Emma: And on the day…?
Carl Atkinson: I was nervous. I generally felt uneasy that day and not at all relaxed. My lack of static competition experience was showing already at this point. I announced a very short time to go earlier in the day. I was lacking that “routine” that I rely on to make me relaxed and calm when I compete in Constant Weight.
I checked into the competition area and began some of my dry breath holds and relaxation breathing. All of my dry breaths were off my normal and felt a little uncomfortable and agitated. Sometimes I have days where it takes me a little longer to get into static mode, and therefore I do a couple more dry holds.
It was time to enter the water for my warm up holds. I did my normal warm up holds (First contraction + 30 seconds, First contraction + 45 seconds, First contraction + 1 minute. Each time the first contraction coming later). I was still struggling to relax and my contractions were coming a little earlier then they would usually. After my warm up holds I moved to a transition area of the pool next to the competition zone. I had about five minutes before my official top to breathe up and try to relax. I was nervous, and could feel my heart beating much harder then usual, as if I had gone into fight or flight mode, which is not ideal for freediving. I was just hoping that when I roll over to hold my breath I would calm down.
Emma: I’m holding my breath, just listening! How did it go?
Carl Atkinson: It was the last seconds of the count down to my official top, I took my final few breaths and then it was time…
The moment I rolled over I felt terrible, not like I had ever felt in a static before. My heart was pounding so hard it felt as though I could feel the shock waves throughout my body. I tried to think relaxing thoughts and hoped that after a minute of breath holding my body and mind would fall into a better place and my heart beat would become softer and calmer. It didn’t. I continued to feel awful, as if my body wanted to do anything other then hold its breath. For a moment I genuinely considered just pulling up and walking straight off to my hotel room, but knew for every five seconds I could draw this out it was another point and I would have to battle on.
So I fought through some of hardest contractions I have ever felt for longer then I have ever gone through contractions before.
I managed about 5 minutes. Way off my personal best or what I had been doing in training, yet it felt harder and more pushed then any static I had done before. but I completed surface protocol and managed to get some points on the table.
Emma: It’s amazing how differently we can perform under competition conditions. What about Tim and Adam, How did they do?
Carl Atkinson: Tim’s official time was similar to mine – he put in a solid 5:46 min performance giving us a good amount of points. This was not what he had original hoped for coming into the competition, but another AIDA World Championship white card and points nonetheless.
Adam announced a bigger time meaning he would compete later. After his red card in Constant weight I got the impression from him that he was coming into static with an “all in” attitude and was going to go big.
He rolled over for his static, looking strong at 4 minutes, then by 5 minutes you could begin to see contractions. These contractions were increasing in size and frequency quickly, quicker then he had in training. by 6:30 mins he was battling strong contractions. Shortly after seven minutes he surfaced taking one stuttered unclean breath in, then another. his coach shouting “nose clip, nose clip” His head was dropping and you could see he was struggling to stay conscious. Then unfortunately his face re-submerged and the safety divers had to grab him. It was a red card.
Emma: Oh no! But you all still had Dynamic to go. What happened there?
Carl Atkinson: We had a one day gap between static and dynamic, this would be my only day to train – and my first time training in a 50 metre pool. Rest however plays a big part in dynamic I find, so this session had to be fairly low intensity and more a case of scoping the ground and trying to get used to a 50 metre pool and how it feels.
I did a couple of 100 metre dives with a turn at the end to get used to turning at both ends of the pool. The dive felt uncomfortable, my chest tight and my legs aching which didn’t fill me with much confidence. I put it down to tiredness as it had been an intense few weeks preparing for the AIDA World Championships so I decided to just relax and rest as best I could.
Emma: It can be incredibly tiring, especially if you are training and competing in a new discipline.
Carl Atkinson: Yes, this was my first year in training for this discipline. In the UK I had steadily been stepping it up with dynamic and had managed a few dives to over 150 metres in a 25 metre pool, so I hoped to manage this on the day.
On the morning of the competition day I still had a tight feeling chest and generally felt run down. But I had to try and not let that get in my way. I hoped that once I did my warm up stretches and dry holds I would get into gear and start feeling better.
I arrived at the competition zone and tried to find a space for me to stretch and do my co2 table. I usually like to find a quiet secluded place to warm up and do my dry holds and can feel fairly uncomfortable when there are too many people and sounds going on around me, but this proved almost impossible as there were many athletes around, dives currently taking place with supporters cheering and generally quite a hustle and bustle feel. This was a big element of the competition that I found challenging.
Emma: So, talk us through the actual dive..
Carl Atkinson:Five minutes before my official top I was by the poolside at the end of my designated lane waiting to get in the water. I could feel the nerves rising, I tried to ignore them by concentrating on my breathing. Much like on the static day I could feel my heart pounding, not particularly fast, but hard, way harder then I usually experience before a dive. I know this was the nerves.
I was in one of three lanes with two other athletes breathing up next to me. This was new to me and I had never done a dynamic at the same time as anyone else before and had not really learned to ignore and zone out from the other athletes and general going on around the pool.
It was Official Top and I was taking my last breath in, then pushed off the wall. I did not feel normal, right at the start I felt uncomfortable, like I wanted to come up straight away. I felt that burn you feel from excessive co2 build up after a long training session, but right at the start of the dive. My quads were burning and a general feeling of having no power in the legs whatsoever. My turn at 100 metres felt way more effort then ever before and I was burning all over, as if I had swam the last 100 metres without any glide between strokes and just solidly pumping my legs flat out.
I had strong contractions at this point and was for some reason lacking that mental state I sometimes have to control and persevere through the contractions. I was conscious that I wanted to make sure I got a white card and therefore had a clean sheet over the competition. I was also very conscious that I had never to date surfaced on a swimming pool rope before.
I surfaced at 130 metres, wrapped my arms firmly round the rope which was actually a lot more solid then I had anticipated, and completed my surface protocol cleanly. I was far from my better performances, but a clean dive none the less.