Saturday, June 16, 2012

Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

I will admit it: I'm pretty sure it was this race that got me into triathlons.  I'm almost positive it was the occasional TV special on it that planted the little idea seedling in my head long before I was a high school swimmer or runner.  I also distinctly remember visiting San Francisco when I was in 5th or 6th grade with my family and buying a sweatshirt that said "Alcatraz Triathlon: Dig-Dash-Dive," similar to this one:

As for 2012, I flew into San Francisco to finally meet Jeff for the first time, my semi-coach who had helped put together a plan for CGA's team for 2011 Collegiate Nationals.  I've emailed him back and forth over the last few years, and the exact story of how I came to be in touch with him is worthy of its own story, but he'll be my actual coach from here on out.  Anyway, the days before the race, I swam in SF Bay on Friday and walked through the course a bit to get a layout of the landscape.  We also drove the majority of the bike course, which scared this little flatland boy to pieces.  Sharp turns at the bottom of 10% hills? YIKES.  To give an idea of what riding in Virginia Beach is like, I found a Strava segment called by local cyclists "Death Climb."  I really hope that's tongue-in-cheek, because it's an overpass.  Anyway, I was sufficiently scared for these descents though.  Climbing didn't frighten me so much as descending.  The following day, I went out for a ride with Jeff's wife near their home in Los Gatos where we did an out and back with two short climbs with some crazy descents.  It was a little dicey, and definitely different from descending on a mountain bike (which I can do just fine now finally, albeit not nearly as well as others).  I felt a bit more confident though.  Then Jeff and I went back to the race site to pick up my packet and check out the expo.  We got lots of free stuff.  Then I ran the middle part of the run course so I could see the Sand Ladder and just get a picture for why people say "it's hard to pass other runners"
On race morning, it was ridiculously early, leaving Los Gatos at 4:00something so I could set up transition and be on the shuttle bus from transition to the pier at 5:30.  Once I was waiting at the pier for the ferry to Alcatraz, I ran into Amanda.  We chatted quite a bit, and we were next to each other the whole super-anxious boat ride.
Swim 36:19
I jumped off the ferry among the first few and just went.  I actually was impressed with how long I stuck on Amanda's feet, because I am convinced she's actually part dolphin or something with how fast of a swimmer she is.  I tried my best to keep in mind the recommendation to swim straight to shore then bend along the shoreline to let the current take me, but I think I got impatient and turned early.  I found myself alone or only near one or two other swimmers most of the time.  Half the time, I felt like I was going nowherre, then suddenly I was right up by the yacht club near the swim exit.  It was definitely a VERY LONG time to be swimming, as I don't do those super-long training swims that most triathletes are known (and teased by swimmers) for doing.  I'll swim for an hour or more in the pool, but it's broken up into sets, so just going out and swimming for that long is different.  I am pretty sure I messed up the currents though, because I came nearly straight in to the beach, but I saw a long line of athletes swimming in nearly perpendicular to my line.  As for my thoughts on the 55*F water: I've surfed in 45*F water, 40*F air in NJ in January, so I didn't find it that bad.  I did wear two regular swim caps (not neoprene) on race day, but swimming the day before the race I only had one, and I didn't freeze to death.
T1 5:21
This T1 is unique because it has a ~1/2 mi run from the water.  The pros do it barefoot, some people put running shoes on at water's edge for the run but keep the wetsuit on, while otherrs strip wetsuit and put on shoes.  I opted to swim in 2mm surf booties both for warmth (though I probably didn't need them for that purpose), but they were also a little extra protection on the hard, rock-strewn asphalt.  I don't know how much time it actually netted me though, because even though I practiced, they took longer to get off than I expected.  Once I did that though, bike out and into the shoes on the early flat, straight road lined with spectators.
Bike 54:42 (19.7 mph)
