Crossing the finish line of what is one of the most iconic triathlons in the world. I did it, I completed it, I escaped from Alcatraz. There is a certain allure about doing this race around the triathlon world that I exists in. I was told it’s a bucket list race and that everyone should try it. It’s a lottery style entry with 2 drawings. The first drawing for obvious reasons, but the second drawing is for the slots that the weren’t claimed by the first wave of people. So you really have 2 shots of getting in this race. Well I signed up for the lottery with ZERO thought about actually getting in. I’m pretty sure I was peer-pressured into it. Needless to say I didn’t make the first round but I did make the second round. You jump off a boat in San Francisco Bay right next to Alcatraz Island and swim to the shore by the Marina Green. This water is notorious for being cold and choppy and having a hell of a current that can sweep you towards the Golden Gate. Then you bike 18 miles through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. It’s a very technical course with a lot of ups and downs and sharp turns. Then run is along the same course as the bike down to a beach and then up the notorious “Sand Ladder” shown to the left. Then it’s a run back down and through a long chute with lots of spectators to finish things off. The weather also plays a huge role in how this race goes as well. You didn’t know what you were going to get till race morning.
Pre-Race: I got into town Saturday morning before the race. I jumped a 7AM flight and landed at 8:30AM. After the public transportation and Uber to the hotel it was 10:30 so I had them drop me off at the expo. The line for packet pickup was incredible and was wrapped around for 2+ hours. There was a lot of excitement in the air as I ended up talking to several athletes and found my friends from San Diego and met some new Fil Am Tri Club members. I didn’t really pay much attention to the athlete briefing and in retrospect I didn’t really need to. There has been such a flood of information flowing through me from a lot of sources to where I felt really prepared. The day though was just go go go and I didn’t really have time to relax as much as I had liked to. Either way I felt really prepared for this race and was in bed by 9AM with a 3:30AM wake up time. We weren’t allowed to rack our bikes the night before so I followed my buddy Kevin and his friend to the transition time. We had to be on the shuttle to the boat by 5:00AM so we left the hotel at 4:15AM. Thankfully my girl made me my PB&Banana Bagel, and out the door I went. It was COLD that early, but once we hit transition there was a lot of excitement in the air as I got my transition setup. I was right at the end which was even better. I found Kevin who was wrapping up his transition and we got on the shuttle to the boat.
The Swim (35:50): At 6:35 the boat launched and we were on our way. There was no turning back. It was a one way trip for 2000 triathletes. The excitement on the boat was amazing and there was a lot of nervous swimmers out there as well who seemed really anxious. I felt confident, I had a game plan. Jump off the boat on the far left or to the far right and then sight for the 2 ugly apartment buildings and then follow the shore line. I figured worst thing that happens is that I undershoot the exit and swim down current to it. By 7AM I had my wetsuit on completely and was pouring water in it to get the water layer present and warmed up for the jump into the 60 degree water. I had my booties on, and I was outside on the deck warming up with Andy Potts who I’d met the day before. We wished each other a great race and then before I knew it, it was time for the National Anthem. The announcer then called the time it was 7:25 and the pro’s lined up first, the doors were open. The water temp was 60 degree’s with a current of 6 knots going towards the ocean, with minimal chop. The horn goes off and the pro’s jump off but then everyone jumped right behind them. There was no pause and I approached the right side and jumped in the water. It was a total rush. I could see the lead boat lights and I figured that now I’d just sight off that and keep it dead ahead of me. This worked the entire time till my goggles fogged up on me. After stopping and clearing them I was probably 1/2 a mile off shore and I cut the inside to swim right into the exit exactly as planned. I exited the water and then ran to the shoes I planned to run back to transition in.
The Bike (1:06:45): I spent 10:30 in T1 (which included the 800M run back to the T1 area. I really wanted to take my time and just enjoy the race experience. This was after all probably the only time I’m ever going to do the race. Once on the bike I knew what was coming, 2 miles of flat and then the climbs. I took the course very conservatively. Some of the down hills you could hear people slamming their breaks and you could smell brake pads in the air. I saw one person being taken away in an ambulance who appeared to go over the handle bars. The road conditions weren’t all that great either, so I felt I made the right choice to really play it safe and not over do it. I had my Base Performance Rocket Fuel (Base Aminos, Base Hydro, Base Electrolyte Salts, and Karbolyn) and a bottle of water for nutrition on the bike. I averaged 16.2 MPH on the road bike which I’m ok with. It was a technical course and crowded. Along the course you could see the fog just pouring in, and moving. It was thick as you can see from the picture. As I approached the bike in, I told myself I’m 2/3rds the way done. I got this and to enjoy the run. There are a lot of climbs, so take it easy and just enjoy the experience.
The Run (1:20:36): I spent 4 mins in T2 again just taking my time. By this time the crowd was really big and cheering for everyone coming in and going out of transition. I saw my girl on the way out, gave her a high five and went on my merry way. I was cruising a nice 10:30 min mile pace which for me, I’m happy with. Been dealing with some foot issue’s that limited my running but I also knew that the climbs were coming so I didn’t want to push it either. I hit the first hill and I just kept telling myself short steps and look ahead. Just like my coach told me. Outside of having to walk up some stairs because it was single file and there were people walking up at this point. I was cruising about an 11:30 min mile uphill which I felt great still. As I was going out I saw Andy Potts and Eric Lagerstrom battling it out for first. Of course I cheered Andy on. We ran down a trail to the beach and ran on Baker Beach for while. Then around mile 5 it happened, the sand ladder. I looked up and everyone was walking it. I was going to walk it. The wood beams were covered with sand and there was just no room to run up it. Everyone who was walking up it was joking around and we were laughing and just enjoying things. Little did we know that it was being filmed, so we all put on smiles at the top. From this point it was all downhill from here. I started cruising and then at some point right around mile 5.5 I slipped on some dirt and fell down. I recovered nicely but the body got a bit banged up. I walked it out a bit to make sure there was nothing mechanically wrong with me. The knee’s moved without pain and there wasn’t any tight muscles. I walked a bit more to shake it off and once we hit the flat final 1.5 miles I just kept up a constant jog. I saw some friends just coming out on the run and cheered them on. I took some time at the aid stations to wash off some of the dirt that I was covered in (have to look good for the pictures). As I approached the chute I looked around to make sure there was no last minute sprinters and I relished the accomplishment that I just completed as I crossed the finish line. My final time was 3:17:xx but all in all I don’t care. I had a lot of fun. The race is awesome and such a rush from start to finish.
Reflecting Back: Even with my fall, there was not a bad moment I had in this race at all. It was much better than I expected and anticipated. A race that I’ve heard several people say they have done it. It was a badge of honor type race. I’ve joined the group of athletes who have escaped from Alcatraz. I watched video on the swim, I’ve swam the distance before. My girl and I went out on a boat tour the day after the race and I looked at the swim from above the water verses being inside it. It makes the race feel like an even better accomplishment. It’s one thing to swim down here in San Diego where the water’s pretty darn clear and warm. It’s another to jump off a perfectly good boat into San Francisco Bay next to Alcatraz and swim to short. It wasn’t more than 4 years ago that I would have told myself I was insane to even attempt it, never the less complete the damn thing.