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.
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.
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.
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.”