I Left My Sweat in San Francisco: A Race Report

August 15, 2011 OlympicRace Reports  No comments

San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz


As everyone knows… Alcatraz was that one prison deemed impossible to escape! But really? There was that one, now infamous escape sending three inmates into the dark San Francisco Bay waters on June 11, 1962. It is said they never made it to shore and the swift currents most likely sent them out into the Pacific Ocean… but I’m not so sure. Why? Because I made it!

And it wasn’t that hard.

Pre Race:

The venue is really just west of Fort Mason on the Marina Green. Here the wind is always present and the usual summer fog cuts through you. Like one person once said, “The coldest winter day they ever experienced was during a summer vacation in San Francisco.”

I am part of a Team for Fellowship of Christians Athletes the Endurance Sports division. Here several teammates from around the country came to race together; four of us as individual age group athletes and three to participate in a relay. Chris Anderson, FCA-E National Director came from South Dakota and we enjoyed his company at our home. The others stayed in the city upon arrival. The day before we manned our both; encouraging athletes, praying with and for folks, asking the question, “Why do you race?” It’s always a fun day getting to know the other athletes and vendors there.

I left heading back to San Jose to speak at our Saturday evening church service and then headed back up to crash that night in a nearby motel for the early 4am wake up call to go set up transition and jump on one of the busses taking those racing to Pier 3 by 5:30 am.

Pier 3: Once off the bus the cool breeze coming off the bay seemed to wake everyone up and the crowd just huddled around using the porta potties before getting into their wetsuits and walking onto the waiting Hornblower Cruise boat that would take us to Alcatraz at 6:40

Once on the boat there are two levels holding the athletes. If you’re over 40 you’re on the top level all else below on deck. Here the atmosphere was warm and collegial. There seemed to be only a small presence of nerves. Someone suggested, “Hey you guys… about half way, just pull up for a few seconds and take a look around. It’s pretty trippy!” Over the loud speaker, the swim director was giving instructions on how to sight your way to shore (there are no buoys out there as in usual races to help direct you).  They said, based on the current, which seemed pretty mild this morning, once off the boat, aim for the Palace of Fine Arts building; an unmistakable landmark in Golden Gate Park. “Less current?” I said, “That’s a good thing right?” the guy next to me shook his head no… “It’s like a tail wind. You want more not less.” I completely understood what he meant.

When the boat pulled up next to the island we were instructed that they would clear the entire boat of it’s over 800 swimmer in less than six minutes! They said, “Don’t think and just jump!” Once the horn blew at 7am sharp the pros and celebrities jumped off the port side causing the boat to actually lilt to the left as everyone rushed to the left side of the boat to take a look out the windows. Then, “Go, go, go!” It was a dash for the two doors.

SWIM: I made it to the door about a minute or more after the horn. I was opting for the forward door that had less traffic. I practically had a straight shot! So, I adjusted my goggles, took a deep breath and ran across the timing mat starting my race and plunged with arm and legs spread wide to keep me from descending deep in the water while one hand stayed on my goggles to keep them in place.

The water was cool but not cold. But then again I’ve been in a lot of cold water this year. Temp was stated to be 58 degrees. As we began to swim it was clear sighting the Palace of Fine Arts was no problem. However, the water was pretty choppy and the further we swum the worse it seemed to get.  At one point I remembered the suggestion about the halfway point… So, I pulled up and slowly took a 360 view of where I was.  In front of me was Golden Gate park and Crissy Field, then the Presidio, rolling to my right an amazing water level view of the Golden Gate Bridge with it’s two towers disappearing into the fog behind me was Angel Island and then Alcatraz. Rolling further I could see Berkley in the distance and then the Bay Bridge, then at 10 o’clock the city of San Francisco starting with the Ferry Building, then it’s iconic Transamerica Building and then Coit Tower… I put my head in the water and just thought, “Who does this stuff?” I guess we do.  As we started to get a little closer to the St. Francis Yacht Club I could tell it was taking a pretty long time… Really? A 1.2 mile swim? It seemed long and the shore just wasn’t getting as close as my effort seemed to dictate. But eventually I made it to the small sandy shore just right of the building with the big red roof.

