Friday, June 10, 2016

Escaping from Alcatraz

Sometime last fall or winter when summer was a forever distance away, I entered the lottery for the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. Only 2000 athletes can participate. To my delight and chagrin, I got in. Don't go thinking it has anything to do with being qualified. It was mostly a chance drawing, influenced maybe by an accident of geography and organizers' willingness to take anyone from Maine crazy enough to do it. My friend Carla (who lives in San Francisco), who rocked the race last year, is a powerful persuader anyway, and when she offered me airline miles, a place to stay, and a bike, what else could I do? I forked over the hefty race fee and she booked my flight.

I was pretty cavalier about the whole thing until about a week ago, when my coach asked me about the distances involved so he could plan my training week. I did the swim a few years ago, a supported recreational event where you give a guy 30 bucks and he takes a bunch of you out to Alcatraz on a big boat, gives you some pointers about sighting so the legendary currents don't sweep you right out to sea, then throws you in the water and kind of keeps an eye on you until you stagger ashore. He assured me there weren't any sharks in the bay. (Whatever you do, DON'T watch this video of a great white shark devouring a seal next to the Alcatraz dock)

The swim is widely considered the most daunting aspect of the race. The triathlon website describes it this way:

"The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon begins with a 7:30 am plunge from the San Francisco Belle into the icy cold water adjacent to Alcatraz Island. Participants are unloaded from the boat in less than 8 minutes. It is quite a rush when you take the leap from the ferry for the 1.5 mile swim. Triathletes will face strong currents and 55 degree water temperatures. Wetsuits and hoods are recommended.

I've already done it, though, and I feel reasonably sure I can somehow push that horrifying video out of my mind for the 45 minutes it's going to take me to get across the bay. I thought this race was that swim plus a sprint distance bike and run. But no.

No. It's an 18 mile bike over the hilliest hill hills I have ever seen. Hills that Carla laughingly calls "ski runs" as we drive up and down the course, screaming at the ridiculousness of it. OK, ow, but I still think I can manage that.

It's the run. My weak sport anyway. The run that I thought was 3 or 4 miles. It's 8 miles. Plus this.

"Runners will encounter the deep sand of Baker Beach to the turn-around point and back until they reach the dreaded Equinox Sand Ladder (400 steps up the cliff). This experience will drain the legs of even the best professionals. Runners are urged to use the hand cable to help them walk up the stairs. The stairs are to the run what the currents and waves are to the swim. After reaching the top of the Equinox Sand Ladder, runners will go left on the Coast Trail and back to the finish line via Lincoln Blvd. Runners will follow their path back under the Golden Gate Bridge, pass Crissy Field, and finish in the grass at Marina Green among thousands of cheering fans."

Wondering what the hell a sand ladder looks like? Kay, here.

Is that barbaric or what?

So I realized I'm in for a seriously challenging day, and as usual, I feel totally unprepared. Serious triathletes are coming in for this; I can't pretend to be one among them. There are times I feel like a fraud, a big shlubby perimenopausal woman who hasn't lost her weight, who isn't all that fast, here on a fandango, a total indulgence. How can I even consider this? On the other hand, I'm not really worried about my ability to pull this off. Like, barring any mishaps, I feel like I stand a good chance of finishing, really my only goal. (Although staying ahead of Carla on the swim and bike would be awesome). it won't be pretty, and there will definitely be swear words. But it's in my range for sure. So then I must simply shut up.

And I'm in love with San Francisco, with its beauty and healthy smiley people. Days like this- crisp and sunny and windy on the bay, with thousands of locals and tourists embracing it all -- it feels like one big giant playground. Athletes are coming in from all over the world for this iconic race, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be one among them.


  1. Heya i'm for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out much. I hope to provide something back and help others like you aided me.
    buy clomiphene