Total Immersion Forums  

Go Back   Total Immersion Forums > Outside the Box: Open Water Swimming
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 12-19-2009
Zanna Zanna is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 14
Default Escape from Alcatraz

I'm in and anxious, but have always wanted to do this event. How am I going to train for the Alcatraz open water swim between now and May 2? I live in the frozen north where there is no open water swimming until late May. I know there are a group of Bay swimmers on this forum and so I will appreciate your advice.

Is there anything I can do to prepare my body for the cold? I will swim in a wetsuit and insulated swim cap. I guess I should use earplugs also. Anyway to minimize the shock when the cold water hits your face?

I've never swum in salt water - only lakes and rivers. I would think the increased buoyancy would make me feel more secure, but what do I know?

Also, I get seasick swimming in waves (on lakes). Any way to handle that?

I've never jumped off a ferry into cold water either. Any advice on this?

How will sighting in the Bay compare to sighting in a lake?
Reply With Quote
Old 12-19-2009
terry terry is offline
Head Coach
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 2,305
terry has disabled reputation

It won't necessarily be so shocking. I swam Alcatraz two weeks ago on Dec 6 with a group from the South End Rowing Club. It was my first time, but I swam with Stevie Hurwitz, the all-time record holder for Alcatraz crossings. He was doing #657! You can see pix of the swim on my Facebook page.
There were a group of 13 of us. We went over to the "rock" in 3 Zodiacs then swam back in three "pods" of 4 to 5 swimmers, grouped by approx speed. It took me 48 minutes, but I was swimming quite slowly so as not to separate from the group with which I was swimming.
Water temp on that day was 52 (it's 50 now) but I would say it'll be well into the 60s by May. Of the 13, only three wore wetsuits, though all wore a thermal cap. I swam 4x in the bay while there, each time in my speedo. The temperature took my breath away the first day I swam, but within minutes I was very comfortable, and swam for 50 min without ever getting chilled again. The next three days I got in and begin swimming without any shortness of breath and each time felt quite warm within a few minutes.

One thing I would suggest doing the day before the event is go for a swim in Aquatic Park or perhaps along the outside of the pier that surrounds Aquatic Park. Check the tides if you do go outside the cove and swim against the tide first, so you can ride it back. It will be very helpful to familiarize yourself in advance.

Have you read my ebook on open water swimming, Outside the Box? It's the least costly item in our "store" but will help you greatly in preparing in the pool for swimming months from now in OW. It will also answer all those questions you posed. We also have a complementary DVD on OW skills and strategies.
Terry Laughlin
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist

May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story
Reply With Quote
Old 12-20-2009
naj naj is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: San Francisco, CA
Posts: 624
Default You'll be fine :)


I'm the one that most often posts about swimming in the Bay on this site. Terry is right about what he wrote, getting a dip in Aquatic Park will help you for the Alcatraz swim. Going against the current will really help because you will be getting pushed by an ebb tide and your landing will be at the beach on Aquatic park or what's called Crissy Field.

But no matter where you are you will have plenty of pilot coverage (heck I may be one of them, not sure just yet). The cold is a shock for most folks who've never swum in the ocean much less, S.F. Bay, but just make sure you tread water for a moment, breath in deep and then go on to complete your swim. Its intimidating to jump from a Ferry (It was for me the first time), but there are people on the boat that make sure you jump away from it and that no one jumps on top of you as you swim away (that's always a good thing don't you think?)

The water temperature might be high 50s or possibly 60F at that time but there are no guarantees. In any event your wetsuit will keep you warm and keep you buoyant.

As for the seasickness, the best I can offer is that hopefully the water will be "glassy" on that day, but again there are no guarantees. But let me tell you something, this morning (12/19), we had a bit of choppy water in the cove at Aquatic Park. I usually don't do well in roguh water, though I am working on getting better. Anyway, today I started out in the 50F waters and began swimming into the current. As I kept going along I could feel my body rise and fall with the waves, every time I felt lower in the water I extended my glide and when I felt I was rising up, I rolled to take a breath. After five minutes I was so relaxed I began to enjoy the challenge of the choppiness. In fact, I was quite secure that my TI skills would help me conserve energy and move faster, which they did! My point is that if you concentrate on mindful swimming, I believe, this can help you overcome your seasickness.

If you like, when the time comes to get out here for the event, let me know ( and I'll swim with you in Aquatic Park before the event. I can show you a couple of things on sighting, dealing with the currents and conserving energy that will make this a great swim for you.

Keep swimming!

Last edited by naj : 12-20-2009 at 02:42 PM.
Reply With Quote
Old 03-18-2010
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 2,453

I did the Escape from Alcatraz a few years ago, and was concerned about the cold temps as well as some of the other issues you brought up.

Strategies that I used included the following:
-did a lot of swimming at my pool with eyes closed, visualizing dark, murky cold green water below me teeming with curious, large aquatic and mammalian species that have sharp teeth and poor eyesight.
-Starting about 2 weeks prior to the event, began finishing my morning showers with a cold cold as I could stand for as long as I could stand it.
-Arrived for the Saturday race on Tuesday to get a few dips in the water at Aquatic Park (a fairly sheltered cove)
-Took a swim clinic by Pedro ( on Thursday before the race. There were about 60-80 participants, and we swam approximately the last 1/4 - 1/3 of the race course which aligns parallel to the shore due to the current. During this clinic the opportunity to experience the cold water in a crowded swim setting, along with the pilots pointing out a few specific buoys and landmarks helped ease my mind about the actual race itself...since I'd already swim the finish.

On race day, I didn't even feel the coldness of the water when I jumped in from the Ferry boat. (My qualifying race was also a jump from a ferry boat, so I'd done that exactly once before). I wore a short sleeved farmer Jane suit with a separate long sleeved top and a thermal neo hat. Next time I plan to do it sans suit, since the suit affects my stroke so much.

My visualization practice paid off well, and the pre-race sessions helped give me my line (based on pace). When I started hearing foghorns I knew that meant fog rolling in. I stopped and spun 360 degrees in the water...everything obscured ... Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, my land based sighting guides...everything covered in thick, thick fog. I loved it. It was exactly what I had visualized while swimming in my chlorinated 25yard club pool.

That swim remains one of the coolest things I've ever done...I'm sure you will love it.

Be sure to stop and look at the scenery mid's really incredible.

Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 03-18-2010 at 01:53 AM. Reason: typos
Reply With Quote
Old 03-18-2010
naj naj is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: San Francisco, CA
Posts: 624

Zanna adding to what Coach Suzanne has said about taking in the sights, this is also a good thing to do to know where you are and where you need to go. You will more than likely start on the Eastern side of the Island - or what my club calls Sunriser Beach - if this is the case after you swum a bit from the island look back to see where you are in conjunction to where you want to go (i.e. Aquatic Park 'AP').

If you are a fast swimmer you can make a straight shot to the opening of AP, if you are slower than there is a old WWWII ship known as the Jerimiah O'Brien that you will sight on to get you into the opening. All this will be covered in your swim briefing on the morning of the swim. And I would also suggest to swim with my good buddy Pedro. He knows Alcatraz as well as any body and has more than 500 crossings! Plus, he swam with me on my very first Alcatraz crossing
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

All times are GMT. The time now is 09:31 AM.

Powered by vBulletin®
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.