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Thoughts & Tips for Escape From Alcatraz

So I just arrived in San Francisco for Escape From Alcatraz, and I decided to write a split blog.  Part 1 has my thoughts and goals going into the race, for my friends and family (mostly my mom, I seriously still have trouble visualizing anyone but her reading this stuff).  Part 2 is a few Alcatraz race day tips from a guy that’s raced this course whopping two times (take ’em for what they’re worth).  Hopefully both will leave you happy and in the know.  As always, please feel free to share with your friends, and comment/ask me questions, whatever!  Thanks!  Oh yeah, race is in Sunday, 7:30 am PST, best place to follow my progress will be my Twitter, I’ll put my buddy James on it!

Escape from Alcatraz – 1 Year Later

Escape From Alcatraz is a race that carries a special significance to me.  Last year, it was my first race back after a 3-year break and deciding to pursue triathlon professionally.  With little to no expectations, I had (up until 3 weeks ago) my best triathlon performance ever.  I won the amateur race by 7 minutes, finishing 7th overall with the fastest run.  Needless to say, I was stoked.

At the time, I thought it was just the beginning of what would be a huge year of breakout performances for me.  I mean, if I finished 7th in my first race, it’s only going to be better, right?  Wrong.  I finished 8th at Boise 70.3 in a weaker field, got anxious, turned pro, and then got SMOKED by dudes in Europe, eventually burning myself out and cutting the season short.  I never finished higher than 7th in any race the rest of the year.

A lot has changed from a year ago.  On the surface level, I have a new coach, I’m a faster swimmer and biker, I’m more experienced, and I have some solid (if somewhat unanticipated) results under my belt.  But what’s more important is that I’ve got a long-term outlook on my progression in the sport.  Last year, I wasn’t committed to the long-term process of improvement.  I thought, if I’m going to do this, I need to be good, so I need to be good immediately.  I had to prove to myself each race that I wasn’t wasting my time and money, and every result was a new data point that strongly affected my outlook on whether this whole endeavor was worth it or not.

This year, it’s much more relaxed.  I know I’ve got another year, or two, before I reach my potential in the sport, so each individual race is less important.  It’s still a data point, but it doesn’t swing my attitude and outlook on my progression.  So even though I won Wildflower, my goal for Alcatraz is the exact same as it was at the beginning of the year, to improve.  A top-5 would be a solid improvement, and I’d be very happy with that performance.   A top 4 or 3 would be a huge day and leave me…stoked.

Having said that, I am excited to see what happens.  I should be faster in the water and on the bike.  How much faster?  I’ll find out on Sunday.  Regardless of what happens, it’s also just a super fun race (see below), and I get to have burgers and beers with my buddies in San Fran afterwards.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

Race Day Tips for Escape From Alcatraz:

Don’t worry about sleep the night before.

Race starts at 7:30…boat leaves at 7…shuttles to boat end at 6…transition is open at 4…Ouch!  No matter what senior citizen bedtime all us tri-nuts have out there, just come to terms with the fact that you’re only going to sleep a few hours on Saturday, and that it’s no big deal.  You’ll sleep better if you aren’t worried about it, and honestly, it doesn’t matter anyway.  I slept ~3 hours last year, and have done many (most) races on less than 5 hours of sleep because of early start times and nerves.  Sleep the night before a race is overrated!  Plus it makes that post race meal mid day nap a doooozie!

Don’t get freaked out, and sight a LOT.

The start of this race is nuts, you jump off the boat with a thousand other people, try not to land on someone’s head, then swim like crazy just to get some space.  But what’s freaky is that 10 minutes into the swim, because of the waves, the openness of the water, and no direct buoys to follow, you feel like you’re the only person out there.  This might scare you enough to have an accident in your wetsuit.  Well don’t worry, there are lots of people around, they’re just hard to see with the waves.  Keep going and you’ll start seeing people as you get closer to the end.

Also, sight (pop your head out of the water to make sure you’re going the right way), a LOT, like maybe every other stroke if you swim snake-style like me.  The first time I did this race I got frustrated with the chop and decided I was going to go 15-20 strokes head down without sighting.  When I popped back up to see how I’d done, I was flipped 180 degrees, swimming back toward the boat.  Not cool.

This was the first Google image result for "frankenstein needle in haystack." The internet is AWESOME.

Don’t stop for the T1 shoes.

The verdict is out on this, but it’s my philosophy to just run barefoot from the swim exit to T1.  Doing so means you don’t have to find your bag that looks exactly like everyone else’s bag immediately after all out swimming in 50 degree water.  It’s like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, except you’re Frankenstein and you’re only interested in your piece of hay in the haystack.  Plus, your feet will be numb, so you don’t feel the concrete anyway, you’ll be super hip to the barefoot running trend, and you’ll have something to talk about when your feet hurt like crap for the next few days, which they will.

Ride a road bike.

The course is super hilly, like almost all hills and crazy steep hills, it’s very technical, and therefore average speeds are much slower.  For all these reasons alone, you should ride a road bike that climbs and handles better than the TT machine.  But the real reason I ride a road bike, my secret revealed to you – it’s fun.  It makes the race feel like a road race, zooming through the steep hills of SF, climbing and shifting out of the saddle, descending in the drops, it’s a blast dude, and it’s probably your only opportunity to ride like that in a triathlon.