T1: Exiting the water I was shocked to see 48 something on my watch! There’s no way I was either that slow or the course was 1.2 miles! Come to find out later the course is actually 1.5 miles “as the crow flies” but they call it that for the offset for the current… Well, guess what? The usual 5 knot current was only about 1 knot and everyone had a slow swim time! As I’m getting out of my new Blue Seventy wetsuit (thanks to Wetsuitrentals.com!!! They are the BEST!) I hear someone talking to one of the celebrities there… I would have like to have had a chat too but well, there’s a race to complete now! So, putting on an old pair of shoes for the 1/2mile run back to transition, I start to run but there are people in my way and I’m a bit dizzy and at one point I actually run into a couple spectators… They were okay but they were definitely in the way. Sorry.

Now in transition I look up to see teammate Rich come into transition, I finish getting everything on and look up and there goes Rich! He smoked T1!   He’s actually got a bit of a lead on me. But we’ll chat when I pass him.

BIKE: I’ve been looking forward to this bike just because of the history and scenery of this course and it doesn’t disappoint. I’m riding my road bike since my TT bike is totaled due to a crash a month earlier. So, not as fast a bike but a bit more comfy.

I catch Rich at the bottom of the first climb, say howdy and “good luck” and power on up. Here you go through the historic Presidio, around through Lincoln Park, all the way up to the Legion of Honor down around to the historic Cliff House along the boardwalk to the SF Zoo and back with a little side trip in the park! Along this route I’m just a cruising along and enjoying the views. One guy climbing back to the top at the LofH goes huffing by… Yeah, I’ll see you on the run! Well, I didn’t even have to wait that long… passed him on the descent and never again.

T2: Here I see Kevin and Heidi, the completed legs of the relay from our team… Chris is out on the run and we’d been joking if the relay could keep up with me. It was  friendly smack talk but I wish Chris were a little closer to reel him in but he’s a pretty solid runner, so I knew I’d see him at the finish.

RUN: This may be my favorite run ever in a race! I had no idea how challenging and scenic this would be. First the run out to the warming hut along Crissy Field . You have the Golden Gate Bridge in sight the entire time and the temperature was perfect for a good clip! Then coming around Fort Point you begin a ridiculous climb up to the base of the bridge running directly underneath its roadway and around the abandoned Battery grounds, which are a maze of steps and trails. At one point you have to duck your way through a tunnel where you lose all sight in the pitch darkness! Once up to Lincoln Blvd. you head down to Baker Beach (what some say is a nude beach… but wisely there was no one out that day, just us crazy triathletes. AS you descend onto the beach there is a quarter mile stretch you run in the soft sand. No way around it… its quad sapping, slow slogging, not quit running hard! Then if that weren’t enough… comes the famous “Sand Ladder.”

The sand ladder is simply that; 4-inch logs cabled together every foot and a half up a hillside that sand fills in between each. Along the bottom it was easy to hop along the logs but near the top most were submerged under the sand. With 400 of these steps you’d think that would be enough but NO, once you get back to the road there’s another half a mile still to the top! You really need to pace yourself on this thing!

No heading back down to Fort Point it’s a matter of negotiating the trails with those coming the opposite direction. As it was to this point going out wasn’t much of a problem since I was pretty much in the front of the pack but now coming back the rest of the field is in my way. Here, it’s quite a dance. But soon I’m on the flat surface of Crissy Field again and now just two miles of flat sailing.

I had no idea where I was in my age group. With the time trial start and my casual effort to enjoy it more than suffer it. I was hoping I’d do well but this race wasn’t really a focus race for me so I just was looking for a good time and not really a particular finish. One I came across the finish line I was happy and looking forward to connecting with my team.

I first saw Chris, who joked about making it first… I told him he had better! Then the rest of the gang full of congrats. It was cold no longer racing and remaining completely wet in my race gear so I headed to transition… but wait. Let me see if results are in to se how I did. Ah, nothing…

In transition I put on warm cloths and pack my bag and grab my cell phone. While I pull my cell out of the pocket it shows a twitter message congratulating @danp for taking 1st in AG at SFTri Alcatraz! What???  I was first? Okay, Where is Chris now? In fact 2 of the individual racers on the team; myself and Jessica Bonner in AG competition and the Kevin, Heidi and Chris in the open relay. Overall it was a very good day for us as well as our TRIbe Triathlon representation. Coach Becky was the winner on the day! Winning the Female Pro division with fasted overall female and hubby Brian took seventh among a very talented men’s field.

So, should you race Alcatraz? Yes! Everyone should at least once in there life so they to can say, “I swam from here to there.” When taking your grandchildren on a tour of the “rock.”

Age Group Div. 1/31 Overall  29/525 total time: 3:13:06 / swim 49:20 / T1  9:16 / Bike 1:17:52 / T2 01:05 / Run 00:55:33 / Sand Ladder  02:40

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