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Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2012

This event was all about how to enter, compete and finish a triathlon and have great time.-

We arrived in San Francisco midday on the Friday before the event (Sunday 10th June) and took the time to savour all that's good about the place.  Seems every other restaurant bar is Mexican, so we dived into a busy little taco place and had some of the best ever tacos washed down with some beer.  We had a good walk along the seafront, so we could get a feel for how long the swim is.  Alcatraz is quite near to shore, but the swim exit is way, way downstream from the island.  As they said at the race briefing, just make sure you make it across and let the currents do the rest.  In true American style, the street food is excellent, so a few more beers, ciders and some wings & shrimps later, we finally gave it all up at 11:00pm.

Race day is all about getting registered, signing three waivers, collecting a pretty damn good goody bag and your ready to go.  The only thing different about this race is the extra transition from the swim exit, as you have to run to bike transition about 1km to warm up after the swim as the water is about 12c.  When you consider they put you a shuttle bus in the other direction to get to the ferry, you soon get an idea of how the currents are going to drag you.

At the Expo I met the best saleswomen in the world, just browsing (or so I thought), but a Garmin 910XT, with Bike Speed & Cadence extra soon proved to me how weak men are around pretty women.  It was the fact that it can count your laps in the swimming pool that impressed me (small thing impress men remember).  Shame I didn't follow the instructions on the box, as when I put in on in the morning the battery was flat

The morning was a little chilly, we got up at 3:15am and left the hotel at 3:35am.  Sally had volunteered and was lucky enough to get the role of body marking and kicking people off the boat.  You would have thought the sight of watching 2000 people disembark into the chilly waters three at a time thru two doors would have been the highlight, but alas it was marking hunky men that seemed to be more important.

I was on the boat at 5:15am, with the boat not leaving until 6:30am for a 7:30am start.  I sat by many first timers, just like me, who had no idea of the real swim course, what site markers we should be aiming for etc.  Then an nice chap sat down next to me and said "just follow your own plan and dont follow anyone else".  We introduced ourselves and I was in the presence of "Roger Little"...  Probably means nothing to you guys reading this, but I know this man.  He's done over 350 triathlons, including 15 Kona appearances and was sitting next to me getting ready for his 5th Escape.  Can you imagine doing a triathlon every three weeks for 30 years, well this is the guy knows all about it.  He told me he was thinking of Auckland World Tri Champs the week after Kona this year and I immediately offered him a place to stay.  This guys is 70yrs young and wow, what commitment to the sport.  I looked at his pre-race nutrition and he told me it was the same as always, a bottle of coke/pepsi and that was it until the finish line.

I deliberately didnít even look out the window of the boat and had not tested the water.  I wanted to savour the experience. At 7:20am I made my way down to the lower level of the boat, I bumped into Sally who was still excited about the hunky men she'd been "touching up".  After the national anthem, the only calls you could then hear where "3..2..1..Go.."  Everyone shuffled to the edge of the boat, the timing mat was on the boat, 10ft above the water.  As soon as you saw a empty piece of water you jumped into the chilly waters and just went for it.

The water was cold... I wore a full wetsuit with a neoprene cap.  In the first 200m I was cramping, choking and feeling like shit.  I was looking around for assistance, I wanted to rip my neoprene cap off and tear the sleeves off my wetsuit, I felt like I couldnít breathe or move my arms.  I was just cold...  After 500m it all eased, but I had moved the chinstrap away from my neck and just let it rest under my lips instead.  With 2000 people in the water, it was amazing, no chance of a draught, as we were all miles apart.  The site instructions where, 2 apartments, followed by the trees of fort mason, then the yellow roof and then the red roof.  It was all double dutch to me.  All I remember is someone over lunch saying, if you can see the radio towers, site them all the way until you see the finish line.  This was the best advice ever.  Strangely enough the harbour currents everyone was expecting just didn't come, so it was a long hard swim.  Sally said due to the high swells many competitors were having problems swimming away from the boat.  It's a strange swim, the finish is so far downstream and you just swim towards one heading which is nowhere near the finish and as if my magic you get there.  Once you've done all the hard work of getting over the harbour you start to see a yellow roof (it's the roof of the palace of fine arts) and when that disappears out of sight you see the red roof of the boat club and the finish.  What a finish to a swim, to know you escaped from Alcatraz was an amazing feeling. 

