Sunday, May 2, 2010

Escape From Alcatraz

Yesterday was a great pre-race day! After my crazy dream, we got up and went out in search of breakfast. We were going to the Giants game and found a breakfast on the way there. After breakfast, we wandered around the stadium for a while before meeting up with my uncle and cousin to head into the game. Lucky for us, the Giants won and we saw a splash hit! Pretty awesome!

After the game Drew and I headed to Marina Green so that I could pick up my race packet. That is a lot easier said than done. San Francisco seriously needs to work on its public transportation! We ended up walking to a bus then to a cable car and then still walking another mile to get there! We tried to hail a cab, but it's nothing like it is here in NYC. I guess I got my exercise in for the day.

When we finally got there, I checked in successfully and found out that I was number 118. I have to tell you, that made me feel much more elite than I really am! When I went to get my swag bag, they didn't have any small t-shirts left. Nor did they have any medium t-shirts. So, I'm stuck with a size Large t-shirt that won't even fit Drew! I would just like to take one minute here to rant about this. I mean, what is the issue? They've known for the past 6 weeks that I would be wanting a small t-shirt. It's on my race registration, it's on my packet, it shouldn't be a surprise that when I get there I want a small! Was it so hard to order enough small t-shirts?

Anyway, after my annoyance about that, we waited around for the mandatory race meeting to start. I had confirmed before we left for San Francisco that the meetings were indeed mandatory. Except that no one checked my name off a list or anything, so I'm not in fact sure that the meeting was mandatory. I don't think I learned anything new at the meeting that I didn't already know from reading the website and watching the videos that the race provided with tips.

After the meeting, we called a cab and went back to the hotel. I was able to spend the next hour or so packing everything up into my gear bags (one for the boat and one for mini T1). Drew was nice enough to go to the grocery store to buy me Gatorade, so that I could check and double check everything. Then I was all packed up and ready to go.

We then headed out for a late dinner with my uncle, his girlfriend and my two cousins. It was a really nice meal. Unfortunately since we got a bit of a late start on dinner, we had to cut it short as well so that I could get back and get to bed. I think we got back to the hotel around 11, which was fine. Even if we had been done with dinner earlier, I don't know that I would have gotten to bed any earlier. Luckily, I fell asleep pretty quickly. Of course I woke up at 1:30, 2:30 and then at 3:30. I had set my alarm for 3:45, but I knew that there was no way I'd really fall asleep for those last 15 minutes, so I just went ahead and got up then.

I tried to get dressed and eat as quietly as possible. I mostly hung out in the bathroom eating my Clif Bar and drinking Gatorade while playing solitaire. I won the game of solitaire that I was playing and that gave me really good vibes for the rest of the day (dorky, I know). Finally, it was time to go! I put on my shoes and helmet, strapped on my bag, gave Drew a kiss goodbye and took the elevator downstairs and headed to the race.

Our hotel was about 3 miles from the transition area, so I just took my time riding my bike there. As I was riding, I had to cross Powell Street. This is a street that has a cable car. I'm guessing you can figure out where this is heading. I definitely looked at the cable car track and thought I was going diagonally enough across it, except I wasn't. I got my front tire stuck in the track and over I went.

I don't remember a lot about falling. I fell to the left, which makes sense since that's the foot I normally unclip first when stopping. Really the only thing I remember is that I scraped my chin and while that was happening all I could think of was "please don't chip a tooth!" As soon as I was done scraping along the pavement, I picked myself and my bike up and ran over to the sidewalk. Nothing worse than being on the dark street at 4:30 in the morning thinking you could then be hit by a car!

Once I got to the sidewalk, I saw that I scraped up both sides of my right hand, I knew my chin was scraped, and I had a really good scrape on my left knee (which was a little weird since I was wearing pants and my pants were totally fine - how does that happen?). The worst thing was my left arm. Not a scratch on it, but it wasn't moving quite properly. I think I must have completely braced my fall with my arm.

I stood on the corner for a minute and weighed my options. I didn't have my phone with me, so I couldn't call anyone to calm me down, so I figured my option was to get back on my bike, make sure it was working okay and ride to transition. And that's exactly what I did. I got some blood on my bike from my bleeding right hand, which I thought gave it some added character. I got to transition and set everything up, handed off my gear bag for mini T1 and boarded the bus.

I was walking down the aisles of the bus looking for a good seat when I heard someone call out, "Amy?" I was confused for a second since I didn't think I knew anyone, but then realized that it was Sarah, the girl I met on Friday! I have to say, the timing couldn't have been better. I was so happy to see a friendly face and just have someone that I could tell about falling off the bike. She also assured me that my chin didn't look that bad.

