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Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon - TriathlonOlympic

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San Francisco, California
United States
62F / 17C
Total Time = 3h 14m 19s
Overall Rank = 704/1600
Age Group = Female 25-29
Age Group Rank = 20/73
Pre-race routine:

Got into San Francisco on Thursday evening. Spent all day Friday doing touristy things - going on the cable cars, taking a tour of Alcatraz (in the fog - spooky), visiting Fisherman's Wharf and Gherradelli Square.

Saturday saw us heading out to The Sports Basement to pick up my bicycle and to head down to Marina Green to register. I got really excited at this point. The registration area and sports expo was huge. I picked up all needed material and my goody bag (an actual EFA sports bag with goggles and dri-fit shirt and other things inside). Bought another long sleeve shirt as a souvenier and hit the athlete meeting at 1:00 to find out any useful information. It lasted longer than I thought it would so we left a little early. I did get all the swim info though.

Only disappointment was that I found out that you can't check your bikes in a day early. On the website, it said that your bike could be checked on Saturday, but all that means is that they make sure that your handlebars are plugged and everything. Not really a lot of good. Meant that we had to cab the bike to and from the race Saturday pm and sunday morning. Not a big deal, but something to know in the future.

Got to bed around 10:30 Saturday night. Alarm went off at 4:30. Threw on tri clothes, brushed my teeth and got all my bags together.
Event warmup:

Got to the transition area around 5:15 or so (had a cab pick us up from our hotel in Union Square and take us down there). Went into transition and started getting set-up. It was the biggest transition area I've ever seen -- 50 rows of long racks -- and it was on grass so that was something new to me too. I had plenty of space around my area and setting up was pretty easy. After everything was in its place, I grabbed my wetsuit and went over to talk to my boyfriend. I got to the fencing lining the TA and he took a pic of me. Then I turned to him and said "Where is my other bag?" --- meaning 'Where is the bag that contains all of my swim gear and my breakfast that needs to go on the boat with me?' He looks panicked and said that he had already dropped it off at the shoe bag drop-off. We dashed over to where the shoes for the first transition were being dropped and I tell my sob story to the first volunteer we see. Luckily, she was able to find the appropriate bag with all my swim gear in it and we exchanged it for my shoe bag. My heartrate must have jumped up to 200 beats/minute though.

I got on the 6:15 bus to head down to Pier 3. They had said in pre-race meeting that there would be body markers at the transition area and that we should get marked there. Turns out that ALL of the body markers were down at the boat. Not a big deal. Got my number (1541) marked on my legs and arms and also on my HANDS. Thought that was weird, but guess they wanted an easy way to identify you while in your wetsuit. Went to a port-a-john on dock and pulled my wetsuit halfway up. Got on board the boat around 6:55. We were suppose to pull away at 7:15 exactly.

Found the Wave 1 holding area (downstairs level on the port side of the boat). Sat down next to some girls I didn't know and just kind of relazed. It was fun to talk to people just as nervous as you were and hear about how they got into the race. Ate my marathon bar around 7:30 and drank gatorade and water. I really had to go to the bathroom, but there was a HUGE line of the one on the boat. I figured I could wait until I was in the water and was hoping that mainly it was just nerves.

Around 7:50, they started moving the professional and disabled athletes out to the side of the boat to line up to jump. Since our wave was on the correct side, we could see all of them through the huge windows that line the boat (the boat is normally used to host dinner cruises around the bay when it's not hauling triathletes). Around 7:54, the race announcer says 1 minute to go. Everyone thought that it was going to start right at 8, but I guess that they wanted to get everyone into the water since we were in position already. When they announced "Go", all of the triathletes just jumped from the edge. It was cool to see them move out really quickly.

