Thursday, May 6, 2010

Escape from Alcatraz

I finally had the opportunity to partake in my first triathlon of the season this past weekend. I flew out to San Francisco to engage in the 3oth annual Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, which consists of a 1.5 mile swim, an 18 mile ride, and an 8 mile run. It was easily the coolest triathlon experience that I have ever had.

I got into town on Thursday night made it to my sister's place where I would be staying for the weekend. Friday I assembled my bike and went for a test ride with my brother-in-law to make sure that everything was shifting okay and the brakes were working. I can't tell you how relieved I was when when everything worked out great. It had been a recurring nightmare of mine that shipping the bike would cause irreparable damage.

Saturday was packet pick-up, athlete meeting, and race expo. After that I drove the bike course to get a feel for the hills. For some reason they never seem as bad in the car. After that I had a lengthy debate with myself over whether or not to hop in the water at Aquatic Park since I hadn't been in a wetsuit or open water yet this year, but in the end laziness won out. I figured I'd be fine.

Race morning started early, a quarter till 3 to be exact. I was staying down in Mountain View with so a little drive was in order. I made it to transition early and set up shop. I always forget that wet grass + open-toed sandals + chilly morning = cold toes. Luckily the ferry that was transporting the athletes out near Alcatraz island was warm enough to erase the chill.

The ride out to Alcatraz was fun. There was definitely a little energy in the air. I talked to few other other excited triathletes, hydrated and ate a little, watched Andy Potts step over me at one point. About a half hour before the swim start I realized I needed to go the bathroom and about 2 seconds later I realized the line was more than a half hour long. Great I needed a way to warm up my wetsuit once I got in the water. There was no real chance to warm up for this race. I did a few arm circles and called it good. Not much I can do when I'm in a crowded boat with 1600 people.

The Swim:

Alright, the infamous alcatraz swim. As the race start approached the athletes began crowding the guard rails. They were sending us off from 3 jump points, 2 at a time, every 3 seconds. The horn sounded and the pros took the plunge followed closely by us age groupers. I made it to the edge within thirty seconds, made sure the guy ahead of me was out of the way, and then leaped into the water.

Son of a bee-sting, that's cold! It definitely felt like the 55 degrees they said it was. I started stroking like mad to get out of the way and then settled into a nice rhythm. The nice thing about the current was that people spread out fairly quickly so I wasn't getting pounded like normal. Within a few minutes I didn't even notice the cold. Glad I opted for the 2 swim caps, because the squid lid was unnecessary.

The swim was quite uneventful. Sighting went well: towers, ft. mason, and finally the dome near the end. Waves weren't a real issue. I just did a little more of an exaggerated roll when breathing on my right so the mouthfuls of saltwater were few and far between. Between the salt water, the wetsuit, and the strong current the swim felt pretty effortless. Before long I was stumbling out of the water just left of the swim exit as planned. Success! The easiest part of my day was done!

swim time: 30:56
swim pace: 1:10 / 100yds
overall rank: 426/1524
age group rank: 33/114

T1: 6:51

The first transition was interesting because there was a mini transition area at the beach and then a half mile run to T1 where the bikes were kept. Immediately after the water were some steps up that I took a little wobbly. I saw my sister and her family in the crowd so I gave them a quick wave and fumbled in to T(0.5) were I lost the wetsuit and slapped on some running shoes.

I passed a lot of people running that half mile to T1. Lost the running shoes, donned the bike shoes and helmet and took off. I was glad to have a rack position near the bike exit since I hate running with my bike.

The Bike:

Oh boy, the bike. This was the leg that I was the most worried about. I didn't exactly get a lot of hill training in in Iowa and the hills I did train on paled in comparison to the hills on this course. That, and after much debate I decided to leave my bike set up with a compact crank and an 11-23. I figured my legs were in for a trashing.

