Race Report: Alcatraz Invitational

Remarkable day today in the water! A bit of a late start, but very much worth it. I woke up early, having managed to creak my neck during the night, and briefly considered passing; the impulse quelled and I put on my bikini and sweats and rode off into the sunrise.

By 7am, there was already quite a scene at Aquatic Park. Registration lines were wild! The bay looked beautiful and serene as ever. And it was big fun to run into Dave Conners and Sarah Mehl, two of my favorite people, who were both volunteering for the event.

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Gary Emich, who gave us the briefing before the swim, mentioned that “Mother Nature threw us a curveball” and that the current was actually flowing from the west. He advised us, therefore, to aim west, so the current would take us in as we approach the entrance to Aquatic Park. This sort of situation has never happened to me in an Alcatraz swim; I always have to aim conservatively to the East to make it. A kind South-Ender named Christine, who sat in the ferry next to me, helped me figure out that I’d probably need to aim at the pumphouse or at the top of the “wedding cake” at the Western entrance.

Two things became evident as soon as I jumped out: first, the temps were perfect (circa 65-66, Gary had said), and second, I couldn’t feel any current at all. For a few minutes I did aim conservatively west, but I realized I wasn’t being pulled or pushed in any direction. So, I started stroking pretty vigorously straight at the entrance, slightly toward the right side.

This was one of the quickest Alcatraz swims I’d ever done. I felt strong all the way; my neck was bothering me, but not too much, and I compensating by breathing more to the side that hurt less. I didn’t even need to be on anyone’s feet, because the sheer volume of swimmers (800 souls, two ferries’ worth of people!) created its own momentum toward the finish line. I was even kicking almost all the way, which I almost never do!

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I ended up finishing in 50:54 mins, which is a nice time considering the injuries etc and quite possibly my best result in recent years, and happily enjoying the sun and excited chatter of my fellow swimmers until the last people arrived safely to shore.

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Pool Explorer: Chinatown YMCA

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This is the beautiful gate of the Chinatown YMCA, my new gym, located on Sacramento Street between Stockton and Grant. I joined on Wednesday and today swam my third workout on three consecutive days–I like it so much there that I can’t wait to show up every morning!

The facility is fairly new, having been recently renovated, and it’s a bustling community center for Chinatown. Folks from the neighborhood, from all walks of life, run around, chattering excitedly in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, and take delightful and fun classes. You can see grandparents playing mah jong with their families, folks doing health consultations, neighborhood women showing up to yoga class… it’s a place where people come not to see and be seen, but to do, with others.

Let’s talk about the most important thing:

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25y salinated facility, almost brand new. Five lanes, whose usage varies by hour. On the three days I was there, I had a lane to myself almost all the time; at maximum, I was joined by one other swimmer. From the reception area, the pool looks busy, but it actually isn’t; the lifeguards do an excellent and proactive job assigning people to lanes that fit them and everyone is kind and happy and complies without complaint. Sometimes, even though there’s a lane allocation for something else (rec swim or a lesson), if it doesn’t happen, they immediately free the lane and help you out. Every conceivable pool toy is available on deck, as are racing clocks on both sides of the pool and a convenient shelf for your stuff.

There is a masters team, Dragon Masters, which I haven’t tried out yet, but I’m not sure it’ll be a good solution for me; today I arrived in the pool half an hour after they finished and saw their workout still on the whiteboard. It was methodical and well planned, but the intervals were brutal! I asked the lifeguards if the swimmers could really make the intervals. They said that some could, but the coach adapted the program to those that couldn’t and would work to put me in a lane with slower people if need be. I hear good things about the coach; one of these days I may show up at lunchtime and give it a try. If nothing else, how can you not try out a team called Dragon Masters?

The fees are on a sliding scale, going up to a maximum of $62 per month, which includes towel service, reasonable (albeit not fancy) locker rooms with swimsuit dryer. It takes me 25 mins to get there from home and approximately 10 mins from my office, and the way there takes me through the spectacular streets of Chinatown, North Beach, and Pac Heights. Overall, a lovely change that has made me more enthusiastic about swimming.




Moved to Chinatown Y!

Hello! I’m happy to announce that, as of today, I’m a happy member of the Chinatown YMCA, where I’ll be doing the bulk of my training for Swim the Suck. I’m quitting USF Masters, and will also be quitting the South End Rowing Club.

As I feel happier and more energized, I’m walking away from situations that are unpleasant and discouraging for me. The masters team was getting to be very frustrating, what with the faster people getting in my lane and changing the intervals from ones I can make to ones I can’t. It’s not realistic to sort this out with the coach without feeling like some sort of snitch, and it seems like the “old timers” already have their routines in place. I’d rather work out alone, which allows me the space to drill, work with my tempo trainer, and carefully choose focus points without being concerned about bumping into an impatient lanemate.

