My Bia is Here!

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My Bia Sport watch has just arrived! I’m very excited. That’s it, on my wrist, in all its glory. Here’s a little bit about it:

I’ll go on a run with it tonight, and in the bay on Sunday, and tell you how it’s going. I’m beside myself with joy about being able to transmit my swim GPS data to all my friends and supporters in real time from my wrist.

Class Jumping at the Pool

Prompted by an email announcing no joining fees this weekend, consumer whore that I am, I strolled after work to Equinox Fitness to try their pool.

Equinox is located in the beautiful building that used to house the San Francisco Stock Exchange. The gorgeous building features classical architecture and sculpture by Ralph Stackpole, and is an incredible landmark which I doubt is appreciated properly by the tech-fabric-clad youngsters of the financial/tech industry who can afford the fees.

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The inside is equally stunning, and my conversation with their marketing person was very pleasant. They have a ton of classes, fancy equipment, and great trainers. But all I cared about was the pool, of course!

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So, let’s talk pool. Three lanes, salinated, in a windowless basement that looks a lot less fancy than the rest of the majestic building. It is not a swimmers’ gym. Hardly anyone swims, and so the narrow lanes are seldom used in circle formation. There’s a rule of no more than three swimmers per lane, but for the hour and a half I was there, I was alone in the lane most of the time. For about 15 mins, there was only one person with me and we split the lane.

I did 4,000y, which included some sprints, lots of IM, and descending intervals. It was good times, and after I got out, the fancy showers with great toiletry products were an incredible treat. All things considered, not unlike the Sports Club, except with no restrictions over swim time.

But is it worth paying $165 a month, when I pay a third of that at USF and can swim for almost nothing at Balboa Park? That is the question. It will have to be resolved this weekend, because after that, the infidels will charge me joining fees as well.

Advice for People Building Up Yardage

I’m starting to plan ahead for Kingdom Swim, the fundraiser for GAAP. An important part of the plan involves a realistic look at my schedule and at the yardage per week, and per day, that I’m going to do until the event. I’m motivated to do this partly because, recently, I’ve received emails and messages from swimmers who are getting into the marathon scene and want some advice on how to increase their yardage without getting injured or feeling fatigue.

I’m not a coach or a trained fitness expert, but my experience as a marathon swimmer is that the two most important things are to go gradually and to keep it fun. If swimming becomes a tedious second job, it won’t get done.

Here’s my plan for Kingdom Swim:


Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
    3 4 3 4  
4 5   3 4 3 Run/walk



Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
5 3 4 Run/walk 5 3 rest
5 3 6 Run/walk 5 3 rest
6 3 7 Run/walk 6 3 rest
6 3 8 rest 8 3 Aquathlon



Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  3 5 Run/walk 4 3 rest
3 3 rest rest Acclimating swim race rest


A few things beginner swimmers might note:

1. I’m mixing the distances up. I always do a short 3k workout after a fairly hefty one.

2. For a 10-mile race, I’m not doing more than 8k, possibly 10k if I feel inspired on those days.

3. I’m getting a lot of rest and cross-training.

4. The two weeks before the race are mellow.

5. I take into account my schedule, business travel, etc when making plans to swim.

Hope this helps!

Bay to Breakers 2014: Race Report

What fun I had today! I ran Bay to Breakers, a 12km race (slightly more than 7 miles) crossing the City from east to west. And I was not alone; there were 40,000 runners. The whole city was transformed into a giant party!

To organize the start a bit, we were grouped into “corrals” based on our speed. I ran with Corral C (10-12 mins per mile). The race start was significantly delayed and complicated by my urgent need to go to the bathroom several times. Huge lines to the porta-potties, but I made it!

This is the 103th time the race is being held, and it is woven into the fabric of the city and the lives of its residents. As I left Mission Terrace in the morning,I met a man who told me he ran the race twice in the 1980s: once with his child’s stroller, and a year later with the same child’s ashes. Heartbreaking.

BART ran trains early in the morning to accommodate the runners, and the train ride itself turned into a party.

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Upon arrival, I ran into Jonathan and his Maltese Owl.

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And then, into these awesome college students who are members of an international sorority. All members worldwide wear this t-shirt when they run races.

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And a few minions.

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And even unicorns!

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The police had a rather stressful morning.

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Imagine policing all these shady characters. D’oh!

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I took some photos during the race, but this one captures its spirit best. Hayes Hill, which was rather steep, was transformed by residents into a giant party. It was such joy to run a race in which the boundaries between runners and viewers were entirely blurred, everyone coming together in a celebration of the wacky, wonderful city we love.

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When we got into Golden Gate Park, we were treated to various concerts by local bands, and even Taiko drummers.

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Then, it was Mile 6…

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… and Mile 7, and I started to sprint.