The first mile or two was pretty flat so I cranked, passed a lot of people, and took in some nutrition. Soon enough I hit that first mile of climbing and wondered to myself just how the heck I was going to survive the entire 18 miles. I didn't run out of gears but I was huffing and puffing something fierce by the top.

And then the descent. Holy crap! It was steep and curving and I had a mini freakout. Started riding the brakes a little until my back tire started sliding a little bit. Great, now I need a new pair of bike shorts! I got things settled down after that, but let me tell you I was not comfortable descending at all. If there weren't turns at the bottom of the hills or the road wasn't curving I was okay. That and all the guys I was passing on the uphills were flying past me on the way down. Crazy bastards!

And that's the way the bike leg went for me. Passing on the flats and uphills and then being retaken on the downhills. A few of the hills stretched the limits of my gearing and several times I was mashing that last gear pretty good, especially on the awful climb up Clement St. As I told a fellow rider on that climb, they don't make hills like that in Iowa.

I was more than glad when I finally made it back to mason drive. Spun the legs pretty good there to loosen up for the run and then took things on in.

bike time: 59:47
bike pace: 18.07 mph
overall rank: 286/1524
age group rank: 29/114

T2: 1:23

I had a great T2. Perfect flying dismount and then in and out pretty darn quickly.

The Run:

Time to run! Amazingly my legs felt pretty good starting off and I settled into a pretty good clip. I got to see my support crew right away and the helped lift the spirits. My brother-in-law came and jogged alongside me for a bit and asked how I was doing. At that point, great!

The first two miles were uneventful. Saw Hunter Kemperer en route to a sub-2 hr victory a little after the first mile. Man, those pros are fast! Shortly after mile two the ascent started on a narrow dirt trail. The pros and other FOPers were screaming by as I wound up the hill. I thought that was pretty cool.

A little later I was surprised by stairs. Who put these here, and why wasn't I informed of them? Grudgingly, I burned up them and continued on my way. Soon enough I was winding down to Baker's beach where we got to enjoy a mile of beach running. Running on sand with the waves crashing in and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background was pretty cool. Challenging and tiring, but still pretty cool.

After the turn around was the dreaded sand ladder and it was every bit as awful as described. I plodded up the steps with a liberal used of guard wire to pull myself self up. The quads were absolutely screaming by the time I made it to the top of 400 steps. And as if things weren't bad enough, the next half mile was still uphill. Eventually I got the legs turning over but the sand ladder had decimated me.

Luckily the last couple miles were pretty flat. I did some quick math and figured I needed to run a couple of sub-7s to come in under 2:40. I tried my best during that final stretch, but I was pretty beat up by that point. There were good crowds along that stretch and that helped carry me home. Soon enough I was running down the chute toward the finish line. I made quick detour to high five my support crew along the way and crossed the finish line, thoroughly spent.

run time: 1:01:19
run pace: 7:40 per mile
overall rank: 198/1524
age group rank: 228/114

I was pleased with the result. Coming into the race I knew that I wasn't prepared for the hills, but my good endurance base allowed me to cross the finish line with a respectable time. I would love to come back in a few years properly trained and see what I can do to the course. My support crew was great and it was so uplifting to see them several times along the course. The race itself was top-notch. The event coordinators and volunteers were amazing and the course itself presented an incredibly unique experience that will be hard to top. I am proud to say that I escaped the Rock!

Overall time: 2:40:13
Overall rank: 178/1524
Age group rank: 25/114


  1. GREAT JOB! First tri of the season is in the books! CONGRATS!

  2. Nealer...........

    That was soooooo awesome! I wish more people could have seen what that race was really like! IT was by far the coolest thing we've gotten to watch and cheer on for awhile. The kids loved it and I am so damn proud of you little brother! You got Chip wanting to give it a go and maybe, just maybe I'll gear up with him to run some races (but no tri-s in my future). Thanks so much for coming out to stay with us, it was a great time! Loved the pics you posted as well....guess I wasn't as cute as Hunter to make the cut(-: Mighty proud, mighty proud! See you in July - love your big sister!