This was my second Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon event, but this time it was not about me, but my 13 year old daughter who was racing with me. I have always said that competing in races like this and Ironman events is all about turning up on the start line and for a 13 year girl, to put yourself on the start line of such a difficult event takes guts.
For my daughter also, it was the first time she lined up at the start line, with professionals, elites and physically challenged athletes, with the age groups varying from 13 to 80-years-old representatives from 35 countries around the world making up the 2000+ field. This race is considered one of the most difficult triathlons in the world.
Normally the race is held in June, but due to the Americas Cup Race it was bought forward, so the water temperatures were colder than normal. The swim is all about battling cold temperatures and choppy currents with 2m swells and the outgoing tide that will take you out to sea if you are not a strong swimmer and don’t “get across the river”
It’s a strange race with no time to warm up, you get on the boat after racking your bike and it’s another 2hrs before the race starts, so you just sit down, nervously munch on whatever breakfast you can get down and wait. With all the doors open and freezing cold winds blowing in the race was delayed due to a cruise ship coming in earlier than anticipated. The professionals went first and then it was our turn, as I went to the boats edge I turned to my daughter who just froze and looked like she didn’t want to take the 2m plunge into the water, so I took her by the hand and we took the leap of faith together.
Last year navigation was easy, but this year a fog across the bay meant plan ‘B’ was called for. We just headed for the piers of Fort Mason and when 75% of the way “across the river” we headed for the museum of fine arts. The currents and swells were incredible and the coldest of the water was unbelievable. The only way you could get used to the water was the put your head in the water and numb the pain. My daughter didn’t have the best of wetsuits and I really need to take full responsibility for this grave error. With the swells being so large and such a small girl swimming alongside me, we did a little breaststroke to catch our breath, then hard out freestyle to ensure we made it across. The currents were strong and we overshot the final buoys slightly and the 200m swim to get back upstream to the finish seemed to last an eternity.
When we exited the water, my poor daughter who doesn’t have the same layer of body fat as me was hypothermic, she was shivering and the volunteers guided her to the warm-up/medical tent where a doctor told her that her race was over. They tried to take her wet tri-suit off her. Then I sternly explained that she was to keep the suit on and warm upon and that her race was over when she says it is, we signed enough waivers so the decision was hers, to which they reluctantly agreed. After 20 mins in the warm-up tent I calmly said to her that only she could make the decision to carry on, not me or the medics, but she had to tell them she was ready. She looked up at me and said “Come on Dad, let’s go”.
We ran along the 1km run to transition and I saw my wife standing there in her nice warm pink puffer jacket. I just shouted “your daughter needs your jacket” and without blinking she took off her coat and handed it over, even though she knew she was now going to be cold.
We got on our bikes and away we went. The 35kmph winds made the first 3km hard, but my now non-aerodynamic daughter just held on to my wheel and we got to the hills. Her poor legs were still cold so we didn’t climb as fast as we would have liked, but nobody in the entire race overtook us on the hills and only a handful during the rest of the race, so all that hill climbing practise paid off. By the time we had rode through golden gate park, she was warmed up and we ripped through the rest of the course and completed the bike/
The arm warmers she didn’t need for the bike were put on for the run (all nice and dry) and away we went at a nice gentle pace. We paced ourselves nicely through the run saving ourselves for the Sand Ladder where we had a side bet on who would get the fastest time. I pipped her to the top by seconds, so we called it a draw and I agreed to pay the $20 bet to her anyway.
Within 3km of the finish she was really starting to enjoy the race, talking to me about all the great views and how much she liked the Cytomax Energy drink. Running down the finishing chute, she said “never again”, but 24 hours later she was talking about next year.
She came 1st in the 16 and Under age group (and would have come second in the 17-19 age group). 150 people were pulled from the water, she was 1391st out of 1582 finishers and put in an extremely gutsy performance that I doubt many other girls of her age would do.
Our times are not really important (except of course the Sand Ladder), but they are as follows:-
As parents we are often looked up to for inspiration and guidance, but on this occasion I look down at this little girl who could “Hand glide on a Dorito” and take inspiration from her guts and determination and only wish I could apply the same to all aspects of my life.