Friday, June 09, 2006

The Race- Escape From Alcatraz!


Race morning is like being in the Army. You get up early and hurry up and wait.

I met Doug in the lobby and we rolled down to the transition area at 5:15. We set up in a few minutes and I figured Doug was right- we could have left later. We snapped a few pictures, double checked what stuff we had already doubled checked, and then I suggested we just get on a bus.

The race organizers had stressed getting on the bus early and getting to the boat. If you miss the boat, you miss the race. If you get to the boat late, you miss the boat. If you miss the last bus, better have taxi money. I did not want to be crowding onto the last bus trying to catch the boat. Funny, they ended up holding the boat because the buses were running late.

At the dock we hung out for almost an hour. We were sitting in the cold as the sun was rising. It was not that cold, but I knew jumping off the boat into the water would be. That is the moment I hate most about triathlons- getting into the cold water early in the morning. It is times like that when I think bowling would be a better hobby. We were carrying our wetsuits and dry bags delaying squeezing into neoprene. They loaded us onto the boat at 7:15 or so. That was a nice boat. I am not sure what I was expecting, but that was pretty nice. There were cameras all over the ceiling, so I figured it had to normally be a gambling ship, or a gambling paddleboat. Everything had been removed, and triathletes were sprawled all over the floor; stretching, sleeping, talking, or finding that place some go to before the start. The boat was delayed, as mentioned above. We started out before the 8 o’clock start.

All the announcers, at every venue and meeting, were Aussie. I have no idea why. I was waiting for the obligatory national anthem, which I find really silly and unnecessary at sporting events, and was wondering if we would hear the anthem with an accent. If we had I am sure some obsessive compulsive wingnut tri-geek would have blown a fuse. Doug had gone to the restroom when the singing began. We also had a prayer by an ultra-religious former pro triathlete, who I am sure used to believe God actually cared about how she finished. When Doug returned I inquired if he was peeing during the anthem or the prayer. I won’t give it away, but he was taking a leak when one of them cranked up.

As we approached Alcatraz everybody was zipping up their wetsuits, putting neoprene accessories like hoods and booties on, and spitting in their goggles. I grabbed Doug from the spot I had staked out near the stairs, and we went out the back door. We were on the second floor with the other “older” triathletes, and figured to be jumping off the boat rather late. I wanted to get into the water as early as possible. We were on the back stairs between the 1st and 2nd levels when the pros went. We went down to the first level and started to walk toward the side facing San Francisco, but were blocked by a race official. He directed us towards a door into a hallway. With the flow we went through another door, made a left, and suddenly Doug was crossing the timing mat at the side. We had somehow fumbled our way into going just a few minutes after the pros. I heard “1, 2, 3, go!” and Doug was gone. I adjusted my goggles and watched the guy in front of me jump. Doug would have a six second or so head start. I stepped over the timing mat to the side with the rail immediately on my left. “1, 2, 3, jump!”

The water was maybe 8 feet down. I aimed way to my left to make sure the guy behind me was not going to land on my head, and then I started swimming. The water was cold, but not too bad. I think the booties helped. They were cut low, and so the water ran in around my bony ankles, but it stayed there. I did not have cold water constantly streaming by my feet, leeching the precious heat from my skin. My goggles had a bit of water in them from the jump, but soon I did not even notice it. The huge electronics tower over the city, that we were supposed to site on, was obscured by fog. It had been sunny on the way out, and looked like a beautiful day, but about the time I jumped into the water a thick fog swept into the bay. I could, however, see the gold dome over some palace of fine arts- I had trouble the entire visit remembering just what the building was. I headed a bit to the left of that dome.

The bay was choppy, and I swallowed a lot of water. I found myself alone with a large pack on either side of me. I thought of the sandwich theorem from college calculus, and figured if I kept between the two groups I should hit the landing as I was supposed to. The swim from Alcatraz is not a straight line. There is a strong current as you near shore, basically there is a river running through the bay. You try to swim into the current towards the left of the landing, and while swimming towards the shore let the current carry you to the right. If you get to land too quick, you will hit some nasty water in front of some rocks. If you get there to late, well you might not get there and could end up being swept out under the Golden Gate to China or nearby parts. Usually officials are directing you to keep that from happening. They will grab you up and reset you if they feel the need. If you are too smart to listen to them, they will grab your stupid ass with a hook and reset you anyway.

The swim record is about 20 minutes. This year the first pro hit land at 28 minutes, slow because of the less than ideal conditions of the current and the chop. Doug was at 41 minutes and change and I made land at 42 minutes and change. I was not upset. My back had tightened during the swim and I was hoping it would not bother me later.

Watching a lot of triathletes trying to run out of the water and strip off wetsuits is probably like watching drunks trying to get home and strip off their clothes to have sex. They tend to lose their balance, have trouble finding zippers and you might smell the faint smell of urine. (Disclaimer: I really had to go to the bathroom on the swim, but just do not enjoy pissing on myself in a wetsuit, as many triathletes do. Sure I have, but I avoid it. Sometimes I strip off my wetsuit in the water and pretend I am neatly folding it while I pee, but the water was too cold for that today.) I stripped off my hood, swim cap and goggles and prepped my hair for the “Exiting The Water” tri picture. I was hoping the footies would not only keep my feet fairly warm, but would pad my feet for the mile run to the transition area over rocks and pavement. I ran by the wetsuit strippers- the most popular job for race volunteers- and headed for my bike.

