Monday 2 April 2012

San Francisco Swimming - 10 degree madness!

San Francisco baby! This is a city of excitement, shopping, city lights, great views, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a very cold harbour!

A quick work trip to the USA a week before my goal race, Rottnest Channel, was not ideal timing, however, I took the opportunity to use the trip for some cold water acclimatisation training. Looking up the charts, it appeared I was in for waters of approx. 10 degrees Celsius/ 50 degrees F. This would be the coldest waters I had ever swum in, and would be ideal training preparation for my English Channel swim later this year. I headed over to the States early to spend the weekend swimming training. Yes, I know most people would go for shopping, sightseeing etc, but I went for swimming- in the middle of winter. I still managed to do some damage to my credit cards shopping – so much so, that AMEX actually thought my card had been stolen!!

Anyway, back to swimming! Upon arrival, I headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf to check it out. Whilst I was looking at the boats I heard a tourist next to me exclaim, “oh my gosh, look at the people swimming!” Sure enough, I had stumbled across the Dolphin Swim and Boat Club, and Aquatic Park. I headed on into the club and met one of the older members who gave me a tour. Beautiful old wooden rowing boats, masses of memorabilia and historical photos lined the club walls. It was quite an honour to stand in the clubhouse admiring all this incredible club history. I love clubs like this!

I then wandered out onto the jetty and saw where the members swim off the beach from. Aquatic Park is a swimmer designated area that has been built in San Fran Harbour with a breakwater around it. Members of the club swim all year round in the harbour in nothing more than a pair of speedos, goggles and some wear a neoprene cap. It is hard core. I met an amazing group of ladies over the mornings I swam here at the Dolphin Club who come down and swim 1 km every morning before work together. It has a great sense of community in the club clearly. And I was lucky enough to be welcomed in to use the club facilities during my stay as a visitor with a nominal visitor fee. 

That afternoon I headed out to visit and stay with the Dominguez family, who had moved from Australia to SF 2 years ago, and whom I had been introduced by my Coach Charm on email. When I saw Simon at the ferry wharf, I remembered having met him 2 years earlier at the Bondi - Watson's Bay Swim. To make it an even smaller world, it turned out I also knew Simon’s sister from home, and on top of that the photographer from the SMH article the week before was actually her best friend. Small world!! I arrived at Simon and Sally’s place and was welcomed with an Aussie BBQ and met some of their friends over dinner. It was a great night. The next morning, Sally and Simon and myself headed to their local pool where we trained with their squad who were super welcoming and lovely.

Here I had my first taste of American training. Firstly, it was a 50 yard pool (40 metres). Secondly, instead of swimming the long length of the pool, they had turned the lane ropes sideways so we swam across the pool, which was about 25 meters. Since it was so short we only had about 3 people in each lane, but instead of the coach managing 3-4 lanes like he would in a 50M pool, he was managing something like 12 lanes! Thirdly it was an outdoor pool, and it was winter, and the air temperature was about 5 degrees. That morning it was a real struggle to take off my clothes. Thankfully the pool was heated – I doubt they would have had any squad members there otherwise! The session went well, fairly cruisey which was nice, and everyone at the squad were all so friendly, I had such a great time!

Simon had also organised an afternoon swim at Aquatic Park with a Kiwi girl, Kim Chambers, who was training for her first marathon swim, a Cook Strait crossing. Four of us, Simon, Kim, Rick and myself, arrived at the Dolphin Club and prepared for the water. The air temperature was cold, but thankfully the sun was shining, and I headed towards the water. I was quite worried – this was the coldest water I had been in by a couple of degrees! I hoped I would be ok. For the first swim, I wore a neoprene hat, as I was unsure how I would cope. Over the course of the next few days I managed to be able to swim without it!

The first swim was quite scary. I waded out into the water and put my shoulders under and swam out a little. It was freezing. My body ached and it felt like someone was slowly strangling me. I started hyperventilating and the only thing that stopped me getting out was the fact that Simon had organised this whole swim for me, and I didn’t want to let him down. I slowly managed to make a few very uncoordinated strokes with my head above water, whilst trying to calm my very hyperventilated breathing, and focussed on steadying my breathing. After about 2 minutes I was pretty numb, and I eased into it. We swam off across the bay and then did a loop underneath the wharf. It was really cool! After we had finished one lap – and approx. 30 minutes in the water, we headed for a sauna and hot showers. It was divine!

Kim turned out to be a total legend and we got chatting in the sauna. She said that she would be swimming the following morning at 7am with some other guys who I was welcome to join if I wanted. It sounded great, and so our swimming plan and friendship begun!

The next two mornings, we swam at 7am for over an hour. It was awesome. I met some incredible swimmers who make my English Channel attempt look meagre in comparison. Meeting Brit, Dan Martin, who is about to swim across the Atlantic Ocean – yes, you read correctly, and it will take him 4-6 months before you ask - and then Kim, and Joe who is doing a solo swim to the shark infested Farallon Islands, well, it was just an inspiring experience! And all these swimmers were so wonderful and welcoming. I had an absolutely brilliant time with them. And I think they had a good chuckle at my expense as noone warned me that when you swim in the Bay, the algae sticks to your face and you end up with a five o'clock shadow! It was fine for the boys, but it did give me a laugh when I saw this photo below much later on! 

Algae 5 o'clock shadow!
On my last morning, the tides finally lined up so we could head out of Aquatic Bay, and we headed out into the Hudson River. It was a pretty cool feeling floating on my back and staring at sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge – definitely a highlight! Although poor Dan had me almost swimming on top of him due to my fear of sharks!

I was so lucky to have met such an awesome bunch of people with incredible and inspiring goals, and I feel so much more confident about dealing with cold water now.  I am a strong believer that everything definitely happens for a reason, and I can see that with this opportunity for training in a very challenging temperature, surrounded by the most fabulous bunch of world swimmers. It seems that I am definitely not alone in finding marathon swimming a real thrill!