Leading up to the race:
Less than two years ago I came to San Francisco to race the daunting Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. I was terrified of open water swimming and sharks, had only done two triathlons, Adam had done his first triathlon earlier that year and was there spectating and we weren't that far away from our old bad habits time-wise (or as Ziya aptly called his, The Great Unpleasantness). I didn't really know many people in the sport except for the few people we were with. I was stuck at a job I wasn't happy with and saw no way out. I was paralyzed in my life, unsure of where I was going and unsure of what I was doing, but strongly aware that I needed to find courage to take some big steps and create a new life that I loved.
Somehow, in less than two years, I find myself back here. Same city, same race, totally different person. Adam and I are now happily married, and our lives are tied together stronger than I knew was possible. I have an Ironman and numerous other races under my belt. I have a coach and a team I train with. I really like swimming in open water. We have our own business that we are building. I am reducing my hours at my regular job and training someone to take over. I am fortunate enough to know some amazing people who are here in San Francisco racing and spectating. I am beginning to dream big. Really big.
Two years ago I was so nervous about this race that just thinking about it made me feel nauseous. Today, our crap is flung all over the hotel room, disorganized, unpacked and I'm not quite sure when the race starts but I know it's going to be dark and cold and there's some swimming and then I get on my bike and go where I'm told as fast as I can and then I run where the other people are going and then I head towards the noise and the finish line. And again, I am reminded about where triathlon fits in my life. It's not about the race.
This year has been total and absolutely wonderful in an insane, busy, mad-scramble to make a successful business out of our teeny-tiny idea. Most days I don't know what day it is, I'm totally surprised it's March and I feel like a little groundhog that has been busy burrowing and digging for all of 2013 and I'm just popping up for air all sunlight-blinded wondering where the hell I am, but also pleased with our progress. Triathlon seems far, far, away. All the focus I had last year has been shifted. I am eagerly waiting the see-saw of work-life balance to teeter totter back into an even form so that I can actually resume training and find that harmony in my life again. Oceanside 70.3 is at the end of this month and while everyone I know is training consistently, we're lucky if we swim 2x a week and I can't recall the last time we actually had time to ride outside on a weekend. Yet, there's a time and a place for everything and sometimes you have to make decisions.
This is my second time doing Escape From Alcatraz and it wouldn't be possible without the sponsorship from a long time friend and vendor who has sponsored the trip and hotel stay both years! EFA is an expensive Olympic distance race, but there's simply nothing else like it. The challenge, the scenery, the well-run race, the venue...it's no mystery why it draws such a big pro field. The race entry is done on a lottery basis and only 2,000 participants are selected. While it's usually held in June the America Cup (some boating thing) knocked it back to March!
We met up with friends at packet pickup and took care of signing the many waivers and getting our goody bags. After a little nap and some dinner we were ready for bed. Race day morning I woke up absolutely not feeling like jumping up (at 3:45am) and into 50 degree water. I find that I do best when I avoid all the race morning madness as much as possible so we rode to the race on the empty streets of San Francisco and quickly set up and headed to our friends truck for a ride to the docks (skipping the whole bus insanity). Once there we got on the boat and I promptly settled down for a little nap while the boat buzzed with the fears and anxious energy of 1,999 other athletes. It's not often I get an hour to do nothing, so I was happy to indulge in the nothingness!
Swim (1.5 miles +/- depending on current, chop, etc...):
I didn't do any warm up swimming before the race. 50 degree water sucks and I didn't want a wet wetsuit on race day. And I don't think it was going to make me any more ready for diving off a hot boat into cold water. So as we stood in a pack by the doors, everyone slowly starting to pee (no joke) I saw the water looked a little unpleasant, with whitecaps and chop. All I really cared was that it wasn't FOGGY and the shore was totally clear. In a mad crush, I squeezed out the door and leapt into the bay. Was it cold? Yes. But it was worse the other weekend at CDM (not technically, but it felt better than that). After a few minutes of swimming away from the boat, I spotted Ghiradelli Square and began my swim to the Fontana Towers as my sighting reference. My garmin hadn't picked up GPS while in the boat and had stopped instead of started at some point so I tried to start it again but wound up with no data. As a second timer, I was going to make damn sure I sighted correctly and didn't overshoot the Marina Green. You can't really follow other swimmers since most of them are just as lost and swimming against the current sucks. In theory, the current pulls you pretty rapidly towards the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet, the winds were whipping the chop in the opposite direction creating a wild washing machine effect.