South End isn’t going to work out either, which is very unfortunate, because I was very much looking forward to the company of fellow open water swimmers and marathoners. But yesterday marks the second time this season–and the second time since I was in junior high, come to think of it–that I was verbally attacked in the shower by a perfect stranger who was entirely unprovoked by me. The first person was someone who had read about my Catalina issues and, when she found out who I was, started screaming at me in the shower, denigrating my swimming record and trashing me, with several people just standing there doing nothing. Yesterday’s person, also a stranger, went into the sauna as I was showering (all I said to her was “hi” and a kind compliment on her jewelry), and after a few minutes shrieked, “get out of the shower! Don’t you know there’s a water shortage?” She continued sermonizing in the sauna, to other people who also just stood by and did not intervene, and only after they left she said “I’m sorry for barking at you.” I didn’t reply, and when she repeated this statement, I said, “I heard you” and left.

One verbal attack can be excused as coming from a deranged person; two, with several passive bystanders, are an indication of a toxic, sick culture, that enables abusers and discourages newcomers from feeling comfortable in the club.  Verbal violence is on a continuum toward other types of violence, and I’ve heard from a reputable source that someone was, indeed, physically assaulted at the South End showers and the perpetrator was not expelled. I’d much rather shiver in my car and change on deck than sit in the sauna with strangers who berate and abuse me with no provocation.

So, I might try the Dolphin Club, or just change on deck and head home after my swims. The bay belongs to everyone, not only to the abusive “in crowd”.

By comparison, the Chinatown Y is a delightful, welcoming and warm community facility, lacking any sort of snobbery, and full of community members excitedly chatting and enjoying the water. I’ll post more about the swimming experience there, with pictures, soon.

Looking for a New Pool

So, the other shoe is finally dropping: I got an email from USF Masters asking me why I haven’t been showing up to practices and reminding me that the condition for keeping my Koret membership is showing up twice a week for practice.

Or course, the reason I haven’t been showing up is that masters workout stress me out because the faster people get into the slow lane and dictate intervals that I can’t make.  That’s why I’ve been swimming on my own and testing different pools around the city. But now that the Powers That Be have wizened up to my tricks, I have to find a solution. Absent a masters membership, I’m not eligible to swim at Koret, so I’ll have to find myself another workout venue. I’m leaning toward Chinatown, which has a flexible schedule, a salinated pool, and a beautiful location not far from my office. Stay tuned!



Paper about the MSF Rules Accepted for Publication!

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I’m happy to inform everyone that my paper, Troubled Waters: Diana Nyad and the Birth of the Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, has received an offer of publication from the Mississippi Sports Law Review, which I have just accepted. I really appreciate the fact that the journal publishes a considerable number of pieces about “sports without balls” and that they’re willing to take a chance on an out-of-the-box piece like this one.

I’ll have an opportunity for some revisions, so if anyone has comments about the piece, please feel free to reach out and let me know.

Next on my agenda: joining the Chinatown YMCA, putting in more yards for Swim the Suck, swimming the Alcatraz Invitational on Sunday, and considering whether my disc will allow me to do the See Jane Run Women’s Triahtlon on the 21st.

Race Report: Alcatraz to Angel Island

What a beautiful morning I’ve had! I swam with Pedro Ordenes’ Water World Swim from Alcatraz to Angel Island.

I had a late night last night; my seminar students came en masse for dinner and a movie and, I hope, a great time was had by all. A lot of prep went into the event; I cooked for more than three hours, and there was much chair-hauling and setup stuff. My back, which flared up this week as a result of a truly tragicomic, Buster Keatonesque fall off my office chair, gave me so much grief, that at the end of the evening, even though it was delightful, I felt like crying. And of course, I started thinking negatively about racing the following morning, and decided I would make up my mind the following morning.

I woke up just in time to put on some clothes and rush out the door with my swim bag, and I’m so glad I did. We had absolutely marvelous conditions. The bay was at an unprecedented 67 degrees, the water was glassy, and everyone was in great spirits, including my friends John and Sarah. We were the only ones, save for one of the coaches, who swam in skins. I expected more people sans neoprene, given the high temps. But to each their own.

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The boat ride to Alcatraz was gorgeous. The sky was gray, but visibility was not too bad. Pedro asked us to aim at the west side of the island, explaining that the current would carry us east, and asking us to aim at the finish line–a beach on the east of the island–only when we got very close to shore. I took his words literally and set on a very conservative course aiming at the very end of the island’s west corner. An occasional wave would impede my sight, but for the most part I was able to stay on course, with the Beatles’ Get Back humming in my head in infinite loop.

After a while, a kind SUP surfer in a kilt instructed me to aim at the middle of the island, and later, to aim at the end point. I am delighted that he talked to me, because my idea of how the swim would turn out (I would aim west and then, suddenly, swept with a lovely current to the end) ended up not materializing. So, with some navigation tips I managed to ride the 4-knot flood to the end. The water was glassy and peaceful and the majestic rocks near the beach were beautiful to behold. After a minute or two on shore, during which I got a chance to high-five one of my fellow swimmers–a ten-year-old girl!–I swam back to the boat and got on to celebrate my tenth successful Alcatraz escape.

We all got to the boat in one piece!

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Now I’m resting up and enjoying the rest of my weekend, happy to be back in the water, and excited about next week’s Alcatraz Invitational and more prep swims for Swim the Suck.

