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 ūüė¶

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.

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.

Back in the Bay and Catalina thoughts

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...

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).

Another long set and some lessons learned

With the C3 swim fast approaching I’ve really needed to increase my weekly swimming distance. For Rottnest I was getting in 20-25km a week, and this past summer it has been any where from 0 to 15km.¬† The last two weeks I’ve managed get in a little over 20km each week by adding in a long workout at BAC on Sunday.¬†As per my last post¬†in¬†the previous week I knocked out a 9km/3hour workout, and this week I managed a 12km/4hour workout.

While doing the long sets I’ve noticed that after about two hours my shoulders start to hurt, and my speed definitely decreases over the duration of the workout. I was¬†able to counteract the pain in my shoulders somewhat on this last workout by concentrating on ‘toning’ (as my coach would say)¬† my butt and core and working on initiating the stroke from my hips.

This tends to suggest that I have a tendency to overuse my shoulders/arms, and it is only when they start to hurt that I notice and am able to actively counteract that tendency.

Definitely the goal for this week during my shorter Masters workouts is try and deemphasize the shoulders from the start (though on the faster intervals it sometime tricky to do anything except concentrate on making the time), and see if I can carry that through to next Sunday’s long set.

One of things I do like about pool workouts versus open water is that sometimes there will be someone either in my lane or the lane over who is near my speed. If my set synchronizes with theirs, then there is a great opportunity to play with technique, as you can then immediately see the impact of small changes on your speed as your position changes relative to theirs.

This past Sunday I had a great opportunity when a guy in the lane over was going a hair faster than me and pushed off the wall at the same time. I managed to pace him for at least 500m (before my 30 minute set break), having to really work at my technique to keep up (I was at the 10km or so mark in the workout so really didn’t have the energy to just power through).

What that set showed me is that I am definitely lazy with my body position when I don’t have an external stimulus (like a pace swimmer). I was able to keep up better when I dropped my head somewhat and increased the ‘tone’ in my core – getting a more horizontal position in the water, and also being a little more aggressive with my kicking.

The level of physical effort involved in keeping up with this other swimmer was not excessive (I considered not stopping at my 30minute break just to take advantage of the opportunity more), but there is definitely a mental effort to keep everything right when there is no visible feedback.

While preventing shoulder pain is my top priority from a technique perspective, there were some pointers this week on how I can ultimately improve my speed.





Breaking through the cold barrier

I’ve been swimming in San Francisco Bay for three years now, waters that are not known for being “tropical” in temperature, so my idea idea of “cold” is somewhat different to what it was when I was living back in Australia.

That said I do feel that many of the swims I would like to do are currently not possible because of my cold water tolerance РI would not be confident of doing 4 hours at 60F for example, which is a temperature that is considered ideal by many marathon swimmers.

The bulk of my swimming in the Bay has been a single circuit of Aquatic Park which takes me 30 minutes – depending on the tide and how much I muck about with goggles and sightseeing. In my first winter of swimming in the Bay I was able to manage to make it through the entire winter doing these single coves, swimming in temperatures around 50F/10C without too much difficulty – I did have one scare swimming on my birthday when I thought I might not be able to make it back to the club so go out short, but I think that was mostly psychological.

The short jaunts in the water that I have been doing I think have served to acclimate me to the idea of cold water, but not the reality of extended swims. The only way to really get used to swimming for a long time in cold water is (not surprisingly) swim for a long time in cold water.

So to break through the cold barrier and become a “proper” marathon swimmer I’m focusing this summer on bumping up my cold water mileage, firstly by not allowing myself to do anything less than two coves (~1 hour) when I do get in the Bay (which also has the benefit of getting a better workout in) and secondly by making a determined effort to increase that number.

So far I am a month into this program and have 8 double coves and 3 triple coves under my belt. I actually felt so good on my first triple cove that I was up for a fourth but discovered that I start to chafe in the Bay after 90 minutes.

If I ever manage to exceed four coves I will need to start putting out feeds, but for anything up to 2 hours of swimming I’m confident I can handle without hydration or calorie intake.

I fully expect that come winter I will have to cut back on this resolution, but I would like to hold to hour long swims for as long as I can (e.g. at least below 55F) and see how far I can take the longer swims. We’ve had some deliciously warm (for San Francisco) waters lately, and I am hoping that it means we will have low 60’s all the way through September.

Back in the (Masters) Pool

For the first 18 months of so of my swimming training I pretty much trained alone, almost exclusively in hotel pools. This was brought about both by my travel schedule for work, and being somewhat intimidated by the concept of a Masters workout. I’d never swum competitively¬†growing up, so the whole swim workout was a bit of a mystery to me, as was basic things like lane etiquette etcetera.

In 2011 I managed to get a block of time where I was not travelling for work every week, cast around for some recommendations and overcame my fears and signed up for the masters swim team at the University of San Francisco.

The paperwork around signing up and trying out had all sorts of things about needing to be able to do all four competitive strokes (I can’t swim butterfly to save my life), and all sorts of dire warnings about needing to show up to training all the time, so I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing.

As it turns out, the coach Val is a lot more relaxed than the literature had indicated, at my tryout he watched me swim a few lengths, was not fazed when I said I couldn’t do butterfly.

I got great use out of swimming at USF, often getting in 4-5 sessions a week, and tacking on extra yardage after training. I did my first 10km swim in that pool (while it was configured as SCY!), then in 2012 I ended up back on the road for work and let my membership lapse.

A couple of weeks ago I ended up paying the drop in fee at USF to get a Friday evening workout in Рwork had interfered with getting training in during the week and I was jonesing for a swimming fix. I ran into Val at the pool and his welcome made me re-sign up for the Masters on my way out. Last Friday I managed to finally get to my first Masters workout in almost two years.

It was a pretty easy workout, but after not doing interval training for all that time (I tend to just get in an do 1km or 1mile repeats depending on the pool), it was nice to see that I could still keep up.

From a financial perspective it may not be the smartest move (for the number of times I’ll go the drop in fee is cheaper), but having access to a masters workout again is great, and for those weeks when I work from home I’ll try and take advantage of it.