Escape from Alcatraz: An Amazing Triathlon Race

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Alcatraz-Race-in-San-FranciscoIt was an incredible racing experience. I recently completed my first triathlon – The Escape from Alcatraz, a benefit for B*CURED, an organization that builds awareness about brain cancer and funds research to develop a cure – on June 10.

My friend and my race sherpa Vic and I woke up at 4 a.m. that day and somehow coerced a taxi to let me pop my bike into his cab and take us down to San Marina Green in San Francisco. After setting up transition (mostly in the dark) I headed on a bus bound for Pier 3 on my own.

Preparing to Race
At Pier 1, we handed over a bag with our sweats and other clothing and got into our wetsuits and other swim gear. The 55 degree water looked a bit daunting as the 2,000 participants loaded onto the boat bound for Alcatraz. We were repeatedly reminded that it was a one-way trip and there was no turning back. You make fast friends at these events; I hung out with a group of guys from Canada, Chicago and New York who all had done this race before and were tried to alleviate their fear as well as mine.

Mammals in the Water
I had been told that sharks weren’t really a concern, but there was quite a sea lion presence, so I knew in advance I might see these huge marine creatures.

While on the boat, we enjoyed the usually beautiful San Francisco day with temperatures in the mid 70s and surprisingly no fog. The captain took us around Alcatraz one time giving us great views of the prison and of the city.Alcatraz-Triathlon-San-Francisco-California

The Race Begins
Then came the mass start: 2,000 people jumping into the frigid water on top of each other in six minutes. The current was stronger than I imagined as I watched the first few waves of people fight it. I jumped in and was stunned by the frigid water; it felt like someone had punched me in the chest. Then I became numb and started swimming in the upside-down L shape that they had advised us to use.

The current was so strong I had to overcompensate with my right arm and swim lopsided. I couldn’t see the first sighting (the apartment towers) so I followed the throngs of other triathletes.

It was a vigorous swim. There were boats all around us and triathletes holding on when they became tired or disoriented. The kayaks also had to redirect swimmers who were drifting in the current – which kept pulling us to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was mostly okay with the swim until the very end; I could see the buoys, I was close and had made decent time getting that far, until I ended up in some kind of eddy and was swimming and getting nowhere. I was fighting it and beginning to get slightly nervous; for the first time, i understood how someone could drown. I swam out of it and ended up by the rocks – not quite the target but good enough. When I was back on land, I realized how disoriented I truly was. Thankfully, volunteers were there to help us remove our wetsuits, booties and hoods. We went to a corral, where we retrieved a transition bag with running shoes and a towel, popped those on, and ran the half mile to the bike transition at Marina Green.  

Biking with Bella
I changed into my bike gear and hit the road with my beautiful bike, Bella. Within the first mile, my bike computer fell off – bummer! But I was blazing fast and didn’t want to stop. I felt good about my gear, choosing to wear arm warmers in lieu of a jacket.

Then the climbs began, and they were tough. I was passing people, which was an interesting experience – most of the women were encouraging, but the guys got a bit more competitive and would occasionally try to speed up to prevent me from passing.

Throughout the race, I kept looking out at Alcatraz and thinking, “Wow, I just swam from there,” and felt proud.
Alcatraz-post-triathlon-beer
Making a Run for It
The transition from bike to run went well. The weather had warmed up by then, which was fine in the flats but made the hills tough. The beach run seemed brutal until I reached the sand stairs, which were was just plain exhausting. The aid stations provided fluids every mile, which helped because I was dehydrated. My run was unimpressive but I was glad to complete it.

Thoughts on a Triathlon
Running under the Golden Gate Bridge was a great experience. Overall, the race was awesome. I crossed the finish line and heard my name and my hometown announced and felt proud to finish. Immediately after, I started planning my return for next year. Vic was there to greet me and congratulate me at the end. And, of course, to carry my stuff and me back home.

Marilyn Jane Roos began to do triathlons nine years ago with Team in Training, which raises money for leukemia and lymphoma. Her father died from lymphoma when she was 16; she does triathlons to honor him.

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