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Escape From Alcatraz - TriathlonOlympic

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San Fransisco, California
United States
65F / 18C
Total Time = 3h 04m 42s
Overall Rank = 439/1622
Age Group = M40-44
Age Group Rank = 73/253
Pre-race routine:

Geez, I'm really late in writing this race report. need to crank it out now or I'll never get to it...


I live in San Francisco and this is my 4th season of doing tris. I hadn't yet done EFA in past years for various reasons, but this year I did get in through the second round of the lottery. My understanding was that there was even another round of lottery winners for CA residents since there were so many from out of town who didn't accept - not really surprising given the economy and how expensive a destination race to SF is. For me, it was just the cost of registration which was a pretty steep $350 (in addition to the lottery) for an Oly distance race. of course, they have to charter a boat for the bay and I'm sure closing down streets in SF isn't cheap.

Three years ago in my first year of tris, I did do Escape from the Rock which is a similar race put on by envirosports. You can look up my RR from that event if you want more details, but the races are pretty similar in that they feature an Alcatraz swim, a mini run before the bike, a hilly bike course, and a mostly trail run that includes the infamous sand ladder.

This race really doesn't play to my strengths much. First, it features a big swim relative to the bike and run distances. Second, it's relatively short since I prefer the long stuff since I don't have the speed, but have the endurance. What does somewhat play to my strengths is that it is a hilly bike course and somewhat hilly run course.

I had debated which bike to use on the course because it is mostly hills - tri bike or road bike. My tri bike is a Cervelo P3C and a choice of a couple race wheelsets or my road bike, which is my entry level Trek 1200 which is my commuter. The course is generally very hilly (i.e. more suited to road bike), but my tri bike was so much nicer. in the end, I went with my P3C with a 404 front and 808 rear, which ended up being the right choice.

Two weeks out from this race and I'm sick. Nothing major, but it's a cold that's going around my office. Rest and zinc seem to help and one week out I'm almost 100%. I resume my workouts and I don't really taper much at all leading up to EFA since this race is more for fun and an intense training day for me more than anything. i took the day off the day before, but that was my b-day.

Speaking of which, the day before is registration day. DW and I have some take out sushi for lunch which we pounded down and then head down to Crissy Field to catch the 1:00pm pre-race talk. The talk was helpful for me to primarily understand the logistics of everything (i.e. sighting on the swim, the shuttle bus to the pier, the jumping off the boat, transitions).

After the pre-race talk, I register (quick and efficient except for the guy in front of me who didn't have his USAT card and tried fumbling with his PDA to try to look it up online with everyone waiting behind him until the volunteer finally asked him to stand aside while he looked that up). Goody bag was an EFA gym bag (very nice for a goody bag, but really pretty cheaply constructed), nice tech t-shirt, water bottle, and the timing chip, race bib, numbers, sweat check bag and post-swim gear bag. Bought a bike jersey (geez, needed to by an extra small...what's with that? Definitely not euro sizing...guess that makes it american sizing...).

On the way back to the car, we walk by the swim exit area to scope it out. A very young girl (12?) asks me where the transition area will be here (there is a mini transition area after the swim exit since there is a short run to the real transition area). I've never done this race before, but based on what they told us in the pre-race and looking at the area, it seems like they'll likely be using the parking lot of the yacht club for transition.

Back at home, my stomach is not so happy. I'm assuming it's the sushi, although we've eaten at that restaurants probably over 100 times and never had issues. Still, this would result in many trips to the bathroom for me through the course of the evening...

For dinner, it's fresh spinach fettucine, marinara sauce and a couple of awesome meatballs from Pastagina our neighborhood pasta shop. I pack up all my gear and i finally get to bed once my stomach finally lets me.


Race morning and we're up at 4:30AM. The usual coffee and toast (with almond butter and honey) for breakfast for me. By 5:15am, we're out the door. not much traffic even as we got close to Crissy Field. DW drops me off in the Marina just a a couple blocks from the transition area.

A lot of people and activity here at transition. I setup my transition area and fortunately I'm right on the end of a rack, so plenty of room for me to set up and room to keep some stuff off to the side of the rack. i drop off my mini-transition gear bag at the gear truck. i board one of the shuttles to go over to the pier. The forecast had been for cloudy and a chance of rain, but it's perfect out - (early morning) sunny and clear.

