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!