On our way to the Jail Break 5K in our Brooks ID attire.

On our way to the Jail Break 5K in our Brooks ID attire.

Friday, June 15, 2012

We escaped…

What a difference a year makes. If someone had told me a year ago I was going to jump off a barge on Alcatraz and swim to San Francisco in 55 degree water I would have never believed them. Well that all change one very warm day in July last summer at our neighborhood pool. Wm and I went to lay out but it was just so warm I had to get in the water right at the same time one of my neighbors was getting in. We started chatting because she knew we had a mutual friend and she had just finished Vineman 70.3. We literally stood in the pool for hours chatting away realizing we had so much in common, little did I know I had such a cool triathlete neighbor who literally lives 3 houses up from me. Kimi had mention that she had heard from our mutual friend that we love to race and do events every weekend. She said “Hey, I really want to do Escape from Alcatraz, it’s on my bucket list! I bet I can get you to do it with me, right?” I really had no idea about the tri besides hearing about the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. Wm knew right away growing up in the bay area, he was out! We decided after our lips and faces were fried from the sun we should get out of the pool but I told Kimi I would look it up and be in touch. Returning home I googled the race and read the course description while also getting a history of SF weather from Wm and he assured me this would not be a tropical vacation and the water was cold! That day I decided I had to do this! Text message to Kimi sent that afternoon—BRING IT!

We knew the first step was to join the lotto and hope to get our names picked! So we each did the lotto the first weekend in September and waited for the word sometime in October. The next weekend after doing the lotto at the Myrtle Beach Tri I found out that Chris and Christina McCarty had put in too. Kimi and I concluded it would be a lot of fun if we all got in as well as hypothesized what we would do if only one of us got it. The first drawing is in October and you have two weeks to commit by paying for the race, they then see how many people they have out of the initial drawing commit and do a second lotto is January when they have an idea of how many more racers they can have. The field is 2000 but I think they only lotto 1800 spots allowing 200 charity (PAY EVEN MORE) spots. How awful would it be for one of us to get in the October drawing, pay and then hope the other got in the January drawing?
Well luckily us (well I was not sure if we were lucky at this time as I was very fearful!) we both received our confirmation emails in the middle of October and we were in along with Chris and Christina as well! Now began all the preparations to make this race become reality! 400 dollar registration fee completed, we have to do it now! Next up was figuring out what to do about our bikes, we spoke back and forth at length weighing the pros and cons of renting vs. shipping. We decided in early December with price being 250 dollars either way to just rent bikes. So after checking a few shops for my bike, which there were none we agreed on using specialized bikes. A quick fitting at Bike to Nature to confirmed our size and bikes were reserved with Blazing Saddles in SF, another thing off our list!  In January we worked on lodging and decided to go with the host Hilton hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf which was only about 1.5 miles from transition at Marina Green. We then worked on our airfare, getting long sleeve wetsuits and booties. Finally around the beginning of March we felt we had all that we needed together and it was time to start practicing in the colder water while we still had cold water in SC. We did multiple cold water swims in Murray-59 degrees was the coldest we swam in. I noticed each swim right after jumping off the dock I would get shortness of breath having my face in the cold until I warmed up. Leading up to the race I just assumed I would leave my head out of the water the for the first 200m until I got used to the water after I jumped.

   Well finally it was June 7th and time to leave for Ca. We got a 8:15pm flight out of Charlotte to have a direct flight and be able to work a half a day before leaving. The flight was pretty uneventful but needless to say when we finally landed at 11pm then took our shuttle and got to the hotel at 12:30pm (3:30am our time) we were pretty tired out! Friday we had to go get our bikes from the bike shop and we wanted to do a practice swim. We received a text from Christina that they were swimming at noon at the Aquatic Park.  Since we slept until about 10am we decided a quick stop at Starbucks and walk down there would be perfect! The air was cool and it was windy so getting in our wetsuits actually felt nice until we hit the water! We ran from the beach right in the water as we had to get right in to practice with no swim warm up! The water was cold and I did breast stroke for about 100m as I was getting shortness of breath with the initial shock of the cold water. We did about 1000m and our hands and faces were pretty cold when we got out but all agreed it really was not that bad once we got going. Half way through the swim I was so happy thinking “I cannot believe I am swimming in the SF Bay!”

