Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ryan's Escape Recap

Last fall, for some reason, I said "yes" when I was asked by Chuck if I wanted to do the Escape from the Rock Tri in San Fran. I probably was regretting it about two weeks ago after I got pummeled at the Rockman half-ironman, but now, I'm so damn happy I decided to do it.

So, for those of you not in the know, the Escape from the Rock is the red-headed step-child to the blockbuster Escape from Alcatraz triathlon sponsored by Accenture. The courses are not the same, but they include some of the same elements, this one always starts from the island.

So, here’s my recap (and not in-depth novel) of what happened (as I saw it):

We take two ferries out around Alcatraz and stop on the other side of the island. People start jumping in the water, two and three at a time. When I jump in, it’s cold, around 57-58 degrees, my hand and face are stinging, I don’t notice it on my feet. I start swimming to the “start line” which is marked by a bunch of kayaks. I swim hard for a little bit to get the blood flowing and warm up the cold ass water that’s leaked into my wetsuit. I see the contingent from the CTC b/c of Carolyn’s lime green markings on her wetsuit. We take some pictures.

I start working up to the start line, notice some scurrying and realize they’re counting down, I’m 30 yards from the start line, shit! We start and it just seemed like the group in front of me disappeared. Note: this also included a swim only race, so there were some pure swimmers in the mix. I get in my groove and start to reel in some people after a while, at least 30 over the 1.5 miles. I stay to the left so the tide doesn’t sweep me off course. I’m swimming with Golden Gate Bridge off to my right, Alcatraz behind me, and the San Francisco skyline in front me, this is awesome!

Other notes from the swim:
- Salt water tastes like crap, it was driving me nuts about 2/3’s of the way through
- No one called me an asshole during the swim in this race
- Body glide should be applied to the neck when using a neoprene cap, I have a pretty wicked sports hickey right now

After trying successfully to get a cramp in my left quad while forcing on my running shoes in T1, I was off on the 2.5 mile run to my bike. As I’m maybe a quarter mile out of transition, this woman says to a guy who is passing me that he’s in 42nd place. I was totally elated hearing that, I didn’t think I’d be up that high in the field, California usually produces better swimmers. The run takes you west over toward Golden Gate Bridge, running along a pedestrian path that has cyclists and runners who are just out recreationally.

T2, I go from running shoes to cycling shoes and now it’s time to see the bike course (I didn’t tour it the day before). The website for the race claims to leave aerobars and race wheels at home, within 17 minutes, I would know exactly why.

Here is how the bike course unfolds:
- First quarter mile, flat
- Sharp left turn and climb
- Sharp right turn and climb
- Short section with mild incline, left turn, then more climbing
- Finally, crest the hill and it’s all downhill
- Stand up, scoot back, get ready to fly
- Unfortunately, there are lots of turns, some sharp, challenging to keep high speed and stay in lane
- Slight right turn, road flattens out, almost no decline
- Sharp left turn (now you’re headed back), now start a gradual climb
- Climb gets steeper
- Stay far right, crazy ass cyclists are bombing down the hill in other lane
- After standing in spots to climb, we reach the crest
- As soon as I crest, hammer hard to get up to speed
- Keeps getting steeper, going faster, sharp right turn, Brakes!! Lean, now keep flying
- Course doesn’t take last downhill, instead, it loops off to right, there’s a solid 100 yards where you can now use your aerobars
- Sharp left turn, short steep downhill, turn right, now make a sharp left, it starts going downhill, now hammer, get momentum, now you’re climbing to start the second loop.
- Repeat two more times, and that consists of 13 miles biking!
- The bike course is very hairy, some people are scared of speed, not me
- I was pushing hard, it felt good, I was racing today, I should have backed off based on my Heart Rate readings, but maybe that was the two caffeinated gels.

T3: I avoided falling on my face running up a concrete incline in my biking shoes, should have scouted bike course to get out of them in time

Run course: Nice and flat for about 1 mile or so, the leader passed me on his way in during this stretch. You’re barely above sea level. After that, it’s something like this:

