Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2009 – Race Report

As I said before, full on “look at me!” race reports are not my style, but I also said before that I enjoy being able to revisit some memories and thoughts from previous races and training. Escape from Alcatraz gave the kind of experience that I don’t want to forget.

One of many nice SF views -- Scott Ave towards the marina.One of many nice SF views — Scott Ave towards the marina.

Friday started off with the typical lazing around M&A’s apartment while dealing with email and catching up on news. I also afforded myself the time to just figure out how I wanted to attack my day in regards to training and logistics. The detriment of this was staying in the apartment, which placed me in close proximity to cookies from Specialtys that Alanna brought home. Certainly not a recommended pre-race nutritional supplement – I think my time on the run course proves that!

As was indicative of M&A the entire time that I was in SFO, they were extremely accommodating and excellent hosts by allowing me to use their second car. This came in very handy, because taking public transit down to the aquatic park could have taken forever. So, after breezing through Golden Gate Park for my day’s mileage, I got my gear together to go for a swim. I drove towards the bay not knowing exactly where I was going, and just going off of memory from the last time I was in SFO and with my sense of direction. I made my way, and I found a spot right in front of the South End Rowing Club. It was a meter. I parked it, and put a quarter in. I didn’t get a ticket.

Changed and in the water. It was cold initially, but after that, it was nothing really. In the aquatic park, there is a buoy line set up. Did a couple down and backs that should have totaled something like ¾ of a mile. I ended up lounging in the water for a bit and talking with two Irish guys. One was visiting the other who was doing the race. I ended up literally bumping into a dude from the UK (actually, he wasn’t paying attention and swam into my shoulder) who was also out for a pre-race swim. As it would continue to be proven to me, the race drew in people from all over.

I went to Sports Basement for the pre-event discussion. Glad I went. Got a lot of good info there that wasn’t shared at the pre-race meeting. Got my CO2 cartridge, some gels, and I was out the door. As I’m getting into the car, a dude walking past asked if the something-or-other was “that way.” I wasn’t sure what he said, and I asked him to repeat what he said. He was mumbling a bit, but we eventually cleared up our comms. Dude was just looking for a ride. No worries. Off we go. Ends up the guy was born and grew up in South Africa, lived in Hoboken, NJ, had lived somewhere out west, and he was currently residing in Paris. The international flavor continues. Good chat in the ride back to marina. “Good luck to ya’ – off ya’ go! Cheers.”

Home. M&A had gone to the store and gotten the pasta goods. Cooked up a big meal. 3 big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs, bread and wine, salad and cookies, and I was done. Just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Messing around with Jackalope!Messing around with Jackalope!

Saturday morning, and I almost got my day FUBAR’ed. Went out to move the car in the driveway so that M&A could get the other car out to go to their dance lesson. I didn’t have the apartment keys. Off they go, garage shut, and front gate shut. SHIT. Zip around the corner to see if they got stopped at the TL, but no – they were gone. Back to the stoop. Hmm’ed and haww’ed for a bit. One of the building tenants believed me enough when I told them that I was a friend staying with M&A, I had their car key, but I got locked out. They buzzed me into the building. Luckily, Alanna didn’t lock the apartment door behind her as she went out, and I was in.

Off to the expo. Parked illegally again…this time in front of a fire hydrant. Didn’t realize it until I was parked and out of the car. Pffft! Who’s got time to unlock the car, get back in and find a legal spot?!?! Sheesh!

The expo was a bit of a letdown. Not as many vendors as I thought there would be. Philadelphia has a better expo. I mean, shit, Endless Pools sets up one of their pools at the expo in Philly. Nothing close to that for EFA. I did see some trick bikes though. Oh, for the love of bike porn! Saw some sweet looking Felts. Saw the much talked about Cervelo P4. I also saw the new Fuji, and that was pretty slick looking. I then sampled some Clif bars and chomps. Chomps are good. They taste like gummy treats, but I’m not sure my stomach likes them too much when exercising.

Athlete meeting and blah blah blah. Finished with that and then over to Front of the Pack to pick up my rental. A nicely tuned up Cervelo R3 awaited. It was a 51cm size, and that’s really too small for me. Made it happen anyway. Threw it on the car rack. Back to the apartment. Spun it around the block a dozen times. Good to go – or so I thought.

