By: Brice Winkler
This year's edition of Tri Cal's Triathlon at Alcatraz proved to be especially difficult due to the increased chop and unfavorable current. The night before the race I was admittedly not too concerned about the water conditions, but my dad gave me some great advice anyway: "If things aren't optimal out there, just chill out and be okay with the fact that it might take you an hour to swim to shore." An hour? I was thinking more like 26 minutes like many of my other 1.2 mile swims.
However, the morning of the race, as I walked down the side of the boat with the other 27 cold pros and looked out at the bay, I knew that remembering to stay calm was going to serve me very well. After diving off, I began my relentless battle through the tossing ocean, and at least half of my sightings to shore were blocked by water in my face. "Am I really making any progress?" Water entered my right goggle, but I repeated over and over in my head that everything was okay, and even though I couldn't see anybody else around me (no boats, no kayaks, no black wetsuits ANYWHERE-Ahhhh!), I was going to keep my stroke rhythm and get to shore. "Chillax, dude you aremore than okay," were the precise words if you were wondering. :-)
And sure enough, I got to shore after 40 minutes, and I told myself as I was running up the beach that that was twice as hard as the 2.4 mile swim I had completed at the Full Vineman a few weeks ago. Hats off to everybody who made the treacherous crossing. It may not seem like it, but it is a tremendous achievement. After this nasty swim, now my race was on!
The bike segment went by very quickly. I just kept my head down and tried to stay as aerodynamic as possible on the flatter sections, and I either was grinding up a hill or spinning up some of the larger climbs. I had been doing a considerable number of workouts on my rollers to increase my bike handling abilities in preparation for this technical bike course, and it seems to have paid off. I caught a few pros who had gapped me on the swim, and I was sitting in around 16-17th position coming off the bike.
This was my first time doing the Triathlon at Alcatraz, so I had no idea what the sand ladder had in store for me. Well, it bit me, and I still have the bright red cherry to prove it. I'm just kidding, there is nocherry; however, there was a pretty intense burning in my legs as my sand ladder ascent became more of a sand ladder crawl. I kept my arm cadence high, and got up that sandy beast without losing all my oxygen. Whewww!! After a few more miniature climbs and descents, I could smell the finish line. I increased my speed, and was very happy to have finished the course in 2:49.
I truly think it's amazing so many people were able to complete this incredibly challenging race. My hat goes off to you! :-) It simply shows how dedicated all of you are, and even in suboptimal times when the big gray ocean is relentlessly tossing you around, and Sharky the Great White is sitting beneath you wondering quite intently whether or not you are a yummy seal. You guys got the job done, and you did the job very well.
To all you first time triathletes, believe me, the swims in other races are not nearly as difficult, so if you are discouraged about how arduous the swim portion will be, DON'T BE! Everything else will be a piece of cake by comparison. Thanks a lot to Tri California for putting on another world class event. I look forward to seeing many of you at the 2011 Triathlon at Pacific Grove.
Entries Tagged as 'Alcatraz'
By: Brice Winkler
By: Erich Wegscheider
When it comes to unique triathlon venues, few, if any, rival Tri California's San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz. With that, comes a course where one's finishing time may vary substantially year to year. After all, most races don't have to contend with such a strong current. Or the sand ladder for that matter. However, with the right approach, a personal-best is within grasp.
In preparation for the swim, do your homework and get an idea of what kind of conditions you'll face come race day. Then, set your ego aside. Even if you're a strong swimmer, the current can, and most likely will, be stronger. I've taken the direct approach to the swim exit twice and was wildly unsuccessful in one attempt. Had I sighted further towards the city as the race organizers had recommended, I would have been in a much better position for the remainder of the race. I also wouldn't of been as tired, being I had to fight the current. If you have any reservations about your swimming prowess, just do as the race organizers say and you'll be in great shape. Overall though, be sure to enjoy your surroundings. It's not everyday that you swim in the Bay with Alcatraz to your right, the Bay Bridge to your left, and the city skyline and the Golden Gate just ahead.