We rode the bus over to Pier 3 and got of the bus and began the waiting. We had to wait about 30 minutes outside before we were let onto the boat. I was wearing my running jacket and yoga pants over my tri top and shorts. I was a little chilly waiting outside, but it covered up the fact that I was shaking a little bit from being nervous and worried about my arm. While we were waiting, we took turns visiting the port-a-potties and chatted with our neighbors who also got there early. This was also where we picked up our timing chips.

At 6:00, they started letting us on the boat. Since we had gotten to the Pier early, we were some of the first people on the boat. We staked out a good spot near a post on the boat and it was also near an exit, which would turn out to be handy later on. Then we continued waiting around for another hour. Sarah ran into a friend of hers, Josh, and we chatted with him for a while. And again, we all took turns using the restroom. Luckily, when I went, there were only about 4 people in front of me. The lines would get a lot longer as time went on!

We actually left the Pier early enough that we had some extra time and so the boat captain was able to circle around the island. It was a little hard to see from where I was inside the boat, plus I tend to get sea sick, so I just kept focused on stuff inside the boat where the horizon wasn't shifting all over the place.

As we sat around, I kept getting more and more nervous about my left arm. I was having trouble bending/straightening it and I wasn't sure about how I was actually going to complete the race. I actually wondered if I should even get in the water at one point. Sarah reminded me that the only person who could make that decision was me. Finally, the time came to get our wetsuits on. Sarah had to help me put mine on since I couldn't do a lot with my left arm. She also had to help me put my swim caps on (I ended up wearing three - one lycra, one latex and the official latex one on top). I decided that I would get in the water and see what happened. Worst case scenario - I'd stick my arm up for help and have one of the 100 people in the water come and help me. I didn't think I was going to drown even without the full use of my arm.

And just like that, there were only 5 minutes left until the race started. The pros line up along the edge of the boat and jump in first, followed by everyone else on the boat. While we were waiting for the horn to blow, I realized that I really had to pee. I figured that I would just wait until I jumped in! It really only took a minute or maybe two for me to be standing there waiting to jump in. I started my watch about 30 seconds before I jumped in and then pulled my wetsuit sleeve over my watch. The girl in front of me didn't jump on her first attempt, so I had to wait for her to jump in and then it was my turn. I never hesitated. I just put my hand up to protect my goggles, jumped, and started swimming!

During the race meeting, they gave us about 6 different landmarks to sight, but I ended up using the Sutro Radio Tower almost exclusively. I had read a lot of race reports on Beginner Triathlete where they said that they sighted to the left of the tower and thought that they could have sighted right, so that's what I did. I sighted about every 6 strokes on average. I think that having my watch covered up really helped me. I couldn't be nervous about how long it was taking me, all I could do was keep swimming to shore.

I did remember to stop and take a look around at the view. I even turned around to see how far I had swum from Alcatraz. Actually, if I'm being perfectly honest, what I realized after swimming for a while is that I never peed. So, I slowed down, did some breast stroke and did my business while taking in the sights. Might as well multi-task, right? It was pretty cool to be in the water and see and hear the helicopters flying above and know that they were there for us. There was also a blimp there too, which was pretty cool.

So, my arm? Okay. I kept looking at it and thinking about my stroke and knew that I wasn't pulling as much water on the left as I was on the right side. I was definitely reaching out further with my right arm than with my left, but I think that the cold water and the adrenaline helped with getting me to shore. Also, my shoulder seemed to be fine, which I think is most important for swimming. Oh, and I should mention the water - not a factor for me at all. I was glad I had a long sleeved wetsuit, but I was never cold. I never felt like my hands or feet were going numb either, so I'm glad I didn't bother with booties or a neoprene cap.

All of a sudden, I was getting really close to shore. I couldn't believe it! And just like that, my hand was hitting sand and I was up and out of the water. I looked at my watch as soon as I got out of the water and it said 32:35 and I was so incredibly happy and proud of that time! (My official results are longer since I had to run a little bit up the beach to get to the timing mat). I actually beat one of the professional women out of the water! Miraculously, I got my wetsuit off both arms. I have no idea how it happened. It was on one second and the next it was off and I just kept pulling it down to my hips as much as I could.

I ran up this little asphalt pathway, which really hurt my feet! Our gear bags were all laid out for us, so I took my wetsuit off the rest of the way, toweled off my feet and put on my (old) running shoes, grabbed my bottle of water and ran the rest of the way to real T1. I was really near the bike in/bike out entrance to transition, but it turns out that I was at the opposite end of the run in/run out. So, when I got to Marina Boulevard and could see my bicycle, I was a little annoyed that I still had to keep running to actually make it all the way there.

I think I had a decent T1 in total. Not that an almost 9 minute T1 is usually anything to brag about, but in this particular race, it's not bad. I got to the real T1, switched into bike shoes, put on my helmet, remembered to reset my bike computer (which I had forgotten to do when setting up transition), grabbed my bike and headed out for a ride.