Too late in the day at that point to pack up the gear, head back down to aquatic park, find a spot, change, swim, change, head back and then also run. Scrapped the swim. Went for another run. Shut it down around the 6mi mark on Martin Luther King Parkway coming back. Got back to the apartment, and I was H U N G A R E E E E. Snatched a huge, honkin’ falafel from somewhere on lower Haight St. Seriously, it was humongous, and for me to say that a food portion is large, then it really must be. I only hate half. Needed to avoid an overly full stomach the next day.

Proceeded to get my shit together for the next day, and wouldn’t you know it? My seat bag for my spare tube, CO2, and levers didn’t fit the saddle for my rental bike. Off to Sports Basement Mike and I went, but it was after 8pm. 2010 to be exact. They closed 10mins prior. Mike called, they answered, I talked, they transferred me to Pete the bike mechanic, Pete got me in, I quickly selected a small saddle back with Velcro that would definitely work with the rental’s saddle, paid, thanks, and back home we went. Sports Basement was the dog’s balls for doing that. I would have been screwed. There were no other bike shops open. It saved me a lot of time, because without the new bag, I would have engineering the best way to keep my bag attached even though it didn’t fit.

Smooth sailing from there. Transition bag packed. Timing chip secured. Stickers on the helmet. Breakfast laid out and ready. Alarms set. Clothes laid out. I get pretty anal about having everything ready for race morning. I get a bit OCD too. I want to rip open my transition bag that I neatly packed about 10 times over to make sure that my race bib and belt and my timing chip are in there. While packing, M&A played the movie, The Rock, which they had rented and wanted to watch to go in theme with the weekend. Movie done and I’m sleepy.

Alarm goes off at 0330, and I’m up and at ‘em. Cooked the oatmeal. Sunscreen applied. Car rack in place. Packed bags. Driving down Scott Ave. towards the transition area. Parked about 1 mile west – the closest parking there was that wasn’t a side street. Get transition set up, jog, warm up, stretch, double check my transition layout. Time to go. Snap a quick picture of the light coming up and Alcatraz off in the distance. Things are going great. Feeling good.

Alcatraz Island in the distanceAlcatraz Island in the distance

On to the bus by 0515. Ate the oatmeal with raspberries and blackberries and followed with a nanner. Small talk with the guy next to me, and there was that tension. That pre-race tension. I love it. I love race mornings. Everyone’s jazzed up, but nervous. I take it in. “I DRINK IT UP!!!” The adrenaline flows a bit, but I feel relaxed. To me, it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s more confidence and excitement than anxiety, but to feel that that morning was surprising. I was feeling a bit anxious about the swim the day previous, and I was wondering if I was going to REALLY suffer on the run since I had run every day prior to race day. So, to feel the normal excitement was good.

Off the bus. Piss. Squeezed out a pooh. Good to go. Snap some pictures.

San Francisco Belle ferry boatSan Francisco Belle ferry boat

The Bay BridgeThe Bay Bridge

Looking north.Looking north.

On the boat. I am glad I got going early. Having prepared and setup early allowed me to arrive early, which in turn, allowed me to get on the boat and find a spot to lay down. As time passed, the boat turned into a sardine can, and if you didn’t already have a spot, then you were pretty much screwed and you had to deal with standing in place. Still feeling really relaxed. So much so that I almost fell asleep while laying down!!! Another piss stop, and the boat was loaded and shoving off. The boat left the dock at 7am or 7:15…can’t remember precisely. But, the pros got into the water at 0800, so we still had a lot of time.

Passing Coit TowerPassing Coit Tower

Passing the Trans America BuildingPassing the Trans America Building

I ended up spending most of that time chatting with the Aussie who was living in Toronto. Graham – hope you made the swim, buddy! In my opinion, a lot of people made a mistake by putting on their wetsuits way too soon. A lot of people were fully zipped up at 0715. They must have sweat their asses off.

We have arrived!We have arrived!

0725 and I ate half of my Gu Chomps. 0730 and I only begin to get up off the floor to begin contemplating the suit. 0735 and I start with the Bodyglide. Went a little nuts with it, because I had gotten chaffed pretty bad from my swim on Friday. 0740 and I’ve got the legs on. The buzz gets more and more. Everyone is searching for Sutro Tower – the radio tower up on the hills that we would sight off while swimming. 0745 and I start the arms of the suit. 0750 and I’m working the suit into all the nooks and crannies. 0755 and I’m zipped up and ready to go. Camera is tucked up under my cap. Feels secure and not too uncomfortable. National anthem. The requisite clapping, hooting and hollering. Race announcer’s voice grows with excitement. Bang! The pros are off, and the boat is listing to starboard as everyone crams their way to the doors.

