A San Francisco Swimming Flight Connection Layover


When I booked this particular flight combination a few weeks ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the 5 hour layover.  Additionally, I had mentally thought the flight left at noon, rather than 10AM – meaning that I thought I’d have enough time to swim prior to heading to the airport in Paris.  Unfortunately, neither were true.

But then I had an epiphany!  Why not just do my Sunday swim workout in San Francisco?  It would certainly beat sitting in the airport for five hours, and would provide a bit of fresh air after 11 hours of flying that first leg.  Thus, a plan was hatched!

Thankfully, my flight was not only on-time but actually ahead of schedule.  We descended into San Francisco on a beautiful sunny day (seen above).  Good thing I didn’t fly out Saturday instead, as that flight was delayed some 4+ hours.

Once I landed while we made our way to the gate (in the US, you’re allowed to use your phone then) I pulled open the SwimRadar app and figured out my options for the closest pool:


I skimmed the list for outdoor pools and noticed a 50m one was near the top of the list.  A quick check of the site showed they were open for lap swimming.  Perfect!


With just carry-on baggage and Global Entry, I was through customs in about 2-3 minutes.  If you travel internationally semi-frequently, Global Entry is your greatest friend.  Otherwise, the lines looked at least 45+ minutes long with all the flights from Asia arriving at the same time as ours.


From there I headed up to the Airtran system to get a rental car.


I decided for rental car over taxi because more than likely the rental car was going to be cheaper.  With the discounted rate I had it was under $20, I can’t imagine a taxi both ways would be that cheap – even if only a few miles away.  Further, I then had a safe place to store my backpack and roll aboard, and a bit of freedom for grabbing food afterwards. The only downside of course was that San Francisco’s airport’s off-site car rental facility is amongst the most time-intensive operations in the US.  Quick it is not.  But, I had a fair bit of time.

The drive was only three miles away, though I think I probably drove half of that just getting out of the rental car facility.  I soon arrived at Burlingame High School, which is where the Burlingame Aquatics Center sits.


I should point out that this high school appeared to have a pretty sweet setup.  Both field-turf for a dedicated soccer & football field, as well as a separate track (with another football field) and tennis courts off to the side – all looking brand new:




I headed on in towards the Aquatic Center’s front door to pay:


Once inside, I was pretty much in paradise:


Let me summarize the ways this was awesome (and different than my usual swims):

1) I would have my own lane…oh glorious lane!
2) It was 50 meters long, and setup long course
3) The water was crystal clear
4) I wasn’t sharing my lane with the usual 10-20 other people
5) No-one was backstroking down my lane with four pieces of swim equipment at the speed of a one-legged turtle
6) I was outdoors
7) It was sunny
8) People were friendly

This pool alone may have us move to Burlingame someday.


With that, I picked out my lane and setup my water bottle (DC this was not).  Funny, my water bottle was actually from the plane, and thus, from France.


From there I set the watch for a 50m pool and got ready to swim:


Now to swim! Back and forth I went.  My workout was a descending workout, with the following structure:


I would increase the intensity as I descended from set to set.  Thus, the first set was more or less a warm-up.  And the final sets were at a pretty hard intensity.

It’s funny – while it’s rather nice swimming in a 50m long pool (and actually having the lanes setup that way), it’s also the slowest I’ll be.  I’m fastest of course in a 25y short-course pool, simply because of the walls and turns.  I generally have a fairly quick turn (for a non-competitive swimmer anyway), so the fact that I do half as many turns means I’m a bit slower than I would be on a short-course pool.  And of course, with a meter pool over a yard pool, your times will be approximately 10% longer (i.e. comparing 500m to 500y).


On the bright side, with having the lane to myself it meant that I wasn’t having to dodge and weave past another dozen plus people.  Nor did I have a small welcoming committee at the end of each lane blocking any turns off the wall (no way to do that in my usual pool in France):


And they had all the pool toys you could need in big bins – complimentary!

The pool had three different depths over the length of it, a shallow depth of perhaps 1m (3ft) deep, then one about 7-8ft deep, and then one much deeper for diving.   There was also a small shallow pool off to the side for kits, though no kids were present.


