"I like you. I'll gladly sit down and have dinner with you after the race. But when the gun goes off, I pretty much hate you, and I want to stomp your guts out. That's racing." -J Rapp

"the best night of my life.....
...in the most beautiful place on earth"

"It's just one, long, tedious conversation with yourself" -Paula Newby Fraser

"Have faith- trust in the plan - the breakthrough will come. I promise. " Woo

"You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime.” -Mark Allen

“The only time you can be brave is when you’re afraid.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Escape From Alcatraz Race Report

These looked new 8.1 miles ago...

My shoes are ruined...there are 4 blood stains in my right shoe, 2 in my left...the neon yellow color is now brown---sand, mud.  The blood is from the grains of sand that rubbed holes in my feet; probably from the "quick sand" on Baker Beach where they kept us away from the firm pack at the waters edge.  In the 48 hours leading up to race day, we were wondering if they would even let us swim and/or bike---stormy weather forecasted through the weekend! We witnessed an older gentleman wipe out on his bike--suffering what had to be a broken hip, pretty serious road rash, and probably a mild concussion(broken helmet)...all while riding 3 miles an hour sliding out of control on an old railway in front of Aquatic Cove.   As i write this, we are 2 hours into a 3 hour delay in SFO.  with all of this, the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon is a "must do" for every triathlete, and the race is worth every bit of headache it may throw your way to get there and back!

Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a slot into the race...normally you have to enter the lottery and get drawn, which requires you to plan ahead...the drawing starts September 1st of the preceding year (the race is typically in June).  I needed a race heading into the big Kona block ahead...a 70.3 would have been better, but I just couldn't pass it up.  We flew in friday before the race, stayed at the Argonaut Hotel in Fishermans Wharf (recommend!), and immediately had issues finding food for my picky diet.  I lived on Pro Bars, but fell victim to the Veggie Lasagna at Bocce that night with teammates John and Cyndi Dean, Jory, and Stephen along with Jenny and Sophia (my cheering team!).  Saturday morning John and I went for an EZ run(we did an EZ spin Friday afternoon as well), and Jory and I jumped into the 53 degree water at Aquatic Cove mid morning Saturday in the rain...the big question was...would they shorten/cancel the swim or bike?  People travel from around the world to do this race; THAT would suck if they didn't get the chance to Escape!  Even so, traveling from Phoenix was a large enough hardship that I was a bit bummed, but I told myself that the race was full distance until it was confirmed otherwise---no use getting worked up over un-spilled milk.  Registration was a mud pit, driving the bike course on Saturday actually made me readjust my bike plan to "just stay vertical" with all of the loose gravel, potholes, and the technical side of this course.  This was my fourth Escape, but first time back since 1998 when I was young, dumb, and invincible.  13 years later, I have my responsibilities, the memory of a surgically repaired collarbone from my crash last year, and a realization that this is nothing more than a hobby.

Training leading up to the race was full of intervals---pool workouts were high in distance (4K) and consisted of anything from 800's to 50's---this is a swimmers race no doubt, and I felt Chris prepared me well.  Bike training has been full of everything as well, but being from Scottsdale, I knew the climbs of this course would not be to my advantage.  Run training has not been boring either; intervals were built into my runs (ex. 10 mile run with 2 miles EZ, then 5 x 1 mile hard with 90 second EZ rest, 3 miles warm down).  I felt prepared going in, knowing that the bike would once again be the concern (just how I saw it..).

Sunday morning 4 AM
Mistake #1:  I didn't really think about my breakfast prep, and ended up going against my "protocol," I woke up at 4 and had a Pro Bar, 2 cups of coffee, and 2 Aussie Bites (yikes!).  The last 48 hours of nutrition hadn't gone as planned, so why start now? Geeze.  My raceday breakfast works perfect for me, and here I am breaking the mold.  Even so, I woke up feeling really good...ready to go to batle.  I did taper for this race, and like IMAZ, this is where Chris is amazing (well, every aspect of my Triathlon training is that way as well)....once again, a shout out to him AIMP Coaching.  If you are in my age group DO NOT use Chris ;-}  If you aren't, he is the best coach, period.  Read this entry from one of his "pupils" Steve Fried:  it tells it all... Steve Fried Letter.

