The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz has become one of, if not my favorite race venues. The swim is truly one of a kind, the bike and run are equally beautiful, and put together, they make for a tough day!

Race morning was surprisingly calm. I arrived at transition a little after 4 am and took all of 5 minutes to put things in their place. After that, I walked over to the buses and was on my way to the pier. Even the bus ride was absent of nervous energy. Then we boarded the ferry and pushed off. Simple as that.
Expecting to line up on the outside of the ferry before the start, I was still quite relaxed. That was until everyone made a mad dash through the doors. I quickly put my goggles in place and found clear water to jump into – there was no room for diving. The shock of the cold water wasn’t that bad and I controlled my breathing the best I could and felt comfortable. I took a rather aggressive line towards the swim exit, instead of swimming towards shore and then letting the current take me in. The water was a little choppy at times, which would ruin my stroke rhythm every now and then due to unintentional mouthfuls of water. Overall, the swim went well, as I felt stronger as the swim progressed.

On a side note, the swim there is something every triathlete should experience. When I would breath to my left, I saw the sun just starting to break through the clouds above the Bay Bridge. A little further up and there was the San Francisco skyline. Not that this is the proper head position for breathing, but when I breathed to my right and back a little bit, there was Alcatraz! A little further up and while breathing naturally, there was the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s no wonder why people have brought cameras on this swim or have treaded water for a moment to take it all in. It’s spectacular. 
A friend of mine took this at the Escape a few years back.

As usual, I was in and out of T1 in a hurry and onto the bike. Then came the hills. I was definitely at a disadvantage not knowing the bike course here, especially the down-hills. For the most part, I was fine climbing, I just didn’t know how long the climbs were. Near the top of each climb, I would usually be close to a few athletes ahead, but once the windy descents began, I lost time – I couldn’t see through the corners and really didn’t want to go into one too fast. After the hills, we rode along Highway 1 to the turn-a-round, with a short loop in Golden Gate Park. Then it was back to the hills. I wouldn’t say I rode that well, but I didn’t ride all that bad either. Knowing the turns and topography would have been nice though.

I was a bit cold coming off the bike and my feet were numb, despite wearing toe warmers. I struggled with my shoes, but still managed to record one of the faster T2s. Then it was time to hit the run and warm up. The first mile and a half were flat and I kept my pace in check due to the hills ahead, which I also knew nothing about. After that flat section, there was a lovely set of stairs to run. Then it became an Xterra run; dirt trails, tunnels, sand, hills, the works. After the short beach run came the infamous sand ladder. When the wooden beams were exposed, I made good progress. However, during the segments where sand covered all, I felt like I was going nowhere. I didn’t walk the sand ladder, but I can’t say I ran it either – I just got up it. As if that weren’t enough climbing, we had another uphill section immediately after that. Fortunately the surface was compact dirt, so I felt like I was flying. I have to admit, this “adventure running” was a lot of fun and it kind of made me feel like I was running from the authorities. Then the course offered some respite in the form of gently rollers, but I picked up the pace. All that was left was the first set of stairs we initially climbed and a mile and a half. I quickly, but cautiously descended the sandy stairs and found yet another gear once I hit the flats. I passed an Elite about a mile out and pushed on. I was really starting to hurt with 600 meters to go and I took a glance back to see the athlete from before no more than 25 meters behind. I instinctively stepped on it again and was putting myself further into the hurt box. Once I entered the chute, I knew I was free and clear, but kept my stride hoping I wouldn’t throw up – I was running well, but the pace hurt. Thankfully, I kept everything down.

Overall, I’m very happy with how the race played out and how I performed, especially since I didn’t know I’d be racing until Friday. The initial results listed me as the top amateur, but that changed 15-minutes prior to awards. Then when I checked again yesterday evening, I was back atop the amateur rankings – there were some timing chip issues with the other athlete. Results will be final in two weeks time, but the placing really doesn’t matter, the top amateur thing just sounds better.

A big thanks to due to Tri California for putting on such a great race! Everything was superb: the venue, the organization, the food, etc. I also want to thank Dr. Tony Kearns of SportsPlus, who was on hand with his alma mater and took great care of me and the other athletes after the race.