After getting to the pier, I see the boat and most are just kicking back. There are no announcements blaring (yet), so it's in such stark contrast to the transition area.

It's still only 6:30AM or so and we don't need to be onboard the boat until 7:15AM and the race doesn't start until 8:00AM. I use the porta potty and get body marked and kick back for awhile.

A couple of the guys from my tri club find me. We chat it up and decide to head over to the boat.

On the boat, the under 40 somethings are on the bottom level and the over 40 somethings go up to the second level. Everybody is sprawled here too.

I find one of my fellow tri club guys GN and hang out with him, which is also helpful since he's done this race before

It keeps getting more crowded as more and more racers show up. The boat eventually leaves port, but we still have a lot of time. A lot of just kicking back (glad to have GN to chat with), a couple trips to the rest room. We get close to Alcatraz.

I finally put on my wetsuit and put all my sweats into my sweat check bag. Since we all exit the boat, we can just leave our sweat bags where we are. GN says we should work our way downstairs and jump off earlier since they don't really regulate who goes when. Okay, I'll follow his lead.

After the national anthem, the elites are off followed shortly thereafter by whoever is ready to go. GN and I worm our way to the side for the jump.
Event warmup:

We're stuck on a I never warm up.
  • 47m 37s
  • 2414 meters
  • 01m 58s / 100 meters

Pretty much the whole side of the boat is the jump off point and volunteers just count 1...2...3 and you jump and start swimming away as soon as possible so you don't get jumped on. During the pre race talk, they said don't jump in torpedo style (so that you drop down deep), but just keep one arm and one leg splayed out so that you go in shallow and can start swimming. So, I think that's what I did, but it's pretty much a mad rush. I halfway land on top of the person in front of me (sorry whoever you are) because they didn't get out of the way quickly enough.

At the start of the swim, it's a little crowded, but not too bad. And thins out pretty quickly. in fact, we're all spread out pretty wide. At the pre-race talk, we were told to sight at Sutro tower if you're a medium swimmer and to the left of Sutro Tower if you're a slow swimmer. I tend to be pretty middlish so I aim at the tower. Because of the tides flowing out to the ocean, we keep getting a good push that direction and I keep finding myself course correcting. There are times that we're so spread out that I feel like I'm the only one way out to the left like this (is everyone that much stronger a swimmer than I am??).

I pass all kinda of different color caps and I have no idea how I'm doing. in the pool, my stroke is long and smooth, but out here, my stroke is choppier and I feel like I'm working a lot harder than I normally do. There are a few bits where the water was bit rougher, but nothing too bad. The swim feels long.

When I can see the red roof to the yacht club, I know it's deceiving and that there is still a good long ways to go. I see one of the buoys so I aim for it, but with the tide, I miss it by a fairly good amount. I can see the beach for the swim exit so I just keep working my way over there. I can see the crowds there.

I can feel the bottom with my hands so I stand up and start heading over to the mini-transition.

Transition 1
  • 08m 23s

I believe the time for this transition includes the first mini transition, the run, then the real transition before the bike.

So I run up to the mini-transition area where our bags are laid out by number. DW is here to cheer me on. I have trouble with my wetsuit on my ankles like always, but otherwise the transition is uneventful. I stuff my swim gear into the bag and cinch it up and start the run to the real transition area.

Looks like maybe half the bikes are gone already. Run shoes off. Bike shoes on. Stash a couple gus. Helmet on. Race belt on and I'm off...

  • 59m 49s
  • 18 miles
  • 18.06 mile/hr

We get a nice little flat warmup stretch before we have to start any climbing. There are some speedy folks here and some slower folks, but I'm passing more than pass me.

We start our climb up to Lincoln. I'm just trying to stay relaxed and never hammer the hills. It's a turn onto Lincoln followed by a little bit more climbing. I'm still passing folks. Then it's up over the top and then downhill through some curves as we're along side Baker Beach and then through Sea Cliff before we begin the climb to the Legion of Honor. The pros are already coming down, some of whom are cranking with a disc which you can hear as they banzai past on their downhill.

