Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon was an unanticipated bonus which resulted from an Age Group win at Escape Huntington Beach earlier this Spring (a qualifying race in the Escape series). I generally take these things very seriously but for a change decided that I would prioritize an appreciation for the experience with this bucket list opportunity, rather than chasing numbers or placement. This included, in addition to the race, enjoying my first time in San Francisco and hanging out with my host friends in addition to those from LA racing.
It’s almost comical because we hear it all the time (at least I do) – “when you remove pressure and simply enjoy the experience it’ll open yourself up for success”. I’ve found this is far from the case with me, at least in the literal sense. Racing STRONG is difficult, painful and emotionally draining but the ends almost always justify the means having tested yourself both mentally and physically to achieve the best possible result. ‘Racing for fun’ has always been a struggle as I’ve come to understand it loses its glory to not go deep and give a competition my best. Though over time I’ve gotten better at being able every once in a while to take it down a notch, look around to appreciate where I am and what I’m doing.
The coach in me would flip out if he saw how my 45 minute pre-race spin turned into hours tooling around San Franscico, through Golden Gate Park, across the Golden Gate Bridge, up into the mountains and eventually back to where I was staying. However, I felt that experiencing San Francisco was equally important to racing and I can’t think of a better way to learn a new city than by getting lost in it on a bike or run. I was shocked and confused from what I’d heard, expecting to see nothing but densely populated city apartments on hilly streets, to be surrounded by beautiful green trees and magnificent landscapes.
My journey across the bridge and up Hawk Hill left me with a breathtaking view of the city, complete with Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and even whales surfacing in the Bay. I’m told the weather isn’t always great but the whole weekend couldn’t have been any nicer.
The logistics of this race are tough. I started my morning with a 3:45am wake up call, 30 minute ride in the dark to transition, 15 minute bus ride to the ferry before shipping off at 6:30am for an eventual 7:30am race start. With a million opportunities for something to go wrong I was thankful to get on board with plenty of time to spare. It was quite the experience sitting on the boat with athletes in every direction, stressing about what was about to take place. There were video’s and conversations concerning what various landmarks to sight off of but I didn’t pay it much attention, instead sighting only the big dome I knew to be near the finish, making sure it stayed on my right to correct for the strong current.
I took the swim very easy (139bpm!!) to enjoy the clear best segment and fame to this race, and am pretty proud of my line, though I did swim close to land realizing I didn’t know where we entered. It was a comical moment when I made eye contact with another swimmer to my right who popped her head up to yell “I have no idea where we’re going!!”. I would like to say for anyone looking to do this race for the first time, PRACTICE, RELAX, then ENJOY. You cause way more harm inside your head than good and the actual event is rarely as bad as you make it out to be. Check out the videos to see how gnarly 300 people unloading off a ferry in less than 10 minutes looks –
Coming from Huntington Beach with Zero elevation to a 1500ft course in under 20 miles and a guy who generally drops his head to focus on a number this was a much welcomed change. I’ve never heard so many people laughing and cheering in a competition as I did with this race. The course was simply FUN, pushing to the top of each hill and through before relaxing a bit on the down hill. I did get passed by a bunch of people on the initial climbs but no one on the second half of the race, and the most on each decent which was surprising considering my limited bike skills.
I believe I had a decent bike considering, difficult to tell from power numbers but I was definitely pushing hard at times.
For the run I backed it off significantly. I got behind a runner for the first 2 miles to settle in and shield from the wind before we began the monster climb which lasted over a mile. Up to the top, down to the sand and back, not allowing for any real opportunity to open things up. I told myself I wouldn’t jeopardize my body by pushing any climbs, descents or on the sand which ended up being 70% of the run course. There was a “sand ladder” which was a brutal up hill climb on deep sandy steps which I proudly walked.
When I reached the final straight away of flat I decided to open it up and ran the next two miles at 5:50/mile pace. It was a encouraging sign to show that I had a good amount left in the tank and that I can still run fast, for at least 10 minutes or so. I almost wish the course was longer as it was very enjoyable running by people till the finish.
I know the price tag on this race makes it hard to swallow, if you can even manage to make it through the wait list, but I do highly recommend it as a race to do once in a lifetime. You will have fun!
My body suffered from the immediate 7 hour drive home and immense amount of caffeine that ensued. Now it’s the next 6 weeks upping my game for my 4th shot at my first ever Ironman in Lake Placid July 23. As my buddy Dan says “Giddy up!”.