Escape from Alcatraz: Let the Pros Race

Sunday, I raced Escape from Alcatraz and I was the 14th woman overall, counting the pros. At first, I was like ‘hmm, wow, that’s pretty good, better than I expected.’ And then I found out the race organizers have started capping the number of pros. Instead of the 12 or 15 women there usually are, there were only 9.

This is dumb.

I get that there are a limited number of spots on the boat. If there was ever a race that might have to have a cap, then this would be it. But, come on, this is still triathlon. It’s not that popular. In the past, when the number of pros at Alcatraz wasn’t limited, the MOST there’d ever be was 20-25 men and 15-20 women. That’s about 20-25 more people than they allowed in this year. There was plenty of room for 25 more people. And I don’t think you can argue that there isn’t enough room and then invite a bunch of legendary former winners to race in the “celebrity” division. (Or CEOs to compete in the corporate challenge or college kids to do the Muscle Milk-sponsored collegiate challenge—which is what The Kids and I did, btw.)

The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough room or that too many pros would get in the way or weaken the race or something—I mean it’s Alcatraz, there is no gap between the pro race and age group race anyway; the pushy age group men got more in the way when they jumped off the boat literally with the pro field. The problem, instead, seems to be this trend right now across the sport to misunderstand and undervalue why you have a pro field.

The value of pros in your race is not in any one big name; it’s in the margins. Again, this is triathlon. It is a participatory sport. No one is going to do a race simply because Mirinda Carfrae is doing it. They’re going to do it because they hear a lot about it, because their friends are doing it, because it’s in the news and they’ve been told it’s legendary, because they see other people doing. In that sense, every single extra pro is an extra story and reason for the media to cover it. Ashleigh Gentle won on Sunday and there was a story before the race in her local paper back in Australia about her triathlon career (that I saw on Twitter). It mentioned her doing Alcatraz next and what a big race it was. Someone in her town reads that, hears about it, starts to think ‘hey, I’ve never been to San Francisco, that sounds epic,’ and the seed is planted.

No one has ever done Alcatraz because I did it. No one cares about me doing it. But I raced it in the pro field twice and did ok. And, as the most local of the pros, I did a couple TV spots for the race then, which tons of my friends and acquaintances and triathlon people saw, which made them more likely to watch and care on race day, which keeps the crowds big, which helps continue to keep the prestige of the race high and guarantee that it’ll be all over the news. I love the race and I’ve taught clinics to help people prepare for it. I’ve convinced probably a dozen people to do it. Hell, I convinced seven of The Kids to race it this weekend. So, was I worth letting in? Did Alcatraz make back the $200 I won once and the free entry fee they gave me? Yeah, definitely. But would that ever have factored into any analysis of the ROI of the pro field? Probably not.

If you want to invite certain elite pros, big names, pay them appearance fees or give them swag to get them to come, sure, do that. But there is absolutely no reason not to let the other pros race too. They can only be a benefit. They can only make the race more competitive and a bigger deal.

At the awards ceremony, the announcer mentioned that they hadn’t originally intended to invite Eric Lagerstrom. They originally invited his girlfriend/partner/whatever and she asked if he could come too. And then he won the whole thing, in one of the more exciting finishes ever. That’s why you let whoever wants to race race.

EFA 2015My race:

I swam really well. I just put my head down, couldn’t see anything really, and kept swimming as hard as I could so I could beat Corey to the shore. I ended up way to the right, to the point that a boat tracked me down and yelled at me to get back over. But I was pretty convinced that the reason I was all by myself to the right was basically because I was winning.

Then I could not get my wetsuit into the tiny bag they gave us. The bag just kept slipping out of my cold hands. So, by the time I finally got part of the wetsuit in and figured that was good enough, I just took off running hard on the half-mile transition run. And then I was like ‘oh, shit, hmm, I wonder if I can hold this.’

I biked very mediocrely. It was ok for a little bit, then I felt like it was hard, but it was actually pretty slow and I got down on myself for about 15-20 minutes. Then Hailey caught me, which was good motivation and I think we pushed each other mentally for the last long climb and descent.

By the time I started running there was a girl right next to me and one up ahead and Hailey somewhere hot on my heels. So I took off. Hard. This is a new thing I’m trying: running hard from the beginning. It seemed like it was working pretty well and I moved up along Crissy Field and the long climb and then the descent down to the beach. At the beach was the first time I saw other women up ahead and it seemed like I was doing pretty well overall, but there’s no way to tell because you don’t know when anyone jumped off the boat. I just kept pretending that someone was right behind me, which when we got back down to Crissy Field was actually true. By then I was having a hard time holding on, but I was not going to lose it then. I managed to make it to the finish before lying down or throwing up. So, success!

3 thoughts on “Escape from Alcatraz: Let the Pros Race

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