Keeping Calm in Rough Waters - The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz 2011

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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.

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