Every once in a while you get the opportunity to do something that appeals strictly for the purpose of that you might not ever get to do it again. This was one of those opportunities. I had signed up for the Wildflower Long Course race months ago, thinking it would be a good second Half Ironman to do this year. About a month and a half before the race, I was given the opportunity to participate in the original Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, an expensive race that requires a lottery pick to get into. Knowing that I had already committed to the Wildflower Half, but that Alcatraz is a once in a lifetime race, I opted for option C: I'll do both.
We left San Diego early Friday morning in hopes of making it through Los Angeles without hitting major traffic. Unfortunately LA always has traffic, so we were bumper to bumper on the 405 Freeway for longer than planned. When I say "we", I'm referring to myself and my mom. After hearing what I was doing this weekend, her response was a prompt "well, I'm coming with you because you are not driving from Wildflower up to Alcatraz". In retrospect she made a very good point.
We got to Lake San Antonio in the early afternoon. I was amazed at what Tri California was able to do out there. They had practically built an entire city at the transition area, complete with tons of food vendors (I had a phenomenal crepe' that afternoon). I got registered, walked around a little bit, then we headed up to our hotel in King City, about 30min. north of the race.
The morning of Wildflower was business as usual. Get up, breakfast, pack the car, head to the race. What made Wildflower stand out was the atmosphere that was provided by the people that were camping. I parked my car and opened the door, only to hear from one early morning camper "Gooooooooood Mooooorning Wildflower!!!!" (Think Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam)
Set up transition, went through the routine, down to the water, waited for the gun and : GO.
The swim was nothing special. I hit right around where I wanted to: 35min. What worried me more were the warnings I had received about the Wildflower bike course and the run course, and believe me they were warranted. I had planned to take it easy on both legs of the race, instead focusing on enjoying the venue and saving some energy for the next day. Needless to say, even with trying to run a conservative race, the course is a brutal evil creature and will hurt you regardless. I now run and bike hills on a weekly basis as a testament to how badly I got my ass whipped by that course.
Regardless, crossed the finish line upright, which is always the goal. Enjoyed a couple minutes with some fellow racers before heading down to the transition area to gather my race gear and get up to the car. The hardest part of the weekend hands down? Walking up the hill from the Lake to the campground. If it was another mile or so I don't know if I would have raced on Sunday.
Got on the road, promptly stopped at a Starbucks and figured out how to spend $15 dollars (coffee, water, sandwich, banana walnut bread) and got on the road up to SF. The mom drove the most of the way, with me fading in an out of consciousness. When we got to the city though, I was asked to drive since apparently she hates dealing with traffic in "the City".
Arrived in the hotel, got cleaned up, then went and got some beers with a friend. Not that I needed anything to help me get to sleep, but I wanted a bit of a celebration for the days successes....and I like Guinness. Got back to the hotel around 12:15am for a 4:30am wake-up call.
I might as well have just lied down, blinked, and got up because that's what it felt like. Most of my stuff was pseudo packed, but I grabbed my still damp wetsuit and tri top and hopped on my bike to get down to transition.
For such a chaotic event, the Escape from Alcatraz organizers did a fantastic job for people like me who had to pick up their race stuff the morning of. I got all my new race numbers, peeled off the Wildflower ones, got my transition area situated and got on the bus to get over to the boat.
Escape from Alcatraz is a lot of waiting, which is to be expected since they are basically running a race through downtown San Francisco. We waited on the boat for about an hour before everything was in place, the horn went off and the race began.
Alcatraz has a very unique start: You jump off a river boat about 6ft. down into San Francisco Bay. Needless to say, you spend the first 15 seconds getting your heart rate under control because the water is a tad chilly, but once you get going it isn't bad. The trick I learned from a buddy of mine who I randomly ran into on the boat was to use the current with the swim. You have to aim about a mile east of where you want to end up and let the current drag you to the beach you're supposed to land on. This allowed me to swim this course 5min. faster than Wildflower, and caused some people to end up way west of the beach and had to get picked up by water patrol.
Once on the bike, I just focused on enjoying myself. The legs were pretty shot, but I wasn't planning on doing well anyway and instead just focused on what is arguably the coolest course I've ever had the opportunity to ride. Getting to ride under the Golden Gate Bridge, around the Exploratorium, and through the Presidio was a one of a kind experience. You really don't get another opportunity like it.
After the bike, I got on the run and just let my legs go all to hell. The first couple miles were fine.....they were flat. I got to see the likes of Hunter Kemper, Andy Potts and Chris McCormack sprinting the last remaining mile of the race, which was awesome to see. Once I hit the stairs, the dirt single track trails, baker beach and the absolutely rude sand ladder, I was reduced to a moderate walk. Either way though, I made sure that the last mile was ran, and I did my best to make it look like I was comfortable and collected (which I was not).
Afterwards, it was a terrific feeling of accomplishment. I had done something incredibly stupid that I couldn't have been happier with. I enjoyed the rest of my Sunday with lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, dinner at a the greatest Thai Restaurant that I can't name, and an excellent view of the city from Coit Tower that evening.
In planning a race calendar, I doubt anyone would consider putting together back to back races like this. It was however a great experience that I will always remember. I would love to say if someone gave me this opportunity next year that I would be mature and intelligent enough to politely decline...............but then I wouldn't be able to improve on my times :)