I'm new to swimming. I used to really enjoy running, and I love the challenge of doing various races with the goal of personal accomplishment and enjoying the running community, not trying to go to the olympics or anything.
I can't run like I used to because of a back injury, which is very sad and frustrating for me, but my physical therapist suggested swimming. I took a class to learn proper technique, and have built up to where I can swim 800-1200 meters in the pool very comfortably. Now I would love to start doing some races for personal challenge. So...
What is a good distance for a first race?
Know of any specific events in the SF Bay Area that are good for beginners? A lot of the open water events I see seem to be for advanced swimmers only.
Any suggestions of good groups of communities to join in San Francisco?
Thanks for your help!
Welcome! I'm also a relative newbie, having raced in only three meets. I started out with short events, just because I felt more confident with that. In my most recent meet, I swam 25 yard events in all four strokes and longer distances in freestyle (my strongest stroke). Don't miss out on the fun of swimming relays; they'll really make you feel like part of your team and you'll get encouragement from your teammates.
I don't have a very competitive personality, so I really swam my first meet just to convince myself that I could. I didn't expect to continue racing. I found, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed it. Yes, it is competitive, but I hope you find--as I did--that you get an enormous amount of encouragement--not only from your teammates, but even from swimmers competing against you. There's a real camaraderie along with the competition.
Go for it!
I live in the SF Bay Area, and took up swimming as a serious activity about 18 months ago. I want to tell you that you have an excellent opportunity to test yourself coming up on October 17, 2010 by swimming the RCP Tiburon mile. It's a 2000 yard (1.15 mile) swim from Angel Island to Tiburon. Wet suits are allowed, unless you are competing for time/placement within your age division. This is a really fun and extremely well organized event, they had about 100 kayaks out for 800 swimmers, and a kayak was never more than 10-15 yards away the whole time I was in the water. As this was the first open water swim I ever attempted (except for shorter training swims at Aquatic Park), the abundance of kayak volunteers made me feel really comfortable that if I got into any trouble (cramp, swallow water, etc) someone would be right there to help me. As I was one of the slower swimmers, they asked me a couple times if I was doing alright and I gave them the thumbs-up and kept swimming.
I swam it last September, at the time i was not in very good shape at all. While I'd worked up to swimming about 1200-1400 yards per day in the pool, I had a big old belly and only quit smoking a few weeks before the event. Coming into the swim, my pace for a mile was about 47 minutes. Despite that, I completed the swim, tired, but in no danger of giving up or not making it. It took me 57 minutes and a few seconds change.
My intention in telling you that is that I was a beginner last year, and this was a great event for my introduction to open water swimming.
It is less expensive to enter this year's event if you register by September 3. I think that after that, they jack it up by $50. It is a little expensive, but that gets you the solid event organization and also because most of the entry fee goes to the non-profit Hospice by The Bay.
If you wind up doing it, there are lots of good articles on training for open-water and cold water swims. Wetsuit or not, the water temperature is shocking so you'll need a few swims (I'd say 3-4 minimum) in similar temperature water. First one should be a short swim (15-20 minutes) if you've never swam in that level of cold water before. Then building up to at least 30-35 minutes in the cold water on your last training. Your body has a host of reactions to the water temperature (burning skin sensation on chest, immediate spike of heart rate and blood pressure, shortness of breath) that you can learn to manage with a little practice, but I promise you don't want to experience them for the first time on race day. You will not make it.
Good luck whatever you choose, if you do swim on October 17 you can reply to my post and ask any questions you have. The website is rcptiburonmile.com and it is listed on the Active.com site.