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My knee is somewhat mangled, but nothing that some lovely pull sessions in the pool next week can’t fix. What a wonderful experience.

Fundraising for GAAP with Kingdom Swim

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Hurrah! I just spent half an hour with Gary Lewis, director of GAAP, putting together details for my fundraiser. I hope that my 10 miles in Lake Memphremagog will propel folks to donate to this fantastic organization, which provides emergency assistance to folks who are seriously down on their luck–homeless and low-income San Franciscans. It is such a privilege to have the resources, support, and health to participate in this sport; the least we can do is help folks that are less privileged and who really benefit from the services GAAP provides. Stay tuned for a link to the fundraiser and for more details.

In training news, I’m putting in solid 3k workouts in the pool, and this week am planning on 17k total (3, 4, 3, 4, 3.) I’m going to gradually increase to around 25k per week, up until two weeks before the race. I’m also going to mix in some good times in the bay, just in the off-chance the lake does a Sea of Galilee maneuver on me and plummets to the low 60s before the race (it’s happened once, so why not twice?).  Other than that, it’s all about eating well, resting, and balancing work and home life in a way that makes swimming an enjoyable activity rather than a chore.

The Overanalyzer’s Guide to Community Pools

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Balboa Pool. Photo courtesy Yelp.

Since the decision to cull down my racing calendar and focus on two ten-milers in beautiful locations, I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward to my workouts. I’m back at USF for short workouts, but since we moved house the distance to the facility is not as convenient as it used to be. But, as it turns out, there’s a pool located within an 8-minute walk from the new house. What could be more convenient? Even though it’s an old facility, the convenience can’t be beat, especially on days in which I work from home.

Today was one of those days, and I went in without giant plans – just 3k with some fun sets. There were several people in the fast lane – five at most, three at its less crowded – but people were very courteous about passing and letting others pass, so it was not a nightmare. It was a bit disruptive for intervals, but I wasn’t all that religious about intervals anyway, so, bah.

However, as my grandpa used to say, אורח בא לרגע, רואה כל פגע (“a guest comes for a moment and sees every defect.”) There is so much in that pool that I would want to fix if I had the budget!

(1) Payment and subscriptions. Using the pool costs $5 a person, which is very reasonable. But the facility does not give change; you have to show up with a $5 bill in exact change. There’s a 10-swim card you can buy, which costs $48 – incredible savings of $0.20 per swim. There has to be some form of monthly subscription to save regulars the trouble, no?

(2) Silly schedule. The pool, as can be seen on its schedule page, is incredibly crowded. Lap swim time is only early mornings twice a week and around noonish most days. There’s also an evening slot. But I bet they could accommodate more swimmers if all the lanes weren’t taken up. See the next issue. Also, what’s up with Mon, Wed, and Fri mornings, on which dozens of people could swim to their hearts’ content? Surely there are unemployed folks in SF that could work as lifeguards and pool attendants thrice a week.

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(3) Fitting more swimmers. The pool is 33m long, which is a length I personally like a lot. It means your 100s end on opposite sides of the pool, but I enjoy doing the math in my head, and it means less flip turns, which is good for those of us with herniated discs. But if they relented and built a barrier at 25y, swimmers would still have a legal, decent pool, and all the preschool lessons/water aerobics/etc would only take up part of the pool, freeing the rest of it for the rest of us to swim peacefully during the day.

(4) Thoughtless shower layout. The locker rooms are enormous–if threadbare–but there are no showers. At all! Where are they? In plain view of the pool. Given current Judeo-Christian morality, that means we shower in our togs, and there’s a giant sign in front of the showers that asks you to limit your shower to 2-3 minutes, because of severe drought. Which is idiotic given that there’s only one faucet and it turns on ALL EIGHT SHOWERS. I could shower for 10 minutes by myself and waste the same amount of water. That means one has to go home to take a “real” shower, which eats up more of one’s time. Ugh.

That said, the distance can’t be beat, the people are nice, and there are apparently plans to renovate the pool. I really hope that, when they do that, they’ll consider switching to salination, as in the Chinatown YMCA. And that there’ll be a decent shower/changing room. If that’s the case, I’ll quite USF and be a happy Balboa Pool person on a permanent basis. As it is, I’m happy to use the pool once or twice a week, when I can’t make it to USF or to the bay and need to swim close to home.

Have Fun, Dammit

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“Jump”. Credit: Kyaw Thar of Myanmar.

I’ve been remiss in updating the blog for a while, and the reason is partly that I’ve been remiss in swimming.  Several non-swimming things have happened: my book is finished and entering the production phase (coming out Feb 2015!) and we bought a house and moved. The move triggered another herniated disk upheaval (pox on you, L4/L5) and it has been fairly difficult to move around.

