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.





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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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 – I 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.

GPS Notes

A couple of years ago I picked up a Garmin 310xt GPS watch to use to track my open water swims. A few fellow Southenders used other Garmin watches either in a Ziploc bag or just stuffed under their caps, but the 310xt was the first properly water resistant GPS watch that Garmin had made and liked the reassurance that that capability gave me.

Because GPS receivers perform poorly or not at all while submerged, the first thing I did with the 310xt was take the strap off and attach it to my goggles using some upgraded spring bars that I had lying around (the 310xt had notoriously flimsy spring bars). You can see the 310xt on the back of my goggles in the header photo for this site – the 2011 Trans Tahoe was one of the first times I used it.

GPS Goggles!

GPS Goggles!

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Manhattan Beach

The past few months I’ve been commuting down to Los Angeles from San Francisco for work. Because of the location of the client I’ve been staying in downtown Los Angeles where there is apparently a dearth of hotels with decent pools, but thankfully the very excellent Echo Park Pool is near by so I have been able to get some work outs in.

This week because of the E3 conference I couldn’t get a hotel room anywhere near downtown, so am stuck out by the airport, which makes my commute worse, but has the upside of at least being near the ocean.

In the previous months I’d never bothered to make the trek out to the coast because of the notorious LA traffic, but given where my hotel is this week it seemed a crime not to head out to the coast and get some open water swimming in instead of trying to find a pool. So last night I popped out to Manhattan Beach for my first Southern California swim.

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(very belated) 2012 South Head Roughwater Swim Report – Part 2

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

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).

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(very belated) 2012 South Head Roughwater Swim Report – Part 1

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:

  • 10km
  • 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.

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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 – work 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.