Then the announcer said "30 seconds to go for Wave 1". I had thought that every wave would line up exactly like the first group had. Instead, when he yelled "Go", all of the red caps ran out of 2 doors on the port side and just jumped off the holes on the side of the boat (they had removed the protective gating in 4 areas). The volunteers were yelling "Go, Go, Go. Run, Run, Run". It was so exhilarating and I did have one second before my jump when I thought "What am I about to do? Here I go!"
  • 42m 52s
  • 2640 yards
  • 01m 37s / 100 yards

I jumped. And it was cold. It wasn't quite as cold as I was expecting though. My feet definitely froze up right away, but the neoprene hoodie that I had bought at The Sports Basement the day before kept my head completely toasty the entire time. The oddest thing to me was when I took my first strokes and felt the water coming into my mouth. It was a surprise to find it salty. I mean, I knew it would be salty, but when you have water that cold in your mouth it's a shock to find it so salty. Like drinking salty ice water. Completely different than anything I'm used to.

I started swimming and headed straight for the gold dome on the Palace of Fine Arts. It was a clear day and you could see the Bay Bridge off to you left, the city of San Francisco in front and to the left, Alcatraz directly behind you (and the boat you just jumped off of) and the Golden Gate bridge to your right. They had told us the day before to make sure to look around and take a visual picture. I stopped at least 2 or 3 times to make sure that I remembered what everything looked like.

The swimming went pretty well for me. The most discouraging part was looking forward at that huge gold dome and feeling like you weren't getting ANYWHERE. The waves were pretty killer out there, especially when you went to take a breath and you were on a top of a wave. Next thing you knew, you were heading straight down that wave. I didn't run into any really bad currents. I never actually felt like I was being dragged anywhere or turned in different directions. It's pretty funny to see how far down you actually drift though without realizing it.

My game plan for the swim was basically to aim towards the site and also to make sure that I was in between swimmers at all times. Not that I was ever really close to any swimmers, but on my breaths, I liked to make sure that there was a colored cap somewhere to my left and somewhere to my right. It was more of a comfort thing to know that I had people on each side of me out there in the bay. About halfway through the swim, this spooky fog started rolling in and you could hear the boats out at sea blowing their foghorns. After a while, the fog had blocked almost all views from the ocean and you could just barely pick out the gold dome to sight off of. Incredibly spooky and surreal.

After what felt longer than it actually was, I saw the first buoy marking the way into the bay where the exit is located. After hitting the the 2nd buoy, you could start to hear this dull roar of the crowd cheering. It was so exhilirating. You climbed up these slimy rock steps and heading over to pick up your shoes. Crowd was cheering all the way. The announcer was yelling 'You did it. You finished a swim that is unforgettable.' It was awesome.
What would you do differently?:

Um - I slightly overshot the swim exit. I had to swim back towards the buoys to make sure that I was on course. Not a major deal.

I put a good effort into this swim and I'm fairly pleased with my time for the difficulty. This was the first time that I've actually felt my arms being fatigued while swimming.
Transition 1
  • 07m 12s

After running up the stairs, you are directed into this staging area where you can put shoes on for the 3/4 mile to the actual transition area. I don't really remember much about this. I know that I had difficulty getting my wetsuit. I remember fumbling with it on my arms and again on my legs. I remember putting my shoes on and the volunteer coming over to stuff my wetsuit back in the bag (must be put in the bag or it counts as abandonment of equipment - thanks to his help though I didn't have to do it!). I remember running from that area to the real transition area through a path of spectators continually yelling your name. But all of it now feels like I was just going with the flow. I think that the cold water actually disoriented me more than I actually knew at the time.

Bike shoes and helmet on and I grabbed my bike. Hopped on and got ready for a ride.
What would you do differently?:

Maybe run the 3/4 miles without shoes, but I don't think that it was too bad of a transition. I would rather get my wetsuit off to begin with then have to worry about it down at the actual transition area.
  • 1h 10m 56s
  • 18 miles
  • 15.23 mile/hr

So - this bike course was HARD! I headed out of transition area and there is about 1.5 miles on fairly flat group out Marina Boulevard. Then you hit the first of many hills when you turn up next to the Golden Gate Bridge to enter the Presidio. At that turn, there was a group of volunteers cautioning about a "SHARK" turn ahead. They had signs and everything. It was pretty cute.

I hadn't biked or ridden the tri's actual course before, but I had biked up in that area a few years ago when visiting San Fran. I remember struggling up those exact same hills back then on the rented bicycle. The course is mainly up some hills and then back down some hills. You hit your first major downhill around mile 3.5 out at Point Lobos. It is a turning hill that went right by the Cliffhouse restaurant (where I had enjoyed dinner only 2 days prior).

