Despite all my good intentions to actually swim through winter this year, I’d not actually been in the Bay since December 28th. No real good reason – the Bay has been unusually warm through winter this year so cold was never really a factor, just the usual impediments tossed up by life masquerading as excuses.
This past Saturday however the weather in San Francisco was gorgeous, and I’d heard reports from others that the Bay was up to 55F (which is my threshold for not having any anxiety about getting in when I haven’t been swimming cold water regularly), so I popped down to the South End to grab a quick swim.
Winter? Not in San Francisco…
On the way down I noticed a lack of swimmers in Aquatic Park, which was unusual given the amazing conditions, turns out it was the annual SERC St Patrick’s Day luncheon so the club was packed with people decidedly not swimming. The shower/sauna in the Men’s locker room was also still out of action due to retiling, though the Dolphin Club has kindly offered theirs up for use, so having got instructions on the directions/etiquette of using the DC facilities I got changed and headed out into the Bay.
Since this was my first swim in a while, I only intended to do a single cove and then see how I felt, possibly extending to a mile. Before I was even half way around I knew I was in for a double, the water was crazily warm for this time of the year. Roughly 52 minutes and 1.6 miles or so later I got out a very happy man.
At a very gross level, the two barriers for succeeding in a long swim are the ability to swim the distance, and the ability to tolerate the environmental conditions (principally cold, but also swell, chop, salt water, fauna). The first can be reasonably trained for in a pool, but really the only way to know if you can survive a cold ocean swim is to swim in a cold ocean.
My previous long swims (Rottnest, C3) have taken place in water that was ~70F, and the experience of those swims has taught me that I am perfectly comfortable at that temperature. I’ve booked a boat for a Catalina Channel swim on August 16th, a swim that is both longer (21 miles vs. 12 miles) and colder (60F-70F) than anything that I have done before. The distance I am not worried about, it is simply a matter of knuckling down and putting the weekly miles in, but the cooler temperatures is something I don’t know how specifically I’ll react to.
In the 4 years I’ve been swimming in the bay I have done many swims in the temperature range of 50F-60F which is colder than Catalina, but they have all been shorter swims (1/2 hour to 2 hours) which don’t really translate into the kind of steady state tolerance that I will need.
The good news is that my booking is for the warmest part of the year with water temperatures averaging in the high 60′s, the bad news is that if I am unlucky the water temperatures could still dip into the low 60′s, and the last few miles are typically a few degrees colder due to a cold upwelling as you approach the coast.
So a big part of my training between now and August will be to get in as much time in Aquatic Park as I can. The water temperatures will be cooler, but my thinking is if I can crank out a 6-8 hour set in the chillier Aquatic Park then I should be set for Catalina (at least temperature wise).