"Look out! It's a stampede!!!"“Look out! It’s a stampede!!!”

We were given swim caps with different colors to denote our age group and swim wave, but there really weren’t any waves. The announcer called out, “Ok, Men 25 to 29 you’re up and should be jumping off! Women 40 to 44, you’re on deck!” and so on and so on. But, it didn’t matter. You just made your way to the door, and even though volunteers in the boat directed waves to go out one door at either end of the boat, that didn’t matter either. So, those combined, made it a bit confusing. Didn’t really matter, because my race time didn’t start until I crossed the mat.

Adrenaline pumping and feeling good. Closer to the door. I can’t see out the window, but I can hear people jumping in and volunteers constantly shouting, “GO! GO! GO! 1-2-3 GO! 1-2-3 GO! GO! GO! GO!” It was nuts. I get through the door, and I take a right to walk down towards the middle of the boat. I look towards the rear, and I just see people spewing out like rats into the water. Looking out over the water, people everywhere and white caps off in the distance where the current was taking swimmers several minutes already off the boat. The line I’m in at the middle gate stopped for a bit. I thought someone was getting some stage fright. “Now’s not the time sweet cakes!” She was merely waiting for the water in front to clear, which considering the melee of jumping in, was a good idea.

(I go by the camera at the 8min mark … red cap … white nose piece on my goggles)

Secure the goggles. Breath. Step, lunge, and silence. Splash down! Water felt warm. No worries about getting started. I was out of the entry zone pretty quickly. People everywhere around me. The Swedes are locked in. No leaks. Develop some rhythm. Sighting off of Sutro Tower pretty well. Noticed that someone up ahead was on their back. A couple people stopped to assist. I don’t know what was wrong. Probably hyperventilating. They were floating on their back, but they obviously wanted out. The people that were assisting the person in distress were calling wildly for a boat . I don’t know how it turned out. I eventually stopped. Got the camera out. I wanted a picture of the boat, but it was gone. Alcatraz – click! Golden Gate – click! San Francisco skyline – click! Tucked the camera up and under, and I was back underway. Developed some rhythm again. Going okay. Really wanted to make sure that I got past the underwater mound they informed us of at the Sports Basement pre-event talk.


That's the Golden Gate in the distance. Wish I had gotten a pic from closer.That’s the Golden Gate in the distance. Wish I had gotten a pic from closer.

Not much I can do about water droplets over the lens.Not much I can do about water droplets over the lens.

The conditions were fantastic. The sun had come up. No clouds. Sunny. Water was calm. No breeze to create any swells or chop. No fog. I don’t think you could have any better conditions for the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. However, I did lose track of Sutro Tower a couple times. It was definitely visible from the water, but it wasn’t the BIGGEST object on the horizon. Then, I guess about halfway to 2/3 of the way through, and there was some swell that would catch me in the face when I turned to breath. It would throw me a bit off balance too, but even from my very novice OWS perspective, it wasn’t that bad. Supposedly, a lot of people said that it was bad, and a tanker had come through that pushed a lot of water. I suppose that I was past most of it, since it apparently was a topic of discussion after the race.

Suddenly, I am realizing that I’m kind of close to shore. Then I realize that I’m at the marina, and that I should probably stop sighting off of Sutro Tower. Oh, I went wee in my wetsuit further out too. Definitely warmed up the bay! Anyway, at this point, I’m thinking that I’m definitely going to hit the swim exit without a problem and won’t overshoot it. I also thought that it went pretty quick. Next, I’m close enough that I see people standing up about 20yards in front of me. Done! Swim was a success, and I quite enjoyed it. No worries about sharks, although I was half expecting to see an otter or sea lion dart by beneath me while I was out there. That probably would have freaked me out initially a bit, but I doubt anyone saw anything.

Definitely a big crowd out to support the race. Lots of people at the swim exit. “Guess what?! … I got a feevuh! … And the only prescription … is more cowbell!”

Looks like one got away!Looks like one got away!

Looks like I beat at least a few people on the swim!Looks like I beat at least a few people on the swim!

