This was my second shot at Escape From Alcatraz, having done the race last year (www.facebook.com/#!/note.php?note_id=91151859422) on Jack's 3rd birthday. Due to some infighting in the world of triathlon, the race was moved up 6 weeks this year so instead of being held mid-June, it was time to jump off the boat in early-May. Last year's race was tough for me. I was a novice; I'm not a biker and was riding my cheap, HEAVY bike, and I was worried about making it home for Jack's birthday party. With all this in mind, I had set pretty lofty goals for this race:
1) to take 10 minutes off my swim time
2) to take 10 minutes off my bike time
3) to take 10 minutes off my run time
4) no walking on the run and
5) finish in under 4 hours.
I'm going to issue a warning right now-- parts of this blog are going to be "whiny" (yes, worse than usual) but the point of this blog is to capture the highs and lows of training so I'm going to attempt to be truthful.
The Pre-Race Battle
Saturday was a beautiful day in the San Francisco area. For those of you that follow my facebook accounts, you know this is a rare statement from me. . . John, the kids, John's father Russell and I spent morning at one of the playgrounds in the city (I took an hour "escape" to get my race numbers), had a lovely lunch, and stopped by one of my favorite places-- the sports basement- to stock up on Body Glide and nutrition.
As usual, as the day wore on, John became more and more frustrated with the amount of time this was taking from our family. He repeatedly commented that he wasn't bringing the kids down to the race (although it is a short 30 minutes away) and mentioned repeatedly that he would do things like this "if it didn't take away so much family time."
One of the reasons that I do this is my family. I love my two baby boys more than anything I can imagine and I want them to grow up knowing that their mommy is strong; and that a beautiful woman is one who is sweaty and gross coming across a finish line. Accordingly, it is pretty important to me to have them there.
Well, of course, before I could go to bed for a restful evening, John and I had to have our "discussion" of whether he would be willing to bring the kids down. And, as usual, after being made to feel guilty for hours for wanting them to come, I gave in. Despite the fact that the race was 20 minutes from our house and the kids could play in the sand of crissy field (and still see the race), they weren't coming.
I was packed; I was ready; now all I had to do was get up.
Waking up at 3:00 am is crazy
Always. Everytime I do something like this I wonder why these things can't start at a more humane hour. Although I was not a first timer anymore (and didn't have to be on the 430 am bus to the boat), I didn't want to be late and risk losing my window seat on the boat to sit in the middle with people all around me. So, I compromised and left the house at 4 am after double checking to make sure I had all the necessities.
Packing for a triathlon is something like assembling gear for an Everest Trek and packing for Escape from Alcatraz is worse than most due to the multi spot start and the extra run leg. For the swim you need your wetsuit, booties, goggles, two swim caps, body glide (to keep your wetsuit from chaffing your neck) and conditioner to pull the suit on with. For the bike-- your bike, your helmet, your GPS, your bike shoes, sunglasses, your socks, oh, and I've gotten in the habit of changing my shirt between the swim and the bike. The run-- you got it-- another shirt, a hat your number, and of course, your running shoes (and an extra pair of socks just in case). Oh yeah-- there is also the nutrition (gu's, gatoraid bottles, carbo pro) and, in Alcatraz's case, the extra pair of running shoes for the run between the end of the swim and the transition area.
This year I was smart-- having set up my transition last year in the dark, I brought my camping headlamp with me so I could see what I was doing. After dropping my "mini-transition" bag off at the truck and setting up my stall, I boarded the bus for the 20 minute ride to the boat clutching the bag with my wetsuit, goggles, booties, a snack, a drink, my body glide and my conditioner. (Yes, I left the kitchen sink at home).
I picked up my chip and got in line for the boat where I was joined by Ironteam's Swim Coach Sedonia who was racing today as well. We boarded together and carved out some prime real estate up against the windows where we could see the Pro triathletes jump off the boat. About 20 minutes later, we saw someone else wearing IronTeam's Flames, and, expecting Captain Tony, we stood up, put our hands in the air and started jumping around. You guessed it-- it wasn't Tony. Fortunately the guy took pity on us and joined our little circle anyway-- he'd done IronTeam last year (Kentucky) and knew Sedonia anyway. Finally, about 10 minutes before the boat was to depart, Tony joined us and our little 4 some chatted merrily until the boat shoved off and we started the wetsuit wiggle.
