Back to the Long(er) Sets

While I was training for the Rottnest Channel Swim this winter I spent a lot of time down at Burlingame Aquatic Center which is located at the Burlingame High School.

BAC has a fabulous outdoor 50m pool which is actually configured in the long course orientation most of the time (unlike USF). They also have a ~7 hour window open for lap swimming on Sundays making it pretty much the ideal spot for cranking out a long set.

During the summer break unfortunately this perfect setup is partially spoiled by a chunk of the pool getting dedicated to recreational swimmers, the net result of which is that I kind of fell out of the habit of doing my Sunday long sets.

School is thankfully back in session, and BAC is back to its normal schedule, so I finally got down there this weekend to crank out a long set. I deliberately set the bar fairly low (3 hours/9km) since it has been a while since I have done one of these and didn’t have my head back in it (long swims are psychological as well as physical).

When I started I had the lane to myself, but after a while I was joined by another swimmer. Something that completely drives me mad is when someone gets into your lane without letting you know. As I’d been by myself for 20 minutes I was swimming in the center of the lane, first thing I know about the new swimmer is when I nearly slam into him coming back down the pool. I think there is a body of swimmers who just assume you are circle swimming no matter what, which seems odd to me, but I have been wrong about pool etiquette before.

In any case we settled into the aforementioned circle swimming (despite only being two of us), and my lane mate at least proved polite enough to make way for me when I caught up with him.

I’ll often use the other swimmers around me as motivation, so in this case I decided I’d not take my first stop until at least he left the pool. This approach frees me from having to either clock watch or count laps and lets me zone out and have the time pass by. After ~50 minutes my lane companion got out, and I knocked out another few laps to bring my first interval to ~1h:20m and 4200m.

Because the pool seemed to be getting busier after my lane mate got out I just swam on one side of the lane, hopefully making it obvious to anyone else that they could split the lane with me. This still ended up with me colliding with the next swimmer getting in – Is it really that hard to watch someone for 2 minutes to see what pattern they are swimming?

The rest of the workout I just did 1km intervals (and a closeout 800m) to get to my 3 hour (and 9km) goal. Definitely slowed down on the latter intervals but overall my pace was on the 20m/km mark. Will try and target a 4 hour set next week.


Did a quadruple circumnavigation of Aquatic Park (aka “Quad Cove”) for this first time ever today: 3.34 miles in ~1h:57m. Not a long distance particularly, but the longest (distance/time) I have done in “cool” water (low 60’s). Hoping that this continued acclimation will carry on into winter and let me do at least an hour in “cold” (low 50’s) water.

Interesting contrast to last week’s Bay Bridge swim – roughly twice the time for only little over the same distance.

Quad Cove

Bay Bridge Swim

San Francisco Bay is home to some of the craziest tidal currents you will encounter anywhere, and generally increases the difficulty in both planning and executing swims in the Bay. Any cross current swims (e.g. Alcatraz to Aquatic Park) have to be carefully timed to prevent the swimmers swept out the gate or further into the bay. Even with favourable tides most swimmers will have to traverse anywhere from an extra 1/4 to 1/2 mile on an Alcatraz Swim.

For some swims though the tidal currents (when properly planned for) can be a boon to the swimmers, and make a very ordinary swimmer feel like Phelps or Thorpe as you rocket along assisted by the flow of the tide.

The Bay Bridge to Aquatic Park swim is one of those swims, and one of the most fun swims on the SERC calendar (in my opinion). The actual swim distance is around 3.25 miles, but the time taken for most swimmers is only a little longer than an Alcatraz crossing, and you get to sightsee along the San Francisco water front for the entire swim.

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