Every year in San Francisco there is a running event from downtown to Ocean Beach, called the Bay To Breakers, as races go it is known more for the crazy costumes and revelry than serious athletic endeavor, but it is one of the major events on the San Francisco calendar. I’ve never run the Bay to Breakers in the 15+ years I have lived here, but when I joined the South End Rowing Club back in 2010 I discovered their own version of the event, a swim from the Bay Bridge to Ocean Beach, and I knew I wanted to do that one day.
In the intervening years the barrier to accomplishing that goal has always been lack of confidence in my ability to handle the cold water of San Francisco Bay for the required amount of time. My longest Bay swims to date had been ~2 hours, but due to the unseasonably warm water we had in 2014 they were at around 60F or warmer. In contrast a Bay To Breakers swim was more likely to be in the mid 50’s and also closer to 3 hours.
The 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.
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.
After successfully completing the Rottnest Channel Swim in February I started looking for other swims to do this year; Rottnest was my “big” swim for the year, but I still wanted to look at doing something challenging to keep me focused on training through the summer.
After hearing good things about Swim the Suck last year it was quickly added to my calendar, however while it is only slightly shorter than Rottnest (10 miles versus 12 miles), as a current assisted river swim it is likely to be considerably easier than the Rottnest’s ocean conditions, so I was still hankering for something that would stretch me a little more.
The Boston Light Swim (BLS) was an interesting contender; it is a “shorter” swim at 8 miles but the typical water temperature for the swim is in the low 60’s and all of my long swims to date have been in the low 70’s, so training for a cooler swim would have been a great goal. The cutoff time (5 hours) is kind of tight for my speed, but after asking around on the Marathon Swimmers Forum (MSF) I was more confident I could make it and resolved to sign up for it. Unfortunately it turns out the BLS is extremely popular and has a very limited number of slots, it was booked out within 15 minutes of the registration link going live, so I was back to looking for a swim.
The MSF is a great resource for both hearing about and researching swims, and fellow forum member Jason Malick had posted on the MSF about a swim he was organizing for the first time this year, a 15 mile trip around Cape May (the tip of the Jersey Shore) that he’d dubbed the Cape Circumnavigation Challenge or C3 for short. Not long after I failed to get into BLS, Jason posted that there was only one slot left for C3 so I jumped on it.
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.
As I mentioned in Part I was lucky enough to be staying at Bondi Beach which was the starting location for the swim, and the swim start was at a very civilized time, so the normal pre-swim rush around was largely absent. Time enough for two breakfasts 🙂
Getting ready at the start
After days of beautiful blue skies and relatively calm seas we had overcast skies and decent size swells for the day of the swim. The water temperature was roughly in the 70F range so it was a decent day for swimming but somewhat miserable for the crews. It did end up raining intermittently during the swim, and the swells caused my brother to throw up half a dozen times (though thankfully I only found that out after the swim).
While the participation levels in open water swimming events may not (yet) rival those of a triathlon or marathon, they are clearly increasing, and that has generated a lot of discussion on what constitutes a “marathon” swim, and what would otherwise just be a long swim.
By adding the 10km open water event to the Olympics FINA has influenced that conversation, and the 10km distance is probably the shortest distance that anyone would give serious consideration to calling a “Marathon” swim.
After doing a bunch of shorter swims and relays in 2010 and 2011 I wanted to step it up notch, and do a “Marathon” swim, so taking the FINA definition I went looking for a swim. My main criteria were:
- Ocean Swim
- >70F water temperature
Lake swims still seem a little like cheating to me, and while I swim in the San Francisco Bay I was not confident of my ability to handle 4 hours in really cold water.
After a bit of searching I found the South Head Roughwater swim in Sydney.