Last Sunday I did one of the races on my Top 5 – the Escape From Alcatraz. The big attraction being the crazy swim from Alcatraz (supposedly unescapable in its day) to San Francisco. Follow that with a very technical and hilly bike and then a stupidly hard run and you have one of the races that I just felt I needed to do.
The race was as crazy as I thought it would be. You start at 5AM to rack your bike. You then get on a bus that takes you out to a Pier. There you change into you wetsuit and get on a casino ferry (with all of the tables removed). 2000 athletes were involved in my race and almost all of them were stressed about the swim. I think of myself as a decent swimmer and even I had stress/nerves about the swim. It is supposed to be cold, wavy and a wicked current. What you do is sit on the ferry as it takes you out to Alcatraz island. The trip takes about 45 minutes. The ferry is thick with anticipation and there is none of the joking/music/goofing around that accompanies many a race start. People are stressed!
Then the national anthem and BOOM! The pros go off the side of the boat. Then, in about 6-7 minutes, 2000 other athletes leap from the boat and start swimming. Due to my age, I was in the last group and got to see the mayhem of people jumping and then swimming for shore. It is crazy! It is not like you get to think about it much either. Basically you run down some steps, around a corner and jump off the boat (about a six foot drop). It is quick and chaotic.
The swim was truly cool. I stopped a couple of times just to look around (they recommend you take it all in). It is kind of freaky to be half way between Alcatraz and the beach. I accidentally overshot the beach and had to swim up-current for about five minutes (not recommended), but the water wasn’t too cold (Alberta’s lakes are on some days comparable) and the waves weren’t too big. All in all I enjoyed the swim and kept telling myself “this is so cool!”.
After the swim there is a half kilometer run to T1. Then a crazy up and down and tight turned course on the bike. I actually did the bike ten minutes faster in real life (as compared the Real life video on the Computrainer). And I never felt like I was red-lining it, so that was good.
The run sucks. Literally. It is partly on a beach and when you run along it feels like the wet sand is trying to suck your shoes off. I took the run pretty casually and never got too stressed, but this is not a speed course. The terrain changes every mile and it is crazy up and down.