Swimming In Solitude - Entering A Different Dimension

Swimming In Solitude – Entering A Different Dimension

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Mauro Giaconia swam 101 km (62 miles) in 24 hours in an exhibition of endurance in the world’s largest pool for the opening of San Alfonso del Mar on the west coast of Chile, about 100 km west of Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city. He talked about his world record and his training with Jose Diaz of Nadandolibre (Free Swimming).

Mauro, who lost his sense of taste for nearly two months after swimming in the seawater of the San Alfonso del Mar pool. Mauro, a man who “likes defiant and extreme sports, even if they requires hours of solitude” was selected as Sportsman of the Year in Palermo, Sicily after his 24-hour exploit.

The 38-year-old Mauro found his niche in solo marathon swimming after trying everything from pool swimming and triathlon to boxing, cycling and windsurfing.

He is now a veteran of 12- and 24-hour marathon swims in pools in Austria, Italy and America, and in oceans from the Gulf from Palermo to the Strait of Gibraltar.

Nadandolibre: Can you explain the importance of training for long distance based on being efficient and balanced in the water?

Mauro: Technical training is fundamental whe training for long distance. My work is to promote and to perfect the technique of sliding. I try to make my body stable throughout and I try to feel the perfect arm strokes. I try to find the right tactile sensation by touching the water with my fingertips as they enter the water and immediately extend to slide my hands under the water.

Then my forearm as I feel the pressure on the palm of the hands and focus on the rhythm of a perfect stroke so it continues and can become natural. In addition to my technique, I believe bilateral breathing is very important, especially for people who swim in the sea for many hours. Every third stroke, I take a breath on either side so I do not verload either shoulder. But it is also important when there are waves or other open water conditions and to be able to see on both sides
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Nadandolibre (question from Club Natacion Cullera): What type of mental preparation is needed to achieve your goals?

Mauro: Mental force is essential in long-distance swimming where much care must be taken, but it is difficult to explain. Many people ask me what I think about while swimming for 24 hours, as if was difficult to swim and to think at the same time. In reality, I have that to say that even after so many years, it is difficult for me to explain in words what I think and I feel during my swims. After swimming for a few hours, I have a perception that is distorted of what happens during that time and in the place I enter. It is a different dimension where all the thoughts proceed very slowly. Obviously, during my marathon swims, there are moments of crisis, but I always try to look beyond. I am only with myself. I do not interact with the outside world and, subsequently, my thoughts grow in an exponential way, even if my eyes only see blue water for 24 hours.

We have to learn the best way to stimulate ourselves with some thoughts: our decision to achieve our objectives and our persistence to become more competitive, but above all self-control and a feeling of optimism with a strong capacity for adapting, improvising and a high tolerance for pain. We resist and continue swimming toward our goal like before.

On the other hand, is our choice [to do a marathon swim]. We are lucky to be able to do it and this thought always carries me. Because the truth is that there is no way to to real training to swim 101K or for 24 hours. As with all endurance sports, it is your head that helps you to not even think about our muscles and nerves that are suffering and want you to quit. In a critical situation, you develop the capacity to ignore or eliminate forces of an interminable source with your mind. You have the capability to achieve the insurmountable obstacles while you suffer with your only objective to surpass all opponents.

Nadandolibre (question from Antonio Madirnan): What marathon swim has surprised you regarding what your body can bear? Where are your limits?

Mauro: I believe you have to go where your emotions carry you. Your desire and curiosity to go beyond your limits and to live adventures that enrich you as a man and then as an athlete.

This limit is an interesting theme that I often think. Until it achieve it, I cannot know what my limit is. I swam 101K in Chile, but because of the salinity of the water, there was a limit of 24 hours. But, I have not reached my limit. I still must discover where this is. We will see in the next challenge, but it is more difficult to organize that to swim.


Nevertheless, if 24-hour experience in Chile was, in terms of kilometers, my most exhausting swim. In other challenges, I learned how to bear the extreme conditions. For example, in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a swim that I did without a wetsuit, the water temperature was 17°-18°C. In another swim in Iberia, I lost my luggage and had to buy my wetsuit, goggles and food just before my swim. It was terrible psychologically, but I was very motivated and this is an example of how your mind can carry you beyond what is in your arms. This was an unforgettable experience because of my extreme incredible emotions. During my first solo crossing of 40K in Lipari (Islas Eólicas) in the Capo D’Orlandoe, I swam without GPS in the fog without knowing if I was swimming in the right direction, an adventure that was truly shared with my friends who support my insanities.

Nadandolibre (question from Carolina Fernandez): How many hours do you train every day?

Mauro: My answer will seem incredible, but I do not train more than 2 hours every day, and not always every day due to my work and family. It is not easy to have so much time, but I do long training once per month, training specifically for this sport. It is tedious and very difficult and I need strong motivation to train this way. During the year, I participate in the 12- and 24-hour swims that are held in Europe (in pools of 25- or 50 meters), utilizing these challenges like training for my extreme marathons in the sea.

Nadandolibre (question from Joao Pedro Gloria): What is the best position for drafting – on the side or behind?

