By: Brenda Hammans
This will be my fourth time swimming Alcatraz, and I’m afraid my friends really think I’m crazy. “Certifiably crazy”, is how I’ve been described. But once you do it, and do it again, you find yourself wanting to do it again, but better, and faster. This year, my goal is to do just that….the swim is tough. It’s cold! The last couple of times it’s been choppy. But I continually want to improve my swim time. So, my advice to “newbies” is to make sure they spend plenty of time in cold water (I sat in a bathtub of ice water for weeks before the race….it helps you acclimate), and to put earplugs in BOTH ears!
Sounds crazy, I know, but I have heard of several people who experience vertigo from the chill of the water. If you put earplugs in, the water can’t get to your inner ear, and the vertigo will be avoided. Make sure your goggles are underneath your Triathlon cap (hopefully, you also have an insulated cap under that). Hold your goggles to your face to prevent them from coming off from the jump. Never dive. Jump off the boat scissor-style, and then swim like *#$*&#&$ once you hit that water!!
Honestly, although the bike is amazingly beautiful, and the run is challenging and memorable, it’s the swim that brings me back. To say I swam Alcatraz is a real eye-opening, conversation stopper! People are amazed and frankly, so am I especially when I watch those dreaded You-Tube videos. Just swim like you always swim, and remember to site to be sure you don’t get too far off course. And, more important than anything, enjoy the ride! Take the time to flip over on your back to enjoy the view around you, and really absorb what it is you’re doing at that moment! Priceless!
In every race, I take mental pictures of what I see throughout any of the 3 disciplines, since carrying a camera isn’t much of an option. But there are scenes I will never forget in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge on every breath to the right in the swim, the beautiful homes, the terrain, and the shore on the bike, and Baker Beach, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate bridge, and everything in-between on the run.
You see, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I only learned to swim 2 ½ years ago. Well…you put me in a pool and I’d be fine floating around, but I had never taken swimming lessons when I was a child, and certainly never knew how to swim with goggles, a cap, and all that other nonsense like ear plugs! I had to learn how to swim freestyle (elbow up!), how to breathe correctly, etc. It seemed so much harder than I thought it would, and as I was going through it, I would tell friends that I now know why we teach children to swim at a young age. At the time, I was 44, and I felt like I was twisting and turning things that hadn’t twisted or turned in years!
Here’s how it started…When I moved to Michigan a little over 4 years ago, I knew no one. One morning at the gym where I work out, a group was talking about doing a relay in a local duathlon. They asked if I’d like to do the bike portion of the race, but I told them I couldn’t because I didn’t have a bike. WELL! One girl in the class spoke up, and offered her bike to me, if I would do it. I couldn’t refuse.
Problem is….they never did the relay….they all signed up individually, so I did, as well. I did 3-4 duathlons and realized I really didn’t like to run twice…but I couldn’t swim. That was in November. So, in the cold December winter, I took swimming lessons every Friday night (sounds exciting, eh?!). I did that for 3 months, until I joined the local Y to practice my swimming there. I spent most of my time in what I like to call the “tadpole lane”, huffing and puffing after 25 yards. I never thought it would get any easier, but eventually it did. There was a group of “sharks”, as I liked to call them, in lanes 4 & 5. They all swam very fast, and it just seemed like there were arms and water flying all over when they were there. One day the “sharks” asked if I wanted to join them, and I did.
Today, they are my swim friends, and we swim together 2-3 times per week, or as often as my triathlon coach’s schedule allows.
I love doing triathlons out of state. I’ve done only 2 in the state of Michigan, and all others out of state. Last year, I completed 7 triathlons, all Olympic and half ironman distances. This year, I will complete 8 triathlons, including my first full Ironman in Panama City, Florida on November 5th.
So, traveling to triathlons is how I vacation. I love to find races in neat cities, like San Francisco, go a few days early, experience the people and the place, do the race, and then fly home. It’s become a real hobby (although an expensive one!)
But mostly, I love going out into the city, starting to walk, and doing whatever I want to along the way. To go to a new city, and have no plans is actually very relaxing to me. My work schedule is very demanding in terms of time and travel. It keeps me on the road quite a bit, so the challenge is to get in my necessary workouts on the road. That means joining gyms across the country to have access to pools and treadmills for those cold winter mornings! How do I do it? I have no idea…just do it, and everything should fall into place. Weekends, unfortunately, are taken up mostly in training, and then recovering. It doesn’t lend much to a social life, but I do enjoy what I do.