I started to get nervous pretty early on this year. I'd had a bad swim here last year (according to my dad, I'd gotten faulty information and swam 2 1/2 miles instead of 1 1/2). I'd gone slow; I'd had trouble sighting, I'd gone way off course, AND I'd been dizzy throughout. SO, despite being a strong swimmer, I was definitely uncomfortable. Didn't help that I was on the boat with my swim coach who was hoping to finish the swim in 25 minutes or less. Then there was the marine wildlife. . . Most people who swim in San Francisco Bay are afraid of the sharks. Me, however, I don't like the sea lions. While they won't bite you. They are somewhat like puppies-- 2 ton puppies-- that like to play with swimmers. As the boat pulled into position, a sea lion looked up at us and waived. GREAT.
Before I knew it-- it was time to jump and off we went into the water. I was much more prepared this time-- following a totally different line of sight all the way in. The trick here is to swim straight across from the boat to the shore-- the current (4 million gallons of water heading under the golden gate bridge per second) will pull you from left to right. I swam towards aquatic park until I floated past it, I swam towards Fort Mason until I floated past that. I swam towards the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts until I was past that. I swam towards the orange roof of the San Francisco Yacht Club until I found myself on the beach-- still about 20 yards to the left of the "official" exit point! I ran (with many others) along the shore and up through the exit to mini-transition.
It's About Family, Damn It.
Up in mini-transition I shed my wetsuit and booties and donned my old crappy running shoes. Of course, I'd forgotten to unlace them so there went a few minutes unlacing running shoes with frozen fingers. I headed out to run the 1/2 mile to my bike awaiting me at the real transition area and I heard, "GO PAULA." I looked over and there was Kevin Owens and his wife. Kevin was a Team in Training ("TNT") teammate of mine last year on the Lavaman team and he recently completed his 2nd lavaman with TNT this year. I waived, smiled and headed to transition.
I changed my shirt, donned my bike shoes and helmet and headed off on the bike. What a difference a year makes. This year the bike course was PACKED. There were so many people out there and I was being passed (nothing different there) left and right. In addition, the wind had started picking up already and we were riding into a pretty strong headwind.
Coming up the first hill by the bridge, at about mile 3, Captain Tony passed me with a "looking good Paula" (that was the last I saw of Captain Tony). About 6 miles in another Ironteam mate passed me on her way up the big hill to the palace of fine arts.
Fast forward to coming back up from Golden Gate Park. For me, the toughest part of this course comes after golden gate park when you turn and come back up the hill by the Cliff House and then go up Seal Rock Hill to Clement Street Hill. Clement Street Hill on that side is a KILLER. I've walked up that hill many a time and saw about 4 people walking up that hill as I stood on my bike and muscled up that hill ! ! !( for only the second time). No rest for the wicked as we were then headed up back to the Palace of Fine Arts. Coming up the last hill, I started talking to the girl next to me. She was from Oklahoma, she loved the beauty of the course even though it was hard etc. We chatted the whole way up that hill and, as I passed her on the way down, she thanked me, telling me that I "got her over that last hill."
Screaming (for me) down the home stretch, I heard, "Go Paula" and then again about 4 minutes later "Go Paula." I had no idea who it was, but I had a cheering section. I was back in transition, and headed out on my run just as the announcer said, "we have our women's winner."
Transitioning from the bike to the run is always difficult-- your feet feel numb. Your legs are used to moving in other directions. Even your running shoes feel bulky next to the relative compactness of the bike shoes. As I took the right turn out of transition, Coach Mike and some other Iron teammates calling out my name and cheering me on. (Solved the first question). About a 1/2 mile later, I saw Merla our team manager and some others cheering me on by name as well (ah-ha, the second mystery supporters revealed). Turning right onto the path by Crissy Field-- it was Kevin and his wife again. . . cheering for me again.
