed together, my hands felt warm, and it was so comfortable that I forgot I was wearing it.  Awesome.  Check it out at