Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keeping the Faith--Alcatraz 2012

After I finished Alcatraz on Sunday Andy tweeted something about keeping the faith all the way through the race and interestingly enough, I was thinking the same thing during the race. Besides the stunning backdrop of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge the thing I love about this race is that in terms of triathlon, the distances for each discipline comprise a "true" triathlon because they are more evenly weighted. I believe to do well at this race you have to be strong across all three sports and there is no hiding from a slow swim, bike or run.  In addition, the hills add a strength factor to the race and it is not just based on pure speed.  

At the end of last year I wrote a blog about the upcoming 2012 season and what it would take to accomplish my goals. I bravely wrote that a goal was to be Top 5 at Alcatraz. At the same time goals that are about where you want to place can be dangerous because there are elements to achieving such goals that are beyond my control.  Ultimately, I wanted to improve my own performance on the day and in so doing, I felt that if I performed up to my capabilities I could be in the top 5 no matter who chose to race.  I told my coach and Andy that all I wanted to was the opportunity to be strong and put a good effort out there and see where I ended up. In order to achieve this I trained very hard between Wildflower and Alcatraz.  I recovered relatively quickly after WF, ramped up the training, rode and ran lots of hills and sharpened my run speed on the track. 

Hansel all dressed up for the big debut.
I got to race week feeling strong and ready to go. Actually, I felt pretty good and to be honest it kind of  freaked me out. It was like I was waiting for something to go wrong.  I was fairly nervous on Friday and early Saturday morning waiting for the proverbial piano to drop but I made down to San Francisco unscathed and was able to relax a bit. I did make sure to set multiple alarms for Sunday morning since the last thing I wanted to was to oversleep and miss the boat. I racked my bike, did a short warm up run and was happy to find my legs still felt light and fresh because I was worried that maybe I felt too good on Saturday and I would wake up Sunday flat and lethargic. I dodged this bullet and took the bus to the Pier and got on the boat. Once on the boat I put on my Ipod, zoned out for a bit then did a bit of warm up with my stretch cords before pulling on my brand new Blue Seventy Helix.  It was pretty warm out on the deck and the normal waft of cold air from the water was absent. However, I knew that it would still be shockingly cold when we dove in. I had survived Lake Mead at Leadman in late March so it really did not bother me and since this was my 7th Bay swim (6 Escape and 1 TriCal Alcatraz race) I knew what to expect.

The dive off the boat. I am in the pink cap on the far right. Those already off the boat shall remain nameless.
 We lined up on the side, they positioned the boat and then we were off.  I got beat up a little at the beginning and instead of staying the course and dealing with it to stay with the group I moved to the back and ended losing contact and falling in with Becky Lavelle and Jenna Shoemaker Parker along with a few men. I usually am very diligent about sighting on the landmarks they tell us to watch but instead, I just trusted the people I was following and made sure to stay with them and figured that if we went the wrong way we would be in the same boat.  Plus, Becky has won this race before so she has to know where to go, right?!?!? Anyway, after 30 minutes I emerged from the bay onto the correct beach and made the long run in my frozen bare feet to T1. I fumbled with my wetsuit a bit which meant I lost contact with Becky and Jenna at the start of the bike. Probably not ideal but it gives me something to improve upon next time.  I also had to stop as I was running to the mount line because my back tire was making a weird noise. My first thought was "crap, flat tire" but when I looked down I saw a big piece of blue tape stuck to the tire. I have no idea where it came from but I pulled it off quickly and got on with it.

I pushed the entire ride and tried to tick off the hill climbs like they were intervals by telling myself "1 down, 18 more hills to go, etc." I also tried to be a bit more daring on the downhills and get low in my drops and not brake a lot. My descending and cornering definitely leaves a bit to be desired but it is better than abysmal, like it used to be, so I am moving in the right direction but I still have a lot more work to do on this aspect of the race.  I can tell you that during the ride I kept thinking "where the heck is everyone?" I saw no other women which means that I did not get passed (score!) but I was not passing anyone either. I told myself that even though I did not see anyone it did not mean that I was not making progress reeling people in and I needed to stay positive and keep pushing. I even told myself the fruits of your labor may not show themselves until later (later meaning the run) and I had to KEEP the FAITH. Process, process, process.....