Up to the Legion of Honor (i've ridden this route so many times when I first started biking and did my cycling in the city) and then down to Clement. Right hand turn and then back up again for a bit and then back down and then down, down, down pass the Cliff House (saw one impatient cyclist pass a motorcycle by crossing the double yellow) and down to Ocean Beach. Then it's along the Great Highway for a bit and then a turn into the park at JFK.

It's kinda weird being in the park like this with almost no crowds or just people in the park. This stretch isn't really all that hilly at all so i was glad I had my tri bike. I pass a 14 year old on her bike and tell her she's doing great. Finished the loop in the park and then it's back out onto Great Highway and follow the reverse route.

It's a climb up near the Cliff House. I'm passing a good number of people here. Then more climbing on Clement. I actually get out of the saddle for a little bit. Still passing people. A bit of a downhill and then the turn to climb back up to the Legion of Honor. Banzai downhill from here, but some racers don't hear when I call that I'm passing on the left so that's a little annoying.

Then it's more climbing along Baker Beach. There are runners already this far on the course (almost halfway point for the run). I'm passing a good number of people on the bike. One guy shoots past me cranking in a big gear and I tell him good job, but of course he fades and I pass him.

I've ridden this stretch so many times, so I know the end of the climbing is near. Then it's downhill on Lincoln, downhill to Crissy Field. it's flat and fast here to get back to transition, playing leapfrog with a few of the cyclists, but I just settle back behind one leave it at that.
Transition 2
  • 01m 20s

Uneventful transition. All went fine. Looks like quite a few bikes still out on the course, so I think I made up some time on the bike.
  • 1h 07m 33s
  • 8 miles
  • 08m 26s  min/mile

I start off with the run. It's flat, but legs feel pretty leaden, which they always do at the start and sometimes for up to 6 miles before I really feel loose. Fortunately, it didn't take that long to loosen up. We have maybe 1.5 miles or so along Crissy Field first.

Traditionally, the run has been one of my strengths esp. in the long distance stuff. This is an 8 mile run, so it's a good distance and with some hills. Still, there seem to be a hell of a lot of fast people running. I'm getting passed pretty regularly.

Past the warming hut, we start up the stairs. This is good for sapping a little bit out of your legs. Then it's on the short windy path and then on the dirt path. Through the tunnel that they warn you about the low overhang, but I still bang my head (ouch). Then up and then it's onto the trails.

At one point, someone on the return segment calls out my name (it's TS from my tri club doing a relay). I'm doing okay on the run, but I'm still amazed at how many people are passing me. We head to Baker Beach and it's down to the beach. Nothing like running in sand after all of that.

It's an out and back on baker beach and everyone tries to stay near the water where the damp sand is at last somewhat packed down. It's a turnaround and then back along the length of baker beach although the return has the infamous sand ladder, which is basically a sand hill with some railroad ties across that are steps. I'm starting kinda running the stairs and quickly disabuse myself of that and just briskly walk it and even use the cable handrails to aid.

You actually get splits for the sand ladder (they call it a race within a race), but I'm not "racing" it.

On the route back, i get to see lots of fellow GGTC folks and we mutually cheer. Eventually it's back to the flat area near Crissy Field.

I'm passing some but still getting passed by a few. This includes a 12 year old girl. I tell her she's doing a great job. With about half a mile left, I get passed by two of my fellow GGTCers (grrr).

When I get to the final grass area to the finish line, I irrationally sprint.

I manage to pass quite a few in this short stretch, but I don't really have great speed and one of the guys catches me and beats me to the line.

Post race
Warm down:

I get my medal and bunch of the other GGTC racers are here since we all finished within a few minutes of each other.

I meet up with DW and her friend KW who takes a quick picture of me.

I go through the food line and load up (only one pass through the line) and meet up with DW and KW and we sit down in the grass while I eat. It's a beautiful day out in San Francisco and was a great day to race.

Eventually, i get all my gear together and we head back home. Shower. Nap.

We didn't get to celebrate my b-day yesterday so we're going to kinda celebrate it today. Poweredbyfear comes over and the three of us head out to Contigo for an early dinner. We had 36-month aged jamon, oxtail croquettes, halibut crudo, porcini mushroom flatbread, lamb, and duck breast. We also had a bottle of cava to start and we brought a bottle of 2005 Pride reserve claret, which was unfortunately corked. Not the most healthy meal, but I think I earned it!