Walk the Sand-Ladder.*

The legend is true, the sand-ladder is freaking hard.  It’s just so sandy, and so laddery, it’s like a laddery, sandy, ladder of sand.  It slows you down a lot, and trying to crank through it will spike your HR like crazy halfway through the run, and probably slow you down the rest of the way.  You’re body is way more efficient at walking than it is at running, and since it isn’t much slower to walk that thing, save your energy for the hilly 3+ miles you’ve got after the top!

*If your one and only goal is to have the fastest sand ladder split, then my advice to you is to:  carefully walk the first 4 miles of the run, have all your friends and a puke bucket at the top, and with a running start, sprint until you either reach the top or pass out.  Don’t worry about finishing the race; your glory is at the bucket.

One of these days I'm going to have an ugly race picture contest, and I'm going to win. (photo courtesy of Cissy Deluca, who also let me take her old room this year)

Shave…your face.

Shaving your legs is up to you, but dude, shave your face.  Please.  And it wouldn’t hurt to fake a smile as you come down the finish chute.  It’s tough to proudly show all your buddies how you did EFA when the only proof you have is your finish picture that could just as easily be a mostly drunk homeless guy in full Lycra.

Enjoy it.

Seriously, this race is so unique, with the crazy ass swim, the road race bike course, the sand ladder and gnarly run, it’s freaking awesome.  Plus there are lots of people along the course and when you’re done, you’re in San Francisco and close to Ghirardelli Square.  I won’t encourage you to stop and smell the roses (stopping’s not my style), but while I’m out there pounding myself into the ground, I will intermittently smile and say to myself, “this race is absolutely bonkers… and I love it.”


22 comments to Thoughts & Tips for Escape From Alcatraz

  • go get ’em dude! I’ll be rooting for you!

  • Bill Thomas

    Asa and I will be cheering for you – just from afar. Take no prisoners!!

  • Jesse,

    You will do great. I’ve never seen you run or cycle but I’ve seen you leave wakes behind you in the pool when you swim. Stay focused and show them what Eugene has to offer the sport. I’ll be watching for your posts that night or Monday morning.

  • Anthony DuComb


    You are right on about sighting, but also note that the water is colder on the ebb this year than usual with all of the Sierra snow run off. Race strong and safe.


  • Stephen

    “It’s tough to proudly show all your buddies how you did EFA when the only proof you have is your finish picture that could just as easily be a mostly drunk homeless guy in full Lycra.”

    Love your sense of humor Jesse… have a great race.


  • sandra sharma

    Hi Jesse,
    We wish you all the best for the race.Please be rest assured that more people than Mum are reading your blog!!!Your humility and humor are outstanding.The Aussie contingency also send their regards.
    Sandra and Amba

  • 1. I can totally beat you in a bad race photo contest. Hands down.
    2. Is this ladder straight up or like an incline. I’m having a hard time visualizing this. It sounds terrible, though.
    3. Your 4th paragraph resonated with me. I don’t know why. I think that’s how I feel about life though, like I have to get everything done asap, pronto, stat or else.
    4. Good luck!
    If you don’t win, I’m not ordering any more Picky Bars. And, I’m thinking of peel off the labels of the bars and using them as stickers and making my running club wear them at our next race (June 11th). We shall see.

  • Mom

    7 fans beat me to the punch! Looking forward to the race. Be big and strong…(and safe). XOXO Mom

  • dan cole

    Good Luck Jesse, Just visualize Kacy and Carlos beside you in the water.

  • Seth

    Jesse —

    Once you get these small races out of the way, let me know when you want to tackle the PPP as a team. Domination!

  • Cissy

    Go Jesse! Great picture of you from last year’s race… who took it?!

  • David Floyd

    Best of luck pseudo little brother Jesse. I miss the TV time with the Thomas’es a lot. That was great year. Eat some peanut butter on rice cakes and popcorn for me!

  • Asa

    Kick some ass seabass

  • Tbone

    Really excited to see you race, but I’m impressed by your attitude that it doesn’t all hinge on this one.

    Make sure to watch out for sharks, btw.

  • So is the sand ladder sandy or laddery? I couldn’t quite make that out in your post. Best of luck!

  • Kristin Walker

    Watch out for the biting seal that likes to hang at aquatic park too! Good luck, I may bring the dog and we will come down to cheer you on!

  • John Madden


    Long time no see. I just saw the results from yesterday. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It really is you. Looks like you’re back on top. Congratulations! Have a great season. I haven’t raced much since 2007. I might try to do one local race this year to relive the glory days.

    John (Team Zoom 2007)

  • sandra sharma

    Congrats on 4th place finish at Alcatraz!!!We eagerly await your report and humor.The photos were very interesting.
    Jesse ,you are definitely moving in elite company and improved your time from 2010.Nurse your tender tootsies for Boise.Swim effortlessly , bike furiously and run hard as a great competitor.
    Sandra and Amba

  • Daniel

    Just wanted to say great race and good luck this weekend in Boise. And keep the reports coming – I really enjoy reading about your racing and training.


  • Triathlete with Swagger

    Love these race reports. Keep them coming.

  • […] leave you with a link to my 2011 Tips for Alcatraz for anyone that’s racing. Good luck to anyone that’s doing it. Stay warm and have […]

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