Escape from Alcatraz 06-10-12

This was my third Escape (also did 2008, 2009 race reports are posted). I had a great time at the prior races and it’s a great excuse to visit wine country, hike the redwoods, and see Chinatown and all the stuff San Francisco has to offer.

We arrived in San Fran on Friday – a day later than I would have liked, as I like to have plenty of time to get my bike and gear settled – if you have time and a credit card… you can fix any problem. Friday was cutting it REALLY close. And worse, I didn’t know if I would be able to even get my bike Friday as we landed pretty late.. we had to get in, get to the hotel to check in, eat, and go get the bike before 8pm ACK!

As we’re boarding the plane to San Fran (from Vegas) I am listening to the guy on the loudspeaker and thinking… MAN that voice sounds familiar… then I notice, HEY he’s in front of me, HEY! That’s DAVE! Dave Walters, local running coach and great guy who HAPPENS TO BE OUR PILOT TOO! How cool is that?!?! I say Hi and we chat a while then, ya know, he has to go do the whole “flying the plane” thing so I let him go get to it. During the flight after they served drinks, the steward comes back to me and says here you go. I’m focused nose in computer like usual and I look up in a daze and say “Um, I didn’t order that”… he says “Yes you did”…. “um…. no, don’t think so” and he says “Captain Dave says this is for after your finish Sunday” ROFL OMG that was funny. Thanks Dave!!

We land without incident, AHEAD of schedule (Thanks Dave again!) and get a move on. On the way to town I see a welcome site…

Full size so you can see it – see that tower? That’s Sutro Towers. My guide for the swim. It’s visible even if it’s wavy… and oh, did I mention? Dave said the winds were 35mph gusting to 50mph. Looking at the bay on the landing… it looked rough.

We get to the Hotel, get food, and I grab a taxi to the bike pickup. All is going well until I get the bike, get the pedals on and then… crap. No bike shoes! They’re back at the hotel. Oh well… guess sneakers will do. It works out. If this is the only stupid thing I do, it’ll be a good day.

However, on the ride over I realize I had a lot of crap in my lungs. I’ve been sick since last Sat. A virus, for certain, all the normal flu symptoms so I haven’t worked out except a 2 mile miserable run in Vegas. Just going off the hope that I will recover by Sunday. Friday I was feeling pretty good, but I’m still coughing regularly and using the inhaler throughout the day to keep my lungs open. I’ve got 36hours.. So I focus on doing everything in my power to maximize recovery and healing. Having a 3 day conference didn’t help, but I did get a lot more sleep than usual so I was hopeful….


Expo Setup

Alcatraz!!! From the path by Fort Mason

Aquatic Park – right near my hotel!

Ok, I just thought this was cool. Next to hotel too (and yummy)

Ok, Sat went pretty normal. Got a GREAT night of sleep. Feeling strong, coughing a lot less, and not much crap in the lungs. Get to the expo, get my packet and drop off my T-zero bag (T-Zero is the bag for the things you need when you get out of the water and need to run to the bike). Meet up with Jason/Kim and Mark (Sub-M members and Local Chicago folk!) and chatted, checked out Expo, and headed back to the hotel.

Napped. Critical :)

Did dinner with Jason/Kim and Mark/Barbara at this great Italian joint and about 8:30 or so headed back to the hotel.

OCD’d a while on my gear and set my alarm for 3:30am.  In bed by 10:30.

Woke up at 1:50am… grrrr….. rolled around until 2:45 then got up and started the coffee and stretched. And stretched. And omg stretched. I was really tight. Glad I got up early. One thing I did forget was what I was going to have from breakfast. Apparently the entire town of San Francisco does not open until 6am. Yeah well, by 6am my butt will be at the pier.  Thankfully, I ALWAYS carry food when I travel so I had some Sweet an Salty bars, some pretzels, and coffee. Good to go. Will have Gu’s later to top of the Glycogen stores (remember, all night you’re not eating – you’re fasting. So you need to top off your blood glycogen stores so that energy is available when the race begins. I did wish I had a banana but oh well.

Got my gear out, left a little note for my sweetie and headed out to Storm the Castle.