Last updated: 2009-02-03 12:00 AM
00:47:37 | 2414 meters | 01m 58s / 100meters
Age Group: 0/253
Overall: 828/1622
Course: The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon begins with a 8:00 am plunge from the ferry, into the icy cold water between the San Francisco Piers and Alcatraz Island. The boat is quite hot with 1000+ wet suit clad participants surrounding you, so we suggest you bring fluids. The currents, ebbs, and available dates make it difficult to determine the exact starting point. Participants are unloaded from the boat in less than 6 minutes. It is quite a rush when you take the leap, like a paratrooper from a plane, for the 1.5 mile swim. The swim finish is at the Marina Green Beach adjacent to the St. Francis Yacht Club. Triathletes face the risks of strong currents, treacherous 55 degree waters and two ton sea lions. Wetsuits and hoods are strongly recommended.
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 60F / 16C Current:
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 08:23
Cap removal: Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
00:59:49 | 18 miles | 18.06 mile/hr
Age Group: 0/253
Overall: 288/1622
Course: Mounting their bikes at the Marina Green, triathletes will begin the out-and-back 18 mile ride heading west into Crissy Field via Marina Boulevard. They will climb onto Lincoln Blvd., traveling through the Presidio onto Camino del Mar. They will then climb up the hill to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. They will come down the hill and make a hard right turn onto Clement Street and ride west to Seal Rock Drive. They will make a sharp down hill left turn onto 48th street and then a right turn west on Point Lobos Drive; and ride South on The Great Highway to Golden Gate Park. Triathletes will enter Golden Gate Park from John F. Kennedy Drive onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. They will veer left on Middle Drive and go to about the center or the park. They will then turn left on Transverse Drive and make another left turn onto John F. Kennedy Drive; and ride back to the Great Highway on the north side of the park. After going north on The Great Highway, they will retrace their course back to the Marina Green for the transition to the run. Triathletes risk disqualification for drafting and forward motion to the left of demarcation cones.
Road:   Cadence:
Turns: Cornering:
Gear changes: Hills:
Race pace: Drinks:
Time: 01:20
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
01:07:33 | 08 miles | 08m 26s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/253
Overall: 471/1622
Course: On tired legs, the triathletes will begin the 8 mile run to Baker Beach Battery by leaving the Marina Green, running West into Crissy Field to Fort Point below the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fort Point they battle the Presidio Headlands up and under the Golden Gate Bridge through the tunnel and onto the Coast Trail. Runners will be next to the Coastal Defense Batteries (Gunnery Locations from the turn of the century) until they reach Lincoln Boulevard, just past Battery Dynamite. They parallel Lincoln Blvd. on the narrow trail above the Coastal Bluffs to Baker Beach, where they return to the shoreline below. They will encounter the deep sand of Baker Beach through the turn around point until they reach the dreaded Sand Ladder (400 steps up the cliff). This experience will drain the legs of even the best professionals, as there is nothing like it anywhere in the sport of triathlon. More than one triathlete has used the hand cable to help them walk up the stairs. The stairs are to the run what the currents and waves are to the swim. After reaching the top of the Sand Ladder, runners will go left on the Coast Trail and back to the Finish line via Lincoln Blvd. They will then cross back under the Golden Gate Bridge and get to sea level, it is just a matter of endurance to the Finish Line.
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2009-07-04 2:15 PM

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San Francisco
Subject: Escape From Alcatraz

2009-07-04 2:55 PM
in reply to: #2261717

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Evergreen, Colorado
Subject: RE: Escape From Alcatraz
I've never seen so many pictures in a RR before!  Very nice!

2009-07-04 3:03 PM
in reply to: #2261717

90 miles south of Titletown, USA
Subject: RE: Escape From Alcatraz
Great report and absolutely AMAZING pics! After looking at those I don't know how anybody would not want to do EFA.

Congrats and thanks for posting it...good stuff.
2009-07-04 3:24 PM
in reply to: #2261717

Subject: RE: Escape From Alcatraz
Next year, I seriously want to fly out from the midwest to do this (assuming that I have any money). It looks awesome. You should get paid by the organizers for such a great review!
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