     Then it was off to refuel at In and Out Burgers and time to get our bikes! I really liked the bikes we rented it sat up a lot less aggressive then my road bike, the breaks were great and it had a compact cassette. They fit us briefly and we did a test ride. We decided to do the night Alcatraz tour which was awesome! However, I spent much of the boat trip along with being on Alcatraz telling Kimi “I cannot believe we are going to swim from here to there!” Also, no one had ever successfully escaped leading me to continue to think, "thank goodness for wetsuits!"
     Saturday morning we set the alarm for 7am and were out the door a few minutes later to go for a run. We ran past the marina green where packet pick up would be and down to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the hotel for a 10K. It was beautiful and there were so many people out being active. Kimi received a FB message from a friend of hers in SF joking that he knew why she was in SF and posted a link the “National Bike Naked Day.” We Googled it and decided we had to go, with packet pick up starting at 11 and this also starting at 11 we decided we would go to packet pick up a little later to go see this ride! We hopped on the bikes went to the start and laughed and laughed. We then came back, dropped the bikes back in the room and walked to packet pick up. The line was horribly long but it did go fast. There were very few vendors and the merchandise tent was awful. We were both a little disappointed in the packet pick up so we went to the mandatory athletes meeting, got marked (one less thing to do in the morning!) then walked to a late lunch. We had a 3am wake-up call so knew we would not have a late night but could not just sit in the room so we went to Pier 39 to see the seals and walked around Ghirardelli square. We went to bed around 9:30 with 2 alarms set and a wake-up call at 3am!
Race day-3am-get ready and were down in the lobby by 3:30 (people were just coming in from their night on the town!!) We road our bikes to the start about 1.5 miles, it was pretty dark but we came upon other people going to the race. We got the Green right at 4am as transition was opening; we racked our bikes and set up our transition and took a few pictures. We got on the bus to Pier 33 where we had to get on the boat. Here we dropped our over clothes and got on the boat with our wetsuits half on and our cap/goggles. (I really did not want to take off my over clothes—it was so cold but I did not bring things I could throw out.) We walked right on the boat to our level. There are 3 levels of the SF Belle, the lower level is for the pros, main level age groups up to age 39 then the higher level is for 40 plus age groups. There were not a lot of people on the boat at all when we got on. We found a little spot where we would be for the next 2 hours. We ate, drank and chatted as we waited then cruised out to Alcatraz. The boat ride was maybe a half hour; they take us around the island then parked. I turned my watch on but could not get a satellite and the singing of the national anthem began. The start was the horn of the boat and the pros were off. All 2K athletes must be off the boat in 6 minutes therefore the minute that horn went off it was mayhem. They open 3 sliding glass doors and you can go out any one of them to jump in. We quick said let’s go to the door to the left, push, shove.. We brought room temperature water and poured it down our wetsuit just to be a little wet with comfortable water. So we pushed shoved, put water down our wet suits and we were at the door!