Got the wetsuit off fairly quick. Sped off to the transition area. Found my spot easily since I keyed off a chimney on a house that was in line with my bike rack. Ran out of transition, hopped on the bike, and off I went. Good support crowd at Sports Basement. Speeding by a lot of riders when I was able to, and went cautiously through a lot of turns. Started climbing. Went good. The climbs weren’t as difficult as I imagined they were going to be. I thought they weren’t bad at all actually. I didn’t go as aggressively on the down hills, because I was a little sketched out with the handling on the smaller bike. I just hadn’t ridden that type of bike enough to be 100% on it. Got through Golden Gate, and just like about every race, no one knows how to stay to the far right. Stay right, pass left. It’s not a difficult concept to understand fokkers! I did get out of the saddle on 2 of the climbs on the way back, but I was still passing people with ease. Some people were dying from the looks of it, and I have to give it up to the old dudes and the people who just didn’t know what they were doing on mtb’s or cruiser bikes. On those beasts, then yes, the climbs would be darn difficult.

Also, on the bike portion, I saw either Andy Potts or DKT (pros) come BLAZING downhill as I was going uphill on my outward leg. They were absolutely bombing. Balls of steel that guy, whichever it was. Christ. Serious speed and he was still pedaling.

I’m back by the marina, and I’m out of my shoes with my feet on top preparing for the flying dismount. However, I came into the dismount area too hot, and I almost biffed it. My right foot slammed down, and I thought I broke some bones. My big toe and forefoot were numb for about a mile into the run! This also had the unfortunate consequence of the bike bouncing out to the side as I applied more brake, but I didn’t let go of it. I didn’t hit anyone either. It wasn’t very graceful, and I’m sure that I gave everyone in the dismount area a good fright. After the race, when I was talking with M&A about it, I remembered the dismount area to be rather short, and I thought it was extending around a corner, which it wasn’t. There also wasn’t a volunteer upstream to indicate where to slow down, and so I misjudged it. My fault, but no one died or got hurt. More vigilance for next time.

Ran into transition worrying about my right foot. Socks and shoes. Race belt. Helmet off, hat on, grabbed some chomps, and off I went.

And away I go...And away I go…

Heading out, I could feel the tiredness in my legs from running all the days previous. The other thing I noticed was my stomach. Felt just a tad bloated, and was mostly unsettled. Glug – glug – glug – glug … went my stomach. Endured it. Felt like I had an ok pace going through Chrissy Field. One guy went by me pretty quick. He was like a bean pole. Seriously, how do some guys live with themselves being so thin? Geebus. Arrived to the base of Ft. Mason, and the uphill slog began.

Part of the problem with the run course for Alcatraz is that a lot of it is single file. Be it the stairs or some trail sections, but even if you’re going faster than the person in front of you, you have to stay behind. There are racers coming the other way, and you have to wait for a gap in the opposite direction to surge around people in front of you. That was the case for going uphill on the stairs in Ft. Mason. Finally, got away from the stairs, and it’s me and a dude just in front and a dude behind me.

The dude behind me latches onto my right shoulder. I can’t stand it. I hate it. I keep going, but he just stays there. Doesn’t go around me. I move to the left; he moves to the left. FUCKING A! Get off my farkin shoulder! I slow down to force him to go around which he finally does. He’s wearing an all red kit by 2XU and he’s got 37 marked on his calf. Okay, fokker, it’s on! I’m going to keep you in sight and then crush you! That’s what I did, except that he did start getting away from me a little bit going uphill, and I was not feeling the freshest.

Finally at the top, and then it’s downhill. Christ! I think the downhills were worse than the uphills. My knees definitely took a beating. The hills I run around SJ aren’t even hills compared to what the Alcatraz run course is like. Definitely something to work on when I know that I’ll be on a hilly course.

Arrived to the beach. Went through some soft sand. Breeze felt good. Down to the turn around and through some more soft sand, and then heading towards the infamous sand ladder. Go through some more soft sand– all together, we probably ran through about 200yds of soft sand and it was pretty taxing – and started up. EVERYONE was walking. There wasn’t a single person running up the sand ladder. BUT, hardly anyone was using the wire rail! WTF people?! Didn’t you get the memo at the pre-race meeting? I went as quickly as I could; step – pull – step – pull – step – pull – step. Most people were 6-8 minutes going up, and I think I’m right in the middle of that time frame. One of the worst parts of the sand ladder is that when you reach the top and back on solid footing and can run again … you’re still not to the top. The run continues uphill.

