This morning I got up at 4.30am. This isn’t a normal thing for me, I like sleep, been a fan of it for years and you really don’t want to know me if I haven’t had my 8 hours. So what on earth possessed me to get up at a time that I’ve previously declared only exists in the pm? Simple: exercise.
More specifically, exercising in August, in the Sinai Desert. The temperature at the moment is hitting around the low forties and trying to do much more than hide in the shade or get in the water is not pleasant. I love the heat, I’ve always struggled my way through winter wrapped up in as many layers as I can find so 40+ degrees suits me fine. Until I have to increase my fitness level. Obviously to do the kind of extreme diving I’m doing I need to be very fit. Lucky for me, I’ve always been fairly slim and actually enjoy most forms of exercise. Swimming in this heat is a delight especially with sea temps hitting around 28 degrees. But I’m trying to mix it up a bit and I’ve loved cycling for years. Up until around the end of May my ‘Tour de Dahab’ was bearable to go out during the day but now the heat makes it impossible to stay hydrated enough. So that leaves me with two choices; one, don’t go out; or two, go only at the coolest time of the day.
One of the issues with deep diving is the long decompression stops involved. This is different for everybody, as everyone’s physiology varies. For most people the standard ‘tables’ we use to calculate our required deco are enough, others need to allow extra time. One of the many things that effects deco time is the amount of fatty tissues on your body. Generally women have more than men. Before I get lots of angry comments I’m not saying we’re fat, just that our body composition is different. Sorry ladies- fact of life. We can, however, give ourselves a helping hand (and this applies to men too of course) by keeping our fat levels at a minimum. This most certainly doesn’t mean starving ourselves, we need the energy to be able to undertake a long dive, but it does mean a bit of exercise now and then won’t harm us. A big part of my training for this record attempt involves my fitness regime and diet. Not a weight loss diet, if anything I will put weight on, but a low fat, low cholesterol diet. Anything that is going to help put my heart under less stress and help my tissues ‘off gas’ (decompress) will make the likelihood of success higher.
I also have another reason why I’m up and out on my bike at stupid o’clock. And again, it’s because of diving. But this time, it’s my everyday work. I teach or guide divers most days and those of you who dive will have learnt that it’s not good for you to go to the gym after diving, as the increased metabolic rate will force the nitrogen in your system to make its way around your body perhaps faster than it can deal with, causing decompression sickness (DCS). It also creates micro tears in your muscle tissue which are places bubbles can grow and if they get too big they too can cause DCS.
That means no exercise immediately before or for a good few hours after a dive. 4.30am is normally a nice long time after my last afternoon dive (unless I’ve done a night dive, in which case I’ll skip the cycle ride), long enough to have off-gassed to safe enough levels.
If I’m deco diving, I may have to skip all exercise until I’ve finished the series of dives; the deeper and longer the dives, the longer I will wait. Same goes if I’ve done more than two recreational dives in a day, or if they’ve been particularly strenuous.
So I have lots of excuses to skip my morning ride, swim or yoga session. Luckily I have one large motivator: my life. The dive I am planning is potentially lethal if I don’t have the fitness level necessary.
And if that isn’t going to get me out of bed in the morning, I don’t know what will!