Rode my bike over to the race stopping real quick to see if I could locate a friend doing an overnight 18mile walk, didn’t find her so I had to motor on.

Got to transition and as usual, it was chaos. However, I had no problem finding my spot and setting up. And hitting the bathroom, of freakin course. This would be first of many I am sure.

Hopped on the bus, chatted up some folks and general was getting excited. I was feeling good, not sick at all, so I felt like I had “just barely pulled it off, phew!”. Puffed the inhaler for good measure and planned to keep it with me though, can’t be too safe. I don’t have “attacks” like some people, but my lungs will get real tight and it’s like I can only use 1/3 of my lungs. Sucks. Not dangerous but not fun when you’re in the middle of a race. Been YEARS since I’ve had to use it during a race.

We get to the pier with a good 45min to spare. Go to bathroom, again.

Stretch. Chat. Stretch. Bathroom. Hey – don’t judge.

Packed up my bag of stuff that I don’t need on the boat, toss it in the bin and board. I wanted to get on early and get a good spot. And GREAT spot I did. 2nd floor, since I’m an old fart now (40+ was upstairs).  I had a place to lean against and I got to watch the Pros warm up! Very cool. Did some of the stuff they did (later it paid off, I’ll remember that! My arms screamed at me much less than normal on the swim).

However, one unnerving thing is when I was stretching my hamstrings I felt a POP and it hurt in my butt. WHA?!?! It faded quick, but clearly I did something bad because it didn’t want me doing that again. Good thing I didn’t need to touch my toes for this day. That’s never happened before. I think it’s a good indicator I need MORE stretching and not just before a race maybe? Hmmmmmm

We push off and get going, the energy in the crowd is picking up. Chat with some new friends, help calm several newbies and offer advice. I’m amazed at the number of people who were new that didn’t go to the course talk, didn’t look at the videos online, and didn’t go to the course talk. OMG can I smack them? Well, it helped pass the time. Between times I went to the bathroom (3). I am pretty sure I did not drink even 1/3 the amount I peed. Jesh. Whatever.

Ok, so it’s go time. We all heard down to the first floor and make our way. I get someone to help me get zipped, can’t seem to do it myself when I am wearing a bike jersey under. Get the squid lid and booties on. Goggles TIGHT, check (so they don’t fall off on the jump off the boat). Normal cap on top of squid lid….. eventually, check!

So, for those worried about the sharks…. well, here is a photo of the LAST PLACE finisher….

bahahahaah really? I have no idea if this photo is real but it cracks me up.  Ok it looks more like this

When I get to the door I noticed a lady in the center position yelling for everyone to come over HEEEEEEEEEEEEERRE – nobody was using it. So I zipped over there and straight off the boat! Whooooooooooooooooooad doggie that first moment is cold. 55 degrees to be exact. Luckily, I’m ok with that. Even though my training in this cycle was utterly lame (1 cold water swim) I’m ok with cold, so I wasn’t hampered by it in the least. Actually, within 30seconds I had completely forgotten about it. I’m sure the beard helps!

So I had somewhat clear water. Nice. Usually I’m crammed. BAM ok, that’s what I’m used to. For whatever reason, especially in cold water, everyone gets stupid. Some guy broadsides me within 1 minute. That means he’s already 90degrees of course. Wow, way to pay attention doof. I shove him aside and continue. Sighting every 10 strokes to make sure I’m holding Sutro towers at 1-2 O’Clock. Waves are not too bad, but the current is 5mph, so it’s critical to NOT get too far right or you are screwed. Err on the LEFT. Worst case, you’re slow. Best case, you’re right where you should be.

This is what it SHOULD be.

This is a more likely outcome…. (see jiggly line). This guy did a good job. I need to download my data, but I doubt it will be accurate like this so.. I’m pretty sure it registered 9.8 miles for the swim for me. Which means, I had a great swim….. (or it’s just wrong).

So I get into a nice rhythm. Solid pace, strong pull, good breathing and not too many interruptions. I was able to keep clear water most of the time only a few times did I have people try to crawl over me, run into my side, or try to surge past me…. on top of me. Yeah, none of those happened. I have a rule. Hit me once, no problem. Hit me twice, I’m going to nicely push you away. Hit me three times? I’m gonna sink you. Only one dude got that honor. He just was flailing away and I was done with that, so I had to shove him hard which caused him to have to stop and figure out WTF just happened. Wake up call.

