Wednesday, August 24, 2011

San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz

Swim Start.

I decided to race TriCal's San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz on Wednesday night. I was motivated since Steelhead was a bike/run the week before. I wanted to swim! Plus, the race is an hour from my house and is a lot of fun. Well, as much fun as steep hill repeats and trail running with sand ladders can be :)

I headed down to San Francisco on Saturday afternoon for the pre-race meeting and to check into my hotel. The only snag was a car accident at the bottom of the hill I live on that closed the road. Luckily, I was able to turn around, go back up over the hill and take some country roads over to the highway to make my way to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was not the quickest route but I did not hit traffic, made it to the meeting on time and even found a parking spot directly across the street from the Expo at Marina Green. Check in was easy and the meeting offered the requisite information on where to sight for the swim. They did make a comment that the test swim took the fast swimmers 46 minutes and I thought "that can't be right, that is pretty slow." My slowest time across the Bay had been 35 minutes and fast was 26...46 seemed to be a big outlier as far as average times (foreshadowing).

I checked into the hotel, grabbed an early dinner and relaxed. The boat was leaving the Pier the next morning at 6:20 so I had to get down to transition, rack the bike and take the bus over to the Pier VERY early. I set 3 alarms just to make sure I did not oversleep. In the morning (or middle of the night) a car alarm went off at 3:45 so I just got up since it was only 15 minutes before I had planned. I rolled down to transition a little before 5, racked my bike quickly and then headed to the boat. Before I knew it we were on our way out to the swim start. I did what warm up I could on the crowded boat and got ready to go. We made it to the starting point and the pros shimmied onto a narrow ledge for the start. As I went out they told us there would be a horn for the start. We got out there and I think we were all waiting for a countdown and THEN a horn. As we were standing there a horn sounded. We all still stood there. Then someone stuck their head out the door and said "you were supposed to go." When I heard that I just dove in. I was definitely in the water before everyone around me so I had a nice clean start and did not have to fight with anyone for position. I found some feet at the beginning of the swim but because of the waves it was easy to get jostled and lose people. Before I knew it I was swimming all by myself. I could see some people relatively close to me but most of the time when I lifted my head I could not see anyone because of the waves. I just sighted where the race director told us to (Palace of Fine Arts) and hoped I would end up at the small beach that is the swim exit. I have done this swim 6 times. It scares the sh** out of me every time I do it. There are no buoys, you are often alone and since there is a strong current I always have doubts I will end up where I should. I kept swimming and swimming and swimming. The water was rough (maybe rougher than Lake Michigan last week...hint hint) and I could not see anyone. Not one person, not one kayak, not one boat. I started to freak out. I picked my head up and did a few breaststrokes. I saw nothing. I put my head back down and kept swimming. I was thinking about how much the swim freaks me out. I wanted to be out of the water but I was fearful I was going to way left or way right of where I needed. I just kept swimming. I finally picked my head up and caught a glimpse of the beach and the swim finish banner. I was so happy. I swam straight ahead. The current that usually sweeps me to the right as I got closer to the shore was not there. I got of the water ecstatic to be done. I looked at the clock and it was almost 39 minutes! I guess I got my $'s worth since there was no swim the week before at Steelhead. I ran the 1/2+ mile to transition in bare feet. It hurts a lot but is certainly faster than stopping so I just deal. I jumped on my bike in 3rd place. A good start (more foreshadowing)!

The first part of the bike is flat so this helped warmed me up before the climbs started. I felt okay. I was climbing well, but not great. There was not a lot of "oomph." I just kept the pressure on the best I could but at mile 10 I started to get caught by 3 of the women behind me. This made me a little mad. I tried to pick up the pace and go with them and while this lasted for a few minutes my legs were not having the high end effort. I felt like I was fighting myself. I also realized on this out and back that I should have gone with my first instinct and ridden my TT bike. I second guessed myself on Thursday and decided the road bike with clip on aerobars would be the best. I think the road bike a good way to go for the other Alcatraz race since you go up and over a quick 3 miles that is relatively straight and then right back into the hills. However, this course is a bit different and features a 7-9 mile middle section that allows for staying in your aerobars. So, like in tests for school, I should have gone with my first choice and not second guessed myself. Also, since my legs were not feeling awesome any advantage a TT bike could have offered would have been appreciated. As I experienced a quick pity party and got mad at myself I decided to take the initiative and change my mental attitude. The effort was going to be what it was and I just needed to go as hard as I could and enjoy the race. The course is beautiful and any chance to race is always an opportunity to learn something and get better. I gritted my teeth and cycled as well as I could and hoped my legs would be there on the run. I was solidly in 6th place and a good effort on the run would keep me there and get me a nice payday for my efforts. Plus, I got to swim unlike the race the prior Sunday!

I finally made it back to T2, hopped off the bike and started the run. As I was starting the run I heard Andy say one of the worst phrases you can hear during a race...."are you alright?" he yelled as I ran by. Now, I know that he meant well and wanted to make sure I did not crash, have a flat, etc. but at that point if I could have made eye contact with him he would have gotten the evil eye. Luckily for him I had my sunglasses on and I was running so fast (joke) that I did not have time to make eye contact. I did a quick survey of myself since I heard the question and determined that I was in fact alright and surprisingly my running legs found a nice rhythm as I made my way across Crissy Field. I decided to run fast at this point because I had no idea how my legs would react once I hit the stairs and hills in the middle of the run. Like the bike my legs were strong on the hills but lacked a bit of bounce to get me over them as fast as I would have hoped. I did what I could to get up them well and focused on running strong and recovering a bit on what flats and downhills I could find while getting myself to Baker Beach and this....

The Sand Ladder.

It certainly seems daunting but I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible and before I knew it I had made it to the top. I enjoyed the downhill running back to the finish line and took in the views of the ocean, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. It really is one of my favorite courses and while I was not having the race of my life it was amazing to be out there putting in a good effort for the day. Once I got to Crissy Field I knew that I had my place (6th) nailed down and I could not see 5th place in front of me so I ran strongly to the finish but did not go to the "well" in hopes I would recover more quickly and get in some good training this week.

We ate breakfast, attended the awards ceremony where I collected my check (props to TriCal, amazing staff and great events) and headed home. We were back in Napa by 1:30 and enjoyed a relaxing Sunday afternoon. That is what I call a good day! I am back to work now and continuing my journey...Pacific Grove is up next!

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” ~Proverb