- Nasty stairs, endless climbing, then switchbacks on trails
- Run underneath highway in 4 foot tunnel
- More climbing, look over to water, DAMN! That’s a long way down, wasn’t I by the water 5 minutes ago?
- An aid station after about 2 miles, no flat coke! I was hoping.
- Still more uphill running
- Now we’re running on a trail wide enough for one next to the guardrail of the bike course (there are two directions of traffic)
- Finally, a downhill
- Now we turn right and run down towards the beach, more downhill
- SAND, thick, hard to run in, sand, who the hell thought of this
- Run across thick sand, look uncoordinated in the process, get to water, sand is packed
- Run down Baker Beach, enjoy the view and nice breeze
- Run up the beach through the impossible sand to the aid station, I mean walk up the beach, running is almost impossible
- Running down the sand isn’t so bad now, keep going along the water.
- After seeing naked sunbathers in the distance, cross beach and head to sandladder
- First half of sandladder is easy, there’s logs to step on, it’s also easy if you immediately resign to walking
- Top half of sandladder, all sand, bitch to walk through, grab cables, pull self along
- 3:30 seconds later, the sandladder has been conquered, heart rate is still in check
- Rejoin trail, dodge racers coming out to see more misery
- Finally, we reach the downhill, grab water at aid station, douse face, continue running.
- Don’t hit head on tunnel, say hi to Annette, try not to trip in the dark tunnel, keep going.
- Let gravity pull you downhill
- Slow the fuck down at the stairs, don’t want to fall on face, take your time
- Get to bottom, someone says half-mile to finish, pick up pace and push hard
- See my friend and uncle only because they yell my name, I’m only eyeing the finish

2:50:40 earlier, I was starting to swim by Alcatraz, now I was in the finish chute, I Escaped from the Rock! I somehow finished in the top 50 or so, 10th in my age group. For some strange reason, I would have placed second in my age group for the swim-only race, but considerably worse for any other age group.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this race, it’s awesome, it also doesn’t fill up right away like the other one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

too bad we couldn't round one of these up to swim with us/Carolyn. nice squid ...

Alcatraz trip and race report

I'll put all of the trip and race info in one post, so you can skim through what you don't want to read if you're only interested in trip pictures or race info. You can also skip all of my babble and go right to the photo album, including one video taken during the swim. Yes, I took a camera into the water with me:

PHOTO ALBUM, 200 pictures and 1 video clip

Had a 10:00 am flight, so got to say goodbye to the family (except Ellie, she was still sleeping). The boys were excited that I wore my new Aquaman t-shirt (as was the Southwest pilot). Southwest temporarily lost my bag. The person at the counter seemed to feel I was a burden on her, even though THEY lost MY bag. I asked a reasonable question, "where is my bag?", figuring she'd say it ended up in Anchorage or something like that, but she said she simply didn't know. Further inquiry by me revealed that Southwest has NO SCANNING system on their bags. As a result, all she knew was that my bag wasn't in the Oakland terminal. All they could do was see if it turned up that night, somewhere, and then send it to Oakland. She called me 15 min later saying she had it, and I went back to get it. They insisted that it was on the carousel, which is odd since when I left there were no bags on the carousel and it was stopped. More likely that some baggage handler didn't put it on, then found it and threw it on. My uncle picked had me up at the airport, and then drove me back to get the bag, then drove me to the hotel. All of that chaos prevented us from having lunch since he had to go to work, but we had a nice chat in the car. View of the Bay Bridge from the car:
Some other Friday sightseeing:
A stormtrooper walking down the Wharf. This is not me ... really.
Saturday "Training" Ride, i.e. slow paced ride of 1 loop of the bike. My first of 3 near "incidents" on the trip occurred on the ride. We were coming down the path when some guy decides to cross the path without looking about 5 feet in front of my when I am going maybe (thank goodness, a slow) 14-15 mph. I am able to clear my tire past his leg with a little turn but then our torsos crashed into each other about as hard as I've ever hit anything. It 100% stopped my forward momentum (yes, it was THAT solid of a hit) and I am then falling over and at about a 45 degree angle to the ground, still clipped in, when some guy walking in the oncoming lane CAUGHT me (and my bike) with a bear hug around my torso. In true California-eze, he said in an unexcited manner, "dude, you alright?" I told him I was, thanked him, and we all parted. I never clipped out of my pedals. Weird. Picture from our ride:
The crew Saturday night at the Mona Lisa:
Sunday - Race Day:
The race is actually a QUADrathlon of sorts, with a 1.5m swim, followed by a 2.5m run, a 13m bike and a 6.2m run. Here is everyone setting up at the swim-to-run1 transition area in the bleachers of the Aquatic Park. Pretty nice setup, just pick a spot, any spot, and drop your gear. This was the site of my second near -incident. Carolyn wanders up to me and says "you goin' bareback, no wetsuit?" and then I realize I didn't have my wetsuit. Where the hell was it? I knew I brought it, or did I? Looked by our stuff, didn't see it. Our hotel was 200 yds away, so I jogged back, even though I KNEW I brought it (or did I?), bc I didn't want to miss the race and then find it on my bed. It wasn't there, but it seems I left it by Annette's transition area. Still today, I have no recollection of this. The rule, as always, is that I am a dipshit. For further proof ask my mother about stories of sending me into the pantry for a can of beans and then me coming back with peas 15 seconds later.
The swim:
Triathletes boarding one of the 2 boats that will take us to the island
boat #1 departing, loaded with neoprene wetsuits
On the boat, ready to go. Around this time, the issue of "how the hell am I going to carry the camera?" came up. The camera comes with a rubber strap that I was initially going to wrap around my neck and let it dangle behind me on my upper back as I swam, then would whip it around for a shot. That kinda concerned the rest of my team (strangulation was a discussed possibility), so I un-did the wetsuit and wrapped it around my upper arm at the armpit, put my arm back in the sleeve and zipped up, with the camera hanging out of the neck and dangling at my upper chest just under the opening. the rubber strap had some flex in it, so to take a picture I just pulled it up a little further to in front of my mouth/nose or so, and took most of the pix without looking at the viewfinder, using the Force, perhaps I was graced by the passing stormtrooper the day before (see pix). It worked very well, except for the half-dozen times the camera bashed me in the nose.