I was making decent progress, sighting was good, body was good, lungs were solid, and I was moving along. It did seem slow going though. Sighting kept confirming I was on target, but it just seemed to take a long time to get there. I overtook a large pack of 40-50 swimmers at one point. That was weird, they were all clumped together. I had a steady flow of people coming from behind me and flying by, I’m guessing they screwed up their sighting.

Finally the beach is in sight  – I’m right on target for center beach. Perfect. Start kicking like crazy to get the legs awake. Hit the beach and I think I see 41:51, eh- not close to a PR but it’ll do. Run up the beach, leave everything on except goggles. As I get up they have wetsuit strippers SWEET so I start tearing off my caps goggles, and top of the wetsuit, drop on my butt and ZOOOOOOP wetsuit is off! NICE!

run across the mat and go find my bag.

my bag…


where’s my FREAKIN BAG?

1501… 1520…. 1503…. 1530…. 1508… WTF?! Finally I find it. ARG! That took forever. Plop down and get the booties off, dump my bag and start shoving everything in. Get my socks and shoes, get the right one on – check. Left one OH HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I drop like a brick. My lower abs cramp and cramp BAD. I can’t breath it hurts so bad. I force myself to stretch out of the fetal position (no kidding) and massage it. It’s hard as a rock. SHIT SHIT SHIT it hurts. This happened after a particularly hard masters swim a few weeks ago… sitting there watching TV on my recliner and BAM hit me. Same damn thing. Except this time every time I try to bend to tie my shoe lace it cramps AGAIN. SHIT SHIT SHIT. I try this 3x, same thing. Stop. Breath. If I cannot do it one more time I’ll get a volunteer to tie my shoe maybe? I manage it. No double knot, but who cares it’s only .7 miles or something. I start running. Ab still tight and hurting but manageable. Oh crap that hurt.

I toss my bag in the bin, use a Qtip on my ears (cannot STAND water in my ear for 4 hours…) and pop 2 pieces of gum in my mouth. Grab a cup of water, gargle, toss it and RUN.

You know, I never practiced running and chewing gum and massaging my belly. Just sayin’… it’s harder than you might think!

I hold a nice solid pace, actually, with no cramping. VERY happy about that. I’ve been getting so close on these new orthotics… so I was hopeful. It worked well.

Get to my bike and have an extremely smooth and effortless transition. I grabbed my inhaler and puffed, because during the run my lungs felt a little tight. Kind of hard to get it down when your  HR is up but hey I’m sure some stayed in. Spray on some sunscreen – OH MY GOD MOTHER F!@K!@ SHIT SHIT OUUUUUUUUUUUEWWWWIE! Apparently, I have some major chaffing under my chin.

Picture from later – it loos like someone attacked me with a Garotte

There were several guys from my rack there when I arrived… and when I departed. Probably the smoothest T1 I’ve ever done. Very pleased. Look at watch. 1:00:30. huh? How’d I do a 42min swim + 10ish transition…. something wrong. Crap. Did I pass out from the cramp or something? Time warp. Whatever. Wasting energy it doesn’t MATTER. Mount the bike and go.

Well, kind of go. A huge problem, in my opinion, with this course is the bike is entirely too congested. It’s a mass start, so you figure no matter what there will be a big clump of guys who were the “average” swimmers. And they will all start the bike about the same time. So it was majorly crowded. I passed a bunch. I got passed. I didn’t even bother to keep track.

First mile is flat. So I spun my legs fast in a small gear to wake them up.  Then the hills begin (and never end, really). Somewhere a few miles in I remembered to turn on my PowerTap so I can record power data. DOH!

So when the hills began, I was ready. It’s a fairly long medium grade. No problems here, I just chugged along. About this time is when the lead male (I think) was coming back in (jesh!) they were flying. Easily 45-55mph downhill it was crazy.