And I still can’t get past how clear the water was.  This would make a perfect pool for doing all my underwater product review shots – both because it’s fairly empty (I don’t like having people around when doing shoots), and because of the water clarity.  And being outdoor I’d get great light, versus some of the indoor pools make it really tough to get good shots.  Oh, and for a preemptive question/answer, all the near/under-water shots in this post were taken with this small camera, though normally for product review shots I use a full underwater DSLR setup.


From a swimmers standpoint they also had both a digital timer clock as well as a traditional swim-clock setup at one end of the pool, which wound up actually right at the end of my lane.  There are no clocks setup in the pool I normally swim in (time, timer, or otherwise).


The whole workout took about an hour all-in, including a 2-minutes rest in between sets.


After I was done swimming, I rinsed off using the outdoor showers, and then relaxed a bit on one of the deck chairs.  I did this mostly because I lacked a towel in my bag, so about 5 minutes of air-drying in the sun worked perfectly!


From there it was back out to the car, ready to head back to the airport.


I made a quick swing by Starbucks to grab some food, since I hadn’t eaten since somewhere over Utah a number of hours earlier.  The little ‘downtown’ area of Burlingame is actually rather cute.  Had I had more time I probably would have eaten somewhere local.


Instead, I went with ‘my usual’ – a turkey-bacon breakfast sandwich and a Mocha-Lite Frappuccino  – both fairly low calorie options.  Interestingly some portion of this Starbucks is now branded like a French bakery (La Boulange de Burlingame).  I assure you, looking at the options in the Starbucks cabinet, no self-respecting French (or French-transplant) would consider them of Boulangerie status.  Actually, even for a Starbucks they looked pretty rough.  My understanding though is the facility next door was the full-on bakery, though I didn’t check it out.

On the flip side, no French bakery has turkey-bacon sandwiches or Mocha-Lite Frappuccino’s, so I’ll consider it a wash.


A few minutes later I dropped off my rental car.  A Mustang as it happened to be (look, I just take what they give me, though I generally prefer the absolute smallest possible car).


And then back onto the Airtran to the airport:


About 2 hours later I was boarding my flight up to Seattle:


And shortly thereafter that, I was passing back past the Golden Gate Bridge towards 35,000 feet and more airtime.


With that I kickoff a week in Seattle for meetings.  Hopefully I’ll manage to get some of the same weather I had last time I was there.  Though at present it’s not looking terribly likely.  Win some, lose some.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week ahead!


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  1. Rasmus

    I think you have the greatest job in the world, to be able to (a) work all over the place(though its just work, it beats AB commuting, having tried both) (b) have time to train everywhere you go, briefly, damn I am SO envious of your life.
    About the pool, that was pretty perfect, sad to hear about your usual crappy pool conditions in France. Let me know if you ever need to come by Denmark and I can PM you a good location to a 50m pool, 50m setup with not many people outside rush hour.
    Good blog entry, I love hearing how even with American security, it IS possible to utilize a 3hr window(you only used 3 I mean) when just wanting to pop off for a quick swim/run etc.

  2. oldSAP

    our pool here is only 20 meters long, most of the time you can’t see past 5 feet, no lanes, people swimming in all directions, have t look out for people diving into the pool while you’re swimming.

  3. John

    If you want a biking or running partner while you’re here, let me know. I’m in Snohomish. I enjoy your blog :)

  4. Ray, there was a lot going on this weekend here in the Bay Area. You could have caught the Bay to Breaker race and seen lots of pot smoking naked people running through the city, or maybe a stage of the Amgen Tour of California.
    What most people from here don’t realize, is that SFO is pretty far away from the actual San Francisco city. You did a great job finding a pool that was open and close to the airport. We are spoiled here. Usually when I’m in Germany working, I have the same problems you do in the pool, fighting it out with about 10 people/lane, if there even is a lane.Or avoiding the crazy ‘old German style’ back stroke, which basically means not looking which way you are going and trying to stretch your arms AND legs out as wide as possible in a ‘snow-ferry-like’ motion. But it may surprise you, the conditions for swimming in Germany were even worse 20 years ago when I first arrived there. Unless you were in a swimming club or team, there were never dedicated lanes or even lane lines to allow a workout.
    See you around…

    • DC Rainmaker

      Indeed, getting from SFO to the city can be messy depending on traffic and where you’re going. This was quick and clean!