About this time, I started to feel so lucky and so loved. I know it sounds silly, but since my family couldn't make it out, it was so amazing to have people there who knew me and were cheering for me. Other than Falmouth (where my family lives and my dad and I race every year) I generally do most of my racing alone. To have so many people there watching out for me and caring about me brought me to tears. This is my 3rd season of TNT now and I've got to say that my TNT friends have become my family away from family. I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate them.
I headed up the first set of stairs, after mile 2, with a smile in my heart-- it was a beautiful day and I was having a great race. This set of stairs is narrow, and, on race day, a two way street. Athletes flew down the stairs as I struggled up them. The reward for getting to the top? A sweeping vista of San Francisco Bay, out over the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands and the Pacific Ocean. The sailboats had come out and the bay positively glowed with the sun glinting off their white sails (no one has colored sails here-- I think it is part of the austerity and coldness of the area).
I saw one of my boat mates headed back down the course towards home and, about 10 minutes later saw Sedonia heading for home. I ran over the hill and down to the soft sand of Baker Beach. At this point I started running with a woman named Rachel who was finishing up the relay leg for her team. She was amazing. We talked about how the sport of triathlon is about learning who you are and about seizing the moment by enjoying the day you are having in the body you have. By the time I reached the top of the sand ladder (read 400 steps of sand going straight up the side of a hill), I was all smiles-- This may have been Rachel; this may also have been that from that point, the remaining course is downhill.
It may also have been because I had been paying attention to my watch, although I haven't mentioned it here. I didn't have a swim time but I did have a bike time, and I was pretty sure that it was at least 10 minutes faster than last years. I was watching my run time, and it looked like I was on pace to be at least 10 minutes shorter than last year. In addition, it looked like I was going to make it home before 12:00.
At the end of the run, you spend about 2 miles on the flat road by Crissy Field. It was covered with regular folk out for a Sunday stroll. I took a few seconds to slap the hands of a few little kids who were there and to thank a few dads who'd brought their kids out to watch their mom's do the triathlon. As I approached the finish line, I heard my name again. It was Kevin, his wife, and another familiar face from my TNT Lavaman team, Gary. This year, Gary has been through hell-- prostate cancer, chemo, surgery, radiation, and seeing him there at the finish line looking AMAZING was one of the highlights of the race for me.
As I hit the finish chute, I saw the clock-- I was looking good. I'd definitely made my 12 cut off-- in fact, I was looking like I was going to make a 11:49 ! I heard my name yet again and it was Coach Mike, Maria and a few other Iron Teammates cheering me to the finish! I was done.
3 hours and 49 minutes or (more impressively) 43 minutes faster than last year. 24 minutes on the swim and about 10 each on the bike and the run. I'd run the whole course (except for the sand ladder of course) and achieved all of my goals. I can't even believe that I had such a good day.
After the race ended and I was waiting to pick up my stuff from the boat and the mini transition, Kevin and his wife joined me. I don't even begin to know how to express my gratitude to them for cheering me on, keeping me company, holding my big plate of food for the kids (I was bringing them home brownies), and on top of it all volunteering to carry half of my stuff to my car for me (I couldn't let them-- they'd done so much for me already).
What is next on this Iron Journey? Well, first off, I still desperately need to raise some more funds. My next TNT fundraising deadling is May 13th. . . I am about 1500 short right now, so, if you can help-- now would be a great time to click on my fundraising website and donate what you can (even $5 helps to save a life and push me towards my goal). http://pages.teamintraining.org/sf/louisir10/paula.hamann
My next big training events: there are 3 that are worrying me
1) an 80 mile bike ride on 5/17
2) 3/4 iron weekend on 6/5 (2 mile swim, 100 mile bike, 20 mile run) and
3) Dipsea-- check this race out in this month's runner's world magazine.
As always, thank you for your love and support and for reading.