Around mile 6, you hit the biggest hill of the ride. Luckily, in this direction, it is downhill. Still scary because you are riding partially through neighborhoods and there are about 4 turns to make on your descent. I managed to make it down both hills without burning out my tires or flipping over the front of my bicycle. I was, however, dreading both of them on the way back.

After that you were on the Great Highway which is directly on the Pacific Ocean. Winds were picking up and even though this section was fairly flat, it was still difficult to pick up the pace.

The bike course was fairly packed the entire time. I never saw any blantent drafting, but it was fairly hard to get out of a crowd. Going up hill, there were groups of 50 people all cranking together. Obviously, you can't draft uphill, but you would think that it would be hard to shake people once you do get going down.

Biking up in the hills was awesome. I was a little disappointed that the fog didn't allow for better views of the ocean or the Golden Gate, but it was also fun to ride through an area when you couldn't see what was really coming up. I only had one mistake on the bike where I popped my chain while trying to go down a hill (usually I lose it when gear down to go up). I just lost my concentration for a little while and made the mistake. It wasn't a big deal. I got it quickly fixed and hopped back on the bike. At least I wasn't one of the 10 tire changers on the side of the road or even worse, the one crash that I saw around mile 16.

I made it up the 2 worst hills fine (one at mile 12 and one at mile 15). The first one was funny because by the end everyone was in their little ring up front and their lowest back gear and everyone was standing up. I've never been able to go anyway standing up in that combination, but if you didn't, then you were going to roll off the back of your bike.

Not my best ride, but an enjoyable one. I tried to tell myself to just do what I could do. 18 miles doesn't seem like a lot, but this course makes it feel more like 40 to your legs.
What would you do differently?:

Not suck so badly.

No, I would definitely recommend that if you are doing this race, then you train on hills, hills and more hills. It was tough. It was tough going up - for the obvious reasons. And it was tough coming down - because I personally get scared when you are screaming down into a curve at 40 mph. The best part about it was that you knew that everyone was going through the exact same thoughts as you.

Also, I really need to watch my gearing changes. Stupid mistakes on my part make my chain pop off. I don't need to make those mistakes during a race.

Finally, I would probably travel with my bicycle instead of sending it out there so early. I could definitely feel my lack of training time on it over the past 2 weeks
Transition 2
  • 01m 31s

They make you run into transition a certain direction and run out a certain direction. I ran in and smiled for the camera. I also noticed a camera crew about 5 feet from my transition area. As I was getting ready to head out for the run, I noticed the 13 year old girl coming in for her bike. They were apparently filming her - presumably for the airing of the tri later this summer. I had to smile thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, I had been captured on film and that I might be able to make my national debut. Also, I had to smile that I hadn't let a 13 year old beat me out there on that course. Let her at least be 15.
What would you do differently?:

Large transition area, I did what I could do. Had a little difficulty racking my bike, but nothing major.

Only thing was that as I was leaving the chute from the transition area, I could hear the announcer calling out that the first place guy was coming down the finish line. So sad that I still had an 8 mile run to do. :)
  • 1h 11m 48s
  • 8 miles
  • 08m 59s  min/mile

I didn't know what to expect from the run. I was just happy to be off the bike. I hit the trails (btw - the run course is probably 90% off road, so you better like something other than asphalt if you are running it) down through Chrissy Fields and it felt good. This part of the course isn't closed off to just the triathletes so you are out there running with other people enjoying their Sunday morning. It was fun to do as San Franciscians do.

At mile 2, you hit an uphill of about 40 stairs. I managed to run up them, but my calves were burning and all I was thinking was about the impending sand ladder. Luckily, after those the course is fairly easy. Though it is uphill, there is nothing as dramatic as was on the bike course. During miles 3 and part of 4, you are running on a narrow trail next to the Coast Defense Batteries. There is barely room for 2 runners on the trail and not only are you going out, but you have to give the right away to the runners coming back towards the finish. At one point on this trail, there is a cliff dropout of about 100 feet heading straight down to the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. I was so happy to be out there at that moment.

