Yesterday’s swim reminded me that being well-trained for an event (like swimming from Alcatraz) is very important. I wasn’t well trained and I paid for it! I agreed to swim on a relay team as a replacement 10 days ago. My reasoning was, I’m in great shape and I’ve done this swim before, so why not. I did actually think about not having swum 1.5 miles in a long time and that the added factor of waves and current would make the swim that much harder. I somehow reasoned through all of that and found myself at Aquatic Park at 6am Sunday morning.
The morning was sunny and clear and the water looked calm. We paraded from AP to the Alcatraz boat pier and swimmers boarded for the ride out to Alcatraz. Once there, we waited until the boat was positioned and on signal, swimmers started jumping into the water in pairs of three. My friend and I jumped together and then I was on my own. We swam to the “start line” created by a line of drifting kayaks and waiting for the long horn. Then we were off. I went out hard in order to not be kicked or have people swimming over me. The waves were minimal but I still managed to swallow quite a bit of salt water and after a while, gave up my alternate side
breathing because the sun was too bright to my left and I was getting seasick. I kept close track of the lead boat with orange bouys to prevent ending up on the far right side of AP and missing the entrance back into the park. There were lines of swimmers and kayakers far to my right so I figured I was definitely on track. As I got more tired, my calves started taking turns cramping up. I stayed calm and treaded water then kicked lightly to work each one out. It was painful but I realized after the fact that I never panicked because I’m so comfortable in open water. Panic out there would have been disastrous and my ability to stay calm was all I had going for me. At some point during sorting out my calf cramps and clearing my goggles for the umteenth time, I suddenly wasn’t on track any more. I have no idea when or how it happened but I was pretty fatigued by that point and have only the memory of AP getting closer and closer then finding myself on the wrong side of the entrance. I realized there were rescue boats, including the SFPD and fire departments all over the place and swarms of swimmers pulling hard but not moving anywhere. We were all stuck to the right of the mouth and the current wasn’t allowing us to move. I gave it a good hard 10 minutes of effort then flagged down a boat. After the boat pulled me in, I got a good overhead view of the mess. The kayakers were swimming in every which way, also not dealing well with the current and confused about how to help swimmers. One almost rowed over a swimmer and another heard a swimmer yelling for help but didn’t do anything about it. When our boat was full with me and 7 guys, the driver zipped us straight across to the other side of the mouth and left us. During the time I was in the boat, I realized I was in trouble physically, but I didn’t want to call it quits because my entire relay team would have been disqualified, so I jumped back in with the rest of them.
I attempted breath stroke as I felt myself get weaker and weaker, willing my calves not to cramp and taking deep breaths. I could see the end clearly by this point and each time I felt like I couldn’t go any further, I told myself, my fiance was waiting on shore and he’d be there to take care of me when I finally made it out of the water. I did breath stroke most of the way in from there because I felt seasick turning my head each time I went back to freestyle. I finally just put my head down and swam and then found my feet on solid ground.
I stumbled out of the water and walked up to where my runner was waiting to grab my ankle tag and head to the bike transition area (he had to run four miles to get to the bike start, then after our biker did 3 hard loops on the bike, he ran another three miles, including the famous baker beach sand steps). My finace greeted me with other friends, including the swimmer who’d offered me the relay slot and KM with Birch. I have to mention that my swimmer friend was a rock-star. She made it from Alcatraz to land in 35 minutes, without any assistance, only seven minutes behind the lead swimmer!!
I was well cared for, once back on land, and finally thawed out after a good hour. I forced myself to eat and drink and kept walking, supported by finace, because I might have fainted had I sat down. After a while, I began to feel better and our entire crew moved toward the bike/run transition to cheer the rest of our teams along. I wasn’t able to stay and see my team finish because I need to get ready for work. By the time I was actually sitting and playing my afternoon show, I was feeling exhausted and tired but more or less, back to normal.
This is the worst I’ve ever felt during/after a race (except for mile 90 biking in my ironman, but that’s another story). I am more determined than ever to do this swim again and make it to shore without assistance. I’m two for two on boat rescue but next time I’ll sign up early and be prepared and pay more attention to my sight line! This time I’m simply happy to be done and I’m on my way to an accupuncture/massage appointment. The only things sore on me today are my calves!
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