BEAUTIFUL.  I felt like I was picking people off left and right for the first 5 or so miles, which is part of what makes me think I screwed up the swim.  Jeff pointed out to me though, that this is a race that attracts super swimmers because the swim is so iconic.  Out of all three parts of the race, the bike was the hardest for me, but that's because I'm not used to it.  Some of those little descents I know I had to scrub tons of speed.  I am glad I am relatively fast though, because on my way back it looked like somewhat of a parade.  For the most part, I was never caught in any sort of pack or situation where I couldn't pass somebody.  I went with my road bike with the race wheels for this race and I'm glad I did, but I think next time I could do it on my tri bike.  I definitely needed the better handling of the road bike because this was my first time riding like this with these twists and turns, but I think with more time riding like that and more time on my tri bike that's relatively new, I could be comfortable enough doing it.  There were a few false flats or true flats where scrunching down onto my shorty aerobars wasn't cutting it.
T2 1:05
Nothing of interest.  I came out of the transition area again keeping in mind my Tuscaloosa meltdown, so I tried to keep it cool and not win the 8 mile race before mile 1.
Run 56:26
The run was my favorite part of the course.  It heads out along a flat dirt road along the bay before going up some stairs to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The run course definitely was made a bit easier by my XTERRRAing, because the run is very similar to what an XTERRA run looks like.  There were some vey narrow parts where on my way out it was just a question of maybe having to be conscious of the pros on their way back.  It was an absolutely gorgeous course though, running in the footprint of the bridge, along the cliffs above the Pacific.  The short beach section I made a straight line right to the intertidal area, even though the turnaround was up in the soft sand.  It was hardly the straightest line, but I think it was the fastest because I could hardly keep a shuffle in that soft stuff.  I also saw the leader of my age group about 1/4 to 1/2 mi in front of me, so I thought maybe he was within reach.  Once I came to the Sand Ladder, though, I was feeling ready.  I came across it in 2:48, and I pretty much walked the whole thing.  It was kind of like the Mayan Ruins in XTERRA Richmond, only with sand.  It would have been easier to sprint up it perhaps, but it's only between mile 4 and 5, so you would have to pay for that somewhere.  It's like an XTERRA run in that you have to choose sometimes whethe the 10 seconds you might gain from running an incredibly steep or technical section is worth it.  I passed a few people on the Sand Ladder, and a few people running it passed me.  After that, I took a bit too long to get my legs back and lost a few more spots and didn't make up quite enough ground on my age goup leader.  Once I got back into the singletrack section of the course though, it was a mess.  People were still pouring out onto the course in trains, sometimes running on their right, despite the course directions.  I caught up to a female pro who was yelling to everybody to keep to their left, and I briefly got stuck behind her before we got to the stairs to go back down to the dirt road.  She and I both decided there was no way we were going to safely be able to navigate the stairs on the left side like we were supposed to, but the right side was perfectly clear, so that's what we had to do.  That last mile and a half on dirt road HURT.  I could tell I was getting chased by a few people, so I tried to pick it up until I reached the finish.
Overall: 2:34:02, 61st overall, 2nd M20-24
I'm pretty pleased with the result.  Obviously I would have liked an age group win and/or a top 3 amateur finish, but those sorts of things are heavily dependent on who shows up any given day.  This race was a blast and I hope I can do it again some time in the future, maybe for the money spots.  Anyway, this was the last race in my "pretend to be a full time triathlete and race nearly every weekend" block that started with Nationals back in April.  For now, I'm taking some down time and not-so-structured training as I start my new job as a marine inspector.  Later down the road, my next focus is Age Group Nationals in August.  In the meantime though, I will probably race another Olympic somewhere in Virginia (TBD), another XTERRA, then maybe something fun in the fall after Age Group Nationals.  The days of racing like a maniac are over for me for now, I think.  It's been one hell of a fun ride, but now I have to go be an adult and stuff.
Took these while pre-running course. This is about mile 2
The Sand Ladder: you can't even see all the way to the top....
Jeff's first official correction as my coach: don't hold the plaque in front of the logo on your shirt.  Whoops. Not pro

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