I'm going to Alcatraz

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What is the Escape from Alcatraz?

It was a month ago maybe that I saw that the first round of the Alcatraz draw was over. Not thinking too much about the financial consequences I signed up for the second round draw just for fun. Well, I just got a spot! The race is on June 11th 2017. My motivation just went through the roof!!

Ever since heard about this triathlon some years ago it's been on my bucket list. Many do it as their first triathlon, but the currents and the cold water makes it a lot harder than people expect. This is why I have waited until now to participate. I know that I am in a good enough shape to finish in style, and I can't wait to try out those sand steps during the run, they look absolutely awful!

If you don't know what triathlon this is, then check out the video below.

 
 
 
 

The Race

 

The Escape from Alcatraz is a triathlon placed in the San Francisco bay area. The point is to do the impossible; to escape the dreaded prison. To escape the triathletes need to swim the 2500 meters from the island and all the way to Saint Francis Yacht Club. After the cold swim they get forced to run a short kilometer to their bikes to get warm before biking a 30 kilometer leg through the Golden Gate Park. The run is about 12 kilometers in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the finish is back at the marina.

There are several reasons why this is a big deal to me. Firstly, the race is placed near San Francisco, a city that I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. The six months before will be spent training hard, and it might be time for a vacation after the race is done. California will then be an ideal location. Secondly, it's Alcatraz! Everybody knows what Alcatraz is. The bragging rights are a significant reason alone. Thirdly, the challenge is good for me right now. The entire race in itself is not a huge challenge for me. I am used to hills both during runs and while biking, but the swimming leg is a step up and a great challenge that I am looking forward to.

The race started as early as in 1981 and was originally longer and situated more on the outskirts of San Francisco, but when TV-channels got interested in the event the course changed in 1993 to a more central course around the Golden Gate Park and Recreational Area. After this the course has stayed the same, and it usually takes the professional athletes around 2 hours to complete it. I haven't had the time to set a desired time for myself yet and I still don't know if I am going to focus on going as quick as I can, or if I should film and make a social experience out of it.

 
 
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Swimming

All three sports represented in The Escape from Alcatraz give a unique experience to the triathlon, but I would argue that swimming is by far the most special and the reason why this triathlon exists.

 
 
 
 

All 2000 swimmers board "the Hornblower," the boat that's both a shuttle and the starting line for the race. Warming up is apparently for sissies, because the participants jump from the boat as the start signal is sounded. Watch the video above to see this is in action.

Then comes the 2500 meter long swim. This swim is dreaded for several reasons.
First of all, because it is long. Usually when a swim is this long, both biking and running tends to be longer as well. This is not the case, especially not after the course changed in 1993, when both biking and running was made shorter to fit within the San Francisco borders. If you are a good swimmer, then you'll have a better shot at winning this race than any other.
Secondly, the water is freezing. It is usually from 12° to 16° C, which is kinda normal for me when training during the summer in Norway, but still pretty cold. Wet suits are therefore mandatory, at least in my opinion.. 
The third reason is the strong current. As far as I have understood they try to put the start of the swim at a particular time when there is less current, but the smaller current will still inflicts greatly on the direction you'll have to swim in order not to end up swimming against it at the end. The lifeguards that follow the contestants have the authority to pick up and move a swimmer back into the correct position without having them disqualified.

The strong current also means that as long as you swim correctly in the beginning the last meters will be swimming with the current. The cap for the swimming leg is one hour and the contestants that can't finish within the time limit gets placed close to the shore so they can continue the race.

 
 
 
 

When they first started this triathlon many people did it without wet suits, and they got so cold they fell off their bikes later in the race. For this reason they inserted a 1 km warm up run from the time you get out of the water until you get to the bike. Many do this run barefoot while still being in their wet suits, but there is also a possibility to leave shoes ready.

For more information check out the video below.

 
 
 
 
 

Biking

After the 1 km warm up run a 30 km long bike ride is ahead of the triathletes. This bike ride is considered hilly and will test the athletes climbing and handling skills as you go both up and down. For those who are not fluent in gibberish, (read the imperial system) the highest point on the course is at 100 meters, on the second climb if you look at the map on top. The same spot will also be reached on the way back to the Marina.

 
 

For me the best thing about this races is that it goes close to the iconic landmark bridge "The Golden Gate." It's something that many of us have seen in the 90s in the intro of Full House and that usually everybody knows about. even though the bike course looks cool I would have liked it to be situated even closer to the San Francisco city center, but I guess that would be very hard to do.

The course goes westward, past the Golden Gate bridge, and towards the Golden Gate Park. Once the participants get there, they will turn around and bike approximately the same route back towards the marina. This means that the road will be shared with cyclists going both ways. Caution is therefore important, and crossing the yellow line can be seen as valid reason for disqualification.

This is also a non-draft race, where illegal drafting can lead to disqualification. This shouldn't be as relevant in the uphills, but in the downhills and on the flats there are huge advantages to be made by getting close to the person ahead. There are officials all around the course to check if people break the rules. On the different YouTube films I have seen so far there are many places where the road is too narrow and there is no other way than to bike in traffic.

The bike course closes two hours after the swim closure time (three hours after the start), which should be plenty of time to bike the 30 km. If somebody is too slow they will be picked up by the sweep car driving at the back.

 
 
 

Running

Last on the program is a 12 km run through the Golden Gate Recreation Area to the Baker Beach Battery and back to the marina. Looking at the elevation map there is two steep hills with close to 75 meter elevation in the middle of the run. This makes it a tough run where it's smart conserving energy throughout so that you have enough when it gets flat at the end.

These are not just normal hills though. Instead of building just steps that are solid, they have made a sand ladder that looks absolutely dreadful. In the videos I've seen so far even the professional athletes use their arms to pull themselves upwards because of slippery surface. This is by far the crux on the run leg and will either make or break the athletes attempting to escape.

After a quick turn at Baker Beach Battery the run will follow the same path back, which at some places will result in very crowded or narrow passings. In order to not get stuck behind slower runners in these sections there might be a need to think tactically while running, deciding where to burn or conserve energy.

The entire race seems very exciting and inviting to me, and I can't wait to do it. For now though I'll have to make do with looking at videos and training like a champ so that I'll be able to complete it in style!