Ok. I know. I've fallen off the wagon. The race reports which all 2 of you read post race have stopped being delivered to your eagerly awaiting eyes. I am sure you have asked yourself every waking day "What oh what is that chap Evan up to? Surely he is still racing as I see the occasional result but not a pip of commentary from the man!" Well dear readers, I always have a solid commentary on my races but putting the proverbial pen to paper has been... unappetizing.
Last autumn's races were fine. One was crap. One was great (Duathlon Worlds). A few were fine. Overall though, I took most of them in a sort of trance. I raced hard, I cared about each one, but my overall attitude hardened and while I was inspired to race, these races took me on no trips inside my ethos. Not that this is a bad thing, but I felt very little for all of these races in terms of them holding a journey inside the race. While they all were races I was intensely invested in and cared about, they lacked any luster. That is to say, the race in and of itself held no personal journey in it for me.
But that's ok. It just means when it came time to write a race report I didn't have the will. As for why I didn't write one after earning my ro license at Huntington Beach and the Wildflower Debacle? Well. I was just lazy. But that brings us to Escape From Alcatraz. And damn did this one bring me out of my race report slump.
Its all about the swim when we're talking about Alcatraz. I mean. It is the inescapable prison, guarded by the ever turbulent waters of the San Francisco Bay. No one ever escaped for a reason. The race starts with a large paddle steamer taking you to the foot of the island and then after what seemed like an eternity of formalities the world starts to go to hell. The ship seems very very small when you cram 2000 people on board and all of a sudden air horns start blasting and the rush for the freezing waters started. I was one of the first out the door and the feeling was crazy. It felt like the doors of hell had been thrown open and we all bolted. I jumped immediately out the door and fell the 10 or so feet right onto some poor woman who was likely regretting her decision to start at the front. I hit her legs and knocked us both under.
Panic set it and I kicked hard and freed myself from her as she swam away. However I would never really find a groove on this brutal swim. The current didnt push me as much as I was led to believe and so instead of heading a bit more towards the final landing site I headed more to the east and away towards downtown. This proved problematic as I not only veered off course but was now getting a bit panicky. The feeling of being in the middle of the massive bay didn't bother me nearly as much as just feeling like I couldn't find my way. The swim has no buoys or real way to guide towards the SF Yacht Club which is the finish. I ended up swimming with two other people about half way through but I couldn't use them to my advantage as I felt their course was wrong as they headed too far out towards the bay than I wanted and I left them, only to have them cut me off further down the swim ahead of me. The whole time I was looking up constantly. I never was able to feel comfortable and keep my head down and my heart rate was way too high for where it should have been. I just felt like time was wasting away
I exited the swim too far down the beach, missing the chance to run the last part of it and cut it slightly shorter, more wasted time. However my issues compounded. My heart rate was through the roof on the exit of the water and the run to transition was long so I had 0 time to try and lower my pounding heart and instead just ran harder and faster to get to my bike. Here I messed up again. My timing chip was outside of my wetsuit according to this race's particular rules. When stripping my wetsuit off the chip became lodged on my leg and stuck my wetsuit lower on my leg. I struggled and pulled and took almost 30 seconds to just figure out my error. I finally freed myself and got on my bike but the error cost me around 40 to 60 precious seconds. My transition time would be 1:15 slower than the winner. Rarely do I mess up transitions but it cost me dearly here.
The bike was, as expected, was a hilly mess. The role out of transition was fine and the first climb was ok but my heart was still way too excited. I rode through the first hills up and along past the Golden Gate and felt like I was maxing out, by the time I reached Clif House however I was able to control myself. Through the section along the Great Highway I eased off the gas and cruised through Golden Gate Park a little bit too relaxed as I headed past the turnaround. I spied a shadowy black figure at around mile 12 and figured it must have been a passed athlete from earlier but I would prove wrong as this was Toland coming up. I flew back up the hill past the Sutro Baths and along Lands End I felt solid but was trying to hold myself back a bit for the 8 mile hilly run and the infamous Sand Ladder. I rolled through the middle climb to Palace of Fine Arts passing Goss on my way and then descended into the final climb area where I saw the bulk of the field coming through. The final stretch along Chrissy Field saw Toland fly by me, I knew I was in trouble now and maybe had eased of too much despite feeling blown up.
The second transition was also less than ideal as I was slower than Toland and struggled with my shoes. The first mile was uncomfortable and my groove was off. 6 minute miles felt fine but also labored and I was concerned with the upcoming vertical issue. I was coming up on Toland but the first hill changed that. As soon as my legs went up they felt like a brick had been thrown at them. I struggled up the first set of stairs and then up the bit of hill towards the Golden Gate's tunnel. I really could have used a break, a whisky, and a lawn chair at this point. Alas, none were to be found for I was a mere 2 miles in. The nex hill felt easier but I found myself in no man's land, Toland far down the road and the chasing pack a fair ways back. The crew ahead of Toland had about 2 minutes so that felt like a lot as well. I sat into a pace and sorta bid my time, I was moving but not well, I felt more flat than I anticipated almost like I hadn't gone hard in a long time. Pain felt like a weird sensation. I had been sick with a stomach thing a mere 7 days pre race so that could have been contributing to this dullness but alas it was irritating.
The sand ladder was next on the run after a half mile of soft sand running had already wrecked the legs thoroughly. The sand ladder is essentially about 250 deep stairs covered with wind blown sand making the step essentially a fat sandy stone. It also is extremely extremely steep. It felt like I was truly ascending to the sky. I was completely dead after just 10 steps. I staggered up the stairs, grabbing the rope as I if I were delirious. After seeming hours of pain I reached the top in reality it only took two and a half minutes but it felt like years.
The final 3 miles were uneventful. I regained my legs a mile later and even started to pick up my pace over the last two miles. But the race was done. I finished 15th overall with a few minutes gap to 14th and another few to 16th arrears of me. I felt like I was at 90% pace the whole day despite being maxxed out in my perceived exertion. Overall especially with botched transitions and a lackluster sighting experience in the swim I could have done much worse and the race
I don't do "bucket lists." Look, I am a moron who plays bass and does this sport. I never claimed to be an authority on anything besides blissful mediocrity in various endeavours. However bucket lists always rubbed me the wrong way. That being said, If you ever had a triathlon bucket list that excluded Escape from Alcatraz from the top 3 then that would be a travesty of the highest degree. The race is damn beautiful, hard, fun, full of spectators, and a pinnacle of the sport for the sole reason that is eschews the typical IRONMAN or ITU hysteria that we drown in daily. Instead of course cutting (IRONMAN Texas for example) or cheap tricks (do we really need another variant on the color run, let alone in tri?) like other races, Escape from Alcatraz is just pure triathlon. A course from a point to another place with no distance conventions, pace guides, or meaningful times. It's a race outside the realm of others and for that it is a lord in its own glorious fiefdom. No tyrannical IRONMAN or desperate Machiavellian ITU meddling; just swim from that big scary rock thingy to the shore and then survive some stupid painful hills. It does make me wonder why some athletes can't escape the hype of the IRONMAN circuit races to come to something arguably more intimate. Alcatraz may have ruined many lives as a desolate prison but as a venue for competition it may be the most vibrant, in the US.