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.