Let’s start with the really important news – LA Tri Club member Erika Aklufi won! She raced the whole thing proudly in her LA Tri Club kit and was the fastest amateur woman on the day. To understand what a huge talent she is it’s important to note that only one woman – in the whole race – had a faster run split over the 8 mile hilly course - and that was pro athlete Samantha McGlone (who won WF Long Course and Ralf’s Half IM). It’s a huge event to win, a proud day for the club, and huge congratulations are due to Erika.
Now, on with the report …. This was Alcatraz number 4 for me and I’ve had all kinds of experiences here. I was eager to see what this day would bring and woke up excited about what was to come.
It was a perfect day in San Francisco with blue skies, the slightest of breeze, and warm temperatures. Erika and I were up early and rode our bikes from the Hyatt near pier 5 to the race site at Marina Green. Once there we set up our bike and run stuff like a normal race, but also had to drop off a bag containing another pair of shoes that we’d use to run the 5 minute run from the swim exit to the transition area. This race is complicated and requires lots of fore thought. Once I was set I realized that I had brought 3 pair of shoes – 1 for the swim to bike, 1 for the bike, and 1 for the run. BUT, I needed 4 pairs as I was now barefoot for the bus ride to the pier, and for the 30 minute boat ride out to Alcatraz. It worked out fine but sandals would have been nice.
The bus ride was quick and easy, the body marking done on the pier was swift. We boarded the boat and went straight to top flour, the VIP/Sponsor/Pro only floor, the floor that was clearly designated verboten in the athlete meeting the day before, a floor so empty and void of life that you could hear the carpet fibers cheer at our arrival. We napped on those lonely fibers while the boat was loaded and backed out into the bay.
The tension increased on the boat as toured around Alcatraz and we removed and bagged our warm ups and slipped on our wetsuits. Time starts to fly by at this point: countdown, pros in the water, next wave (Erika’s), my wave (Lara Cooper, David Crowther, more), the wave behind me (Holger, Alan Morelli, more). Everybody talks about how cold that water must be but the truth is that it’s not bad at all. I got warm and stayed warm all morning, got my wetsuit on early and warmed up on the boat with some arm swings and short hops. The double latex cap is the way to go, I’ve tried the neoprene cap and hated it (chafe, leaky goggs, etc). You have to jump pretty far into the water off the boat and there are bodies everywhere. Once you are in, it’s go time and there’s no hesitation. The current changes from year to year and that affects the time in a big way. Last year I swam the 1.5 miles in 27:50 and this year it took me 37:16. The water was smooth, pretty clean, and very nice. There are no buoys anywhere and all sighting is done off of buildings on the land. It’s wonderfully challenging.
The run from the swim exit to the transition area is quick and easy and then the bike begins. Part of what makes this race so special is the wild ride you get start to finish. The bike is very technical; rough pavement, narrow corners, steep climbs, ripping descents – many with turns at the bottom. It’s only 18 miles but feels like 30. I had some great back and forth with a SF local named Scott – he and I have history (he stole my wetsuit years ago at Treasure Island and … we’ll you can read about that on my blog at ACMEcoaching.com – it’s a great story). I also got a chance to ride with 15 year old Corey Farrell from Camarillo – that kids scary fast!
Off the bike and it’s run time – basically it’s 2 miles flat, 4 miles through all levels of the darkest places of Mordor and then 2 miles of flat. The 4 hellish miles in the middle include long, uneven, railroad tied steps, trails, wood stairs too narrow for two people but throngs are passing head on at mach 1, a tunnel that’s only 5 feet high at one end, deep sand, and the infamous “sand ladder” – a 250 meter steep, sandy, expanse of pain. As hard as it is, it’s probably the most beautiful run in triathlon – but only if you are fit enough to enjoy it.
A few side notes: on my way out on the run the top 5 pros past me with only about 40 seconds separating all of them – I wanted to turn back and watch the sprint finish. Hunter Kemper won it and he’s awesome; Olympian, well spoken, down to earth, smart, jovial, a great guy. Barb Lindquist was racing, got second and missed the awards – odd??!?. Susan Williams won for the women and she too seems very well balanced; mother, Olympian (bronze medal Athens), and warm. It’s been a while since two American’s won Alcatraz. Holger Beckman passed me with about 2 miles to go and on a down hill. I was running about 6:30 pace at that moment and Holger passed going at about 5:15 pace. He was running so fast that I actually laughed out loud at that moment – it seemed almost out of place. Amazing! When Erika passed me she was so casual that she could have read a several pages of Finnigan’s Wake and had it make sense.
A great day by all – if you want to go to this race then you either have to qualify or get in via lottery – take a peek at tricalifornia.com for details.