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View Full Version : Alcatraz Challenge this May - First Time Open Water



cbenk121
January 28th, 2012, 08:18 PM
Hey all,

Just registered for an 1.5 mile open water swim in May - part of me thinks I'm nuts, but part of me is excited as hell for this.

Had a few questions for more experienced open water swimmers out there...

1) Open water swimming - How does it differ from closed pool swimming? I've read a number of people mention "sighting", which is where I assume you look where you're going, but unsure how to incorporate that into normal breathing (where I look to side).

2) Open water training - I was a state / varsity level swimmer in high school, but afterwards have only sparingly swam. So, I don't think I could swim the full distance easily right now. My plan is to build up to 3 miles in a closed pool over next 2 months, then start training in open water over next 2 months. I found some plans (below), but what training programs have other people used? I have about 4 months to prepare...

http://100swimmingworkouts.com/#open_water

3) Wetsuit - what do you look for in a wetsuit? Where do you normally find these? Besides the "who knows where this has been" factor (which presumably could be fixed with a wash), is there anything wrong with used wetsuits (seem significantly cheaper)?

Thanks!

sfbayswimmer
January 31st, 2012, 05:39 PM
Congrats on signing up for such an iconic swim. Contact me offline @ SFBaySwimmer@sbcglobal.net & I can fill you in - I was the Alcatraz Challenge Race Director from 1998 through 2009.

Fresnoid
January 31st, 2012, 06:12 PM
Used gear down in Morgan Hill https://sites.google.com/site/useddivingsuppliesforsale/

mjtyson
February 3rd, 2012, 05:27 AM
1) Open water swimming - How does it differ from closed pool swimming? I've read a number of people mention "sighting", which is where I assume you look where you're going, but unsure how to incorporate that into normal breathing (where I look to side).

There are many books out there to read to get more of an idea of what you've gotten yourself into. Try Mastering Swimming, which has plenty of OW info in it. A little more advanced is Munatones's book Open Water Swimming. Also, there is plenty of info online, and there are people's blogs, like Freshwater Swimmer and Rob Aquatics.


2) Open water training - I was a state / varsity level swimmer in high school, but afterwards have only sparingly swam. So, I don't think I could swim the full distance easily right now. My plan is to build up to 3 miles in a closed pool over next 2 months, then start training in open water over next 2 months. I found some plans (below), but what training programs have other people used? I have about 4 months to prepare...
Really, prepare yourself for swimming 30% farther than the race distance. OK, that's what I do, because I am horrible at sighting. I can't wait until later this year; I will swim a long race with a GPS. I want to see exactly how much extra I swim due to my lack of navigational IQ. Check out the workouts by Mallory Mead in these forums, if you have access. Plus, read through the Open Water threads in these forums for tons of advice.


3) Wetsuit - what do you look for in a wetsuit? Where do you normally find these? Besides the "who knows where this has been" factor (which presumably could be fixed with a wash), is there anything wrong with used wetsuits (seem significantly cheaper)?

If it isn't mandatory, don't wear one. Besides it being an added expense, you'll have to practice swimming in it as it'll change your streamline, and the last thing you want to do is wear it for the first time in the heat of an OW start, when all the arms and legs are thrashing and you're having enough trouble finding air (yes, this turns out to be some of the best fun, trust me). Then there is all the problems with skin rubbing. I still have scars on my chest from my sleeveless wetsuit at a 10K last September (wetsuit was mandatory). In fact, today is exactly five months since that race, and the scars have not healed yet. If you're worried about the cold, just do some OW practice swims in water close to expected temp. Unless it is really cold (54 or below is my threshold), you won't feel it after a couple dozen yards, you'll be excited so much about doing the race.

Good luck and welcome to the addiction!

rxleakem
February 3rd, 2012, 11:51 AM
How does it differ from closed pool swimming? I've read a number of people mention "sighting", which is where I assume you look where you're going, but unsure how to incorporate that into normal breathing (where I look to side).


