Race Report: Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon
Race day started with the alarm going off at 3 am.
We rode our bikes from the hotel to transition. First, we had to get my bike serviced as a result of poor shifting the day before (this didn’t help my nerves at all). I then set up my transition area and hopped on the bus at 4:30 am to take us to the pier.
Once there, we boarded the San Francisco Bell, a beautiful ferry, that took us to Alcatraz. The boat filled up fast, and the majority of the athletes were men — which is rare for any race. This was nice, because it made the bathroom lines almost non existent for the females, and that was nice for a change. I sat on the boat trying to calm my nerves during the hour long ferry ride. I looked to my left and Andy Potts is sitting right next to us! He is a very nice guy. He gave me a sweet smile that helped calm my nerves. I shook his hand and told him good luck. Andy Potts! He has won Alcatraz 5 times! Super nice guy.
The boat stops, and I see Alcatraz. My throat choked up, and my eyes filled with tears. In no time, they rushed us off the boat. They didn’t give us any time to think about it.
“Go, Go, Go get off the boat” they screamed.
THE SWIM: AM I IN A SALTY WASHING MACHINE?
We were first off the boat after the pros. Having no time to even think about it, I just leaped off the boat holding firmly to my goggles being careful to not lose them on entry. 2,000 athletes were off the boat in under six minutes! I Just jumped off the boat and started swimming towards the bay.
The water was warmer than previous years, but still only 60 degrees. Approximately 500 yards into the swim, the swells started to form. I was told the swim conditions were the worst they’ve seen in the history of the race. Three foot swells with white caps bellowed over me. Many times my swim stroke and kick were in the air, and not the water. I felt like I was in a washing machine being thrown about — not able to get into any rhythm.
This swim also has a very strong current where you are told to swim south the majority of the time instead of west towards the exit. If you swim west too early, you will end up under the Golden Gate Bridge and have to try to swim against the current to the exit. I swallowed a lot of salt water, but thankfully I didn’t get sick. I heard a lot of athletes had GI issues after the swim.
53 minutes later (a lot slower than expected), I finally make it to the shore. I was so relieved, and a lot of emotions swept over me. My brother said it perfectly when he said that the swim exit is the first finish line.
As I was exiting the water, an overly zealous male athlete pulled a Kung fu maneuver and elbowed me in the face forcing my goggles into my eye socket. It hurt, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I would have a black eye after the race.
I stripped my wetsuit off, threw on my shoes, and ran 800 meters to my transition area. I jumped on my bike and headed out for the very hilly 18 mile bike course.
THE BIKE: WHAT ABOUT MY HILL TRAINING?
I thought my Colorado altitude and hill training would benefit me… nope! The swim wore me out, and it took awhile for my legs to warm up. Some hills were so steep that my breaks actually squealed on the way down (which I rode back up on the return ride). With most hilly bike courses, you can use the downhill to help push you up the next hill, but in San Francisco the uphill segments are on a turn. With every hill, you are basically starting at zero.
The bike course was absolutely beautiful, as it followed the crashing waves of the bay, Prisidio Park, and the Golden Gate Bridge. But did I mention, it was hilly? I’ve never seen so many dropped chains or athletes off their bikes walking up hills. I’m happy to say I was able to shift accordingly and never dropped my chain or had to get off my bike at any point. However, my legs were toast by the time I got back to transition. I saw my friend, Judy, halfway through the bike course. Seeing her gave me an extra boost and made me smile. Even strangers yelling my the name on my race bib really helps.
THE RUN: ROLLING TIDES AND SAND LADDERS
The run was eight miles of more hills. The first mile was flat, then uphill for two miles, followed by a long set of stairs, a short downhill hill, and then a bit of a trail run.
After that first hard climb, we ran along the beach for about a mile or so. We ran mostly on the packed sand along the shore, paying close attention to the waves rolling in and out. I’ve heard of athletes getting their shoes soaked from not paying attention to the tide.
We did have to run on the loose sand for a bit, and that hurt. It made my calf cramp up, and my entire left leg was really tight. I tried to stretch it out, but my hamstring started to cramp so I just decided to walk a bit.
After the beach run was the dreaded sand ladder. It is 400 steps up a hill of sand with logs added for “stability.” Most walk up, holding onto a cable for security. The logs were very unstable, and it was safer to walk. My legs burned, but my leg actually loosened up at this point.
After the sand ladder, there was a bit of a trail run, a small downhill, more stairs and then the last 2 miles were flat back to the finish. I ran back by the Golden Gate Bridge, watching the tide rolling in and out. Finally, I was able to see that “oh so beautiful finish line.”
THE BIG FINISH
With most races, I have a bit of energy left in the tank to increase my stride to the finish. But on this day, all I could manage was a slow jog. I couldn’t walk at the finish shoot, but I sure wanted to. I high-fived all the spectators in the stands as I ran to the finish. I crossed that finish line not without any regard for my time. I knew it was the slowest race I’ve ever done, but I didn’t even care. My eyes filled with tears, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I looked up and saw my friend Larry, who finished before me, waiting for me at the finish. We gave each other the biggest hug. We escaped!!! What a great day.
This was one of the most technical races I’ve ever done, but also the funnest. It was more like an obstacle course. I am reminded of this quote while I was researching the race, “I’d rather be standing on top of the hill that I just dominated unable to breath, ready to puke, hair matted to my forehead, than at the bottom wondering what it would feel like.”
So what’s next?!?!
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