Here is the Escape from Alcatraz Race Report. Sorry it’s long and I apologize in advance for typos and grammatical errors. I wrote it right after I finished and was really tired to think too much. And now I’m back at work with w/o a lot of time to revisit.
Sound bite: The best way to describe the 30th anniversary Escape from Alcatraz is that you see the devil a couple times. And then again once more; and this is before you reach the Sand ladder. But can’t wait to have the opportunity to do it again.
This race has two transition areas and requires 2 pairs of running shows. The first transition (mini-transition) is at swim exit. Here you drop off the wetsuit and put on the secondary pair of running shows to run about 1 mile to the real transition. This mini transition is just a big corral that is set up by the organizers. The real transition is what we normally see in T1/T2.
I got to transition at 4:30am. The first thing you do is give the volunteers your mini-transition bag (old shoes, small towel, gu, water). I was lucky that Tammy saw me in transition and came by to say hi. After that I did the typical routine or setting up T1/T2 and we got on one of the first buses to pier 3 where we would board the boat. At the pier we were given our timing chips and we had plenty of time (and available porta johns) to do our thing and relax. We boarded the boat at 6am or so, and the boat departed at 7am sharp.
The ride to ‘the rock’ was awesome. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny day in the bay area. No fog, no rain, not too much wind. The boat ride allowed us to take a good look at all the landmarks we were instructed to sight during the swim. Because of all the currents you cannot shoot for the swim exit. If you do that you end up in the Pacific Ocean. The boat gets to Alcatraz and circles the island. After that it stops, all 3 doors are opened, and 1,800 athletes suddenly behave like penguins (yes, there was pushing, but all in good spirit).
Swim: 1.5 miles. The water is cold (55oF), but not as shocking as I had feared. Water was a bit choppy, but nothing too complicated. My swim was really good. I was very relaxed after I realized that water temperature was manageable and was very careful to aim at the different landmarks as the organizers had instructed. I landed right at swim exit. I heard some athletes overshot and had to back-swim against the current. Some others had to be pulled from the water. Highlights of the swim: the amazing views and a marine mammal (not sure what kind) that came to take a look at the humans is his/her domain. Swim Time: 32:12 (helped by currents)
Swim exit is very chaotic because you need to find your mini-transition bag, with an oxygen deprived brain, in a corral with other 1,800 white bags and athletes coming in and going out. I found the bag and had no issues here. The run to T1 is very high-energy. Lots of spectators and here is when it hit me that had swum from Alcatraz. T1 was uneventful. T1 time (including the run from swim exit): 8:03.
Bike: 18 miles. The bike ride is incredibly beautiful. Always going up or down, and technical but beautiful. I’m glad I had a road bike and not a tri bike. Some of the hills are really hard and the downhills scary. But no wind and a sunny day made it great. In the second to last hill is where the devil first shows its ugly face. Lets just say that I’m grateful I have a triple. Holy steep hill batman. The last couple miles were flat which was great to get the legs moving quickly in preparation for the run and perfect time to make sure you drink water and energy drink. Highlight of the bike: the long downhill to Ocean Beach. Bike time: 1:03:26 - (17.0 mph)
T2 was also uneventful. Little did I know at this point what was ahead of me. T2 time: 2:27.
Run: 8 miles. Of the 8 miles of the run, the first and last 400 yards have easy running conditions (paved trail). The rest don’t. The run includes lots of very steep and eroded hiking trails, steps, gravel, loose gravel, very lose ‘I think I’m gonna die’ gravel, loose sand, packed wet sand, a 4-foot high tunnel, and lots of uphills and downhills. Oh, and there is little passing space, so if the person in front of you decides to walk a bit, you will be walking a bit. It was hard, really, really hard. But we don’t do this because it’s easy, right? At mile 5 you encounter the infamous Sand Ladder. A 400-step stair case made of sand and wooden beams. I admit that I walked it, but so do some of the pros so no shame in that. After walking up the sand ladder it is very hard to begin running again. Mind over body with 3 miles to go. Highlight of the run: TBD…sometimes completing a run is highlight enough. Run time: 1:10:12 - (8:47 per mile). Sand Ladder: 3:37 (whatever that time means).
The finish line for this race is the real deal. I’m talking TV crews, VIP section, and stands with thousands of spectators. This was by far the most challenging race I’ve done. But if I could I would do it every year. Final time: 02:56:18.