Alcatraz Challenge
July 6th, 2003 $100
1.5mi swim, 7.5 mi run.

Swim - 64m slowest of the 3 Rock swims by far. Rough conditions
Run - 70m not a terrible run for circumstances, but too foggy.

Neither Melinda or I had been cycling much, and I slept past the 90 minute registration window for the Alcatraz Triathlon this year. So switching to this smaller swim/run sounded more fun. Put on by the [swimmers], it proved to be quite well run, and suprisingly still not oversubscribed. Triathletes in the area just don't seem to like duathlons.

Registration was day of the event, and trivial. I got there around 6:20 and took less than 10 minutes to check in, get my chip, get my goodie bag. However, since the check-in was at the Blue and Gold departure rather than the swim landing, I had to put everything I had into my transition bag. There would be no on boat pickup. After mulling over wearing slippers for the swim, I put it all away, put on my wetsuit and we walked over to the orientation. The ocean looked flat here, but the fog was heavy. The mailed suggestion of spotting off the Twin Towers wasn't going to work. Instead they proposed heading for the tall Condos to the east of the hill, then the Fort Mason buildings, and then the end point.

That isn't my usual - I go for the Fort Mason halls, then the Palace of Fine Arts, and I had again planned to stay on the right side of the field, riding the current and the less crowded waters down. While this plan worked great last year with a 42min time, it did not go nearly as well this year. As we got out by the island it was no longer looking glassy flat, but still the chop looked mild in height.

Unlike Trical's triathlon, the swim start was not when you jumped overboard. Instead you were to go to the starting line 100 yards past the bow and wait for all to get off. Not looking forward to sitting in the cold (though really interested in warming my suit), we patiently let most swimmers jump first. This backfired a bit when the gun went off just as we swam past the bow! At least I had my uncrowded waters! I did suggest to the RD that they give a time remaining announcement.

The dropoff point was perhaps 150 yards beyond the SE corner of the Rock. Definitely further than the other swims I had done, and not by a small amount. Ignoring current, the straight line swim distance would be ___. As I started with a southery course, I immediately ran into the usual problem with people wanting to swim west. Initially I thought it was the usual learning curve for people not believing the advice, but I quickly found out there was more. The swells which had seemed so minor now felt far more distracting and I found they were turning me like a canoe or a air kayak. I'd start swimming to shore and 8-10 strokes later I'd find myself looking into the Golden Gate Bridge again. I wonder if the swells had as much an effect on the naked swimmers, or if it were more a wetsuit problem.

Between the swells and the fog, it was hard to tell where I was going. It was similar to my swim at the Malibu tri last year, save the fact that now I couldn't even spot the other swimmers. Everyone was tucked away in their little valley of waves. Not too hard to swim in, but now and then I would roll over on a breath cycle. I must have been pretty far back - I got my own personal kayaker sculling along next to me, acting as a pretty good pointer. And so I made my way. I did a decent number of swims before the race, but not all that much distance, and unlike last year I wasn't paddling with dragonboat twice a week. I was starting to wonder about my progress towards shore and at that point got a pickup by the boat to reposition me. Everyone on the boat was of the same mind - how the hell do we swim straight in this? At the dropoff we found the water much calmer, suggesting that today it would have been much better to come inshore quickly to get away from the washing machine swells.

Shore was nice. The water never felt that cold, but an hour is a long time. I removed my suit in the shallows but got stuck on the second leg, nearly dunked myself getting it off. And so it was time for transition to the run. I was worried about Melinda, but later found she had done the swim much much faster than I and despite a 9min transition had already gotten on the run course. For me it wasn't a very quick T either - I didn't feel a strong need to rush. Getting on the tank top was more challenging than it should have been. Just a tad clumsy.

As I left I spied bagels with cream cheese which looked really yummy. Oddly, I couldn't seem to chew and swallow - bagle bits just feel out of my mouth. So I licked all the cheese and tossed the rest. I was using my Timex speed+distance watch again. It is a GPS based speedo that gives instantaneous mile pace. The opening flat stretch went fine as I warmed up. No head wind, and it seemed easy to maintain a good rate. But when I got to the section of stairs to go up a couple hundred feet to the bridge, I found the back still cold and tight, so I walked the ups.

The briefing was very clear about not running down the tourists (lest the permit be lost in the future), but on a day like today, there weren't very many. The occasional bicyclist on the wrong side of the span was a bit annoyance. Here you did feel the wind, and the fog. Sadly, there was no view of Alcatraz, or the City line, or anything. Somewhere in the middle I couldn't tell if I was running up a slight incline or down a slight decline. Total point of reference failure. The turnabout came at the vista parking lot and was gladly welcomed. Just the short rise up the bridge and then it was flat/downhill all the way home. I saw Melinda just coming back - not sure where I passed her on the way out. She looked pretty strong, no doubt she would make it in.

On the homestretch I was able to push up the rate again to what passes for fast for me these days. But I had to really want to do it, the tempo wouldn't come naturally. Cruising in felt pretty good, and then I got to see the great brass medalions for the event. I then quickly moved to warmer clothes and waited for Melinda to finish. We were too beat to do much afterwards - they dropped me off at my car, I made a In N Out run, and then headed home for the first of several naps.