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).

C3 Swim Report

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.
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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.

Milestones

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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