There are two other news tidbits:

1) I heard from my kayaker, Carl, who is a really fabulous dude, and am even more excited about the trip to Tennessee than I was when i registered.

2) My paper, Troubled Waters: Diana Nyad and the Birth of the Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, is out, and has had three publication offers so far. I’ll keep you posted when I accept one of them.

Pool Explorer: Spieker Pool, UC Berkeley

When I went to grad school in Berkeley I was no great athlete (not that I am one now!), but I enjoyed a dip once in a while, and since I had a subscription to the Recreational Sports Facility (RSF) the most convenient venue was the Spieker Pool. Yesterday I went back there for a quick 3k between work commitments and had a lovely time.

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If you are a student, faculty or staff member, it’s worthwhile to buy a semester-long membership. If you just happen to be on campus, $12 buys you a day pass to all UC Berkeley facilities, including three other pools (Hearst, Golden Bear, and Strawberry Canyon.) While not nearly as classic and esthetically pleasing as Hearst, Spieker is a world-class competition venue (50m x 25y). It seems that, when the team is not practicing, they set it up short-course, which was a tad disappointing, but swimming alone in the lane for most of my workout more than made up for it.

The pool is fairly aggressively chlorinated, which is not fabulous, but its open-air configuration lets in sunshine and warmth that somewhat mitigate the unpleasant feeling. People around me were fast and efficient, and though the lifeguards label the many lanes by speed, it was unnecessary when I was there. Each of us had a lane to ourselves.

To business: 3×300 free warmup. 12×150 on descending SPL (from 24 to 18). 3×300 descending. My secret (and unreasonable) hope that Teri McKeever would materialize out of nowhere and offer pointers on my stroke (because she obviously has nothing better to do, like coach future Olympians!) remained unfulfilled, but the Olympian honor wall (which only goes to 2008) was super inspirational. Found Matt Biondi, Natalie Coughlin, and Dana Vollmer – hope they’ll update it and include the newest Olympians of 2012!

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The showers are open (no privacy) and there’s foamy soap; you’ll have to bring the rest with you. There is, however, a swimsuit wringer and a hair dryer. The locker room is enormous; you get a towel, but no lock.



Pool Explorer: Temescal Pool

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This morning I swam a fast 3k workout at the Temescal Pool, located not far from the Rockridge BART station. Admission to the pool is $5 (in exact change), and that gives you access to a 33y, 6-lane outdoor facility, which is especially fun in the sunshine.

The water is fairly heavily chlorinated, but the grossness is somewhat ameliorated by the warm sunshine and little patch of grass. The lifeguards place signs on the lanes–fast, medium, slow–but they sort of play it by ear and let the swimmers sort it out.

For about 10 minutes, I swam alone; then, I was joined by three other swimmers. Circling is par for the course, but everyone is very kind and courteous about it (as has been my longstanding observation, women tend to cede more than men).

My friend Caitlin came up with a fun workout for us: 3×300 warmup, 12×100 fast/stroke/drill, 3×300 cooldown. The 300s also turned out to be sprints, and I couldn’t switch much between strokes on account of the circling, but whenever I inched on someone slower than me, I switched to fly or breast. That worked out pretty well.

The locker rooms are very rudimentary; no individual showers, no locks provided, and you may have to continuously press the shower faucet to get water. But it’s warm and there’s basic soap. The facility opens at 11am sharp on Saturdays and, from what I heard in the locker room, today was an uncommonly quiet day, so try and get there as close to opening hour as you can.

Stay tuned as Humu continues to boldly swim where no fancy club member has swum before: The Bay Area’s public pools!

Pool Explorer: Burlingame Pool

Today involved a complicated and eventful airport drop-off (long story short: car died yesterday; we took BART to the shop to pick it up; sat down to lunch; my much-loved passenger realized he forgot his passport; I drove home to get it; returned to lunch venue; dropped the passenger off; realized it was the wrong terminal; went to the right terminal.) Since I was already in the Peninsula, what better excuse to swim 4.5k at the Burlingame Pool, of which I heard such wonderful things?

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It was a glorious sunny day–perfect for outdoor swimming, so I was very happy that I went. For $7 you get access to a 50m/25y pool, which was set to short course today (but I’m told is frequently set up for long course on Sundays.) There were several people who arrived at about the same time, but there was ample room and I swam my entire workout alone in my lane, which was great. The pool folks set up the lanes so that there is plenty of free space on both sides for kids or people who don’t want to do laps, so no one gets in anyone else’s way and everyone is happy. The water is chlorinated, but not overly so, and I had a lovely, lovely time.

The locker rooms are fairly small, but clean and functional. They provide soap; you have to bring everything else, including a lock.

I think this is a really great location for a long set on a Sunday morning, and much more cheerful than an indoor pool, especially in this season.

Gearing Up for Swim the Suck

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Swimmer profiles for the 2014 Swim the Suck are already on the Facebook page!

It’s going to be such fun. I can’t wait! I’ve already started training, and here’s my plan for the weeks to come:

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I’m using the swim to fundraise for La Casa de las Madres, which provides support and empowerment for survivors of domestic abuse. Please give generously!