Escape from Alcatraz: Race Report

Short version: It wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever gone on this course (though it was almost the fastest I’ve gone), but with swim conditions varying so much it’s sort of hard to compare times year-to-year. It was the best I’ve ever raced here, like actually raced against the people around me all the way through the finish line. Unfortunately, or fortunately for the sport I suppose, it was 100% definitely way super more competitive this year in the women’s age group ranks than the last few years. Maybe everyone got faster while I was taking my two-year hiatus? Ah well. I was aiming for top 5 amateur. I ended up 7th — but I was close! And, close totally sorta kinda counts.

Long version: Sitting on the boat waiting for the start is weird. Someone once told me they have to replace the carpet after the race because so many people pee in their wetsuits. I’d believe it. Everyone stands up and starts getting ready to go way way before it’s actually time to go, so I was sort of not paying attention as it got closer to start time. I was talking and looking around and jumping up and down and oh shit, was that the start gun. Your timing chip doesn’t start until you walk over the mat through one of the doors onto the deck, but how long it takes you to get in the water after you cross the mat depends on the bottleneck at the door, how many people are dicking around on the deck, how long before you can jump, etc — which I only realized as I was crossing the mat. Ahh, go, go, go, my time has started! I’m totally just going to blame the 18″ I lost my age group by on that. Definitely.

The boat used for proms and triathlons.
The boat used for proms and triathlons.


I wish I could tell you what I did during the swim, but I don’t really know. I was pretty nervous since I haven’t swum in the Bay more than three times in the last two years and I haven’t been really out in the Bay — like out of Aquatic Park or past the beach — since the last time I did this race in 2011. So, I wasn’t sure what would happen. I just sort of swam hard and through people for awhile. Then, I looked up and all the people were to my right and I was taking too conservative a line in the current, so I swam back through them sort  ofto the other side. Except there aren’t really sides or buoys obviously or any real sense of if you’re doing this right or not, so mostly I just kept swimming and figured it’d get me there eventually. It got choppy in the middle, so I’m not even sure what I was doing then. I just kept throwing my arms up and over and sometimes I’d hit water and sometimes I’d just hit air. I did some breaststroke and dry-heaved quite a bit and hyperventilated when I couldn’t catch my breath because of the waves. (And this was the water “calm” because the fog was keeping the wind down.) For awhile I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or around me and I could see the yacht club that’s the finish and I absolutely convinced myself that the reason there wasn’t anyone ahead of me was because I was totally in the front of all the swimmers. I was genuinely shocked when I was slightly too far to the right and turned to come into the beach and there were hundreds of people to my left ahead of and next to me. A little healthy delusion can be helpful in triathlon.

36′ for the swim was fine, if possibly a couple minutes slow. I wasn’t thrilled and I wasn’t upset about it. It seemed like a totally solid ok swim that I came out of not too fucked up and probably the best I could hope for. And, then, I ran the half-mile to T1 as hard as I could, passing a few girls — who I was still shocked were ahead of me, because I was so convinced I had swum the very fastest.

I rode my road bike yesterday for a number of reasons, but the added benefit was that I had power again for a race. That meant I could just focus on keeping the numbers up on flat sections, pushing hard on hills, and staying as aero (and not being stupid) as possible on descents. It mostly worked. I passed some girls. One passed me. I kept going back and forth with groups of guys because they’d hammer every hill and then sit up on every flat and descent, which caused a lot of me running into the back of them. I was slightly terrified and braking stupidly on some of the downhill turns, but better than I’ve been lately and I didn’t let it get in my head too (too) much. I got momentarily discouraged at the halfway because it took me a long time to get to halfway. So, I just tried to go harder on the way back and it sort of worked. 59′ is actually right in the range of what I’ve biked in the past here, so I was thrilled. THRILLED. Maybe my biking is coming back a little bit? Still slower than the fastest splits, but closer.

From Tahra.
From Tahra.


It’s hard to say which part of the race I was most nervous about. I was pretty sure the swim could go horribly, horribly wrong. I was crazy stressed about either crashing on the bike or sucking. But, the run is actually where I’ve usually had the most trouble in this race. Because it’s just so goddamn hard and if you want to be competitive you have to keep it together and run fast through the sand and up the stairs and down the hills. It’s not easy.

When I started the run I thought I was in 5th(ish) and I couldn’t see any girls in front of me. So, I just focused on high turnover for the first two flat miles and waving at friends out on the course. I was hauling, but I wasn’t stressed. Then, as we got to the stairs up to the bridge, there were two girls right ahead of me. And, halfway up the stairs, the girl who would go on to take second in the amateur race passed me. I went with her a little bit and all of a sudden there were four or five women within a minute or two of each other and it was a race. And, I needed to race. I needed to go hard before we got down to the beach and I would suck running in the sand. So, I went hard, like really really hard down the hill. I passed two women and was closing on the third. We got to the sand ladder and one of them passed me back. (I’m really bad at running in sand, ok.) And, I knew that other girl was still right ahead of me. So, at the top of the ladder, I started to run as hard as I could, the kind of hard where you’re not sure you’ll make it to the finish and you can’t quite navigate the singletrack because shit is blurry. The girl in front of me had somehow gapped me and I couldn’t see her anymore, but because your time starts when you cross the mat I didn’t know if the girls in front of me were really behind me or if a girl behind me was really ahead of me. I was running scared and I run fast when I’m scared.

This was the real difference in this race for me. Any of the previous times I’ve done this race or its sister race I fall apart that last two miles flat back to the finish. Even the times I kept it together and ran hard it was a tempo hard, a 7:15 pace. Your legs are shot from all the uphill and downhill and I usually stop caring about whether or not someone passes me. It becomes hard to keep caring that last two miles. Not this time. I just kept imagining someone right behind me, someone who I couldn’t see because maybe they started after me, and I just kept thinking you have to run as fast as you can. I think I was doing 6:30s or just under. I wasn’t looking at my watch much though. I ran 57′ flat — four minutes faster than I’ve ever run here — and I threw up a little bit. And, I ended up beating one of the girls ahead of me by about 40″ because she had started before me and I ended up losing to someone behind me by 18″. So. Race hard. All the way through the finish line.

(Also, it’d be nice if like all the people racing against each other for the age group spots could actually, you know, race head-to-head against each other. And, it wouldn’t be that hard to do, since there are supposed to be corrals on the boat. Because, yeah, I was sort of bummed to be a few minutes out of the win and not really have any idea what was happening on course. BUT, I’d have been really annoyed if I was the girl who was second overall amateur. Supposedly she lost by one second. Only, you know, who really knows when there’s lots of little things that add up along the way and when people jump off at different times and their chips get read electronically slightly differently as they cross the mats. One time, when I raced this as an elite, I outsprinted a girl at the finish. I was a step ahead of her and we all knew I had won because we started at the same time since all the elites start at the same time. But, the electronic chip said she won. And, we had to correct it. So, yeah, if I was the girl who came in second yesterday by one second and there was no way to really know if that was true or not, I’d be sort of pissed.)

10 thoughts on “Escape from Alcatraz: Race Report

  1. The combination of healthy delusion and running fast ’cause you’re scared is interesting =)

  2. Hi Kelly, love the post. would you like to review the race for us? Seeing as you’re a bit of a veteran! After reading your post I really want to do the race! Although the hills sound pretty scary…! Be great to get your thoughts on the race organisation and some tips etc. Let me know. joe

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