On Sunday I completed the Escape from Alcatraz for the fourth time. Andy and I were talking about the first time I did the race in 2006. I had no idea what I was in for before the race. I do not think I had ever biked up a large hill. I did not know that you could get cassettes with more teeth for an easier time turning the pedals. Luckily, a biker friend of mine mentioned this to me and I got my 11-23 switched to a 12-27 before the race. Seriously, I would have fallen over going up those hills in 2006 if I had not switched out the gearing. Anyway, back then I thought the swim was the challenging part. It was what everyone talked about. I learned quickly that the entire race is challenging. You have to sight correctly on the swim. You have to run on rough pavement for over 1/2 a mile before reaching T1. You bike up and down and then you run up and down culminating with a final uphill on the sand ladder before reaching the top and having a bit of downhill to the finish (love that part!). Needless to say, I think I have come a long way since 2006. The challenge of this race will never change and that is why I love it so much.
(I am the 2nd Pink Cap from the left)
When I dove off the boat I ended up underneath someone and got kicked in the face on my way to surface. I remained calm and tried to find some feet. No dice. I was swimming with a few people and then I saw some pink caps pull away from me. Nothing to do but keep swimming to shore. Unfortunately I went a little too far right and ended up in a small eddy towards the finish. Luckily, I just picked up the pace a bit and was able to slightly correct but I swear, I looked up and saw people coming out of the water and I had this vision that EVERYONE had passed me on the swim. I thought I saw hoards of people coming out of the water. While I think I probably lost about :30-1:00 on my silly mistake it was not as bad as I had envisioned but I did yell some expletives at myself---not out loud. However, once I hit land I was all about getting to my bike and leaving the swim behind. No use worrying about the swim once it was over. I ran barefoot for the first time from the swim exit to T1. Ouch! Frozen feet on rough asphalt is not comfortable AT ALL. I must have had a nasty look on my face because when I ran by Andy he asked if I was okay. I grunted, "yes." I also heard my friend and former housemate at Michigan, Emily, cheer for me as I was running to T1. It was so nice to have a little cheering section.
For me, the first 2 miles of the bike seem to be a bit of an out of body experience. I am completely numb but biking hard. I can't ever really feel anything at this point in the race. I am breathing hard and I know my legs hurt but I feel like I am just a head with no body attached. I know that sounds really really bizarre and I am probably not explaining it well but it's what is going on for me before we start climbing. This course is the opposite of Oceanside (climbing on the backside of the course) because after the first 2 miles you make a hairpin turn and you are going up. This allows me to warm up quickly. I did not feel great at this point but I just put that out of my mind and put in a really good effort. The long descent after this climb went well and for the first time at this race I did not feel uneasy during the descent, I was confident and focused. I started to really feel strong after about 6 miles or so and I even passed two women. This is new for me so I was excited. I was finding the hills to be "easier" than in years past and was even able to put it in harder gears up the ascents. It was a beautiful day and I was really enjoying the race. We descended back down to Crissy Field and then before I knew I was in T2. I really had no idea where I was in terms of the pro race I just focused on running strong out of transition.I passed Andy, Emily and our two other friends Matt, Angie and their dog Ozzie as I started the run. I gave them big smiles and was so happy to have them there to watch me race. The first 2 miles were flat as we made our way along Crissy Field and I was trying to be relaxed and strong. I was also exhaling very hard to get rid of a slight cramp I had in my side because I knew that could be a big liability if it was still there when I got to the climbing. I was able to clear the cramp relatively quickly and started to focus in on my effort and hit the hills ready to climb hard. Last year I remember looking up and seeing what I thought were mountains on the run. This year I rolled along and while there were some challenging uphills I never found the "mountain" I had seen last year. We continued our trek up and then descended onto Baker Beach for some sand running followed by the infamous climb up the sand ladder. I really wanted to be faster up the sand ladder so I began to prep myself for the climb. Once I hit it I focused on moving my legs as quickly as possible and pulling myself up hard on the cables that line the staircase. I kept saying "it's less than 3 minutes of your life...GO!!!" I got to the top, ran uphill on a trail for another 600 yards or so and then enjoyed the fast descent to Crissy Field and then the last 2 miles to the finish line. Two more friends, Jill and Jon, had arrived to watch the finish and when I crossed the line breaking 2:30 and in 7th place I was really excited. Despite my miscalculation on the swim I had finished the race very well. My bike and run were both faster this year, I was :20 faster up the sand ladder and the hills were not as arduous.
I am enjoying a bit of recovery the first few days of this week and then it is back to work. I have a tough sprint race up in Auburn, CA on May 23 and then Honu 70.3 on June 5. Andy and I also enjoyed a couple days together at home in Napa. We are getting his office set up so he can work remotely and while it is taking some time things are coming together and we will be living together again very soon and ending our "skype" marriage.