      Realistically I could have been more efficient too, probably slicing at least 30-40 minutes off the time – but I was just enjoying the day and being lazy.

  5. Ray, don’t drink water that’s been heated inside a plastic water bottle. Even by the sun, the plastic leaches carcinogenic chemicals.

  6. 5) No-one was backstroking down my lane with four pieces of swim equipment at the speed of a one-legged turtle

    I couldn’t agree more… what is even worse, that certain person is backstroking without any piece of swim equipment with the speed of one-legged sloth…

  7. Todd


    Check out the Taquieria in Burlingame next time. Outstanding Mexican food.

    Also, I swam at the pool you wrote about when I lived in SF. It is a hidden gem

  8. Jeff

    La Boulange is actually an SF local bakery/pastry shop which, I just found out through the googles, was purchased by Starbucks about a month ago (for $100M!). Hopefully they keep the same bakery standards as their croissants were some of the best in the city.

  9. Yes, we are totally spoiled with our outdoor pools here – most of the ones I swim in are like that! Glad you enjoyed the brief visit to our area ;)

  10. Jealous. That is all. :-)

  11. Tommy

    You must have gotten some funny looks from the car rental people, renting a car and returning it two hours later!

  12. Jerome

    No visit at #ATOC?

  13. Pablo

    Thanks for the inspiration to work out during, through, despite, work travel.

  14. Michael

    Boy, you make it hard to use the, “I don’t have time to workout today.” excuse when you can get in an hour swim AND clear int’l customs during an airport layover.

  15. NorCalGal

    Great post! You got some absolutely stellar weather, as it can be very cold, foggy and dreary here in SF during the summer. If you find yourself nostalgic for big American breakfasts the next time you’re in Burlingame, try Stacks. Good for a post-workout calorie bomb. May you and your roll aboard have many more safe travels, on-time arrivals, and quick passages through customs. Cheers! Keep up the great posts.

  16. JR

    I see your using the garmin swim. Is this your go-to swim watch now? Any reason why choosing it over a 910xt? I would think while traveling a device that can do all three sports would mean less to pack than 3 devices. Also do these garmins now allow people to create a swim workout on the pc and upload it to the watch to follow at the pool?

    • DC Rainmaker

      It was mostly just a case of having it on my little swim bag. Also, since it hangs out in there, I don’t have to worry about remembering to charge it.

      I’ve been using the Swim lately mostly just because it’s smaller on my wrist and I’ve been swimming with two swim-tracking units at once, so this slightly minimizes how dorky it looks to swim with two devices.

      Unfortunately no, Garmin still doesn’t allow creation of swim workouts or transferring them to the units.

  17. PeteDin206

    If you are free in Seattle tonight, there is a group that runs from the Born to Run store across the street from the downtown REI. Group meets at 6pm and usually sets out for 5-7 (sometimes 9) around 6:15. Otherwise try and enjoy the grey (it is better than the 87 and ridiculous humidity I just left in Chicago, not to mention the chaos of ORD).

  18. Monica

    What a beautiful pool and looks like perfect weather! Perfect setup to swim all day!

  19. Glad you enjoyed your brief stay in the bay. We are very fortunate to have so many pools just like that swim in in the bay area. And as noted above, Starbucks really purchased the La Boulange eateries. So they have transitioned in some of their pastries into the Starbucks lineup.

  20. Pieter-Jan

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the great tip. Went there this morning on foot from my hotel and had a great training session.
    Experienced the american pool etiquette too, something that does not really exist in Belgium or any other european country I went swimming.

  21. Bryan Ellison

    I went to Burlingame High School and used to use this pool all the time. I sure do miss it. Great to see these pictures, and glad you got to enjoy a bit of my hometown!

  22. I was a lifeguard at the Burlingame pool for years. You seriously lucked out. I have never seen long course so empty! To have your own lane is unheard of. Thanks for sharing SwimRadar – it’s going to make hunting for a pool so much easier.