 So we rolled out from the Argonaut to transition at 5 am---transition was a grassy, muddy mess!  This race is packed to capacity---more people than an Ironman, with an "every (wo)man for him/herself" mentality----everyone jumps off the boat into the bay near Alcataz inside of a 6 minute window in order to keep some sort structure to the chaos that this "starting line" presents.  Transition was no exception.  After correcting the issues around my spot, I was left with about a 1 foot by 2 foot transition spot---actually, I saw this as good.  Running shoes, number belt, watch, one Gu for the run,bike shoes...that was it.  Helmet on the bars, glasses in the helmet.  I was 2 rows from the "bike out" so I went with the shoes off the pedals (worked perfect). I wasted time handing shoes off to the "swim out" truck (ran barefoot from the swim exit to transition instead as you'll read below...hurts, but not enough to waste 7+ seconds looking for that shoe bag).  I jumped on a bus and was at the boat pier in no time sipping plain old water munching on anything I could find in my bag, which ended up being a Honey Stinger Waffle and half a Powerbar (read: random!).  This was because...

Mistake #2: forgot my Pre-race + EFS (First Endurance) sipping bottle in Transition!  at this point I am basically laughing at myself in stupidity---these races are swim/bike/run, but nutrition (fuel) and psychology are most important aspects to race day for me....duh!

Swim:  28:35  116th overall...pace: 1:05 per 100m!!!! (love that current!!)

The rest of my ONE buddies show up (John, Jory, Jayson, Neal).  We drop our gear bags off before getting on the boat, then take our places and get ready for the plunge.  After maneuvering into position 'A" and  giving Jory some swim tips courtesy of Leishia (thanks Leishia!!!), we are lined up with a clear shot of the jump into the Bay.  The pros are off, then us, and I'm running out the door diving head first, and not looking back.  I highly recommend the dive on this race if you can---the cold water was not an issue, and the adrenaline that comes with the dive was awesome.  I sight off of the lead boat, but take a slightly less aggressive line angling slightly towards shore as the current is pushing us out to the Golden Gate at 6 mph (I used a line inside of the Palace of Fine Arts for the first half, then switched to a more perpendicular line once I realized I was not "in" enough).  Needless to say, this is an advanced swim with 100's of people getting pushed well past the swim exit on this day (see photo below).  I swam alone virtually the entire swim, about 30-50 yards inside of the caravan of boats trying to block people from heading out to sea. At my final "check" about 500 yards from shore, my stress level went up as I thought I was too aggressive, but I hit the beach (it seems like a moving target as the current pushes you by!).  My hands hit the soft sand and I was vertical!  I spotted my sister Inta (yay!) as I ran up the stairs----I escaped again!   Looking at photos and video though, I overshot the swim, losing a decent chunk of time...in the video below, I came in at the same spot most of the pros came in on, just inside the buoy line.  I should have listened to Leishia who is the veteran Alcatraz swimmer!  She swam this prefectly, consequently "chicking" me on the swim...it is just soo hard to aim at the 2 towers in Ghirardelli Square when the St Francis Yacht Club landing is 20+ degrees to the right of it!!  
Can you say overshot???  Geeze that looks like Great White territory
Potts won this race on the swim...the right line made all the difference! (he was 2nd out....)

T1: 5:51

The swim to bike is a 1/2 mile run to transition...I wasn't sure if I was going to grab those shoes or not, but after seeing the bay of bags, I said "screw it" and ran straight through with my wetsuit pulled to my waist.  Half way to transition, my feet start to get "un-numb" and they feel like they are ripped wide open---I get passed by a couple guys in shoes, but also realize I didn't waste time finding those shoes, so I am not stressing about the pace, but may be a good idea would be to wrap tape around your foot pre-race to help with the rough road!  I elected to not have the shoes clipped in for this race...I was in the second row and the trot from my bike to the Bike out was literally 15 feet, so it was a no brainer decision this time.

Bike:  54:39   66th Overall 19.8 mph 

Escape From Alcatraz Bike (Garmin didn't turn off...crappy data file)

