Total Immersion: The Alcatraz Swim with the Centurions Race Report

This morning I raced the Alcatraz: Swim with the Centurions Race which was an Alcatraz crossing that ends at Aquatic Park in San Francisco.
I made it to the beach in 44:30. it was a mediocre time for me, about the same as the other times I’ve done it. If there is one thing I’ve learned about swimming Alcatraz, it’s never the same each time I swim it (this is number 13).
First, it was choppy out there. Not really big waves, but they seemed to be a lot of little ones which kept rocking my body back and forth. I almost preferred bigger waves than these lots of smaller ones.
Second, they gave us bad current information. They told us that there was a flood (the water flows into SF bay) which would switch to ebb (water flows back out of the SF Bay) during our swim. Funnily enough, another swimmer told me they looked up the currents in a tide table book and it said that the switch would happen at noon, which was much later than when we would finish. According to that info, we would be swimming in a flood the whole time.
However, the race directors told us that there was a switch. Knowing this, I and many other swimmers headed for the correct landmark which would end up sweeping us towards the opening at Aquatic Park when the flood would end and the ebb would start.
But the ebb never came which was exactly what the tide book predicted! So I kept wondering why I was ending up so far left of the opening. The kayakers out there kept telling me to aim more to the other side. I finally understood that the race directors gave us bad info.
This cost me a lot of time, hence my mediocre swim time. Once I got into the calmer waters of Aquatic Park, I headed fairly quickly to the finish line.
Notes on use of Total Immersion techniques out there:
1. Boy, I needed to swim more with my wetsuit in rough water. When I got out there I wasn’t used to the extra buoyancy, and I had to get used to floating higher. This, with the choppy water, kept me from syncing my 2BK at all until I got close to the opening of aquatic park.
2. Because the choppy water was messing around with me, I breathed every other stroke to the right, which probably slowed me down but I had increased my effort (ie. stroke rate) to try to compensate for lack of a good 2BK to add to each body rotation.
3. Once I got into the calmer waters of Aquatic Park, I thankfully wasn’t wiped out aerobically so I settled into breathing every 4 strokes and by that time I had got the hang of syncing my 2BK to my stroke and I think I moved fairly smoothly and quickly to the finish line.
4. With the choppy waters, I thought it was really hard to know if I was getting the right angle of entry for each arm/hand. I felt like I was barely using my body at all in the stroke. This was much much better once i got into Aquatic Park.
5. My coach Shinji’s tip about relaxing the catch hand at end of the spear really helped. I seemed to have burned that into my nervous system because even when I felt like I was fighting the choppy water I never felt like my forearms and arms were getting tired from the extra effort of stroking with more force. After I got out of the water, my arms still weren’t tired at all!
6. Turning my head with my body for breathing really helped some neck tightness problems and I felt no tightness there as well. I also think it helped prevent some chafing around my neck due to the collar of the wetsuit.
I think that more time swimming with a wetsuit would be good, but not just in calm waters. I think I need to practice more in choppy water and see if I can maintain good TI technique in those conditions. It is obvious to me that in calmer open waters and with wetsuit, I got the hang of it and it wasn’t such a problem. It seemed that practicing without a wetsuit in the few times I was in somewhat rough water in Hawaii and on the Jersey shore didn’t help this fact at all since I was swimming with what I thought was decent TI technique, but this fell apart when I had my wetsuit on.

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