You then get out your wetsuit and into your run gear, yes run gear as it's a 1500m run to the bike transition.  This is designed to warm you up, but my feet where still numb as I put my bike shoes on some 8mins after getting out the water.  It's a gentle roll out of town, then just a series of up hills and down hills.  I remember the first hill being particularly hard, as my quads where still so cold, it hurt so much pushing this heavy frame up the first hill, but it all soon eased.

The bike course, whilst a series of tough hills was spectacular and also offered a little places to rest, except going through golden gate park, as it was just undulating and gave the large framed guys a chance to catch the thin people who had passed us on the hills.  The pacific coast was spectacular and we also got a glimpse of the pro athletes giving it some on the course as it was a straight out and back.  The last we would see of them, as when we got off the bike they were giving their after race commentaries.  I remember Roger telling me that a good race is when you get within 50% of the winners time, coupled with me thinking a bad time is when you finish over 100% of the winners time, I knew that between 3hrs and 4hrs was the goal based on mine and Rogers theory.

When you do an out and back course when you gingerly go down a hill hard on your brakes you know youíre gonna suffer going back up it on the home leg.  With a short distance race I was surprised to see so many people dismounting bikes on a very steep uphill, but this guy just kept on trucking.

For the second time ever, I got out my shoes on the bike and I passed probably 10 people on the dismount line as a result.  The old call of slow down doesn't apply when you have both legs on the same side of the bike and ready to jump and run over the line and carry on running.  I guess as I teach this as being vital to my triathlon team I coach, the olde coach had to do the same.

I think they were being nice to us on the run, a 2km flat section, followed by hills, right up to the golden gate bridge, which we ran under, to the yahoo's of everyone who went under it (I wonder if the pro's did the same), then a further uphill track to the pacific.  The best part of this run was that it was a single track run, so imagine fast guys coming down, slow guys going up and a multitude of tri-fags trying to overtake when it's impossible to do so.  Calls of "are you f**king high" was as bad as I heard, I thought to myself, dont tri guys know how to really swear?

After getting over the hill and to the pacific coast we looked down and saw a stream of athletes running in the beach some 250m below.  Soon we had ran down to join them.  Running to/from the turnaround on the beach was hard, your feet feel heavy and even more so in the soft sand.  But the experience of running on a tri event with breakers just meters away from you was amazing.  Then we started to prepare ourselves for the famous sand steps, 230 step, 300m over sheer hell... there was an "Equinox" prime for the fastest climb by age group.  I thought "f**k" that and just walked, a guy ran by me and said, "Iíve been training for this", yet after 20 steps turned around to me and say "f**k that" and started walking first by me and then a long way behind me.

After reaching the top, we were already warned there was another 300m of climbing before it was all downhill to the finish, so I just pushed on and passed many a slow descendor, who no doubt passed me on the final 2km flat run to the finish.

Apart from three sections of the run (where I walked up the steep hills/sand ladder), I ran all the way.  I was pretty sick leading up to this event, was declared un-fit to race on the Friday, took a few drugs and raced on the Sunday.  My breathing was pretty poor, I was coughing up green stuff on the bike I assumed was the San Fran Bay water, but hey it's an experience that nobody should shy away from

I got to the finish line in a time that was on the lower end of my expectations, so actually better than I thought (i.e. the better time I thought I may achieve).  Sally had a few friends fly over from the UK to meet her for a reunion and also extra support for me.  After passing thru the finish line, we quickly got together in the beer enclosure and savoured the best of Californian beers. In the heat of the sun, by the time it was awards ceremony for the pros, I had already had too many beers but decided that the experience far outweighed being sensible, so I looked to my support crew to both buy me more beers and get me home safely.  There are stories now of gin, swimming pools and beds with three girls bum's sticking out of we need to put down to "what goes on tour stays on tour"

In summary, I competed in this event for "Autism Speaks" and raised US$1,500 for the cause.  Not many people would have known I was running for a cause, as I dont like to beg for funding on a personal level.  When  my daughter was 2 she was diagnosed as suffering from dyspraxia, similar to autism and asperges which just doesn't get the funding and acknowledgment it deserves, yet effects so many children and people in so many different ways.  I hope my efforts and those of my fellow "Autism Speaks" team members goes some way to raising awareness for such a great cause.

Would I do this event again "Shit YES!!!", hopefully for "Team Up - Autism Speaks", with more of my friends doing the same!

Swim:  00:47:00
T1:      00:08:02
Bike:   01:09:51
T2:     00:01:27
Run:   01:25:36 (Sand Ladder 00:04:13)
Total: 03:31:55

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