I’ve still got Mr. Red 37 within sight. Heading back, and through the small tunnel, up and down some stairs. Down some more stairs, turn left, up the stairs, then down, turn right and more downhill. I caught one glimpse of Mr. Red 37, and I was afraid that with all the steps and turns he was going to gap me if I got stuck in a single file. I surged around a couple people, and when I got to the bottom of Ft. Mason, I actually felt a bit better. Figured I’d up the pace a bit, and along the long straightway heading back towards the finish, I was able to spot Mr. Red 37. He wasn’t too far. Fokker was mine!

At this point, it was easily mid-morning, and the sun was fully out without a cloud to block it out, and it was getting warm. It wasn’t bad enough to really affect me, but combined with how I was feeling, the breeze wasn’t enough to abate the sun and let me go all out like I might on days that I was feeling good. Still – I started to reel in Mr. Red 37, and I was looking forward to the pass. He probably didn’t hang on my shoulder intentionally, but that’s how I perceived it. Anyhow, it’s a farkin race! I went past a couple of dudes in my age group that looked pretty fit, and they were definitely lighter than me. I was surprised when they didn’t come with. Running along the crowd area, and I can see the finish line area. Mr. Red 37 is about 40yds. Approach the corner that was next to the bike dismount area, and I see Mike cheering me on.

And here I come! Mr. Red 37 is in sight!And here I come! Mr. Red 37 is in sight!

Hi-5 Mike, and Mr. Red 37 has gone around the corner ~20yds ahead now. I go with what I’ve got, and get up on the toes. Pass Mr. Red 37 about 1/3 of the way down the chute, and I didn’t look back. If he was going to sprint with me, then come and get me feller! I ended up passing another dude as well, and he was actually in my AG. Mr. Red 37 didn’t have it in the tank. They got my name right, and I was over the line. Done. Finished. It felt good, and it was a fun time.

Finisher’s medal. Recover a bit. Debate on what to do and how to find M&A. Spy some other finishers. Try some Muscle Milk – tastes like shit. Pasta, bread, strawberries, nanner, collect my boat and swim exit bags, head into transition to collect my bike. Link up with Mike. Chit chat over the fence for a bit. Exit. Drop off the bike. Link back up with M&A, who have cordoned off some space with their camp chairs. Pictures with the banner they made for me. A bit more food. Chill. Decide to go home, shit/shower/shave, and head out for some sausage sandwiches and brewskitannies on Haight St. Long walk back to the car, and everything was gravy.

What are friends for?What are friends for?

Many thanks to the volunteers. TriCalifornia did a superb job of organizing the race. I definitely want to do this race again. It’s expensive. Almost as expensive as an Ironman race, but hopefully, next time I will be local for it! 😉

The announcer stand just beyond the finish areaThe announcer stand just beyond the finish area

Awards stageAwards stage

Pro Triathlete David K. Thompson hauling ass from the swim exit to the transition areaPro Triathlete David K. Thompson hauling ass from the swim exit to the transition area

Looking back on it, I was really surprised with how calm the morning the of the race was and being relaxed on the boat. The bike portion was decent – I was 34th overall, and I could have pushed it more. My run split was 1:00:02 – I think, and that is exactly my E pace in training. Considering how I felt and the hills, that’s definitely faster than a training pace, and I was surprised. I thought it was going to be over an hour, and while I’m not super pleased by it, I’m okay with it. I can’t complain about the swim. I was taking pictures and taking in the experience of the whole race, and 45mins is okay. I think my combined time was 2:53:xx something. I’d link to the results page, but it seems like the EFA site is down. Bummer. The other things I wish I had done in retrospect were to take some pictures on the boat right before jumping in. I also wish I had taken more skyline photos from in the water and more of the Golden Gate as I got closer. The views from both the bike and run course are great. I sort of wish that I could have gotten some pics during portions, but I was cruising on the bike. No way I was stopping, and when I got off the bike, I just ditched it in my transition bag. Oh well. Just more reasons to do the race again.

~ by jerseyquaker on June 25, 2009.

One Response to “Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2009 – Race Report”

  1. dude, congrats. sounds like a badass time. you ALMOST inspire me to try something like that, but my ADHD keeps me from focusing on ANYTHING that long. i’ll have to come cheer you on sometime.

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