Boston Light Swim 2014

BLS-front_4-colorThe Boston Light Swim is an eight mile swim in Boston Harbor, from the Boston Light (a light house) in to shore of South Boston. I first heard about the swim last year on the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and after a brief discussion with the Race Director to determine if I could make the cutoff (I am not the world’s fastest swimmer), I had resolved to sign up for it. The event is kept small to ensure safety and has become increasingly popular over the years, last year it sold out within minutes of registration opening and thus I missed out on it and did C3 instead.

This year the event switched to a lottery system for and I managed to secure an entry, the day of the event was three weeks before my scheduled Catalina swim, however I figured it would be a fun way to start the tapering process. As it turns out, Catalina was not to be this year, so I was very glad I had the BLS in the line up to look forward to.

I did try to organize an escort boat through friends of friends, but ultimately ended up with one arranged by the swim organizers; in retrospect this was probably better as the skipper was experienced in escorting swimmers on this course. As a swimmer I always appreciate an experienced pilot, it makes establishing the needed trust so you can just stop worrying about what they are doing and focus on swimming so much easier.

Serendipitously a good friend of mine was going to be in Massachusetts the weekend of the swim, and she was able to convince her niece to join her in crewing for me. It was definitely a bonus to have some friendly faces on the boat.

In the weeks leading up to the swim, the race director Greg O’Connor (who I met at C3 last year) had been letting all the swimmers know via email and the event Facebook page that the water temperatures were lower than expected. I’d been mentally prepared for a low 60’s swim (which is apparently typical for the event) and had done a few two hour swims at that temperature and found it to be comfortable. The news that the water may in fact be in the 50’s for the whole swim was a source of concern for me; the longest swim I’d done in sub 60F water was only 1h 40m, and I was definitely getting cold by the end of that.

However not having any control over the temperature I resolved not to worry about it; I figured at worst case if I DNF’d due to the cold, I’d at least learn what my limits where with respect to cold water :)

The night before the swim there is a briefing at the L Street Bathhouse which is the finish point of the course, and a pasta dinner down the road at the Boston Harbor Yacht club, which is where would all be departing from the following morning. Because the swim is small enough there was time at the dinner for all the participants to introduce themselves and talk about some of their past swims – I guess I should be used to it by now but it is still a little daunting to be in a room full of people who have swum the English Channel, Catalina, MIMS or all three.

The morning of the swim my crew and I grabbed some food at a local Dunkin Donuts at an ungodly hour and headed to the Yacht club for the registration and to load up on our pilot boat. We were then off for the roughly 40 minute trip out to the start of the race, the Boston Light itself. The lighthouse was undergoing repairs and so was surrounded by scaffolding, but it was still beautiful to be on the water early in the morning.

The start of the race was announced with a loud horn and I jumped into the water. The water was definitely cool, probably around 57-58F but certainly not bad in the short term. My hope at that point was that it would warm up as we got closer in, and certainly the expected warm weather would help.

42 Minutes in with lots of company

42 Minutes in with lots of company

Boston Harbor is actually pretty crowded with various islands, so the swim course wends it way along and around various of these, the swim is not really a straight line, but as a result there is a lot more scenery than your typical ocean swim. The different landmarks along the swim served also as natural mile markers, allowing a good sense of progress throughout the swim.

The start of the swim is timed to maximize the assistance of the incoming tide, and the first couple miles definitely flew by. Around mile 3 (before the bridge that marks the rough halfway point) there was a lot of chop, and much as in the C3 swim last year I was grateful for the time I had spent swimming in similar conditions in Aquatic Park. After the bridge though things calmed down and the conditions were pretty decent for the rest of the swim.

My crew had definitely taken all the warnings about hypothermia to heart and were quizzing me at each feed to make sure I was all there, but the water temp seemed to warm up a degree every mile, and there was plenty of sunshine, so there was never any danger of it on the day; contrary to the warnings the night before no one ended up being pulled for hypothermia.

My pilot did a great job, there were times where he had to take a slightly different course to me because of the draft of his boat, but he did a great job in explaining when that needed to happen and where I should go. Right at the end of the swim I think I may have added on a little “extra credit” by mistakenly taking a route through some moored boats that my pilot couldn’t follow (my GPS read 8.44 miles at the end), but we sorted it out and I finished with an official time of 4h3m which was pretty dead on for what I had guessed the swim would take me prior.