In addition, the Tampa Bay relay did not go as planned. I was hoping for a pleasant day on the water with two friends who are terrific swimmers. Alas, it turns out I am not relay material. After my first hour in the water I started throwing up and shaking from seasickness. I tried to pull myself together, but felt horrible inside the water in my second turn, swallowing endless amounts of salt water and losing track of time entirely. After six hours on the boat, my crew decided to evacuate me and I spent four hours at a Florida hospital with an IV needle in my arm. The seasickness had made my blood pressure collapse, allowing hypothermia to set in. My friends valiantly continued on, but stopped close to the marker near which I stopped in my solo effort the year before. They were very gracious about the whole thing, but I still felt terrible. It’s one thing to quit your own race; letting down your friends is quite another, and I was so hoping to be the anchor and voice of experience, rather than a shaky, blue person trying to stop crying and barfing. What made it worse was the constant nagging voice in my head, saying, “you wouldn’t feel this bad if you really wanted to finish the race.”

The Tampa events, and my general swimming mood, has caused me to reevaluate my plans for the season. I have come to the conclusion that I am not relay material, so I’m withdrawing from the English Channel relay. I’d rather not risk being the cause of my friends’ failure, and I hope they find someone faster, more capable, and less prone to seasickness. I’ve also withdrawn from Catalina. The process around that was interesting. I balked at the unequally-applied qualifying requirement, but it has occurred to me that, unfair and unreasonable as the requirement was, if I had really wanted Catalina to happen I might’ve nonetheless tried to satisfy it. That I resisted and called them out on the contractual reliance problem is an indication that my motivation is not what it was in 2012, when I was training for Tampa.

Lots happened since 2012. I think the beginning of the loss of enthusiasm was a painful personal parting from someone who was very dear to my heart, followed closely by the loss of my beloved grandfather and exhaustion from the heartwrenching caregiving marathon that preceded his death. The 40th year of my life is hitting me like a ton of bricks, physically. I gained weight. My back hurts. Quiet time with loved ones, and especially play time with the cats and time spent designing our new house, is healing and soothing. Swimming in chlorine is not that enticing. Heading to Aquatic Park feels like more of a project than it used to, partly because I don’t feel like an integral part of SERC and it’s triggering the same feelings of alienation and unpopularity that one feels in the gym showers in junior high. The Sea of Galilee project was a fun interlude, and it was fun because the water was beautiful and because it brought my grieving family together for something joyous and hopeful. But I realized that channel prep was just not making me happy and I was not motivated to work out.

I’m opening up about this partly because several swimmers that I like and respect a lot have made public, on Facebook and elsewhere, their struggles with races they are doing. People find it difficult to complete multiple-hour qualifying swims in cold, unpleasant water. People who planned ambitious multi-day marathons have had to scale back their dreams to fit their abilities, resistance to  cold, and motivation. And you know what? That’s totally okay. Because we don’t do this for a living. Because the world does not depend on it. Because we’re doing it for fun. So let’s have some fun, dammit.

There is a lot that I love about the marathon swimming community: the courage, the devotion, the commitment, the collective intelligence, the fascinating inner worlds of swimmers, the camaraderie and humor. But I’ve always found the Spartanism and machismo intimidating and they’ve always made me uncomfortable. My desire to win legitimacy and respect (which I hope I have) has put me in cold, unpleasant waters, and has caused me to overcommit this year. I have so much admiration and respect for Triple Crowners and other performers of amazing feats. But at this point in my life (and that may change) I’m just not channel material. I want fresh water and reasonable temperatures and glorious vistas. Above all, I want to have fun. So let’s have some fun, dammit.

When I started swimming six years ago I did it because I wanted to pick up a pleasurable sport to stay fit and mentally healthy. I enjoyed it very much, and the distances started growing, and I started succeeding in marathon racing, and it was terrific. But somewhere along the way, the long hours in the pool became my second job. I want to rediscover my joy in the water. I want to swim purely for the pleasure of swimming, whether it’s a short 3k workout or a ten-mile race. I want to come out of the water happy and refreshed. I want to look forward to getting in the water. I want the freedom and agency not to work out if I’m not feeling anticipation and giddiness. I want to look forward to my races with joy and excitement. I want to have fun, dammit.

As far as operative conclusions, here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to swim Kingdom Swim in beautiful Vermont in July. I can easily train for a 10-mile swim and lake swimming is natural to me.  I’ll also swim Swim the suck in October; the venue is intriguing and swimming in a river is such joy. In between, I may do a couple of local swims (Alcatraz, Golden Gate) and La Jolla (possibly just the mile, not Gatorman – undecided yet.) I’ll use the two bigger swims for some charity fundraising – one for GAAP, one for Casa de las Madres – because that has always been an important aspect of the sport for me. And above all, I am going to have fun, dammit. And if it seems that I’m not having fun, please remind me to take a step back and enjoy myself.