Your Fall Training (and maybe ditching the wetsuit)
As summer winds to an end in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, here in San Francisco, we are just beginning to experience the nicest days of the year, making it the perfect time to begin open water swim training for colder waters. Currently, in September 2016, the San Francisco Bay water temperatures are hovering around 60-62 degrees Fahrenheit/15-17 degrees Celsius. Maybe you want to learn to ditch the wetsuit or you have decided you want to finally take on that Alcatraz Crossing for the very first time. This is about as warm as the Bay gets on a year over year basis, so now is the right time to start training for next season.
The advice for wetsuits or non-wetsuits swimmers is the same for your first few times out in the Bay: this is all about gaining experience and slowly increasing time in the water.
At our Sunday Swim with Pedro practices, we break up the groups into novices, intermediates and expert swimmers. For those just getting started, you can spend time with Pedro close to shore learning about open water swim technique. And, as soon as you feel too cold, the safety of shallow waters and a quick exit from the Bay is at your disposal.
As you keep returning to practice, you will be able to stay in the water longer and move into the experienced groups that swim our regular course further out in Aquatic Park. Do not push yourself! It is important to be honest with your limitations as you get started.
No Wetsuits Allowed
For experienced swimmers looking to swim skin, the novice practice is a good way to start for time wise. Another alternative is to complete the regular swim (with the intermediate or expert group) and then leave your wetsuit on shore and do a few laps by the buoy line. Your body will be warm already from your 1.25 mile practice swim, so you can reduce the initial shock to the body when entering the cold water.
As you acclimate, pay attention to how your breathing changes. Try not to focus on the temperature, but instead count your strokes. Finding very tactical things to keep your attention elsewhere will help you get through those first few minutes. Don’t over do it at first: set a very reasonable goal of 5-10 minutes (remember: your body is already tired from the long swim with your wetsuit!) You can slowly add time with more practice until you are ready to attempt entering the water with no wetsuit.
Again, we recommend you spend your first time sans-wetsuit near shore. Remember how cold the water felt the first time you ever got in, even with your wetsuit? Be prepared for the same feelings to return. Stay calm. Stay nearby an experienced coach or kayaker. Let us know it is your first swim without a wetsuit so we can monitor you for signs of hypothermia.
Protect Your Computer
For skin and wetsuit swimmers alike, it is vitally important to keep your head warm. Water World Swim founder Coach Pedro Ordenes who, having completed a crossing of the Strait of Magellan (a two hour feat in approximately 40 degree water!), recommends using a thermal cap and ear plugs. Two silicone caps are also a good option. While it may be an old wives tale that you lose more heat through your head than any other part of the body, the reasoning for protecting your head is simple: your brain is powering your body through the cold water. Be nice to it and keep it functioning at a high level to avoid life-threatening scenarios.
Warm-Up After Your Warm-Down
Once exiting the water, you will continue to lose body heat if you lounge around in your wet swimsuit (again for skin and wetsuit swimmers alike!) Change clothes quickly and cover up in long sleeves and long pants along with socks and shoes (leave the flip flops in the bag!) Have a sip of warm coffee, tea or water to help your internal organs return to a normal body temperature as well.
Follow these steps, and you’ll be ready for your 2018 English Channel crossing in no time, just like Coach Rebecca!
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