Friday, June 12, 2015

I Escaped From Alcatraz...barely

This past weekend was my "A" race for the year.  Well, kind of.  I thought it would be, but looking back, I probably could have done more considering it was my "A" race.  Either way, over the past weekend, I Escaped From Alcatraz.  At least I tried to.

Escape from Alcatraz is one of the bucket list races for every triathlete.  The fact that we swim from the fabled island of Alcatraz is something that every triathlete wants to do.  This year it was the 35th year of the race and I somehow got into the lottery back in October.  Given how hard it is to get into the lottery, I figured there was no way I was going to turn down this chance to race the course.

Being stupid and jumping in to the water with no wetsuit for a practice swim
So last Friday, the wife and I packed up and flew across the country to San Francisco for the weekend.  After spending Friday walking around and site seeing, Saturday brought a practice swim in the Aquatic Park and then race check in.  Swimming in the Aquatic Park was a necessary evil.  The water temps was 52 degrees so I wanted to see how cold it was going to be the next day.  Yeah, um, it was cold.  Like cold that I couldn't feel my hands.  After 10 minutes thought, everything was numb enough that I enjoyed the swim.

The race expo was a big long disappointment.  I thought with how big this race is that there would be more there but only a few exhibitors and it took 2 hours to wait on a line to sign 4 waivers that I wouldn't die by getting eaten by a shark, freezing to death, piss off a seal, or have my sperm count lowered permanently and everything in between.  I planned it so that I would be there for the race meeting which also turned out to be a let down.  Given the difficulty of the course, I wanted there to be more explanation on how to navigate the swim/bike and what to expect.  All I got was "watch the videos on the website", which I have done countless times.

After the expo, it was time to have dinner and get some sleep.

Race Morning:
Waking up at 4am is not fun.  But that's whats required to get to transition, to get on a bus, to get on the ferry, to wait.  I set my transition up pretty quickly and got to the ferry about 530 am.  So I settled in my seat on the floor, made some friends and hung out for the next 2 hours.  Its amazing to hear stories from other athletes. What is also cool is that most of the pro's hang out in the common folk section so we get to talk to them and hear what they have to say.  I had a chance to sit with Andy Potts who was looking to go after his 8th win.  It was also pretty cool we were wearing the same exact race kit.

At about 7/7:15 they start making announcements about the start so it was time to get my wetsuit on and get ready for the start of the swim.  Once 7:30 came around, it was go time.  There is no hesitation at all.  Gun goes off and they shoo all athletes off the boat.  Over 2000 athletes are off that boat in less than 6 minutes so it's a free for all and if you are scared to jump off the boat, you get pushed so you better do it yourself so you can at least expect when to go.   Looking down at how deep the the water is from the boat, I thought it would be worse.  So at least those fears were quelled once I got outside the boat.  I got out on the boat deck and was ready to jump.

Once on the boat deck, you have about 6 seconds to jump before either someone pushed you aside or fear gets in the way.  I waited for neither and when I saw clear space in the water, I went for it.  The good news is that it wasn't as cold as I thought.  Nice.  One thing went my way. That's about it for the swim.

Knowing swimming isn't my strength I just wanted to get through it and thought the current was going to help.  We are told to site at a few landmarks, but it was so foggy that it was hard to do.  I finally got my bearings and my first landmark and started to go.  The first few minutes were great.  I had a great rhythm and thought this might be my day.  Then I just had no idea what to do. I lost my sighting, realized this is a long swim, and didn't think I was going to finish it.  I had a panic attack without the attack.  I never thought I was in danger, but I kept wanting to stop.  I would swim for a few minutes, stop and tread water, think I couldn't finish and then start up again.  But I kept saying this is not a race I want to DNF on.

The one question a lot of athletes have in the swim is when to move on to the next site marker.  I had no idea so I was going after my first one for probably too long before changing my direction to the next one.  This probably cost me a few minutes but that didn't matter.  My swim sucked regardless.

I really thought I was going to DNF but I finally got my wits about me and made it to shore.  It's a half a mile run to transition area and I couldn't be more thankful for that.

Swim: 44 minutes.  Horrible.  Nothing positive to say about this.  This could and should have been 10 minutes faster.  No excuses but I really need to improve my swim.

Grabbing my stead and heading out to the bike
(in the far right in the white/yellow speed suit)
I got on my bike and just went.  I knew I had a serious deficit to make up but I also knew this was a tough and hilly course.  Once on the bike, I was going after it.  Surprisingly, the hills didn't bother me at all.  Maybe it was because I was behind so many people that I kept passing everyone who I am naturally faster than.  I thought the hills were going to be hard, but I was rocking them.  This really impressed me as it shows that my bike training paid off.  I was killing the hills and so happy on the bike.

What goes up, must come down.  San Francisco is not a flat town, so these huge ass hills I was going up, I had to come down.  Usually not a problem, but they were some steep hills and technical turns on them.  Let me say that I have NEVER been so scared on a bike before in my life.  EVER. not after my crash 2 years ago, not any time.  People were bombing down these hills at like 40 plus miles per hour.  I was not comfortable with this but in order to not get run over, I had to do this.

It's weird that I was looking forward to going up hills since I knew I could pass people, but I also knew I would be the most safe.

After 16 miles, the course became flat again and I made my way back to T2.
I saw the wife as I was entering T2 and she said I rocked the bike course.

Very happy after coming back form that rough bike course
Bike: 57 minutes

This is the only part of the race I enjoyed.  The run was just awesome.  You get some amazing views on the run.  Like the bike, it was extremely hilly, but I loved the hills and they didn't bother me either.   At the 1 mile mark, I saw Andy Potts running with the eventual winner Eric Lagerstorm and that was cool.  A few minutes later I saw Lauren Goss (my triathlete crush) and Miranda Carafree in the 2nd and 3rd positions on their way back in.

The only part of the race I actually enjoyed
The run course takes you on streets, trail, stairs, steps, beach and the infamous sand ladder.

I was cruising on the run.  I felt good and was pushing the pace.  The only thing looking back on is I probably could have pushed a little harder but not knowing the course, I didn't want to bonk so I stayed within a good zone.

After running on the beach under the Golden Gate Bridge, you get to the Sand Ladder, which is a 400 step ladder consisting of, you guessed it, sand.  Everyone is told to walk it, but I tried to do my best to run it.  The problem with being so far back is there were so many people on the ladder when I got there that it was hard to pass people.  I did my best and ran and walked the ladder.  After living in NYC, it wasn't as bad as I thought.

After the sand ladder, its basically 2 miles of downhills and flats to bring you home.  I really enjoyed this part and found myself running with another racer until I pulled away with about 3/4 miles left.

Coming into the finishers chute, I couldn't be more happy this race was over.

Run 54 minutes (including the sand ladder)

Total Race time: 2:44- goal was 2:30-2:35, so if I had a decent and normal swim I would have hit my goal

Overall thoughts:
This race was supposed to be enjoyable, but with me being miserable during the swim and the bike and scared on my bike, this was a total let down for me.  I thought I could do well, I thought it would be great, but all I wanted it to be is over.

I do recommend that anyone who wants to do this race should try and get in.  its a once and a lifetime event, and though I didn't enjoy it, I am glad that I got the opportunity to do it.  Swimming from Alcatraz was cool even if I hated it.  Not many people get to say that they did that.
Post race pic
Now that I survived Alcatraz, the wife and I are heading to Napa and Sonoma to enjoy some time off and drink this race away.
Enjoying some relaxation after a long race weekend

No comments:

Post a Comment