Why I Didn’t Race Escape from Alcatraz

Since I have done Escape from Alcatraz (and the dueling San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz) every year since we moved to Marin, except last year when I had a conflicting race, why didn’t I do it this year?  [Which, by the way, only one of the two races had a volunteer make me fresh hot waffles in the pro tent. I’m just throwing that out there.]

So why not do Escape this morning? Probably because they’re trying to “ban” gels and that’s just the stupidest shit I’ve heard in triathlon this month.

No, really, because when they announced they were moving the race from the first weekend of June to the first weekend of March, I laughed and laughed, said ‘oh, fuck no,’ and then laughed and laughed. It reminded me of my sister coming out to visit and insisting that she was going to go surfing. I know it’s California, but shit, guys, it gets cold enough here that you don’t want to jump in the Bay in the winter. (I also cursed the stupid America’s Cup for causing everything to be canceled or moved!)

Chances are the first weekend of March it’s cold and foggy and probably rainy and cold, did I mention rainy? Sure, the difference in water temperature from June to March is about 56 to 51 degree, but that five degrees is an important five. There was no way in hell I was going to do the race on March 3.

Then, this past week was crazy warm and Friday was almost 80 degrees. I got all nostalgic — I do love the race because it’s just so stupid terrible. I even checked the website to see if I could still register. I thought about reaching out to the couple people who might be able to get me in last minute. I regretted not having my pro license this year, so I could just register last minute. But, logically, it didn’t make a ton of sense that if I thought I couldn’t make it through a 40-minute running race, I’d be able to deal with one of the toughest triathlons out there.

Here’s a picture of me running at Alcatraz that makes me long for the lovely race:


Instead, I biked over the bridge and watched the race this morning. It was awesome — Javier Gomez is dreamy and ooh is that Sarah Groff and hey, I know that girl and that girl! — and weird. I haven’t watched a triathlon that I wasn’t racing in in years, possibly ever. I only started racing triathlon my junior year at Cal and I pretty much only went to races I raced. This morning, I started to feel like I was missing out and had been stupid to worry about the cold. I even could point to exactly where I would have been in the race as I stood there watching them run — oh, this space between girls, this would have been me.

But, then I heard about Emily’s experience. Emily is a much, much better swimmer than I am. And, she lives near here, so she practiced and knew what she was getting into. And, yet, she got hypothermia, fell over trying to run to T1, and then had to be picked up by an ambulance during the bike. It was just too cold.

And, then I heard the worse news: a 46-year-old man died during the Alcatraz swim this morning.

Yes, I know triathlon deaths have been on the rise as the number of people participating has increased. And, yes, I know the proportion of deaths hasn’t increased. And, yes, most of the deaths happen during the swim, when so much can go wrong. And, yes, this may have just been a terrible accident. So, there may have been no particular reason this tragedy happened today.

But. BUT. Do we have to make things harder, more extreme, crazier, even at the same time that everything is encouraging people without the experience or skills to get into the sport? I don’t fully support the blind push to get people into marathons and triathlons and Tough Mudders and whatever without just doing something smaller first. But, there’s no financial incentive to say no. There was no incentive to logically reason that March 3 might not be a great day for a triathlon in the San Francisco Bay.

I still really want to do Alcatraz next year. It’s the only thing I’m sure I want to do next year (though we can perhaps sometime discuss my recurring nightmares about qualifying for Kona before I turn 30). But, I’m not sorry I didn’t do it today.

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