About 200 yards into the ride, I realized that the back water bottle cage on my bike was loose. I stopped at the side of the road to try to tighten it up as best as I could in the hopes that it would hold for the race. I had told myself that if I could manage to get to the first aid station on the bike with my arm that I could talk myself into doing the rest of the race. On the very first hill, a guy passed me and asked how I was doing. I told him that I was just out for a nice leisurely bike. I saw him a couple miles later on and he was having some bike issues (his derailleur had come off) but I checked his results and he finished the race, so that's good!

The first hill was a good learning experience, I think. I realized that I would have to be careful when I used my granny gear on the race. I could shift into the granny gear okay, but I didn't have enough strength in my left arm to get it back to a bigger chain ring. That meant that I had to shift with my right hand on the left side of the bike, which wasn't the worst thing ever, but it wasn't perfect either.

I had cut up a Cliff bar into 6 pieces and put it in my bento box to eat on the bike. I ate 4 of the pieces as soon as I could after getting on the bike because that was the flattest part. I also knew that I probably needed the nutrition after the swim.

Once I made it to the first aid station, I knew that I could make it for the rest of the bike. I knew I wasn't going that fast, but I knew that I would finish in the allotted time unless I had some sort of mechanical issue. I thought that the bike course was really amazingly beautiful, especially the portion along the coast line. As I was going down the huge hill at Mile 7 (along Ocean Park), I was just looking out at the views instead of thinking about the fact that I'd have to climb back up the hill!

From there, we entered into Golden Gate Park for a couple of miles. That wasn't too bad, even though it looks like a fairly steep hill on the course map, it wasn't that bad. The bad part was somewhere around Mile 11 when we exited Golden Gate Park and were just about blown over from winds from the Ocean. Seriously, I wasn't quite prepared for that. I was also nervous that they'd stick with us for the entire huge climb for Mile 12, but they subsided about half-way up the hill.

I think the one thing that really struck me about all the hills on this race were how quiet they were. It seemed to me that people definitely bunched up on the hills (spreading out more on downhills) and we all just dug deep and kept pedaling. There was really only one time where I wished that I could get out of the saddle and pedal - it was right at Mile 13 - where we had just climbed that huge hill and then there was another short climb and it was on that short climb where I wished I had just that extra bit of oomph. As it was, I have to say that I was glad that I didn't 100% listen to Drew about practicing getting out of the saddle and pedaling since it turned out that it wasn't an option for me with my arm.

As I was coming back down from the Golden Gate Bridge (the last two miles of the bike course), I was riding downhill and my water cage came loose. The top screw had come completely out and so the cage and the water bottle were in the way of pedaling. I thought that maybe if I tried to pedal, it would knock the water bottle out, but instead what happened is my foot got stuck. That meant that I had to stop and take out the water bottle.

Of course, that wasn't enough. The water cage had to come completely off too in order for me to be able to pedal. I had to unscrew it and I put the cage around my right wrist like a bracelet in order to not litter on the course. I put the water bottle in my left hand and thought that maybe I could carry it back to transition with me, but with my arm, it just wasn't happening. After pedaling for all of 30 seconds while carrying the water bottle, I decided that it wasn't worth it. If someone saw me, I'd take the time penalty for littering and I threw my water bottle to the side of the road. So, I'm sorry Earth and I'm sorry San Francisco for littering. But I felt like it was my only safe option at that point. From there, I finished up the last two pieces of the Clif bar before heading back to transition.

I should just mention here that I read about it in the race reports and they mentioned it at the athlete meeting, but the roads in San Francisco leave a little something to be desired. Other than the really smooth pavement in Golden Gate Park, it was a pretty bumpy ride. I don't think that helped my arm out any.

I came back into transition for T2. I had a quick bike in, but a long run out for the run course. When I got off the bike, I think my watch said something around 2:15:00. I was realizing that if I could have a good run, I could finish in about 3:30:00, which would have been awesome for me! As I ran out of T2, I saw Drew and told him that I thought that I had maybe broken my arm. I'm sure that he thought it must have just happened on the bike, but I sort-of just needed him to know. I realized almost immediately that the run wasn't going to be easy and I wasn't going to have a good run. I re-adjusted my hopes and expectations and just kept 4:00:00 or under as a goal.

The first mile of the run was okay. It's along a dirt/gravel path by the San Francisco Bay with a nice view of the Golden Gate. I realized that in order to run, I'd have to not use my left arm at all. I zipped up my tri top and held my hand onto the collar of the top keeping the rest of my arm more protected and close to my body. Somewhere between Mile 1 and Mile 2 they said in the athlete meeting there would be "a few stairs". Apparently their definition and my definition of a few are totally different. I think there were like 150 stairs. And of course, they're not all the same - they sort of wind about - so I just decided to walk up the stairs. I wasn't going to gain that much more ground by running at that point. Then Mile 2 to Mile 3 is pretty much straight up hill. You can see how the run just kept getting better and better, right?