Mauro: During competition, is very important to know you are in the wake and to be in the right position. If the swimmer in front does not have a continuous kick, I prefer to swim behind. But, if the swimmer in front has a kick, it can be annoying and I prefer to draft very closely on the side, but I avoid the wake that is not beneficial. Be careful, there are two strategies to find the wake of the swimmer in front: the first one is where you can touch the feet of your opponent to signify that you are there. Secondly, you cannot touch the feet and do not provide information to your opponents.

Nadandolibre (question from Javier Enrique): What is the difference between swimming without a wetsuit and swimming with a wetsuit?

Mauro: To swim efficiently with the neoprene, you should be experienced because the buoyancy is different, and therefore, so is the balance of your body. In the first moment, a wetsuit will seem beneficial since its keeps out the cold and, for the better wetsuits, provides buoyancy. After many hours and kilometers, when you have less power and energy, each arm stroke in a wetsuit will require more effort. There is also chaffing. You should maintain a constant body weight to use your wetsuit so it can fit like a glove.

Nadandolibre (question from Sandra Vicente): How do you stay hydrated and how do you eat during your marathon swims?

Mauro: Along with technique, feeding is fundamental in these long-distance competitions. We have to learn how to do it efficiently. There is no need to experiment with different kinds of foods and liquids because it might endanger the success of the swim. I have food (my sponsors are EthicSport) on average once per hour while I always remain in the water. I hydrate with a mixture of carbohydrates, liquid, mineral, honey and a lot of coffee. Sometimes, I take more solid foods. But each one of us has our own needs and is always important to test the food during your training and not to experiment during your challenges. Before all my swims, I eat rice with butter and potatos and a lot of parmiggiano. It is great and also my ritual that I invite everyone to try.

Nadandolibre (question from Daniel Leiva Posadas): When you train more than 12,000 meters, do you do interval training or one continuous three-hour training session at a constant speed?

Mauro: Keep in mind that I almost never train for more than two hours. In training, it is important to improve your speed and power and at least once per month, to go for a long swim with certain exercises. I prefer to swim at any rate during the long swims which are mostly used for mental preparation doing 2-3 hours without stopping – this is my ideal training.

Nadandolibre (question from Daniel Leiva Posadas): Do you recommend to train for 2-3 weeks and then recover as you approach your swim?

Mauro: It is clear that hard training loads and recovery are important. For me, after two weeks of hard training, then I recover. Perhaps, if I do it an ultra-marathon or a competition that does not require a fast start, I do not enter the water for at least three days before to recuperate and to pyschologically prepare by developing the desire to swim again.

Nadandolibre (question from Cristian Moya): What are the longest and fastest training swims you have done?

Mauro: The training that I remember include 200 meters of warm-up and then one 15,000-meter swim. The shortest training I did was 500 meters before a swim. My personal best in the 50 meters is 28.5.

Nadandolibre: What is your next challenge?

Mauro: My next challenge? A two-way crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, but there are so many places to swim in the world. But it is difficult to organize, especially in Italy. In February, I have a 12-hour swim in Zurigo, in July, a marathon swim in Italy. I have a solo swim in mind for this summer, but it is still too early to speak of it. I want to cross the English Channel where I have a reserved spot in August, 2011.

Nadandolibre: How hard should you kick instead of doing a six-beat kick?

Mauro: Keep in mind that in the long-distance swims, your legs only serve to stabilize you and to maintain balance, so I prefer to use my arms. I can use my legs alone to sprint at the end.

Nadandolibre (question from Professor Jorge Daher): How do you prevent hypothermia in swims between 5K and 10K?

Mauro: Keep in mind that I start to warm-up after 5K, especially the 5K fast competitions. For the cold, practice is required and training in cold water itself cannot be avoided. Nutrition helps (hot tea with honey), but a good amount of tenacity is needed and power.

Nadandolibre (question from Marcelo Muzyka): In ultra-marathon runs on land, you run almost to exhaustion and then you slow down and let it pass. But in the water, how do you handle this?

Mauro: In the sea, as opposed to what happens on the land, anything can occur. The sea with large waves, and to have queasiness, you feel sick, vomitings and dizziness. This takes practice and to have good knowledge and respect for the open water. For me, for example, it happened in Florida during the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim where I fought against the waves. I could not see my escort boat that was next to me. I had to retire, dazed like after a bout of boxing.

Nadandolibre (question from Tiago Lobo): What type of weight-training do you do to prepare?

Mauro: Even in marathon swimming, I do certain resistance training in the gym to development strength. Such circuits are utilized for the cardiovascular conditioning and overall strength training. Combining aerobic exercise with free weights is done throughout the year to prepare. Specific work can strengthen and/or recover the shoulders against your own body weight or using light weights with cables and through isometric exercises with two sessions to the week.

I expect that these experiences, and for all those who want to do this sport, I have returned to my freestyle lifestyle filled with passion, sacrifice and, above all, variety that can share with the ones who I love, like my Cinzia who is always near me, in all my adventures.

The water is really the element where I feel more alive; a fish out of the water is a phrase that explains a little about me. Thus I leave the water… happy and never totally dry
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