I'd just wait to feel myself crest a wave and check my reference points, but I noticed I wasn't moving as much as I should have been. Granted a lot of stroke energy was being lost in the chop, and the wind was negating the currents aid. It was definitely harder than 2011, and took a little more work and more careful re-positioning on my targets to get to shore, but I found it to be manageable. (I will talk about the death and my thoughts at the end of this post).
T1 Run (1/2 mile):
This year I opted to forgo the changing into running shoes think partially because I forgot my shoes and partially because it was such a hassle. If I had bought booties, that would've been the way to go. I had a wetsuit stripper help me out of my suit since my hands were useless little claws. I ran the half mile back barefoot. I was cold and painful, but since my feet were pretty frozen, it was bearable. Still had major fumbling in transition, it's so hard to put stuff on when you can't move your fingers. I skipped gloves and any extra clothing and figured I'd warm up on the climb out (which I did and am grateful I skipped all that).
Bike (18 hilly miles):
Got on the old roadie and headed out! realized my watch was in the wrong mode, wasn't picking up heart rate nor cadence. Things like that used to worry me, this time I figured it was a sign to just ride. There is such a thing as too much data. Sometimes it's nice to just GO RIDE BIKE. I don't recall so much climbing on the way out last time! Nothing too hard, but definitely warms you up from the swim! Bombing down by Baker Beach is fun, but having done it before I reminded myself that anything fun I was going down I also had to come back up. And the bike is followed by a very challenging 8 mile run, so I didn't want to lose my legs being all Tour de Francy. The road can also be a bit jacked up and there's people of all kinds of skill, so it's better to be a little more cautious than take a digger being a speed demon (for me, at least). I happily heard Adam yell out my name as he made his way up the big hill ask was coming down. I was pleased to find the uphills not as bad as I recall. The first time up any hill is always the worst! I laughed as Ziya rolled up next to me on one of the last climb as I knew he'd catch me and felt the good feeling of camaraderie mid-race when you get to share a moment with a training buddy and friend. I spun my legs out and got ready for a tough 8 miles.
Grabbed my running visor and hand water and headed out to see how my legs were doing.
Run (8 miles, mostly trail, some road, some sand, stairs):
The first 2 miles are pretty flat and the next mile is all climbing - single track, stairs, narrow trail, it definitely gets the heart rate up. I had set my loose goal on 11:00 min/miles since I haven't really been training and I didn't want to kill myself and I know there's some slow jogging and walking in the course. Adam came flying past me and I was stoked to see him looking so strong and happy. I headed down onto trail and onto the beach where everyone seemed to forgo the arrows pointing to soft sand and went for hard(ish) pack wet sand. It's still squishy and sucks the life out of your legs all half mile out and half mile back. Wheeeeee, sand. Finally you turn away from the hard pack into the deep soft sand that leads up to the infamous Sand Ladder. I had been chugging along with a guy for a few miles so we pushed each other up, encouraging each other every few steps. It's not that hard on its own, but after the uphill out and the sand, you don't have much to give. The real bitch however, is that at the top of the sand ladder you make a left and continue to climb! It's a gorgeous course and one of the good things about it being hard is you have a little time to look around! I started looking for Ray and Brad since I knew they were behind me and that motivated me to keep running and not be lazy. i was motivated by other people running so i told myself, "You never know who you are inspiring, so start acting inspiring!" Sure enough I saw Ray right after and that gave me a boost! The rest of the way is downhill and while that's awesome it's important to stay mentally sharp, but let the feet fly! I lapped my watch at mile 6 and decided to kick up the pace. I turned in a 9:47 and then an 8:43 as I did my best to push through the finish line.
|Ah, the sand ladder.|
Felt generally discombobulated and like my usual "must eat and please don't talk to me until I do so" self, haha! Happily found Adam who is the most awesome at making sure I get food and cookie and no talking to until I've settled down. And he packs up all my stuff in transition! I so picked a good man ;) I am proud of my race and pleased with the day. I am sore today and tired, but I had a phenomenal time.
