Sunday, June 10, 2012
That lasted until 2:30 in the morning, at which time I found myself wide awake. I guess three and a half hours of sleep would have to do it.
In my first mistake of the very early day, I forgot to eat the banana my mom had brought for me. Also did not drink much water before leaving the hotel at 4:15. As I carried my bike down the front steps I saw a tiny little Asian man slowly running down the street and then my first fellow racer of the day as a cyclist blew by him on his way to the bike transition area. I got my shoes on, hopped on my bike and made my way to Columbus, where I turned left and followed that until I reached the water. As I made my way through the empty streets I hooked up with more and more cyclists making the same journey as I and by the time we passed through the park that over looked the Marina Green there were 12 of us, with nobody saying a word the entire time.
The transition area was dark as the sun had not yet come up, but people were sharing flashlights and pumps as everybody was willing to help everybody else have a good day. Something you don’t always see in life but you always see at triathlons. And though it was very early on the bay, it was warm out…which meant we had some heat to look forward to.
I found my slot (at Alcatraz every number has an assigned space, unlike most races I do, in which it is first come first serve), laid out my TARDIS towel, put my buddha socks in my running shoes, set up my bike shoes, put my helmet on my aero bars, and in the helmet placed my race belt and my sunglasses. My transition was now all set. In my gear bag I placed my wetsuit, googles, backup swim cap (always come prepared), and my wetsuit glide stuff (supposed to stop the suit from destroying your neck and make the son of a gun easier to remove). I roamed around the transition area for awhile, just trying to take it all in and then eventually got in line for the buses that would take us all to the Ferry.
On the bus I sat next to a German man, and just like on the ride over, nobody was really speaking so I put my ipod on (in previous years I had listened to it from the moment I woke on race day, but this year I wanted to experience everything that much more so decided to listen to the city and then to the transition area. But a quiet bus was too much so on came “Winners and Losers” and “Fear of Falling.”
It was during the bus ride over that I suffered my first panic attack. Started thinking about how hard the race was going to be, how cold the water, how steep the hills and I started breathing harder and harder and eyes started to tear up. Then I started telling myself that it didn’t matter how cold the water was, how steep the hills. How much it hurt. Didn’t matter if I was swept out to sea or if the Black Manta shot me with a spear gun. Didn’t matter if I crashed or if my heart exploded on the sand steps. All that mattered was I kept going and didn’t give up. I kept telling myself that moving forward was the only thing that matter and by the time we were dropped off at the pier I was feeling better. Feeling excited. I was feeling ready.
As I always do when arriving at the pier on race day I walked through the crowd of athletes getting ready and made my way to the end of the pier so I could watch the sun rise on the city. Such an amazing sight and feeling. Unfortunately this caused me to miss out on the foam green swim caps as they ran out again so I was issued a yellow cap that lacked the Escape from Alcatraz logo. As I looked for space in the parking lot to strip down to my swimsuit and pull on my wetsuit I passed people doing last minute touch ups on the body marking and made eye contact with an amazing looking red head. She looked at my arm and said “you look fine” so I kept walking and twenty minutes later I realized I should have said something along the lines of “yeah, I workout” but by then the pier was behind me and I was on the boat…. only not where I was supposed to be.
You see on the Ferry (the Hornblower) you are grouped with your age group which is dictated by the color of your swim cap. I was suppused to be the with 30-39 year olds on the first floor of the Ferry but because I had a yellow swim cap I was sent to the second floor with everybody over the age of 40.
The Ferry is very unique at Alcatraz because you get packed on there with 1999 other athletes and all of you are at least a little worried about how the day will go. Being me, I sit quietly and think way too much, but the people around me rarely allow that and I always get drawn into conversations with those around me (which I really enjoy). This year I met Bob (from Canada), Hank (from Arizona), and a group of five (from Maryland…six had entered the lottery but one guys wife failed to be drawn so she didn’t get to do the race). As the Ferry leaves the pier everybody is in good spirits, helping each other zip up the wetsuits, sharing water and advice and spreading positive energy. Over the loud speaker we are told the pros that are racing as well as some of the notable people including a former Baseball player that was named MVP at an All Star Game (no clue who he was), a 76 year old man, a 16 year old boy….and a kid that just the previous night had graduated from High School….in New York. Show off.
