Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Race Report: Escape from Alcatraz

by Pat Dwyer

I have been racing triathlon for over 20 years.   I did my first in NJ (an Olympic distance race) when I was 17.  There are only a few races that have been around as long as I have been racing, and only fewer that I would put on my “bucket list” of races I want to do before it is all said and done.  Number one is Kona…which has been accomplished.  The others, in no particular order, Wildflower, Roth….and Alcatraz.  

Well, Alcatraz was accomplished this past weekend.  Originally, I was scheduled to do this last year.  But, following my surgery, I was able to defer to this year.   Originally, Jenn and I had planned to hit wine country after this race. But, since I am racing Buffalo Springs 70.3 in two weeks, we decided to keep this trip short.  

We arrived on Thursday night (late).  We checked in and, after about 4 hours of sleep, woke up early on Friday and started to get acclimated.  We did some walking around and sightseeing during the first day, knowing that Saturday would be more of a race-prep day.  We had an early dinner and got to sleep early on Friday.  On Saturday morning, I got up and headed out on the bike for a 40 minute warmup.  I rode part of the course….and realized just how difficult and technical this course was.  There were many steep climbs and hard turns…most coming off screaming downhills.  Definitely not to my advantage.  Oh well.  I also got in the water for a short swim….holy crap….55 degree water is COLD.   

I woke up at 4am on Sunday and got my nutrition in and headed down to transition.  One thing that surprised me about Alcatraz….a race that has been around for 32 years is that for one, registration was a mess.  With 2000+ people racing…there should be two days for packet pickup, not one.  The line was ridiculous.  Two, the transition area on race morning was mostly dark….and no bike pumps.  You would think that with people coming from all over the country (and world) for this race, there would be pumps throughout transition…..there was one.  I wound up grabbing a CO2 and guestimating air pressure in my tubulars.  Not something I would do for an “A” race.  Anyway, after setting up transition, I headed to the shuttle to the Hornblower boat to take us out to the Rock.   There are two levels on the boat.  Joe Kurtz had given me some good tips on what to do and not to do.  One thing he told me to do is make sure I was in a position to get off the boat quick.  Well, as I boarded, the race official directed me (my age group) to the second level….so I did….and proceeded to walk to the back of the boat…and down the stairs and seeded myself “properly”.  I started asking the people around me to make sure I was in good position….and apparently I was.  Joe had also told me that he spent some time talking with pro Andy Potts while he was on the boat.  So, I thought it was only fitting (maybe even ironic) that Andy sat down right next to me.   

After about 40 minutes of sitting on the boat, the pros got ready to start.  The adrenaline kicked up a notch with everyone on the boat.  Once the pros went off, the age groupers pretty much went off as a free for all…..over the timing mat and off the boat. You really have to get off quick and out of the way, or risk being landed on by another athlete.  I positioned myself well and was off the boat about 15-20th in my area (two exit areas).  The swim was very interesting.  Joe had mentioned that with 2000 people in the water, there’s never anyone directly around you.  Well, I know what he meant….but I always had a few people around me…which helped.  But, other than my small pod of swimmers, it was few and far between.  There were buoys out on the course….at least a couple.  But, what always amazed me is that while I could always see the buoys way in front of me….. I don’t think I ever actually passed one….if that makes sense.  I just swam…and figured I’d hit the finish at some point.  Finally, I could see the swim finish.  

Out of the water…and into T1.  T1 is different than all normal T1s.  There are actually 3 transitions at Alcatraz. The first transition is actually a place where you can grab a pair of shoes for the ¾ mile run to the bike transition.   Although I left shoes at T1, I wasn’t sure I was going to use them….I figured I might run barefoot…ala the pros.  BIG MISTAKE! After about 200 yards of running, all I could say was ”ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch….F me, ouch, ouch” (my feet hurt for 2 days!).  

Finally, onto the bike.  The first 2 miles are flat and fast.  After that, it’s a lot of climbing….not exactly my strength.   I realized on the first big downhill that I was not into this ride.  I just wasn’t aggressive.  I just didn’t have enough invested in this race to let it all hang out and take risks.  That’s not to say I didn’t ride hard….but I just didn’t ride hard enough on the downhills.  There were some really, really hairy turns on the course….some coming off of scary downhills.  This is a course that you should know before riding, which I didn’t.  Again, not my “A” race….and I rode like it.  

Off the bike and into the run.  Funny thing happened while I was in San Francisco.  I found my run, which had been lost for some time.  For me, I just haven’t been my normal self on the run.  Also, I have been doing some hardcore track workouts with teammate Sean Sullivan…and my legs have been a bit dead lately.   Well, as soon as I started the run, I could tell immediately that my legs were there.  The Alcatraz course is a bit funky.  You think…..Alcatraz….long swim (1.5 miles), short bike (18 miles), long run (8 miles).  But, that’s deceiving.  The run is 2 miles of flat….4 miles of technical, climbing, beach, single track running…and 2 miles of flat.  So, it’s not a runner’s course.  I took the first 2 miles fairly controlled.  What I had failed to mention is that my Timex Global Trainer (gps/hr) stopped working during the swim….so I was working without HR, pace or distance….only perceived effort.  However, I was running well and reeling people in…so I just made sure I didn’t blow up.  I hit the infamous sand stairs about 4.5 miles in and ran right up them.  I had the fastest sand stair time in my AG.  I was feeling good….but it was hard to get going with such a technical course.  Finally, I reached the end of the technical part….with two miles to go.  I turned on the burners and was passing anyone in sight.  I hammered home and finished down the finish chute solo.  It’s a great finish line.  

I wound up finishing 40th overall, 17 amateur, and 4th in my Age Group.  I went into the race hoping to place in my AG and I missed it by 1 spot….but in actuality, about 4 minutes.  The three guys in front of me in my AG smoked me in the swim.  As I mentioned, this is a swimmer’s race.  The swimmers get out front and never look back.  If the run course wasn’t so technical, it might be a different story….but, that’s Alcatraz.  

Jenn asked me if I would race it again….probably not.  At least, not anytime soon.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved the race and San Fran.  There’s nothing like it.  But, I don’t normally travel across the country for a race this short…..especially one that puts me at a competitive disadvantage.  I did it more for the experience…which I got.  What this race did for me was get me pumped for Buffalo Springs 70.3.  I liked how the bike felt (when I was actually in the aero bars)…and really liked how my run felt.   So, I’m hoping for bigger and better things in two weeks.  Next stop…Lubbock, Texas.

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