Escape report, 2006

The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, CA, is the most interesting race I've done, and one of the best organized. I highly recommend that you do it if you get a chance, despite the high entry fee (almost 3/4 as much as an Ironman).

After setting up my transition area by 6:30AM, I got in the long line for the busses that took us to pier 3. The bus I got on left for the pier just after 6:45. At the pier there were lots of body markers and porta-pottys. Then we got on the large ferry which took us out to the island. It was a beautiful sunny, calm morning. On the ferry we were given further instructions, and just enjoyed the view of the bay and the Golden Gate in the distance. Shortly before the start of the swim, I stepped inside from the outer upper deck and was surprised and pleased to hear a woman leading the triathletes in prayer for a safe race. It turned out to be triathlon great Barb Lindquist. Once beside the island, the pros and "physically challenged" athletes began to pour over the side. After that, the rest of us were told to begin to file out the door and over the side. I guess I went off after about 2/3 of the 1600 or so participants. There were electronic pickups under a mat at the edge of the deck which picked up our IDs from the chip we each had on an ankle. I went under a few feet, came up and started swimming. It was not nearly as cold as I expected; I doubt if it was much below 60F. I got my goggles knocked loose right away, but didn't lose them because I had them on under my cap. Only a few minutes later I could hear some wind, then noticed the water getting rougher, and fog began to roll in. Soon I couldn't see the tower on shore that we were told to sight on, and only a couple of other swimmers. To sight, I had to change to breast stroke because of the waves. I could tell I needed to correct to the left, so tried to. Soon the fog was so bad I couldn't see the shore at all, and used the sun to guide me. But for a while, I couldn't even tell where that was, and there was no one, nor any boats, in sight. However, I soon saw one swimmer (he was swimming backstroke and went right over me, knocking my goggles loose again), and the fog thinned enough for me to see one of the race boats off in the distance. I think the current was sweeping me toward the Golden Gate, and I must have ended up swimming a lot extra to finally zero-in on the landing site. In all, the swim took me more than 56min., whereas it should have taken me about 45 or so. (They say the conditions and currents vary from year to year, and this year had extra current because of the large amount of moisture they have had in the east bay.)

I wore "aqua socks" for the swim, so didn't need to put on shoes for the 1/2 mi. run to the transition area. (This gave me the shortest swim-to-bike transition of my age group. Most people had left a numbered bag with an extra pair of shoes to use for this transition run.)

The bike course, while only 18 mi., was a challenge because all but the first and last 2 mi. were up and down. Two of the climbs were long, and there was a short one that must have had a 10% incline. I pushed hard the whole time, didn't hold back much on the downhills, and had the second shortest bike time by only a few seconds in my age group. (Usually I am passed by some in my age group.)

After a short transition time (and a kiss for my wife as I left T2), I started the 8 mi. run, hoping I could run somewhat steadily. Some of you know I have not been able to do that lately; I get a burning in my chest after about 2 mIn., so have to stick in 20-30 seconds walking before running again. This run was no different. But the run course was about 2/3 hills also, so even without the chest pain I would have been walking a lot as an after-effect of the hills on the bike course. After a long climb, the run course descended to the beach and we got to run in sand. Run

When in the dry portion of the sand, I found it hard to even walk. That was also when I realized I should have worn socks for the run; sand in the shoes is not pleasant! The next climb starts with the infamous "sand ladder". I couldn't run a single step of that. After reaching the top of the climb on the return, I started to feel stronger and was able to run at a good pace, but still had to stick in short walks every minute or two to avoid the chest burning.

Having to walk so much had one benefit: My best memories of the race are comments exchanged and conversations with others who were near me during the run. I finished strongly and enjoyed seeing my wife and my sister at the finish. (Having someone you know at the finish of a hard race really makes a difference.) I also got a hug from one of the girls I had spoken with on the run!

Reading through what I have written, I realize it is not very exciting. Usually I make a mistake or have some kind of crisis in a race this long (over four hours), but thankfully the bike ride, in particular, was uneventful. I want to express appreciation to those (mostly family) who I know were asking God for a safe race for me. I am still enjoying memories of this race, and were it not for the chest problem, I would try to enter again next year. I might anyway!