This is when I hear the first, of many, ambulance sirens. It was coming from ahead, not behind, so I don’t think it was a pro. This is also a common thing on this course, the downhill sections are all dangerous because they all end in a 90 degree turn. So you have to slow way down. Add congestion and some crazy riders and… wrecks will happen.

Sharp downhill, I take it conservatively – perhaps a bit much. I’ve had VERY few steep descents on this bike and I’m not sure how she will handle. No sense ending my day for a few seconds. I’m not going to win I’m pretty sure!

The next climb was worse. However, my new steed does well. Not once did I stand during the bike. This means I had tons more to give and I didn’t need to. I just focused on keeping heart rate under control and as fast of a cadence as I could, given the heart rate. And that I did.

The scenery on this ride is like no other. Wish I had a camera because honestly, it’s just awesome.

The descent down by seal beach and over to golden gate park is a big long descent. I tried to get more aggressive, but really, I doubt I broke 35mph. On my tri-bike I suspect I would have seen 45mph.

PSA: The propaganda about the roads being so amazing due to the 75th anniversery of the Golden Gate bridge… was crap. The roads suck. I don’t think they know what the word “amazing” means. Just sayin. Many patches and spots where you could drop your bike if you’re not careful.

Up and over the turn around point and back out of the park. I fly through this section and prepare to attack the long climb back up near Seal beach.

I break this climb into thirds each is about 0.5 miles long. The first third is a climb, but it’s comparable to the Ironman Madison hills. It’s no problem. My heart rate is totally under control and my cadence is high. Zoom zoom!

Then there is a tiny flat section and the next third is tougher… more than any of the Ironman Madison hills, but not by a lot. Ok, starting to breath, but we’re still Z2 heart rate and I chat with a couple other riders… so nothing I cannot handle…

Then there is another tiny flat section, a little left turn, then right turn almost right away and up to the monster. This section is unlike anything we have in Chicago (at least not this long).  There are people walking. Some falling. I chug chug chug away. Heart Rate starts Z2…. then z3…. then we’re in z4…. but it’s ok. I can do this. Cadence is dropping though, but the end I’m mashing away at 50rpm or so but the legs – although tired aren’t even screaming. I had no desire to stand. I didn’t wobble. I totally owned this hill. Nice. Nice and steady.

The top was, of course, welcome. This is a mean section because there is a short drop and another climb soon after. But I’m ready and spin right up it. I know there is a major descent coming and zoom-zoom down it. But I ended up braking more than I’d like because the only section they “called” bad was coming – and it was pretty rough.

One last climb, saw cookie monster and wonder woman at the aid station (no, really!) and down hill the rest of the way.

At this final downhill I power away to gain back some time. I spin spin to get the running legs going. I look at the watch, I should not have done that. I thought I had a solid bike. Figured 1:05-1:10. Yeah, 1:2x. Personal WORST on this course. WTF?!?!

NOTE: Later I looked at the power tap and I averaged only 165 watts with a max of 550. To give you a comparison on a sprint tri I would normally average about 220-240 and max 800-900 on a steep hill.  I didn’t know it yet… but clearly the body wasn’t working properly today. I was not recovered from the flu.

Big time congestion as we dismount. I run in, change shirt (for photos), transfer inhaler, rack the bike and get my shoes on and get my stuff and go. Not amazing but pretty well executed. Yelled to a rack mate who was piddling around eating/drinking – DRINK AND RUN MAN!

Out I go. took a second to get my bearings, almost went out the bike out – oops. Out the chute and towards the golden gate. Everything was going well for about 1/2 mile. Then it went badly… quickly. Suddenly I couldn’t breath and BOTH hamstrings were tight and the left shin was starting to cramp. Ok, SLOW DOWN Mister. Clearly, I’m going too fast. I walk a bit. Get the inhaler out. Try, and fail, to use it a couple times. Start jogging, trying to pick a new easy steady pace.

I spent the first 2 miles trying to sort out a pace, loosen up, and get into a groove. It sucked quite frankly. At one speed I would have NO cardio issues but things would be majorly tight/cramping or another speed at which I was loose but I was completely out of breath. I could not get my normal 12min pace going, which should be cake. I couldn’t breathe. However a 13-14min pace caused things to go tight. CRAP!