For me, the biggest hurdle with OW is not being able to stop and put your feet down to rest, so it takes some mental toughness to prepare yourself for the race (and tell yourself that you won't look like this: :drowning:).
The cold water is also different and will surprise you - sounds silly but after I get out of my pool workout and shower, I will crank up the cold water for a progressive periods of time. You'll notice the same thing that you'll feel when you hop into the Bay - you can't breathe! It just takes getting used to and trying to control your breathing in the cold water.

For sighting :eek:, practice the Tarzan drill over in the OW workout forum (swimming head's up like a water polo player does). Since I alternate breathing during the swim, I swim in a pretty straight line, so I will pick up my head for a quick look before breathing to my right side - eyes up for a look then turn my head. There should be folks at the race that can give you an idea of what things to look at in the distance (a tall tree or building, some sort of focal point) then you just compensate the tide pushing you around with your swimming to keep heading in that direction. sfbayswimmer should be able to give you a lot of advice.

About wetsuits, I agree with MikeT
Then there is all the problems with skin rubbing ... I have one that I borrowed from a friend and wore it once in a race - looked like someone tried to hang me from the marks around my neck. I've done the Peaks to Portland 2.4 mile swim twice - 62 degree water in Maine feels cold with or without a wetsuit, and after 35 minutes of swimming in I was overheating with the suit the first time. Cold is cold, you just have to get used to it.

Oh, and congrats on taking the Challenge. :applaud: You will have a great time :D

freestylesail
February 7th, 2012, 10:03 AM
Wetsuits--if you can find a used one and can try it on, great. Just make sure the rubber still feels supple and stretchy, not cracked or stretched out or brittle anywhere. Also make sure the seams are intact. The main advantage to buying a new one for me was that I don't live in an area that sells them, so I had to mail order, and the sizing charts have a lot of leeway. The one I bought even let you try it out for a swim and return it if it didn't feel right. A wetsuit SIGNIFICANTLY improves your speed--at least that was my experience. It feels like cheating. For that reason I don't like them for open water swims (I only bought mine for long triathlons where you basically need one to be competitive because 99% of the field wears one). For swim-only events I prefer to be more of a purist. On the other hand, if there is a wetsuit division and it's really cold water, I'd probably need one just to be able to participate because I get cold easily.

Sighting--I develop a pattern. I breathe every third stroke, but I sight every ninth or so breath. It feels weird at first, but you can incorporate the sight in with your breath so you turn to the side, breathe, then look forward, or do that in reverse--look forward, then turn to the side and breathe, all without interrupting your rhythm. You can practice this in the pool. The thing I'm working on is sighting by aligning two points. For example if you look forward only at the buoy, it still doesn't mean you aren't going crooked. It's better to look at the buoy and also a landmark beyond the buoy and keep those two things lined up to ensure you really are taking a straight line. It's hard to judge all this from down in the water, so it's not my strong point, especially when the sun is in your eyes, when there's fog, or if you're doing a race where they only set a buoy every mile or so, which is how most of my races have been. Hopefully you'll have more things to sight off of than that.

ChrisM
February 21st, 2012, 07:30 PM
I've done three crossings, including the Challenge (actually, did the swim/run).

Re sighting - There is another twist in Alcatraz swimming, which is the tide that changes how and where you have to site. Depending on the tides the day of the swim, you will generally start sighting way north of where you actually want to go (i.e. if entering Aquatic Park) and then adjust your landmarks as you get closer. he Challenge ends at Chrissy Beach, so you generally site towards the south, then adjust as you go. I.e., Fort Mason, the piers, the palace, the yacht club, etc. They will give you specific sighting tips race morning.

As to how to do it, I just incorporate it into the stroke, sometimes it's a quick peak on a non breathing stroke, or a full on water polo stroke. You will also probably have to look 2 or 3 times due to waves.

Wetsuit - The bay is pretty cold. If it makes a difference, the majority of swimmers will have a wetsuit on. There is no shame in wearing one, although people seem to have varying degrees of passionate hate for them. I wore one for all three crossings, keep telling myself I am not going to, but then chicken out. :) I agree though that your race should not be the first time you use one. And chafing is easily avoided with Body Glide.

Just my .02, but not having a lot (or any) of open water experience, I wouldn't say jump in without a wetsuit (again, getting comfortable in it first) unless you have some experience swimming in water that cold.