The footies did help and my feet did hurt much during the run. After a half mile I was warming up and started reaching for my zipper on the back of my neck. I was fumbling with the zipper like the aforementioned drunks. I was really having trouble and this with an Aquaman wetsuit, which is one of the easiest to unzip. Finally I had the cord in my hand and I pulled, opening the zipper. As I ran into the transition I was peeling the wetsuit down. At my bike I peeled it down, stepped on it and pulled my feet out. I looked over and saw that I had beat Doug to transition, although I saw later he did have a faster swim but lost time looking for his shoes. As I was quickly putting on my helmet and stuff, Doug reached his bike. Them I watched as he beat me out of transition- damnit!

After weaving through and around triathletes who seem to have trouble actually getting on their bike, I was off. Everybody was drafting, as there were a bunch of us starting out. I picked up speed early and was passing bunches. A faster guy came by and I shadowed him. A few miles down, we turned left and headed up the hills.

This was a hilly course, but I am used to that. What I was not used to is how rough the roads were. All the road building corruption in Georgia usually leaves us Atlantans spoiled with very smooth roads- they are constantly getting repaved so somebody’s brother can make a fortune. This must not happen as much in San Francisco. We were bouncing along like toddlers suspended from a doorframe by a spring. I passed Doug on the first hill as I opened her up. Five miles into the ride I knew I had to stop and pee. Again, many triathletes have no problem pissing on themselves while riding, but I don’t mind losing a minute to stop and take a leisurely piss. I do not need that warm shower to warm me up after a cold swim. After my business was concluded, I remounted my dry bike in my dry cycling shorts and resumed my ride. Doug did a double take as I passed him a second time- I love doing that to people. The descents back into the city were not as fun as they should have been with all the bouncing around on the rough road. A minute or two after an hour, I hit the transition area for the bike to run transition.

I would like to point out that I am pretty quick in transitions, and I have won age groups and masters divisions by taking time out of people in transition. I beat Doug into the second transition, but damn if he did not beat me out yet again! He had about 50 feet on me and I was determined to catch him.

I kept Doug in site during the first half mile and pulled up next to him part of the way through Crissy field. As we ran we joined a very cute girl from Sweden who I proceeded to chat up- hey why not, it is only a race? She was very nice, was indeed from Sweden, as the silk screen across her rear end suggested, and had been in the US for about 3 weeks. I saw Doug pulling ahead of me again as we were being beaten by a strong headwind. I tucked in behind a guy and started drafting. Every now and then I would pass the person in front of me and bridge to the next person, keeping Doug in sight. I was safely tucked in behind him when the path turned upward.

Doug and I started training together in 1992 at a masters swim group. Eventually we started cycling and running together. We have been pretty much training together for 14 years, on and off. I do not feel the need to beat him, but it is a good goal for me to stay with him on the run. We train at similar paces and end up finishing with similar times. I have a better Ironman PR, and he has better PR at every other distance. As tired as I was from walking all over San Francisco the previous 3 days, I figured if I could keep his pace, I would be happy with my time.

So I was happy to be right behind Doug as we started up into the hills. We ran up a trail and then up a very narrow staircase. We ran more trails, through a low tunnel, and then down onto Baker Beach. I was a ways behind Doug on the beach, around the turnaround and then gained some time just as we hit the sand ladder.

The sand ladder is the most notorious section of the Escape run. Imagine round landscape timbers connected together by heavy cable and then dropped down a high sand dune. Now think 400 steps of this sand ladder. I had run hills getting ready for this. I was hoping to pick up a little time running up the steps- Yeah, I was a stud! I walked up the sand ladder.

We ran back across the coast trail, the tunnel, and then down the narrow staircase, which had traffic going in both directions and a long line waiting to ascend for those people still heading towards the beach. I, of course, started running my mouth. “Everybody relax, take a deep breath and go to that happy place. The line will move right along.”

I reeled Doug in running down the coast trail after the narrow steps and we started the last two miles of flat running. I looked at my watch and figured we could go under three hours. After a mile and a half, however, I had to back off. I was hurting and could not hold the pace. I told Doug to go and I would see him at the finish. I walked a little bit, listening to people tell me I was almost there which was pissing me off really bad, and then started back up. I did my Deon impersonation as I crossed the finish line in 2:57:56, just 22 seconds after Doug.

I was toast after I finished. My time was not great, but it was good and I had given it everything I had. Overall I finished 389 out of 1663, and 72 out of 223 for my age group. Compared to other racers, my bike was my strongest event, but I was not very happy with it. Of course I should not have expected better since I chose to play tourist and walk all over the city.

One funny note: I had borrowed a set of Spinergy race wheels for the race from a buddy. I was doing a short ride to make sure they worked well with my bike when they fell apart. I put my old race wheels on right before leaving. The morning after the race I had a flat tire. I checked the tires and saw that they were completely worn out and had cord showing through the tread. I was very lucky that I did not flat during the race. You figure a former bike mechanic might notice something like that.

The race was run well. The organization is fantastic. The volunteers were super. The course was the toughest non-ironman I have ever done. The only complaint was that so many people were trying to get to Whole Food’s after race meal, that the line was incredibly long and not moving fast. I was too tired to stand in line any longer than the 20 minutes that I did. The food coming out did look great, however. I do recommend the race for all. It is truly a race that everybody should do at least once.

Race picks of yours truly!

1 comment:

Sharkbait said...

I really enjoyed reading that! Glad you had such a good time in SF! And congrats on finishing a tough race!