Onto the Bike I go...this ride is "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" (from Disneyland as a kid---loved that ride!)...there's tons of climbing, descending, sharp turns while at high speeds---you NEED to drive this course before you race it competitively...you can lose minutes if you are not sure where to decelerate and  accelerate!  Regardless, I knew the bike would be my weakness on this course as we don't have hills like these to train on in Scottsdale...my goal going in was to stay upright---no crashes, no injuries!  I pretty much held my own on the bike, making some passes while getting passed as well...no biggie...stay in the race without risking injury like I said.  Up to Seacliff and the Legion of Honor, down to Ocean Beach, through Golden Gate Park, then re-trace our steps back to the Marina Green---it is a GREAT bike course, with no chance to relax at all.  Chris' notes for this course is to divide the bike into 2 halves...be somewhat conservative on the way out, and hammer the way back, especially the climbs...I used this tactic and it worked like a charm, and ended up playing cat and mouse with a guy on a road bike--he lead the climbs,  then I took over for the downhills and flats---not drafting, but "working together" pacing each other.   This was my first race using an SRM Powermeter and Dura Ace Di2 which was just installed, and both really helped me---SRM with keeping my output under control, and Di2 with on-the-fly shifting---it is just amazing how easy and fast shifting is with Di2...it is instant shifting without any worry of a "bad" shift.  Anyways, it was a beautiful day---our prayers for clear skies was answered!  I did run into an buddy from the good old days, Scott Whitthoff, while on the last climb--he was on the side of the road yelling encouragement---great to see you Scott!  Descents and climbs behind me, I hauled butt back to transition through the only flat section of the course, whizzing by my family in the process who I could hear, but not see in the blur that was the crowd around the transition.  Nutrition wise,  I took in one Gu at the Legion of Honor, and another after reaching Crissy Field, and luckily I had Pre-Race and EFS in my bike bottle---it made up for the lack of my Pre-Game Bottle for sure as I felt great, and my legs were ready to go!  I was feeling really good about the race so far---no major mistakes other than the swim line, and I didn't crush myself on the bike, so I was set up for a good finish.

T2   1:32

I left the bike shoes on the pedals, dismounted, unbuckled and removed my helmet on the way, glasses off, shoes on---oops!  The insole in my shoe bunched up on my right shoe---foot out, reposition the sole, 2nd time was a charm.  Grabbed my number belt, that Gu, and my Garmin...then got moving!

Run 52:23  34th Overall  6:33 pace

So if the bike is Mr's Toads Wild Ride, this run is it's twin evil brother---made even worse with a few curves thrown in by the course layout and the recent rains leaving the trails a muddy mess.  I left transition fast---sub 6 fast.  Hitting the trail that leads from the street to the path at the west end of the Marina Green, I was greeted by my own personal paparazzi!  There my family was---all with cameras pointed at me----I wanted some high 5's! Sophia was looking right at me (she is usually off playing with something, so this was a treat!  Everyone was there---sisters, parents, Jenny, Fia...this was just awesome to have them there!  I don't think my feet hit the ground for that mile---I was on cloud nine!  The feeling was short lived as I was approaching the stairs leading to the upper trail.  It was nice to see all of the improvements they had made to this section.  I last did this race in 1998, and now the trail leading up was well manicured versus the beat up dirt trail that used to be there when I lived in the Marina from 1995-1999.  I have done this run 100's of times, and it was awesome to be back on my old training grounds (I took it for granted as this run is one of the most beautiful runs I have ever been on).  Up to the bridge, under the bridge, then through the bunkers, life was good.  I had passed maybe 10 people including 3 of the women pros.  As I passed the 3rd woman heading through the bunkers, the trail got nasty...puddles, mud...but thankfully we were pretty much alone and had the trail to ourselves dodge the storm deposits.  As I ended this section, Andy Potts comes flying through with a "locked up lead", then Docherty and Chrabot running together.  This is the coolest thing about this sport---here I am a "hobbyist" on the same course as the pros---name another sport where this is the case!!!!  As I hit the downhill to Baker Beach, I then see 2 time IM World Champion Craig Alexander and let out a big " GO CROWIE!"  He was not in a happy place, but here I was again on the same course as one of my heroes.  Ok, so back to the racing....I hit the beach, and here's the curve ball--they made us run in the deep sand!!  We were slowed to a crawl it seemed like.  I had been running with a guy from the top of the hill..we both let out a chuckle, and burrowed through the "stuff" to the turnaround at the end of Baker Beach.   My shoes filled with sand almost immediately, and this lead to the "holes" in my feet---not just abrasions, holes! Socks would be a good option, but that may have taken me 7+ seconds to put on, so I skip those for every race except 70.3 and IM.  At the turn, I took in my only liquid of the run--2 cups of Cytomax (I think).  As I was running towards the Sand Ladder, I caught up to a good friend Rich Blanco, another AIMPer who just qualified for the second year in a row at IM St George.  He is a stud, and after a tap on the butt and some brief words, we were climbing the sand ladder.  I had more in the tank to pour out on this day, so I ended up leaving Rich on the ladder---I'm sure I was better trained for this race, otherwise Rich would kicked my butt!  I had a "for pride" bet with John Dean on who would do the Sand Ladder faster, but I was feeling really good about the race, so I conserved a bit going up, finishing the sand ladder in 2:25, and taking down JD but 10 seconds ;-} (Can you say "hill repeats"???) With that effort, I was able to run the uphill to the crest, then the true "fun" began.  I entered the bunker section, and it was a sea of athletes coming up the same trail I had covered maybe 15 minutes before---luckily I caught a guy just at the right time, and let him lead through the labyrinth that was the trail back to the Marina Green.  "Left....LEFT...LEFT!!!" we yelled all the way through.  I left him when we hit the final set of stairs back to the road and I was shocked at what I found next...2 guys tied together!  One guy blind, the other a pro triathlete guiding him through the course---AMAZING!  These guys were running like there was no handicap issue there...each of them amazing in what they were doing...the pro telling him how to take the steps, and the blind athlete following him without missing a beat...really, AMAZING!   They swam tied together, they rode on a tandem, and now ran tied together---and they finished just over a minute behind me!  Without the handicap, I ended up passing them through this technical section and was back on flat ground with the path down Crissy Field to go.  At this point, I just drained the tank, careful not to push over the limit.  Pace was sub 6, heart rate right at 160....I was at max speed, max heart rate, and holding on for dear life with the mindset that every second counts.  There was no gap for me to really close as 2 guys were about 30 yards ahead and not giving up much, but I pushed anyways as the finish to this race is one of the best out there.  I left it all out there, and by the time I hit the finish shoot, I was running on fumes.  I heard my cheering section loud and clear as I made the turn onto the grass runway---you guys are awesome!!  I actually almost caught one of the guys ahead, but needed another 1/4 mile to get him...with the way the timing is done, the funny thing was that I actually beat the guy in front of me by 7 seconds as he must have exited the boat before me out of the front exit----that 7 seconds is what gave me second in the 35-39ers...sooo close!  This race chews you up and spits you out---I gave it everything I had and we thrilled with my result---absolutely nothing to complain about!   I met another AIMPer and winner of my age group Ritch Viola (also going to Kona)and chatted with Rich Blanco even though I was probably mumbling in exhaustion---two GREAT guys I look forward to racing with in Kona.