Tips for 1st Timers:
1.) Train for the race. Don't run on flat ground, don't just swim in a pool and make sure you ride hills.
2.) Know your comfort level with cold water, rough water and being alone in the water.
3.) Make sure to talk to the people in the booth every year with the swim map for sighting references at the expo!
4.) If you're really stressed about sighting or unsure, take an Alcatraz boat trip a day or two before to get a feel for the landmarks.
5.) I always advise not being in transition too early - it stresses me out. Too much excitement and long bathroom lines.
6.) Wear socks to the boat that you can discard before the race.
7.) Transition shoes... I have done them with and without. I would do it without even though I have little sissy feet, I hate the hassle of trying to get shoes on with claw-hands.
8.) Road bike.
9.) Don't blow your legs on the bike course - the run is very challenging!
10.) Have fun and take in the sights!
Thoughts on the Swim Conditions / Death:
This year marks the first time in EFA's 33 years of race history that someone has died in the swim. There's a lot of fuss about people saying triathlon is risky now and not safe and blah blah blah blah. Here's my take. The man who died had done the race before, he had trained, and they don't think that they water had anything to do with it. Simply put, he had a heart attack and either due to the excitement or just timing, it happened to be during the race. Are the odds elevated in an excited state? Sure, probably. But, does that make triathlon scary? Not really. I'd rather die doing something I loved than parked on the freeway headed to my job. I do believe in minimizing risk as much as possible. I train safe, I race safe, and I do what I can to make sure I'm ready to survive each time I leave the house. If I have an unknown heart condition or a freak accident happens, there's not much I can do about that. I look at my involvement with triathlon in terms of odds. The odds of something adverse happening to me as a healthy 32 year old female aren't too high. I try to reduce those odds even more by being a bit of a little bitch descending hills or on technical courses because I lack the time and money to fix myself and my bike. I will even back out of a race if I'm unprepared for it rather than risk myself or the lives of others. Do I think there were some unprepared people out at EFA on Sunday? Hell yes, and while I give them credit, I can't help but wonder, "At what cost?" I think if I had a condition that could/might lead to a race-day issue I'd have to look at the situation differently and talk to my family and loved ones about it. Obviously, I love to train and race, but there's a line between having a good time and endangering yourself.
Some people are angrily attacking the race directors and saying they shouldn't have had the race in March, there should have been more safety personnel, etc... My attitude is that you signed up for the race in March. You signed all the waivers. You were sent multiple emails about the conditions. You were required to state races you had completed. You were supposed to attend the athlete meeting. Given all of that, every participant on that boat was a willing subject. Safety personnel can only do their best. They are not responsible for the lives of all 2,000 people. At the end of the day, I know that when I train and when I race, I alone am the only person I can count on. I sure hope that rescue personnel will get to me in time if I need it, but I know that it's a BIG ocean and a wild one (especially at races like EFA) and there's just no guarantee. I don't think the water was that cold and while I heard tales of 6' swells on Slowtwitch, I think that's a bit much. Here's a video of the water that day and while it was crazy, it certainly wasn't impossible. EFA is billed as one of the hardest races out there. It's up to each person who signs up to be ready mentally and physically for all possible conditions. Outside of that, sometimes your time is just up. My thoughts go out to the family and friends of this man and to those who stayed by his side and provided rescue efforts and after seeing him to medical aid, finished the race in his honor. People like that make me proud to be a fellow triathlete, and more importantly a fellow human being. I have stopped and checked on people in a race (and while training) before, and hope that each and every one of us is willing to take the time to make sure that if someone does need help, we forgo our PR to assist them.