by Jared Fayer, Triathlete, Father and HoneyMaxx Ambassador
In June, I raced the famous Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. This is one of the bucket list races for many triathletes. The fact that we swim from the fabled island of Alcatraz is something that every triathlete should experience in his/her career. I remember watching it on TV while growing up. This year it was the 35th year of the race and I somehow got into the lottery back in October. Given how hard it is to get into the lottery, I figured there was no way I was going to turn down this chance to race the course.
So how’d the race go for me? Let’s put it this way. It was exactly like San Francisco; there were some ups, some downs, twists and turns, and then you’re out of there.
In order to get out to Alcatraz, all athletes have to be out of transition and set up by about 5:30 am and put on a bus to the ferry out to Alcatraz. That leads to an early morning but it also means a lot, and I mean A LOT, of waiting around. First on the bus, then the ferry. But it was amazing to hear stories from other athletes across the country. What is also cool is that most of the pros hang out in the common folk section so we get to talk to them and hear what they have to say. I had a chance to sit with Andy Potts who was looking to go after his 8th win.
At about 7:15 they start making announcements about the start so it was time to get my wetsuit on and get ready for the start of the swim. Once 7:30 came around, it was go time. There is no hesitation at all. Gun goes off and they gently nudge all the athletes off the boat. Over 2000 athletes are off that boat in less than 6 minutes, so you know it goes fast.
Once on the boat deck, you have about 6 seconds to jump before either someone pushed you aside or fear gets in the way. I waited for neither and when I saw clear space in the water, I went for it. The good news is that it wasn't as cold as I thought. Nice. One thing went my way. That's about it for the swim.
Knowing swimming isn't my strength I just wanted to get through it and thought the current was going to help. We are told to site at a few landmarks, but it was so foggy that it was hard to do.
I finally got my bearings and my first landmark and started to go. The first few minutes were great. I had a great rhythm and thought this might be my day. Then I just had no idea what to do. I lost my sighting, realized this is a long swim, and didn't think I was going to finish it. I had a panic attack without the attack. I never thought I was in danger, but I kept wanting to stop. I would swim for a few minutes, stop and tread water, think I couldn't finish and then start up again. But I kept saying this is not a race I want to DNF in.
The one question a lot of athletes have in the swim is when to move on to the next site marker. I had no idea so I was going after my first one for probably too long before changing my direction to the next one. This probably cost me a few minutes but that didn't matter. My swim wasn’t great regardless. I was just happy it wasn’t too cold, there were no sharks, and that I finished.
After a half mile run to transition, I got on my bike and just went. I knew I had a serious deficit to make up but I also knew this was a tough and hilly course. Once on the bike, I was going after it. Surprisingly, the hills didn't bother me at all. Maybe it was because I was behind so many people that I kept passing everyone who I am naturally faster than. I thought the hills were going to be hard, but I was rocking them. This really impressed me as it shows that my bike training paid off. I was killing the hills and so happy on the bike.
What goes up, must come down. San Francisco is not a flat town, so these huge hills I was going up had to come down. Usually not a problem, but they were some steep hills with some technical turns on them. Let me say that I have NEVER been so scared on a bike before in my life. EVER. Not after my crash 2 years ago, not any time. People were bombing down these hills at like 40 plus miles per hour. I was not comfortable with this but in order to not get run over, I had to do just go with the flow, no matter how fast the flow is going.
While on the bike, the thought in the back of my mind was my last race where I cramped up on the run. Having HoneyMaxx in my aero bottle helped and after speaking with Mark from HoneyMaxx, I added some Sea Salt to the drink for this race. It was a great tip, especially since the swim was extremely salty, so this way I was able to counter it with the HoneyMaxx/Sea Salt combo. I made sure to take more fluids in than natural because once the fog rolled out, it got hot and humid quickly.
This is the only part of the race I really enjoyed. The run was just awesome. You get some amazing views on the run. Like the bike, it was extremely hilly, but I loved the hills and they didn't bother me either. The run course takes you on streets, trail, stairs, steps, beach and the infamous sand ladder.
I was cruising on the run. I felt good and was pushing the pace. Once past the first 2 miles where the hills started my legs felt great and I knew my HoneyMaxx combo did the trick. All I could think about was how I wanted to write Mark after the race and thank him. Looking back at the race, I probably kept a little too much in the tank, but I was still cranking out a good pace.
After running on the beach under the Golden Gate Bridge, you get to the Sand Ladder, which is a 400 step ladder consisting of, you guessed it, sand. Everyone is told to walk it, but I tried to do my best to run it. I wanted a really good time on this part. The problem with being so far back is there were so many people on the ladder when I got there that it was hard to pass people. After living in NYC and having a lot of stairs, it wasn't as bad as I thought.
After the sand ladder, it’s basically 2 miles of down hills and flats to bring you home. I really enjoyed this part and found myself running with another racer until I pulled away with about 3/4 miles left.
Coming into the finishers chute, I couldn't be happier this race was over.
This was a bucket list race for me so I have to take it as that. Each individual part wasn’t up to my standards and I wasn’t going to place, so I have to take that in consideration when evaluating the race. Races are also good learning experiences, and I figured a few things out during this race. I nailed my hydration which will definitely help future races, I know that I can push the pace during my runs, and even though my swim wasn’t great, I did get through it and can use this confidence in other swims. At the end of the day, I’m glad I did the race and got to experience it. It is definitely a once in a lifetime race, and I recommend it to anyone who loves to race great venues.