I made a bathroom stop at mile 2. I used this time to allow my HR down and get a good couple puffs of the inhaler in. I started running and was able to get into a 12min pace. However…. it was time for the hills.

There’s a series of stairs up these trails. They were very congested. People coming down, people wanting to pass me, it was nuts. I mostly walked fast up these, they were uneven and I was in no condition for running them fast. After all, this was the longest run I’d done in 2 months… It was going to be a long run.

After the stairs come the various paths. Everything, by the way, is up hill. Some of the paths were now SINGLETRACK – I think they hadn’t been maintained well, because I remember the paths being wider. Nope. So that was fun dodging the endless hordes coming back in.

Mile 3-4 allowed me some actual running time. My cramping was gone (I was still tight though) but I just couldn’t get any dang speed. Very frustrating. So I ran when I could, walked when I couldn’t, and repeated. I know my run fitness was bad, but this just didn’t match that kind of malfunction. I was completely unable to process, during the time, that I wasn’t able to get enough oxygen and that was impairing my ability to function. It’s completely obvious now, in hindsite. However, I was doing all I can think of to do. Using the inhaler when needed and walk/run the rest.

The plus side is I had plenty of company. I was amazed, but I actually passed several people. However, mostly i found running buddies for a while and chatted.

I got TONS of compliments on my Ironman Tattoo. Easily 70-80 people commented.

When we got to the beach, around mile 4.5 I had a plan. Walk. I wasn’t going to trash myself even trying to run on the sand. I’m WAY too heavy and it’s WAY too soft. So walk I did.Fast.

I texted Liz at this point (yeah, I had my phone!) my new ETA. No sense in her worrying.

Got to the turn around, turned around, and worked back to the sand ladder.

Oh… the sand ladder. You evil bastard. Up we go!

My goal on the sand ladder was… to get it up it. I wanted to maybe even not stop and rest. And that’s what I did. My HR was out of the freakin roof. The ladder continues to deteriorate so there were a couple sections of cable which had snapped off, maybe some of the foot holds really unstable. It’s tough. Real tough. Not being able to breath and not having trained stairs, yeah that didn’t help.  5min total time for 400+ steps. Good enough!

Ok, now the fun part. After you’ve trashed your hamstrings going uphill – time to kill the quads going down. I figured with gravity I would be able to start mostly running again.

Well… that didn’t work out so much as I hoped. Apparently, not having run 5 miles since… December. Maybe means you’re going to be tired. And tired I was. More running buddies, cheering on the few poor souls who were still behind me (so they were now the ones going uphill as I went down).

I tried to run, but I just couldn’t keep it up for more than a few minutes at a time. So I did what I could, when I could and reversed the course.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say it was slow, but reasonably steady. The inhaler was used multiple times during the run.

About mile 7.5 Kim passed me and said howdy! She still had some kick left so she was going to try to floor it. Go Go Go!

I crossed the finish steady. Not strong. There was no sprint. Saw Liz in the stands!! (not hard when there’s not many left!! LOL)

I was happy to be done. Very happy. I looked at the time… 4:37. Wow, that’s 20min WORSE than 2009. I’m a much better athlete than I was then. Wow. Tried not to let it get me down. I was starting to make the connection I was still sick, but it hadn’t landed in my brain yet.

So I did it.  But it feels incomplete. I’m not going to whine about being so slow. Some days, it’s going to happen. I’ve been racing long enough to finally come to peace with that. You cannot control the weather (this was the hottest race of the 3… by 10 degrees), you cannot control getting sick, you cannot control some mechanical failures… there is much out of your control. All you can do is give it your all, race smart, and lay down your cards.

In 2009 I promised to return, because I did so much worse than 2008. Now I did almost an hour slower than 2008. I’d say there is a lot of room for improvement if I were to make this an A race and actually focus on this.

Now that I have Escaped 3 times, I have an automatic entry should I want to return.

I have a 2 week black out window for all major races. So as of this writing, I won’t make any decisions now. But I can tell you, I think I have unfinished business at this venue.

Bonus: On the way back, we got to see “World Naked Bike Ride” walking back to the hotel… not sure I WANTED to see that, but hey… we did :)

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