With the race behind me, it was time to visit with my family---we had an afternoon BBQ at my brothers new house---soo good to catch up with everyone!  But too short!  Thank you all for your tremendous support over the years, on this day, and on the coming BIG day in Kona...you guys have put up with me all of these years and I hope my racing makes you proud ;-}

I never realized how much I took living in SF for granted, but after spending a weekend there with Jenny and Sophia and some of my ONE teammates, this race can only be trumped by IM racing--if you know of another race close to this, let me know (well, Wildflower is up there too---that's next on the reunion tour---Jenny?).  Thanks for reading my diary, and I hope it convinces those of you thinking about doing this race that you need to buck up and enter next year!  BTW, there are 3 different Escape from Alcatraz Triathlons---this is the BIG one put on by IMG...www.escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com

Overall Stats:  2:22:57  
Age Group: 2nd out of 264
Overall:  15th Amateur,  44th Overall including Pros

One Happy Triathlete!

Below are various pics from the weekend...

Rich Blanco and I Post Race

Fia and I on the Aquatic Park Pier---Coldie!
John and I on our EZ Friday Ride

Jory and I braving the Rain Saturday moring
John the Jokester on the Sand Ladder
One of the holes in my right foot from sand rubbing--Ouch!
The hole in my right little toe--Double Ouch!
A future runner---look at that form!  No heel striking there!
Me and my amazing family
Approaching my paparazzi!
The One Legged Seagull
Fia and Jenny with Alcatraz in the Background
The clan on the Sand Ladder
View from Baker Beach at the base of the Sand Ladder
The swim exit at St Francis Yacht Club Hipstamatixed
View of the bridge from the Swim Exit
The boys at the Swim Exit
Fia and her cousin Christopher climbing away
High Fives for my Paparazzi
Just finished...
That's what the Sand Ladder looks like from the bottom..
The top of the Sand Ladder---EZ section!
Someone was not happy!
She's Happy now...
Nothing an iPad and headphones can't fix
On the podium with Ritch and Brett