What a weekend! I'm happy to report that I successfully escaped from Alcatraz. It was a weekend full of accomplishment and some valuable lessons.
Day #1: We arrived in San Francisco after an easy day long drive from Orange County. The weather was just beginning to turn wet and windy and I began to seriously fret over the race going as planned. We opted for an early dinner and to get a head start on well needed rest with a early bedtime. A friend suggested a little Italian place a bit off the main tourist drag and we figured it'd be just the right place to get a decent plate of pasta with a simple homey sauce. Due to my dietary restrictions (and that we both cook/eat really clean food) we avoid dairy, fried foods, too much butter, oil etc... I should have known the moment we got our food that it was a bad move to stay and eat. One dish was swimming in butter and the other, a pool of oil. I tried to pick off the top as best I could, but that single bad choice would haunt me for the rest of the weekend via major stomach pain. Lesson #1: Never, never, never deviate from your regular diet. Even if it's days before the race. Even if other people ask you to go out with them. Even if it means you pay for a dinner and leave it on the table.
Day #2: we woke up to a steady downpour of cold rain and headed out to the race expo. Packets picked up, waivers signed, and free stuff gathered, we headed out to drive the bike course. I felt a little intimidated by the bike course (serious hills and rough pavement), but was in complete awe of the beauty of Golden Gate park and the Baker Beach area. After much more running around, we made it back to the hotel in time to get ready for the big day.
Day #3: I actually slept the night before! What?! Who is this crazy person! My stomach was still a wreck (cramping, bloating, etc...) but I ate some Breakfast Cake we brought with us and packed a banana, a bar and some gels. I felt relatively calm and completely stoked on the dry roads and lack of rain falling from the sky. Setting up transition for uncertain weather is hard. Will I need arm warmers? A beanie? A hat? Which lenses in my sunglasses? I had a lot of stuff in a little space. I think I can just stick with less and be fine in the future. We loaded onto the buses and then boarded the boat!
The Swim: I wasn't nervous until we got on the boat. We were packed like sardines in a tin; sweaty, hot, nervous sardines. Brad finally had the genius idea to move outside. We could relax, stretch, move and breathe! We aligned ourselves pretty close to the door and prepared to launch into the icy waters of the Bay. It's a little uncomfortable as everyone starts pushing and shoving and yelling and cheering and before you know it, SPLASH you're in the water! They said it was 52', but it didn't feel that cold to me. We did some open water swims this winter that were much colder. Perhaps it was nerves and adrenaline, but it felt manageable. Sighting was excellent and the water was relatively smooth. I was enjoying the easy swim right up until the last 1/4 of the swim. That's about when the water changed from ocean-like to insane river-like. I watched in horror as a buoy zipped past me and I realized that it wasn't the buoy zipping by, it was me, going with the current sailing past the buoy. Sad face. I re-sighted and despite all better judgement gave it all I had to dig in and swim slightly into the current and towards the beach. By the time you see crowds, you better be in position or it's just about too late to change course. I barely made it to the right beach, and I swam like all hell. Relief, joy and pride swept over me as my hands scraped sand and I stood up to make my way towards the swim exit.
T .5, Transition Run + T1: I was so excited that I didn't drown and landed on the right beach that I didn't give a damn about transitioning in any speed. I remember looking around all happy-like and taking my sweet time getting my wetsuit off and my shoes on (that and my hands were claws from the cold). The run was okay, it seemed a bit like cruel and unusual punishment, but it was only a half mile to T1. When I hit T1, I learned Lesson #2: If you don't pee in the ocean, you're still going to have to go pee when you get out. In all the flurry of diving off a boat, swimming 1.5 mi to shore, the crazy current, etc... I forgot to pee. I'll leave out how I solved this problem ;)
The Bike: I think the race directors were trying to kill us. We make it a point to do plenty of hill work in our training rides and I like to think that I'm pretty on point with it. The hills on this ride are no joke. The part that I didn't like was the poor road conditions combined with insanely steep downhills and/or into sharp turns. The downhills made me uncomfortable. I know I'm a bit of a chicken, but I'm not cool with super high speeds with a side of crappy roads. Neither my body nor my bike are worth trashing for a race. I felt sketched most of the way out on the ride. The way back, however, was all up hills. There are hills that lead to more hills, with false tops, and hills on the side. The ride up Seal Beach is intense, long, grueling and steep. It's backed up by two of the steepest little psychotic climbs that only SF can offer. I was so relieved to finally make it back down the long flat chute to the transition area.
T2: Something's definitely not right...my stomach is in major distress and I feel like I'm running out of energy. I wasted a ton of time switching out my lenses in my sunglasses (next time I'd just bring different pairs) and looking for my hat (missing). Regardless, I headed out on the run, feeling a bit disheartened as I see Thierry running back in (and almost done with the race) as I'm just starting the last leg.
The Run:The run makes the swim look seem like an easy warm up. It began with a flat 1.5 mi, then heads up stairs and up a muddy trail barely big enough for those going up and coming down. The trail offers the most stunning views around - giant trees, windswept cliffs, miles of ocean and city views. It's unbelievable and it helps ease the pain of the trail. After a nice downhill section, you head down on to the beach right into deep sand. My training guide had said to head to the wet hard pack, but this year they set it up with a good long stretch in the deep sand and then the loop back to the sand ladder was on the hard pack sand. Deep sand has a way of sucking the life out of your legs! At this point, my body was refusing any nutrition and cramping at both the Heed mix I had with me and the water on the course. My run became a run/walk and I forced water in as necessary, as 8 miles without hydration for me is worse than cramping. The sand ladder was surprisingly not that bad! I mean, it's sandy and laddery and long and whatnot, but by taking it one step at a time, it was manageable. The hard part is that the next bit is all uphill after the sand ladder! I was in a small pack of guys and we took turns motivating each other to jog up the hill and keep moving faster. I was relieved to hit the downhill section and head back in to the finish. The last two miles were painful - my legs were strong, my cardiovascular system ready to move, but my stomach was threatening to do something bad. It took all I had to sprint into the finish and I gave it all I had. My time was awful, but I did finish!
Summary: I'm researching alternative solutions to gels/gu/etc... I need to find a real food nutrition I can take in while exercising and/or research metabolic efficiency to remove the need for so much nutrition on the course. All 3 of us who did the race came down with a nasty stomach bug from swimming in the Bay after so much rain. Nasty, nasty, nasty. I broke out into a fever early Tuesday morning and am still feeling a tad shaky. I'll also bring more of my own food on road trips and clearly explain to friends that I can join them at dinner, but I'll be eating my own food as to not begin any type of chain reaction of stomach issues. I'm not sure if I'd do the race again, to be honest. It's a lot of money and the bike course was a bit sketchy. On a good note, it's an extremely well supported, well organized and well run race in a beautiful location and you do get to say you "escaped from Alcatraz". I highly advise any future escapees to check out a coaching plan tailored to the race such as the one I used by Rachel Casanta of Hypercat Racing and to really focus on hill work both on the bike and on the run!
I'm looking forward to a few weeks of light training and pursuing some other hobbies (what?! I know!) and then diving back into a rigorous training plan for our first 70.3 at Orangeman on 9/25!