The fatal flaw - every time I yanked the camera it stretched the elastic strap around the back of my arm. Think - thick rubber band around your wrist and the "ouch" that results on one side of the wrist when pulling the band as hard as you can in the other direction, then the "oh, that kinda pinches" that side when the band comes back. So that only happened around my lat and rear delt maybe 20x during the swim. Chafing is not a good word for it, "4-inch cut" is a better word, mixed with saltwater. no fun. my son finally saw it 4 days later and said "wow daddy, where'd you get that owie!!" The sport camera's next mission will be 26+ pictures over the Chicago Marathon course.

First swimmer in the water, jumping from the other boat
the first swimmers jumping off my boat
VIDEO !!! Kevin and Max jump in the Bay in front of me, and then I take the plunge ... in the GREEN water, then get a decent view of the island. Turn up the volume, I had no idea the camera took audio until I played it back on the computer.



Pictures from the water waiting for the horn:

and we're off ...
a look back at the island through the splashes ...
the Golden Gate ...
one of the 50 kayakers who set up a lane of sorts so that we could stay somewhat on course. Some people were still taken by the current and had to be fished out ...
getting close. The swim wasn't bad at all. It was an easier day out there as far as currents and swells than the last time I did it. the swells and current picked up near the end of the swim, see below ...
entering the Aquatic Park ...
finally, the swim exit ...
The 2.5m run to the bikes, nice view. I cruised pretty well on this run, nice quick pace ...
The bike:
The bike course was very hard, at least for me. 3 loops, so it was mentally draining as well. It was all up and down. After surviving the first lap, all you can do is think "I need to do that TWO MORE TIMES". Essentially, here's the course ...

- flat start, maybe a 1/4-1/2 mile
- climb
- climb
- climb
- downhill
- turn around
- climb
- steep climb
- downhill
- repeat 2x

On that bike course was near incident #3 right around a sharp downhill turn, which consisted of my rear tire skidding out about a foot on a tarry patch. All I could do is turn the handlebars the opposite way (driver's ed, don't fail me now!!) and also, since I was still clipped in, kinda bunnyhopped the bike and hoped I'd land vertical, which I did. All was well but, needless to say, I was ridiculously gun shy on the downhills the rest of the race, probably going 25 mph instead the 35 I did the day before. A view from the bike course, taken the day before on our ride ...
The 2nd run:
The run was tough, almost all offroad. After a nice flat mile or so (see 3 pictures below) ...

- tough stairs
- climbing switchbacks
- look DOWN to the Golden Gate towers (we were just at the base of it 10 min before!!)
- climb
- climb
- downhill to the beach
- soft, soft sand, really hard to run in, many people walking, including me for a stretch. Drastic difference in my running before and after the bike route
- sandladder. tough. lots of steps, then soft sand, heart exploding (not really, but tough)
- run through a 4-foot high tunnel hunched over like Quasimodo
- steeep downhills, wondering how many people faceplanted (I didn't)
- lots of downhill stairs
- back at sea level !! The volunteer says 1/2 mile to go. Can I kick at all? Yes, a little. I feel like I am sprinting, but it's no more than a jog.

views from the 2nd run route, taken the day before ...

we ran out to Ft. Point (the base of the Golden Gate) and then went offroad (sorry, no race day pictures) ...
We all finished in one piece, and then went on the Alcatraz evening tour. A few pix below, see the album above for all ...
A bird that chased the boat all the way to the island, Bay Bridge in the background

Pictures from the tour ...
Frank Morris' cell (Clint Eastwood's character from the movie) and the fake head in the bed