I made it back to T2, grabbed my shoes and race belt and headed out on the run. I felt strong from the start and really found a good rhythm at mile 1. I passed one woman and moved into 6th place and kept pushing because I felt really confident that I could catch at least one more woman. I started the run up to the Golden Gate Bridge and although it burned like it always does I felt good on the hills and was getting up them pretty well. After a steep uphill when the legs were burning I would tell myself "just hang on for 10 more seconds and the burning will subside on this kind of flat part." I let the momentum take me down on Baker Beach and focused on each step (quick feet, quick feet) while running through the deep sand. I got a glimpse of the woman in 5th and I knew I could catch her. Other than that, I was solely focused on myself and was confident that if I got to the top of the sand ladder in 5th place no one was going to pass me in those final miles. I made the pass for 5th on the sand ladder and really pushed the final uphill before grabbing some fluid at the aide station and starting the downhill back to Crissy Field and the finish line. The thing I love about the race is the camaraderie between all the athletes as you end up seeing everyone during the race.  The bike is out and back and the run is on single trails so you are literally rubbing shoulders with everyone else in the race.  This can also lead to a bit of anxiety because I was determined not to get slowed down but I did not want to knock anyone over. I tried to give a heads up that I was coming and everyone coming up was aware that people were coming down so it went pretty smoothly.

I made it onto Crissy Field which is always a shock to the system because you go from flying downhill to having to do a bit more work to keep the forward momentum since it is flat until the finish. I was prepared for this and tried to allow my HR to come down a bit on the downhill so I could really hammer it to the finish and make certain no one would catch me from behind.  As I came around the final turn a spectator yelled "Becky is right there, you can do it!" I was a bit shocked and looked about 150 yards in front of me and there was 4th place. I had 2 thoughts---"oh my gosh" and "sh**, this is going to hurt a lot." I knew we had about 1.75 miles to go so I focused on making up ground slowly so I had something left for when I made the pass because I did not want to use up all my energy catching her and then not have anything to finish it off. It was pretty exciting to be in this situation, it was true racing!!! All I wanted to do was beat her to the finish line. It was simple, straightforward and what racing is meant to be.  I was hurting but told myself this moment was the reason I bring myself to the verge of puking on the track. I made the pass with about 600-800m to go. I tried to be decisive but honestly, I was on the rivets.
Great picture from my friend Erik Wilde. My calm face...inside I was not calm.
 After I passed I really had no idea if she was sticking with me or if I was pulling away. The last thing I wanted to do was look back. However, my body had other ideas. I literally felt like I was running with a tick in my head kept trying to turn but I would catch myself and yank it back. I decided to focus on the crowd and their cheers because I figured Becky is very well known and they would be screaming for her as she passed. It seemed I had pulled away a bit but I kept the hammer down into the finish chute. The finish chute is grass and I felt like I was weaving all over the place because I was so tired and my stride was starting to shorten.  I heard them announce that I had it and I was in 4th place. I felt a huge smile spread across my face and was so happy to cross the finish line. One of my goals has been to surprise Andy either by coming off the bike before he expects (still to be accomplished) or running my way to a great finish. Well, I accomplished that goal on Sunday because he and my father heard them announce "and from Napa, our 4th place woman" and they looked at each other and said "there is another pro from Napa???"

Awards in my new race kit. I liked my grapevines but hummingbirds are cool and we have a lot of them on our property so the motif fits too.
We (Andy, my Dad and our friend Aaron Post) enjoyed a quick breakfast at Squat and Gobble and then came back down for the awards.  By 2:30pm we were back in Napa and enjoying a float in the pool.  Then it was dinner and another sporting event--Andy's Sunday night hockey game. My dad was a good fan--cheering and taking pictures. He has had a lot of practice at all my swim meets and triathlons.
Andy is No. 7.

Monday was a lazy morning which is one of my favorite things post race and then a trip up Spring Mountain to Pride Winery for a tasting. This was our SECOND tasting ever because we had a crazy experience at our first tasting and were scarred. However, that is a blog for another day...or if you are interested, find me at the next race and I'll give you the story---it is a doozy!

Father and Daughter at Pride.


  1. That does it. I'm entering the lottery. I've always wanted to do this race and tried to qualify at the Great Lakes Escape in '04 but missed it! Even though I'll finish approximately 6 hours behind you, maybe we can get some wine afterward. :)

    Loved reading the report--had goosebumps at the end! Congratulations on such a solid finish. You continue to inspire me!

  2. Yes...enter the lottery. You won't regret it. Amazing race. You and Matt can make a weekend out of it.

  3. You're a rock star! It's fun reading up on your races and such. Makes me miss racing.

  4. With only the name. I pretty impressed and it is great that it is spread evenly between different disciplines

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