Alcatraz is on every triathlete’s bucket list for a reason. From jumping off the boat, to the random distances, to the sand ladder, everything about the race is unique. It is exactly what a triathlon should be. A race where all three parts matter equally, and all three parts are challenging. Those are the reasons I love the race, and keep coming back every year to do it again.
This year I was really focused on trying to find a way to win Escape. Its one of the few short course races in the US that I have never been able to win and it would be an awesome feather in my career cap. I also knew this year would be a very good field with IMG having doubled the prize purse from previous years. Coach and I had done a lot of specific sessions to try and mimic the short steep climbs on the bike and the hills and stairs on the run. It was by far the most I had ever put into getting ready for this one race, and with preparation comes lofty goals.
Ben was certainly the favorite going in, having won the race last year and been on really good form in ’18 as well, and Eric coming off a recent win at St A’s was also sharpe. Then you had Jason who won Huntington Beach and is the fastest running in the field, and the never aging Andy who in his 12th start can never be counted out. With that start list in mind I knew my best chance to win was to swim on Ben’s feet, and then try and ride away from the field with him, hoping to have some trick up my sleeve for the run. It sounded good anyway.
Race morning came around and San Francisco put on a show. Not a cloud in the sky, warm weather, a perfect day to race. After going through all the rig-a-ma-roll of the morning warming up, setting up transition, taking a bus, getting on a boat, I was feeling pretty good. Once out by The Rock, I got a good start spot next to Ben and Ryan and on the horn it was a nice 6-8 foot dive into the cold ass bay.
The swim went to plan with me being able to get right on Ben’s feet and then swimming there all the way in. The waves weren’t terrible but that bay is never flat and its always cold so when we hit the sand I wasn’t sad to be running. On the long 800m run to T1 I stayed relaxed and right on Ben’s heals and we had gapped Jason which was great. We had not however gotten rid of any of the other big boys and a group of five of us came in together. I went through well and onto the bike still in second, but my usually crush the first five minutes and get away just doesn’t work on Ben. He has the same plan, and is younger than me, and I had to do everything I could to try and claw up to him by the top of the first hill. I made it to him and followed him over the decent but once it flattened out again my effort was only rewarded with watching Ben pull away again and me not really being able to respond. I kept on it and tried to minimize that gap, while extending away from the rest of the field but by the time we navigated Golden Gate park and looped back around to Marina Green I was about 45 seconds down. Not ideal…
In fact it was exactly where I had hoped not to be, in no mans land between the leader and the chasers, but I went about my work and had a good T2 and by the time I got out on the run I could see Ben up ahead maybe 35 seconds or so. That was enough to really keep me motivated and try and keep the carrot in sight. He wasn’t pulling away, but I wasn’t really gaining, and I knew when we hit the stairs at mile 2 that any gap bigger than 10 seconds means you are completely out of sight. I hammered the stairs and the hills and by the time we hit the beach he was still right there. I kept doing my best to pull him in, and I could finally see Jason in third and knew that I had to really keep on it if I wanted to at least stay in the top two. Going up the sand ladder and to the top of the hill I kept getting mixed splits with some people saying I was a minute down, and others 30 seconds. I did what I could do stay on it and get back to the beach hoping for the later.
My effort was rewarded when I got back to the flat trail and the last two miles, and could see Ben just up ahead maybe 20 seconds. For the first time ever in this race I was the hunter and I actually felt pretty good so I tried to surge and cut the gap. I was closing, but Ben being the champion he is was able to put in just enough that he made it into the finish chute with enough of a lead to slap some hands on his way in. The final gap was only 7 seconds but he beat me by more than that, and hats off to him, he was better on the day.
For me second place was not a win, but I had executed my race to the best I could on the day. Sometimes your best just isn’t enough, and that I can live with. I had finally put together a really good run at Alcatraz, and that was a mental win in itself.
The three of us will get to fight it out again in a couple weeks in Philly, and then the following week in NYC. I expect both to be really close races and hopefully I can find a way to break the tape at one of them. Just gotta find 7 more seconds!!
As always you can find my nutrition plan at First Endurance…