After getting off this trail, you hit the small asphalt stage that will take you down to Baker's Beach. This is when you can get your first look of the sand ladder. You just take a quick look over to your right and there is this steep ass hill and you can see little figures making their way up it. It was seriously a giant.

Once you turn off Lincoln Boulevard, you head down to the beach. There was a turn-around station about 1/2 mile down to the left and then you had to head back for about mile to hit the sand ladder. Running on sand wasn't as hard as i expected it to be. I tried to stay down close to the water where the sand was a little more packed. I saw one lady get her shoes soaked from a wave coming in. That was something I definitely wanted to avoid. The hardest part out there was running from the water to the Sand Ladder. All you did was kicked sand up into your shoes. Not pleasant.

The Sand Ladder. It's big and it's sandy. The "steps" are more like pieces of logs tied together. You basically have to land your foot on these logs or you'll get nowhere. I started off thinking that I'd tried to stick in the middle. I quickly moved to my right side and the cable. I didn't really use it to haul myself up. It was just nice to have something to hold onto in case I slipped. I managed to make it up the ladder in 3:23 -- not too bad of a time.

After the sand ladder, you head back down the same trails that you came. There is about 1.5 miles of downhill running (which is nice) and then you get 2 more miles on your way back through Chrissy Field. The last mile is spectacular. You are back with the spectators and they are cheering you on to the end. The finish line has a long chute that you get to run down and the feeling of finishing is exhilarating.

What would you do differently?:

I probably should have taken a gel at the 4 or 5 mile aide station. I just really wasn't thinking about it since I was having a pleasant run thus far.

Still pleased with my results.

I also know that I passed at least 3 girls in my Age Group out there on the run. Yay!
Post race
Warm down:

Walked around the finish area and met up with the boyfriend. This was his first time spectating and I felt kind of bad that I had left him out there with no one else to talk to. We took pictures and picked up my 2 supplies bags (one with my wetsuit and swim gear, the other that I had left on the boat when I got ready to swim). Packed everything up and grabbed my bike. Walked the mile back down to The Sports Basement to drop it off to be shipped.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Lack of knowledge of the course.

Also, lost of time on my bicycle over the past few weeks.

Event comments:

Amazing, amazing, amazing race. I loved and cherished every second of it. At times, I couldn't believe that I was out there doing this infamous triathlon. It was well-organized and well-run. I will definitely either be doing another qualifying race or entering the lottery come November. Escape From Alcatraz tri comes highly recommended via me!

Last updated: 2006-04-28 12:00 AM
00:42:52 | 2640 yards | 01m 37s / 100yards
Age Group: 18/73
Overall: 429/1600
Performance: Good
Suit: Orca Predator 2
Course: 1.5 mile course from really close to the island of Alcatraz to the St. Francis Yacht Club
Start type: Deep Water Plus: Waves
Water temp: 54F / 12C Current: High
200M Perf. Good Remainder: Average
Breathing: Good Drafting: Good
Waves: Average Navigation: Below average
Time: 07:12
Performance: Average
Cap removal: Average Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Yes Run with bike: Yes
Jump on bike: No
Getting up to speed: Average
01:10:56 | 18 miles | 15.23 mile/hr
Age Group: 32/73
Overall: 1002/1600
Wind: Headwind with gusts
Course: Out on marina boulevard, up into the presidio hills, down to the Pacific Ocean, through some type of national park and then back.
Road: Rough Dry Cadence:
Turns: Good Cornering: Below average
Gear changes: Average Hills: Bad
Race pace: Hard Drinks: Just right
Time: 01:31
Overall: Good
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike Average
Running with bike Good
Racking bike Average
Shoe and helmet removal Good
01:11:48 | 08 miles | 08m 59s  min/mile
Age Group: 21/73
Overall: 779/1600
Performance: Good
Course: Down Marina Boulevard through Chrissy Field trails up to Fort Point right at the Golden Gate Bridge. Up a small trail to Lincoln Boulevard. Take that down to the turn to Baker's Beach, 1.5 mile on the beach (to a turnaround) and then hit the Sand Ladder. Turn around and repeat on the way back.
Keeping cool Average Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 5
Physical exertion [1-5] 5
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Average
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2006-06-06 2:01 PM