I knew that I wasn't running my fastest. But you know what, I was running the best that I could in that moment. I was really frustrated with myself a couple of times (both on the bike and the run) and shed a couple of tears each time. I think I was just so annoyed at myself for falling and possibly breaking my arm and all I could think of was how I might have just ruined my chances for doing both New York City and Timberman this summer.

The run was really, really hard. Both physically and mentally. I knew that I could finish, but it was a bit defeating. As soon as we ran down to the beach, I thought we'd get to turn right and head back up to the road, but someone else thought it'd be a good idea for us to run for a while down the beach and back before we did the Sand Ladder. I'm not sure who thought that up, but it was a lousy idea, I can tell you that. The sand seemed like it was about three feet deep and with the tide starting to come back in, it wasn't easy to run along the harder packed sand closer to the edge of the water.

The Sand Ladder wasn't easy - just like they said. But at least I was prepared for that. I walked up the Sand Ladder (as did everyone else that I could see around me). And I definitely used the cable along the side to pull myself up a couple of times. There was someone directly behind me, so I felt like I couldn't go any slower and I definitely couldn't chance slipping and falling backwards into her, so I didn't have any choice but to keep going up!

After the Sand Ladder, there was another half-mile incline. I walked a few steps past the Sand Ladder but then just kept running, although at that point it was probably more like jogging. I did glance at my watch a couple of times (which was actually a lot harder than it sounds since it hurt to move my wrist around) and saw that my heart rate was frustratingly low for running. I think was frustrated me the most was that I knew my body and my legs were capable of going harder and faster, it was just my arm that was slowing me down. It also made me realize that I lose a lot of momentum without swinging my arms like I normally do.

Because the run is largely an out and back course, I knew that once I got back to the "few steps" that I was only about 2 miles from the finish. I tried and tried to pick it up there, but it just wasn't happening. My arm hurt too much and I couldn't make myself pound the pavement any faster (although, technically, there wasn't that much pavement at that point). I wished and wished that I could force myself to the finish line faster, but it just wasn't meant to be at that point.

When I finally had the finish line in sight, that was when I realized that despite everything - falling, not being able to put on my own wetsuit all the way, not being able to shift properly, not being able to have my best run - I HAD FINISHED! I had Escaped from Alcatraz! I think in that moment I realized that it didn't matter what my time was. I reached the finish line and I finished with a smile on my face, which is always the end goal.

All in all, this was an awesome race for me. I don't have any regrets about it. I'd love to have the opportunity to have a do-over another year, but if this was my only chance, it was a great race. The course is tough, but beautiful. The weather was amazing on my race day and it was all I could have ever asked for. I'm so glad that I decided to do this! The only thing that I will say is that I think that I was so focused on the bike course elevation map and worrying about how hard the bike would be, I forgot to think about the elevation course and the challenges of the run. On a good day it would have been a hard run course, but now I know!

After the finish, I immediately went to the medical tent. Not surprisingly, they told me that they really couldn't do anything for me. They put some ice on my elbow and told me that I should go to the hospital to get an x-ray. I decided that I'd wait until I got home instead since I didn't want to wait for hours in San Francisco at the hospital. Instead I'd like to go out and enjoy the city, even if I had to carry my arm around in a drug-store sling.

So, the results on my watch were a little bit different from the results from the course. Which I thought was weird because I knew I started my watch long before I jumped in the water and yet my watch time is actually shorter than the official results. Not that it really matters in the long run. I think I did really well on my nutrition for this race. Besides accidentally taking a cup of Cytomax in the first mile of the run (which actually sat pretty well and I ended up taking a second around Mile 6), I relied on myself for nutrition. I'm glad to know that I can do okay on my own.

After gathering my gear bags and dropping off my bike, Drew and I shared a cab with another couple to the hotel. Then we took a nice hot shower (I was really really salty from the swim) and went to meet Sarah and her friend, Anna, for lunch. I'm so glad that we got to meet up with them afterward. Even if Anna and Drew were a little bit bored, it was great to re-hash the race with Sarah! She ended having a great race and she definitely made my entire race day a lot better!

Official Results (click to enlarge)

Watch Results
Time: 3:45:55
Distance: 1.50 miles swimming / 18 miles biking / 8 miles running
Calories: 2678
Maximum HR: 193
Average HR: 174


  1. Wow! Great race report! That really sucks that you fell on your way to the race but I'm glad you were able to do the race anyhow. I hope your arm heals quickly!

  2. Awesome race report! Congrats on finishing strong despite your left arm hurting. Way to tough it out on the run! That must have been sooo painful! Rest up and I hope you can figure out soon what is up with your arm.

    I think you sold me on the this race! Now I just have to qualify....or can you lottery in?

  3. Congratualations!!!