Swim Week and Alcatraz

After last week's Century, I swam in the bay almost everyday to build up the mileage and get ready for Alcatraz #9 with Water World Swim. Swimming in the bay is great for sore muscles and active recovery. I swam without a wetsuit, so by the time I used the wetsuit it felt really warm and easy to get in. As a coach I went in as swim support with my orange SaferSwimmer buoy. This just makes you more visible and also acts as a floatie in case someone panics and just wants to hold on to it until a boat arrives. It has a dry bag also, so I carried a radio and my phone with GPS app inside. It was about 57 degrees most days but today felt a little colder. The beginning of the swim the water is a little wilder way out there by the Island, but by Alcatraz standards it was calm. I've been on the boat support many times and have seen all kinds of conditions out there. We had some nice swells and a few waves. I stopped to help a couple of swimmers, we got behind and were repositioned with the rest of the group. When you get repositioned it can be frustrating because depending on your pace you may not have time to get yourself in position to make the landing, whereas if you were swimming continuously you might have been able to make some navigational adjustments. You have to do what the swim directors tell you. As we were headed toward the St. Francis Yacht Club from the middle of the bay I had the Golden Gate Bridge on my right breath and Alcatraz on my left breath, with the city skyline in front of me. It was awesome! A bit later we were repositioned a second time because our jump was a little late and a boat race had started, so we were moved closer to shore. This was frustrating because I was practicing navigation on a new building and now I have no idea if it would have worked or not. Usually, if you can swim a mile in 40 minutes, then you can make it. The ebb was pretty strong though so it was a challenge even for the 2 mile per hour swimmers. Even though it was a fun swim I have to bring up all these potential factors because you have to be prepared for other things to happen and be flexible. Safety is a priority. You get a good idea of what this swim entails. It's a great feeling to swim up to shore and feel the sand underneath your feet.

The beginning of the swim is where a lot of people get in trouble. They are not expecting the cold, the swells and waves all at once. If you are jumping off a big boat, then there is that drop underwater and adrenaline rush. It can be a little overwhelming. It can take a few minutes to gather your breath, warm up and get your swim groove on. When you jump off the boat, you can't stop because the ebb will take you off course. The best thing to do is to put your head down and get swimming right away. Try not to think too much because your mind is going through a lot of self-doubt at this moment and it will pass. Here are a few things I do to get going:

  • Deep breaths
  • Blow bubbles underwater
  • Hum underwater
  • Believe in yourself and take control of the situation
  • Get some water inside your wetsuit to stretch it out a little and give you room to breathe
  • Count your strokes
  • Focus on your landmarks
  • Don't go out too fast
  • Find your happy place
  • Get a song you like in your head and play it
  • Relax your effort and enjoy. This is not something you get to do everyday!
Know that you are well-supported and you can get back on the boat, but that's not what you came here for. The best thing to do is to train in open water conditions similar to the event. Taking a clinic helps so you know what to expect, and coaches are there to help you. After you do it several times most of these roadblocks disappear and the fear turns into excitement, but it's different every time. Enjoy the ride!

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