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Subject: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

2006-06-06 2:31 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Atlanta, Ga
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
The whole process that you followed on this journey is pretty amazing. From qualifying to get in, to actually going out there and doing it. Your race report explains a lot, but I'm sure that it's one of those things you actually have to do to fully understand. I will be on next years lottery list for sure.
2006-06-06 5:13 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Stairway to Seven
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Hey, great race report! It's fun to hear the experience of someone a little faster than me, and also that you noticed the foghorns blowing int he middle of the swim too! Wasn't that creepy? I had a total blast doing it though!
2006-06-06 8:14 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Marietta, GA
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Wow - great race report! Sounds like a fun race, but it sounds pretty tough. I guess all those runs up Nickajack paid off, huh! You did a great job - congratulations!
2006-06-06 8:39 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Oh boy. My things-to-do-in-life list just got longer.

Thanks for sharing your RR! Awesome job!
2006-06-06 9:48 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Pulaski TN
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Great job and awesome RR I will be entering the lottery as well next year thanks for the heads up!!

2006-06-06 11:44 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Marietta, Ga
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

Absolutely awesome race report.  I've signed up for the "Escape to Alcatraz" race in Florida the last two years, but never made it down to the race.  This gives me a whole new level of motivation.

Contrats on finishing one of the marque events of our sport!

2006-06-07 12:25 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Awesome job and nice race report.  Super detailed.  How do you remember all that after a race.
2006-06-07 1:32 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
R: What a great experience. As you describe it, it's practically adventure racing! All you need is the compass and headlamp.

Glad that you completed this journey though. We've all been rooting for you on this one from qualifying to the planning, etc. If you make the video I'll buy a copy.

Maybe the 13 year old is famous?

Congrats. Congrats. Congrats.


...We'll build a sand ladder for you at Oconee this year.
2006-06-07 1:54 PM
in reply to: #446356

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Northern California
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Maybe the 13 year old is famous?

Congrats. Congrats. Congrats.

Her name is Mattie Winkler (14) and her mom (Kathy) is a 1st Place AG'er in Kona. Mattie may not be famous now, but she will be. They both won theire AG BTW.

They're local heroes around her for sure.
2007-02-20 4:58 PM
in reply to: #445121

Sydney Australia

2007-03-22 9:09 AM
in reply to: #445121

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Kansas City
Subject: AeroBars for Escape from Alcatraz?

Would you or anyone recommend for or against AeroBars for Alcatraz? I know its hilly and relatively short (compared to a half/full at least), but SF can also be very windy. I noticed the elites using them in the DVDs, but they're elites ;)...


2007-03-22 9:48 AM
in reply to: #445121

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Subject: RE: Aerobars

I had my road bike with clip on aero bars (this was before I had my tri bike).  The first 1.5 miles and the last 1.5 miles were on a fairly flat section of Marina Boulevard.  I *think* that I got into aero during those times, but I also carry water in my aero bottle and so it's a much easier way for me to get hydration in.  After I hit the hills, I can't remember getting back into aero very much, if at all.  When going uphill, I liked having the extra momentum from my arms and going downhill, I liked to have my hands on/near the brakes. 

So you'll be fine either way.  I think that there were WAY more road bikes in the race than tri bikes and there seemed to be an equal amount of people with and without aero bars.  Like I said, I have them on because it's an easier hydration option (no messing with pulling out bottles, etc).

Hope you have a great race!  You're going to love it!

2007-03-23 12:31 AM
in reply to: #732986

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Kansas City
Subject: RE: Aerobars
Thanks for the report and the details!
2007-03-23 5:26 AM
in reply to: #445121

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, District of Columbia
Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Great race report. Like Ms. Cullen above, I plan on re-reading it a few days before the race.

How'd you like working with Sports Basement? I made plans to ship my bike to them but I've heard both good and bad experiences. And were they open on Sunday right after the race to drop it off?

Thanks for the advice.
2007-03-23 2:22 PM
in reply to: #445121

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Subject: RE: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon
Great explanation/race report- ! Sounds like one of those "must tri" events..Thanks ! Congrats on completeing such a challenging & memorable race!

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