Every day starts with a coffee for me. Some say that freedivers shouldn't drink coffee before a dive, but some pleasures are not worth sacrificing, in my opinion. I start the morning with yoga, although calling it "yoga" flatters what I do. It's more like 15 to 20 minutes worth of movement to gain some bodily awareness and get all the blood pumping for the day. Nothing extraordinary or overly strenuous. After that, it's a quick shower and time to prepare my dive bag for the event. It's competition day.
The event is the AIDA Blue Ocean Pool Competition in Dahab, Egypt. It was May 25th and I was performing the discipline DYNB (dynamic bi fins) at 11:35 am. This was going to be my first attempt at a national record. I had just returned to Dahab from a competition in Sharm El Sheik and was ready to take a break from depth. Since the beginning of the year, I had dedicated the majority of my time on the line improving my CWTB performance in open water. This would be the final competition before ending the season's training cycle.
Like any competitive freediver, I wanted to do the best performance that I possibly could. Quite honestly, the timing of this competition didn't seem right and in the back of my mind, I was cautious to avoid overtraining. I almost decided against competing and giving myself some rest. However, I was surrounded by a community of divers with who I could discuss freediving, and was able to use their insights and personal experiences to understand my own performance better; it's important to have faith in what you're doing and guidance from someone with experience. It was with this encouragement I decided to go ahead with the competition.
Prior to training for this competition, my highest level of performance in DYNB was unclear to me. I had done plenty of training in the pool but had not done my max since my instructor course. I wanted to be sure that I was well trained and confident and also be careful about pushing my limits since dynamic and constant weight are two very different creatures.
Though daunting in length and epic in mental challenges, I liked the pool. I also had several months of full-time apnea training under my belt. Pool apnea tests your mental resilience in a different way than depth does, it's one of the most fascinating elements in freediving. I had made an effort to work on static training in the months prior so luckily I had a clear idea of what my capability for a max static might look like. This also gave me the confidence to perform. The most important jobs I had were to listen to my body, focus on recovery between each dive, and be open with myself about each experience.
The two things I have learned to structure my training around are my dives and recovery. My training plan is usually very flexible- if I was tired, I could do a higher volume of dives at a shallower depth, or if I felt pain or too much soreness, I would cut out one or more shallow dives in favor of resting for deeper dives. I learned my recovery was best when I adapted my schedule to however I was feeling and experimented with various volumes of dives each session. I had to change my thinking from "how much distance can I cover" to "how can I cover this distance as efficiently as possible."
Focus on the long term: Weigh the benefits of each dive, and if you can't complete every dive on your diving plan, make sure you complete the ones that will prepare you for your dive.
Adapt your training: If life forces you to miss a dive, you get sick, mentally exhausted, or sense an injury, adjust. Take it slow, train with humility.
Hear yourself out: Ensure your training is helping you grow stronger rather than leading you to feel overtrained or burned out.
The day before the competition I went to the pool simply to weigh myself properly and practice the turn. If you don't have experience performing a seamless turn wearing freediving fins, it can rob you of the energy and focus that you worked so hard to preserve over the course of each length. I left that afternoon feeling confident about my performance. There's a buzz I feel within myself and of course, some feeling of tension. I had a conservative distance goal in my mind and told myself that I would be happy with the result no matter what. I left my expectations in a box in the corner and just wanted to keep the focus on taking care of myself and my mind.
I remember arriving there that day and feeling the anticipation. The competition environment was calm, everyone preparing for their performances with spectators and coaches ready to support the competitors. I felt as though I was carrying a little secret with me since I hadn’t mentioned that I was attempting the national record. I usually like to stay pretty chatty before a competition, I don't see much benefit in long-winded mental exercises or hours of preparation before a dive. It's around one hour before I get in the water that the conversation dries up and I shift my focus.
As I was preparing for my official top I remember being very aware of the environment I was in. I could hear the trees rustling and sense the crowd standing over me and watching as I sank deeper into relaxation. There is something that happens in the final seconds before your dive begins. Anything I was thinking about beforehand or that I had become acutely aware of in the minutes prior to OT washed away all at once with that final breath. And right away I'm there, in those peaceful few first moments, where all other concerns are withdrawn and it's just me.
Even kicks, calm upper body, quiet mind, no deviation from the center lane. As the dive began, I quickly realized the world of freediving is very unique. Although solo I never felt alone and in fact, felt more comfortable than I did anxious about the duration of my performance being viewed by all who were watching. It was around the 120-meter mark when I began to feel that my legs and glutes were getting a bit heavy from the lactic acid build-up. It can be easy to get caught up in the competitive atmosphere, but it was vital for me to listen to my body and keep myself in check throughout the performance. This is where your mentality for the remainder of the dive and knowing that your body is conditioned and capable to go further is so important.
The pool was 30m in length and I knew that once I had completed four lengths I could come up at any time. The thing is, I had no alarms set on my watch to indicate exactly how much distance I had covered, and recalling how many lengths I had done was more thought-provoking than I care to admit. Because my sense of time and distance got thrown out the window, I relied on my intuition to know when I should resurface. In the final length my legs felt incredibly heavy, my form was beginning to dissolve and I shifted my finning technique in order to keep a steady pace. Immediately the feeling that this dive was complete invaded my mind and just like that- it was. I resurfaced with the feeling that I had well surpassed my goal. It was a white card from the judges, a clean surface recovery, and sure enough a new national record.
I felt so satisfied with my experience. I worked hard and achieved the desired goal for which I am deeply passionate. The competition was better than I could have expected. But now what? Does this mean I should shift my focus more to pool apnea? Should I dedicate myself to distance over depth? Do I have to shoot for longer or further? I definitely had experienced what you might call the post-dive "blues." I dedicated a lot of time and energy to training that season, and then it was over. I always need to check myself after a personal best and remember that it's okay to feel this way. There is a lot of build-up to competitions and they end all too quickly. I try to take the time to appreciate any feat I accomplish and avoid rushing into my next goal if I don't feel ready.
For now, I am happy and feel complete. I will keep pool training and set new goals. I am still enjoying reliving the moments of my first cycle of competition. I sometimes reflect on my training log to remind myself of how far I have come- and how much more I will do. I know I will compete in the pool once again when I have more time to train and the time is right. For now, I will appreciate the laps I swim without any pressure or competition looming, and I will allow my body the time it needs to rest and simply enjoy the gratification of the dive.