My friend Bob took me out near Alcatraz on his boat Friday afternoon so I could see some dolphins, some seals, sailboats, tourists piling on and off ferries, and the start of the Escape From Alcatraz swim course. I had decided that I would go sans wetsuit because I wanted to suffer. I figured if I could get in and swim without the neoprene, then the swim would be cake during the race.
Problem is, my swim suit was wet before I left, so I hung it up to dry next to my bag. When I left in a hurry, the bag came, but the suit stayed behind. So there I am, 400m away from the dock at Alcatraz Island with Bob, his wife, son and friend, and no swim suit. Bob had a solution, “Well, nobody is going to say anything if you just go without a suit.”
I wrapped a towel around myself and stripped, climbed on the side of the boat then dove in, wearing nothing but goggles.
Bob is an experienced open water swimmer who has never used a wetsuit, so he prepared me for swimming in 55 degree water by talking me through it ahead of time. “When you jump in, your body is going to tighten up. Just relax, get your breath, then start easy. The discomfort will go away in a couple minutes.”
He was right. As I dove in my entire naked body seized from the cold. I came to the surface and took two strokes, turning my head to breath. The breath went in, but I couldn’t exhale. My diaphragm refused to release. I slowed my stroke rate and focused on forcing air out. It started to work, and I was able to take a few shallow breaths. Two more strokes, and I could breath a little deeper. Then I thought of the fact that I was within eyesight of Alcatraz, a national monument, skinny dipping in cold water. Why did I think this was good race prep? The humor of the moment took over the discomfort, and soon I was swimming with a smile. Before I knew it my 10 minute allotment was up, and Bob insisted I get back in the boat before I got too cold.
I learned where to sight, and was able to see the markers from the water. For sure I was ready for a fast swim come Sunday.