• alcatrazstep

Training for an Alcatraz Swim: Step by Step with Coach Angela

This article is written by Coach Angela Andelson. Angela has been a competitive swimmer since high school, held multiple US Masters top ten times, and competed with us at Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and in Cuba.

The calendar may say August; you may feel summer is coming to a close as kids head back to school; but the San Francisco Bay waters are just hitting their prime, making it the perfect time to fit in a swim… and perhaps your first Alcatraz crossing!


Obviously, swimming from Alcatraz is something that requires preparation, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may seem. We recommend swimmers be comfortable swimming one mile in a pool before transitioning to open water. From there, start with a small goal and work up. You are more likely to succeed and feel more confident as you progress to achieve a tougher goal.

TRY THIS  If Alcatraz is your goal, start by spending 15-20 minutes in the waters at Aquatic Park and gradually add time and distance (our Sunday Swim with Pedro is the perfect practice session for this!) You should be able to complete 1.2 miles (the distance from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park) within 45 minutes. This is a good indicator that you are ready for a crossing. If you’d like to do a 10K open water race, start off with a 1 mile race, then a 2 mile race, a 5k race and finally the big 10K race. (Our 2017 line-up has been published! Sign up now and start training for your races next year!)


Swimming is all about community. Everyone is here to support each other, so use this to your advantage, even if you are new to open water swimming. Talk to more experienced swimmers, coaches, and/or someone who has raced the distances or race you are looking to complete. They can offer you insights or advice on issues you hadn’t considered.

ASK THIS  For example, What about the sharks? (Check out our fun look at thoughts everyone has on their first Alcatraz crossing) How do you handle the shock of the frigid temperature of the bay? How does the start work? What do you do to calm your nerves? What was the most unexpected part of the race for you?

You might also like to read Swimmer Perspectives on Alcatraz and find out what's in the water (including the sharks!) in Anatomy of the Bay.


If you are swimming in San Francisco, the weather is likely to be the answer to that, as the Bay can be unpredictable at times. On one particular crossing the fog was so thick, we couldn’t see the shore, hiding all of our landmarks for sighting! We had to heavily rely on the guidance from the kayakers and lead boat. Another time, the wind really picked up, which created very choppy waters. Battling the waves takes patience, perseverance and a lot of focus.

TRY THIS  You can't always prepare for every scenario, but the more you practice in the Bay, the more likely you are to experience these scenarios, which will make you more mentally ready for race day. Ask your coaches for advice on how to handle these situations.


As important as it is to swim in the open water, it’s not always practical. Swim a few times a week with a masters swim team or on your own if a masters team schedule will not work out for you. Get in the right amount of yardage and work on your stroke technique. Ideally you want to be able to swim the distance you will be racing and you should give yourself sufficient time to build up to that distance if you are not already there. During your workouts, make sure you dedicate adequate warm up time at the beginning and cool down time at the end of your workout.

TRY THIS For warm-up, start off with a 300-yard swim at a moderate speed followed by a set of 25s – 75s that incorporate drills, sculling and kicking. At the end of practice, do about 200 yards cool down. This will also help to minimize injuries. While strength is important, proper technique is equally, if not more important. If you are not effective and efficient in the water, you will waste a lot of energy. Proper technique will also minimize injuries.


It’s also important to get enough rest and not over-do it. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep at night and taking a day or two off of training per week. By taking a day off, you are giving your muscles time to rest and rebuild. If you really want to do something on your off days, do easy yoga or stretching.

TRY THIS  Listen to your body. There’s a difference between being sore from working out and a sharp or nagging pain. If it seems to be the latter, don't try to be tough and work your way through the pain. You could end up doing more damage. Once again, talk to your coach if you're experiencing pain. Coaches have seen it all when it comes to swim injuries so they can help you figure out what might be the problem. It could be as easy as a change to your swim technique.


Have you ever heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen”? If you think swimming miles and miles will offset a diet of sweets, carbs and fat, you will be shocked to find out this is not the case. Your eating habits have a greater impact on your body than the workouts you do. Don't sabotage all your hard work in the pool with a poor diet.

EAT THIS  Make sure you're eating plenty of vegetables and fruits (be careful with fruits because some are high in sugar), proteins (e.g., eggs, chicken, fish, beans, Greek yogurt) and complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat breads or pasta, sweet potatoes, black beans, oats). Take a look at what I like to eat before a race!

With these simple steps - practice, asking questions, resting and eating right - you will be ready to take on your challenge in a way that will leave you craving more. We look forward to seeing you in the Bay!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.