I thought it was supposed to be cold?

I thought it was supposed to be cold? Photo by Thomas Mikkelsen

Given the small number of swimmers in the event I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to see other support boats the entire swim. Three other soloists and two relays finished in the ten minutes before me, out of a field of 29 total (soloists and relays) over 4 hours that is a very tight grouping.

Numbers are the 1/2 mile auto lap markers

Numbers are the 1/2 mile auto lap markers

After watching the remaining swimmers finish and chatting, I headed back to the hotel for a nap, and then out to dinner. There were a number of restaurant recommendations on the swim web site, so picked a gastro pub place that seemed interesting. The pub had a deal with a shuttle service for pick ups and drop offs, so took advantage of that. While chatting with the driver I discovered he not only knew of the swim, he was a mate of my pilot! Small world, but also reinforces the community involvement aspect that this swim has.

Perfect way to celebrate a successful swim

Perfect way to celebrate a successful swim at Local 149

This was a really fun swim, well organized, scenic and with great people, highly recommended!

A Change of Plans

After some careful consideration I’ve decided to not try for Catalina this year.

At this point I have not trained enough, having only swum some 207 miles so far this year, and with only one 2 hour open water swim my cold water preparation is nowhere near adequate for someone as untested as I am. This has been due to a combination of work, personal travel, illnesses and all the other usual excuses, but the simple fact of the matter was that I did not sufficiently prioritize training. Andrew Malinak has a great post on training for a marathon swimming on his blog that I think sums up the most important lesson learned this year – train harder.

I still have the Boston Light Swim queued up for the end of July, but I think I am in decent shape for that, however it is a little disappointing to not to extend myself significantly on the marathon swimming front this year. I may look at organizing an Anacapa Island swim if I can sort the logistics out, which would at least get a long cold water swim under my belt, but even for that I need to up my time spent in the Bay.

I don’t think I truly realized the magnitude of training that is required for Catalina at the start of the year. But having seen a friend train for the English Channel and the volume of hard work he has been putting in, I was clearly off the mark. Still a good learning experience, and the 2015 season is not that far away – so plenty of motivation to keep my training up.

A Lost Week

The week I was in Illinois for work I managed to squeeze a little over 10 miles in three sessions in at the Recplex including one on Thursday morning. I overheard a couple of folk talking about cameras while getting changed after the Thursday morning session, turns out the day before two people had been arrested for setting up hidden cameras in the women’s locker room at the facility! Bizarre stuff!

When I got back from the trip I managed another hour in the Bay on Friday before work intervened and made swimming impossible for that weekend and the rest of the following week. I did manage to get two triple coves in over this past weekend, so my two week total was pretty much only equal to my goal for one week :(

We don’t always control our schedules, so yet another important reminder to swim whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Given the inaccuracy of goal setting so far, picking something more achievable: Swim as much as possible!

Swimming with Friends

A SERC member who I also swim Masters with convinced me to join a group of swimmers down at the club early on Saturday morning. I’m not a morning person and generally only make exceptions for special occasions, but since I really needed to break the one hour barrier in the Bay I duly set my alarm and was down at the club first thing in the morning.

It ended up that another swimmer in the group and I were a pretty good match for pace so stayed together for almost the whole time I was in. The great thing about swimming with someone else was that it allowed me to push myself further without worrying that I was putting myself at risk. When I started getting the claw after an hour I elected to keep swimming and see how well I could handle it, and because the other swimmer was trying for two hours I was encouraged to stay out there as long as I could.

It looks a lot warmer than it is...

It looks a lot warmer than it is…

In the end I did three inside-outsides and kind of an abbreviated cove for around 1h 40m in the bay, and was fine when I got out and into the showers. The experience taught me that getting the claw was not the red flag that I’d perhaps been treating it as.

On Sunday I went down again with the intention of doing three coves with a friend, who unfortunately was unable to make it due to the parking/traffic issues associated with a half marathon that was being run in the area. With my new found confidence from the previous days swim I was able to crank the three coves out, though again definitely clawing up on the last one. 1h 20m in the water, may have to start wearing a watch as I would have probably tacked a flag on the end of the set to make sure I was over 90 minutes.

Pool swimming was interrupted by work on Monday/Tuesday but I managed to catch up with a long set on Wednesday and am happy to have broken 15 miles (~10 pool, ~5 Bay) for the week, though only managed 3 of the 4 hours I’d originally planned for the Bay.