Finally the boat was in position and it was time. The pros go first and then it is every man, woman, and recent high school graduate for themselves as over 2000 people jump off the Ferry and into the bay in under six minutes. Being that I was on the second floor of the boat I was in the final batch to hit the freezing cold water but as soon as I did I found my Two Towers (an apartment building I was told to sight off) and went to work. I felt strong at first, but the waves started getting bad (first time I have had to deal with waves) and the current was not going the way I expected so I kept finding myself to the left of the towers instead of to the right, where I should have been heading. At one point it got bad enough that one of the volunteers on a surfboard had to tell me I was off course and needed to make my way further to the right. The ocean was not playing the way we were told it would play and the swim really started to kick my ass. I knew I was off track and would not meet my goal time of 30 minutes and at one point I even wondered if I would make it out of the water at all because San Francisco just did not appear to be getting any closer. The longer I was in the water the brighter red my hands turned and the waves kept getting worse. Multiple times I would turn to take a breath only to get nailed in the face by something that was 50 percent salt water and 50 percent oil (based on the taste). After awhile my legs started to cramp up so I just focused on my stroke and trying to get through the pain.
And then, I saw it, the swim exit…and it was getting closer. It was finally in reach and I knew I would make it out of the water and minutes later I did. Immediately I looked at my watch. 48 minutes. I was 13 minutes slower then 2010, but considering how much the ocean had kicked my butt I was actually ok with that time, even if it meant my goal of beating 350 just got a great deal harder.
Across the beach and up the steps I “ran” as I peeled off my cap, googles, and top half of wetsuit. At the top of the steps were everybody’s gear bags, with their spare shoes. I skipped this part and ran the ¾ of a mile barefoot…which days later I am still regretting as my feet are still killing me. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
By the time I had made it to my bike I had spotted my family, Kitty, Biff, Tiff, Cjay (bad ass wrestler), Bryce (his girlfriend), and my buddy Jason all along the course, there to support me.
First transition went well and soon I was heading out on the bike and my legs felt dead. The first couple miles are flat and then you hit the first hill, which lasts for about a day. I just kept my head down and kept peddling, aware that it was at this point last year that I gave up and quit. Making it to the top of the hill I saw Superman, Wonder Woman, Super Girl, and the Cookie Monster handing out water to the athletes. Heading out the hills were awful, except for the down parts, where I got up to 31 miles an hour…which is fast enough to tell me I need to spend a lot more time on the bike as the speed was freaking me out and I had to ride the breaks, which is an idiot move. When fighting the clock the last thing you want to do is slow yourself down.
Passing the Cliff House there was a great downhill stretch and view of the ocean. That was followed by a couple of miles in the Golden Gate Park. As I entered I saw a cyclist pacing next to his bike, on the other side of the road. A bit later when I was leaving the park that same man was laying on the ground surrounded by people. A mile later an ambulance passed me, heading to the park. I will never find out what happened to that guy but I hope he is alright.
On the long, long climb I wanted to give up. Really did. Just wanted to dump the bike and be a barefoot homeless guy living on the streets of San Francisco. And as I was thinking this I stopped peddling for just a second, my bike stopped moving forward, and tipped over…with a lot of hill left to go. I got my foot off the peddle in time to catch myself but knew there was no way I would be able to start peddling again on that hill so I climbed off my bike and started walking…. guess I wasn’t ready to give up after all. Good thing to know. Once I finally reached the top I got back on and continued my journey….with nothing at all left in the tank but thinking about all my friends waiting for me at the finish line. Friends that got up before the dawn to come to San Francisco to support me. .
Back in the transition area I had another good switch over and started a very slow run. I wanted to go faster, I really did, my legs were dead. I made it the first two miles at that pace and then hit the first stairs of the day. Now these are narrow and steep and the race goes out and back on them and that means that you were constantly clipping shoulders with people much faster then you and much closer to the finish line. Of the 8 miles only the first and last two are flat. The rest are all up or down. Wait, the part on Baker’s Beach is flat…but that is on a beach so hardly counts. At one point I heard somebody yell my name and I looked up to see one of the Maryland guys coming towards me and it was clear he was having a great race while I was just trying to survive.
As expected the beach was rough and I was surprised to discover it was a nudist beach…for fat naked men. Would it have been too much to ask for one attractive woman to be anti tan lines? Just one?
The rest of the run was a bit of a blur as I was fairly certain I was dying and the next thing I remember is Jason, just shy of the finish line yelling “and the winner of the third fall and the match, Sir Samurai” I gave him a high five and thanked him for coming (I was moving pretty darn slow even though the finish was visible in the distance) and tried to pick up the pace so I could finish strong…but got nothing. In fact during the entire final stretch I had to keep telling myself not to stop, one foot in front of the other. 4:05 minutes after jumping off the Hornblower I crossed the finish line.
15 minutes off the goal time, which sucked. But I finished, which was awesome. Once I found everybody my brother told me that Andy Potts, the winner the last couple of years, finished the swim ten minutes slower then last year and that the water was rough for everybody. That made me feel a little better about things.
So I did it. I am more or less redeemed. Kind of.
So, now what? What do I focus on now? That is exactly what I need to figure out over the next few days…..