Just as doing your homework pays off on the swim, the same can be said for the bike course. Even if you're not able to ride the course prior to the race, I strongly recommend driving it! The course has some very sharp corners and can be technical. Seeing the descents and turns at least once ahead of time will give you a better idea of what line to take through the corners. Volunteers will be stationed before any of the aforementioned corners, so if you can't get out ahead of time, you'll at least know where to apply a bit more pressure on the brakes.
The run course is hands down, one of the more challenging courses you'll find in a triathlon anywhere. It has everything; pavement, sand, gravel, single-track, stairs, and hills. With that, knowing where to push the pace can equal big dividends in your finishing time and place. If hills aren't your terrain of choice, run hard out of T2 until you reach the first set of stairs. Then, use the stairs as active recovery and accelerate again once you find level ground or on the descent to Baker Beach. If hills are right up your alley, settle into a steady rhythm out of T2 and give it all you got on the stairs. Regarding the infamous sand-ladder, steady is the key. If that means walking, as many professional have done, then walk. In the end, you're really not losing much time to those who try to 'run' up. Also, the top of the sand-ladder isn't the end of the climb either, so reserving some energy there will pay off later in the run. Overall, a little truthful introspection about your running abilities ought to have you running top speed into the finishing chute. Hopefully towards a personal-best time and/or finish as well. Again, don't forget to look around and take in the scenery. It's a beautiful course, in a beautiful city.
Here's to a personal-best!
If you're not feeling 100% confident about racing at this weekend San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz, listen to these pointers from the Elite's!
"Remove sunglasses through the tunnel on the run and always be aware of downhill traffic on the run. Runners coming back down the switchbacks into Marina Green will be tired but carrying speed, the last combination you want to play chicken with. Stay to the right and avoid cutting in on the corners." - Dan McIntosh
- "The bike course is on the technical side, so if you can make it out to pre-ride one or two times before race day it'd be well worth the effort."- Courtenay Brown
- "I get cold easily, so last year in anticipation of a chilly swim I took a dose of First Endurance PreRace in the hour before the start so that my metabolism would be going pretty strongly. I didn't have problems with the cold water so I'll be doing that again this year!" - Courtenay Brown
- "Hold on to your goggle and spread eagle when you jump - you want to stay at the top of the water!" - Kelly Dunleavy
- "Use the flat sections on the bike and run to drink and eat; remember, there aren't many flat sections." - Kelly Dunleavy
- "Do NOT go crazy trying to get up the sand ladder as fast as possible. There is a reason most of the pros walk." - Kelly Dunleavy
- "The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz offers such a unique experience that it really cannot be compared to your standard international distance triathlon - the cold water and nervous energy on the boat, the hills, and sand ladder, and the satisfaction of completing the challenge. Plus I love San Francisco and the opportunities to explore the city. If you are a first timer, the best advice I can give you is just to stay relaxed and take the day as it comes! Listen to the swim briefing and get an understanding of the currents and best way to sight to shore and KNOW that it is going to be cold! Make sure your bike gears and brakes are all working well for the challenges of the hills and breaking the course up into smaller sections in your mind can help you focus better at the tast at hand. The run, while challenging, is one of the most scenic in the world - take the time to enjoy the view and know that everyone hurts on the san ladder. And most importantly remember to have fun out there." - Pip Taylor
- "My first tip for the San Francisco Triathlon from Alcatraz would be: make sure you are prepared for all kinds of weather. I pack everything from sunscreen to gloves, a rain jacket and over-bike shoe booties. San Francisco is notorious for its "wintery" summers. After living there for 3 years, I know that all too well. My second tip is to use the last flat section of the bike (along Mason Street) to get down a gel. I like to use a 2nd Surge Accel Gel because it has extra caffine. This not only perk me up after an early start to the day, but it gives me the energy to hit the flat section of the Presidio with a little extra speed to drop my competition. Once I hit the downhill to Bakers Beach, I down another gel. Its always good to have extra energy before the beach and the climb up the sand ladder!" - Leanda Cave
I think the experience is going to be awesome, and in spite of the paragraph above, I am so looking forward to competing on the 21st. My family will be traveling with me and will be cheering me on as I race. We plan to enjoy the city and surrounding areas the week following the tri. I am looking forward to my second visit to Alcatraz and riding safely on the ferry, (all the way there and all the way back).