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Race Reports 2011

My Escape From Alcatraz - Christopher Ogilvie-Thompson (June 2011)

Some years ago I read in 220 that there was the ultimate Standard distance race in San Francisco. I was attracted because it had the appeal of going to California as well being challenging race in a very beautiful setting. My wife immediately told me she would come along, something she has not previously done for a Triathlon in the UK. Hence I entered the international ballot and was stunned to be offered a place.

I must confess that before the race I thought the swim was the most daunting aspect of the race. This part is the real escape from Alcatraz Island prison. The powerful current flowing out of the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and the icy, silt-laden waters from melted snow (about 12 °C) make the 1.5 miles look like a long way. The thought of sharks do enter one’s thinking quite often although I had been told the bay area has too much silt for big sharks.

Once one has racked the bike you board busses and then launch boat 1.5 hours before the start at 7.30 am. The wait is long and testing. Jet lag adds to the problem by not having had a full night’s rest before the race. Older age groupers were all trying to sleep on the upper deck of the boat as we were going to leave the boat last. Once the start was announced all 2000 athletes moved to the launch side of the boat which nearly sunk it before we could get under way.  We all left through three gates on the starboard side and this was done within 10 minutes. I was surprised to exit the swim after 31 minutes realizing that the current had greatly assisted my passage.

After the swim you exit the water onto a beach and look for your transition bag that has been dumped in a heap with 100 others. After wasting a few minutes I am able to exchange shoes for my wetsuit and head off on the half mile run to the main transition area. The cycle leg of the race takes a route past the Golden Gate Bridge, up to the Legion of Honor and then drops down to a Pacific coast beach and a short loop around Golden Gate Park and then double back to return to the start - 18 miles all told. It is very hilly even compared to Hampshire and spectacularly beautiful. One of the most thrilling cycling routes I have ever ridden.

Someone should have warned me about the run. 8 miles is a little longer than usual but I thought the shorter cycle would make up for this. How wrong can you be? Only the last and finish 1.5 miles are flat but rest are hills or soft sand. The first hill up to Golden Gate Bridge is all steps and then the 2 mile run on the beach in soft sand before the climb up the 400 step Sand Ladder back to the Bridge are very demanding. This made it for me a long third leg to the race.

I was delighted to have taken part in the race despite the very high entry fee and difficulties in getting to the start. I would certainly recommend it as a once in a lifetime must-do triathlon.

Christopher Ogilvie Thompson

June 2011