Swim-Christina, Kimi and I walked through the door and over the mat, boom two guys ran between us and jumped. As soon as you go over the mat you have to jump! I was so mentally prepared for this. I walked to the ledge and looked down I thought “holy crow it is a 4 foot jump off to the water and I did not know they were going to leave the boat on, so there was wake/bubbles right where we jump” then boom I was in. I did not have any shortness of breath I just swam (head out of the water for about 25m as there are people everywhere and jumping everywhere) I wanted out of the way fast! I stopped 2 times on the swim to look around at the city and back at the boat/Alcatraz, it was beautiful. I was never cold on the swim. I cannot believe I was not cold. I hate air temperatures being in the 50’s and Wm often cannot believe that I lived in Buffalo as I claim I am freezing to death when it is in the 70’s! I was worried I was going to lose one of my bootie so I kept pulling it up! I did not spot off the buildings, I just followed the masses. At the meeting they said at an hour they would start pulling swimmers, I feared as I saw 52 mins on my watch and existed at 55 minutes! We learned after they did not pull at an hour as there was no current this year so the swim was a lot slower as years before. My hands were frozen upon getting out of the water, one person pulled my wetsuit down half way then I was off to my special needs bag where I sat again and a volunteer pulled my wetsuit/booties off, got out my water, towel and running shoes. Here was the hard part; trying to tie shoes to run over a half mile to T1 (next time I would bring tri shoes for this!) I ran up to t1 with my shoes undone. and still not warm!
Bike-I thought my computer on the bike was at 0 but it was not so I stopped at the dismount line and reset it and I was off. It is flat up to going under the Golden Gate Bridge then starts the climbing. I was laughing because my hand were still numb until about mile 5 so I had to pound my wrist on the levers to change gears. I got up the first few hills when the pros and cop cars were going down the hill. It is 18 mile out and back course with 2K people on it at one time. The course was very technical and crowded. I had no idea my time on the bike because my watch never got a satellite. My favorite view was looking over my left shoulder when we went by Land’s End—Looking down off the cliff/road to the water with a layer of fog above it. I had one gu and sipped on a little cytomax on the bike.

Run-I was so ready to run mentally as I love the run however, physically nor mentally was I ready for this run. We went out of transition and got on a dirt path to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. This was all flat but I felt awful, I have no idea my pace as I did not have a watch on. I got up to the aid station and saw a bathroom down a path to the Left.  I never stop on a run but knew I had to. To be honest with you it felt good to just get away for a few minutes and gain my composure plus splash water on myself. All the preparing we did for this event we had no idea it was an xterra trail run! There were a lot of steps and some narrow tunnels.  There are very few places you can pass on. Around mile 4 you go down a path to the ocean and run about a half mile in the sand. ¼ a mile in softer sand, turn around to wet/harder sand then to the sand ladder. The waves were incredible here, at least 7 feet and would burst when they broke. The sand ladder was tough, I walked almost all of it but I loved it! Mile 5-6.5 were back through the tunnel and down some of the stairs we climbed to the flat path by the bridge to the finish.
     Kimi was cheering me in as she rocked it and was done way before me. I was happy to be done but even happier that I had the chance to do that beautiful event. The post race food was awesome and we told race stories with Chris and Christina who both did very well too. Then we walked our bikes 1.5 miles back to the hotel and returned them still in our racing stuff! We took an afternoon nap and had a great dinner on the town to celebrate. I played over the race a number of times alone and with Kimi and Wm both however, I really cannot recall any one reason I was so slow but in the end concluding finishing and doing that event was more than enough!

Monday we went back to the bike shop and rented cruisers. We biked the Golden Gate Bridge and had lunch over in Sausalito. It was beautiful, then biked back and shopped at Sports Warehouse. The whole ride looking at Alcatraz to SF where we exited the water, I kept saying “I cannot believe we swam that!” We then had dinner plans with Kimi’s friend Perrine and went out for Irish Coffees to enjoy our last night in the city. We laughed so hard as the restaurant we were in was across the street from a building they had to evacuate for bombs from a lady that had a psychotic break. We continued dinner and took pictures by the bomb squad truck. We got home around midnight and had a wake-up call for 4:30 as we had a 7am flight. It was a great trip and awesome experience!   We enjoyed an evening shopping and eating in Charlotte to extend our vacation too!

Thanks to Kimi for being our tour guide around the city and for all the hard work with travel plans. Job well done on the Tri sister! Fantastic job to Chris and Christina as well!

  Now what’s next.......?

Till next time-Swim, Bike and Run HAPPY! -K