Next week in Illinois for work, but staying up in Wisconsin to be near the Recplex, so hoping I can get 10 miles in the pool again, and try for another 5 or so in the Bay on the weekend.

A mile a day…

This week I finally managed to reach the 1 mile per day metric with 89+ miles swum in the 89 days so far this year. If I am to be successful with the Catalina swim this year I need an awful lot more swimming than that, but nice to have caught up somewhat on a fairly slow start to the year.

Weekly totals were a bit short of my goal with 13.5 miles swum and only a couple of hours in the bay. If I’d managed to get in the water Friday (which was actually a gorgeous warm and sunny day) I’d have hit my goals, but really put off swimming for no good reason, and instead had a cold and grey day for my first bay swim of the week. A good lesson in getting in Bay swimming whenever the opportunity arises and not letting small things get in the way.

I had wanted to try for a triple cove this weekend, but the water on Saturday seemed a lot colder than last weekend and I was developing the start of a claw on the second lap so pulled out after completing it. I must confess the swim spooked me a little so I was much more conservative on Sunday and did a single cove, then just messed around, but ended up with a similar amount of time in the water and felt much more comfortable. The flag buoy thermometers has gone missing which is the one that gets most often checked so didn’t get a temp report for Saturday, on the Sunday swim I stopped by the thermometer on the Balcutha and saw that it was 56F.

I am thinking that I will need to start substituting a Bay swim for Masters training at least once or twice a week in order to get more Bay time in, so goal for next week is still 15 miles but 4 hours of Bay time.

My right arm and weekly training

In Illinois this past week for work, finally managed to make it to the Recplex across the border in Wisconsin on this trip and got some swimming in.

I’d previously emailed the coach of the local Masters group and got permission to join them for a practice, most of the sessions are very early in the morning (5:15am) but they do have a practice in the afternoon on Tuesday’s so on my first visit to the Recplex I joined that session.

The afternoon session is lightly attended (I was one of four swimmers), but it did mean that the coach was able to individually tailor the workout to the different speeds of the swimmers, so got a decent swim in of ~2,500 yards in and backed it up with another 2,000 yards by myself.

The coach pointed out that I was entering the water early on my right arm, which may finally have identified the mysterious difference between my left and right arms that is causing my right shoulder problems. It definitely makes sense in that I had previously noticed that I would see my right hand more often than my left, but had previously attributed it to head position, cross over etcetera and never connected to the much more obvious (in retrospect) early entry issue. I am definitely focusing on that for the moment at least and will see if it clears up my right shoulder aggravation.

Came back to the Recplex the next night and cranked out the very imaginative workout of swim for an hour, rest a minute, then repeat. Getting in ~7k yards. Definitely a nice pool, will consider staying closer to it next time I am back that way to see if I can get a morning session (or two) in.

With a Masters session at USF on Friday and another hour in the bay on Sunday managed another 11 miles. Not terrible for a travel week and sorting out a new pool but have to step it up moving forward.

Goal for this week is 15 miles and at least 3 hours in the bay.

Boston Light Swim and Weekly Training

The Boston Light Swim came on my radar last year as an interesting swim to get my feet wet (so to speak) with longer cooler water swims with water temps in the high 50’s to low 60’s (i.e. pretty much standard San Francisco Bay temperatures during summer). The swim sold out last year in 9 minutes (there are only 20 spots for solo swimmers) so I ended up doing C3 instead.

This year the organizers switched to a lottery system for entries, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring, despite having already committed to swim Catalina three weeks after BLS. I figure it will be a fun warm up for Catalina and a good test of dealing with cooler water (though I plan to have done longer swims in the bay by then).

On Friday I got the email that I’d been one of the lucky ones to get a spot, so excited to have this on my swim calendar for the year.

Managed to get in 16,500 yards in the pool this week and an hour in the Bay for a total of 11 miles. Short of the 15 miles I was aiming for, so am thinking I will have to start pushing my pool sets from 4,000 to 6,000 yards to make sure I get a good base in each week.

Off to Illinois for work this week. Have identified a pool to swim in, the challenge will be that my best opportunity to get to it will likely be the morning sessions, and I have never been an early riser, something I think will have to change if I am to ever hit the ~20 miles a week I’ll need to be doing by June.