Escape From Alcatraz

Sunday morning I awoke to the smell of fresh oatmeal. My host family, the Rosens, were up before me, and Anna (a wonderful cook) had boiled up a fresh batch of my prerace meal. After getting used to cold oatmeal before races, this was awesome, and it set my mood for the day. It would be my first Accenture Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon! I was excited.

2008_06_08_Alcatraz 011 At the race site I set up my transition area, then discovered I had 40 minutes before I needed to be on a bus to the ferry dock, and it was still more than two hours before the event. A warmup didn’t make a lot of sense, so I just watched everyone else and soaked in the scenery.

The next two hours went by quickly. I sat on the boat talking to James Cotter and Dave Messenheimer. Before we knew it I was back exactly where I had swam a couple days before, only this time I was armed with a new Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit, and the company of about 75 other professional triathletes.

I dove off the side of the boat, and found the water nice and cool. It felt good. Lengthened my stroke I found myself in the front of the group far more quickly than expected. I used the landmarks for spotting and tried to go straight. Before I knew it I was at the marina with the first pack. I was 6th across the timing mat, but probably 4th to the beach. It turns out cold water can make your legs cramp when you stand up!

The 1/2 mile transition run was enough to warm up my legs, but as Matt Chrabot and a few other people cruised by me I realized I was losing most of the advantage I had gained in the swim.

image Onto the bike, I wasn’t sure how hard to push the hills. The run was looming in my mind as an unknown, and my pacing strategy was to stay on the conservative side. I finished the bike leg wishing I had laid it on a little harder. Still, I had fun. The descents are fairly safe on this course, though the corners look sketchy. The biggest problem I ran into was that the people in front of me would brake hard for corners when they didn’t need to. It was hard to get around other cyclists. I was unsure if I had picked the right bike by bringing my Beyond Fabrications Blink TT, but I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the aero bars, and had no problems with cornering. The STI levers would have been helpful, but I don’t think the TT bike really hindered me.

I started the run expecting it to take longer than normal to find my rhythm. Hills require a slow cadence, which makes it harder to transition to a high run cadence. I barely made it to the half mile marker, however, before I realized that some of the pain in this transition was non-muscular. Earlier in the week I had bruised my heel. I’m not sure how. It may have been a botched flip turn, or a misplaced foot on a fast downhill. Despite the cushy sole of the K-Swiss Ultra Natural Run shoes, by the time I started running down the dirt path in Crissy field I had shooting pain in my heel, and started thinking I should probably not push my luck. About the time I decided to drop out, I looked up and saw the Golden Gate Bridge ahead. It was beautiful. A perfect sunny day for the race. “I’ll just run to the first hill and see if it gets better” I told myself. The first hill was at mile two. image My foot didn’t hurt less, but I was running slow to keep it from hurting more. “I’ll just see what if feels like going up this staircase” I egged myself on. It didn’t hurt going uphill (on my toes), so I kept going. Pretty soon I was at the top of Lincoln Rd, just after mile 3. Running uphill didn’t hurt, so I gradually started going faster. Then it flattened out and started going down. Fast. It hurt, so I started walking right as Kevin Collington caught me. He flew down the hill while I shuffled. I stopped at the Clif Bar tent, thinking damage control was the best option. I had seen the beautiful part of the course, and it wasn’t worth delaying my recovery. Unfortunately, the other half of my brain kept talking, “why are you such a wimp? You’re not even going to finish?” and the first voice chimed back, “you know you are pretty close to half way, and they’re not going to drive you back.”

Then I remembered the sand ladder and got back onto the road, shuffling down the steep path. On the beach I stayed in control, so when I hit the sand ladder I was ready to haul.

imageI crossed the timing mat and charged up the sandy incline. I passed three people going up. Climbing kept me off my heel, so it didn’t hurt at all. This was the only time in the entire race I really   let loose, and it felt great! My time up the clif bar sand ladder, 1 minute 38 seconds, was the fastest of the day by 13 seconds. Andy Potts was the 3rd fastest with a 1:52. After that I ran hard to the summit, finally feeling like I was racing, then quickly had to start my shuffle again as I descended back to Crissy field. I managed to have a great experience, but I’m looking forward to racing at my potential. It’s really frustrating to know I could have gone faster.

Andy Potts and Leanda Cave repeated their victories. That’s pretty impressive.

They may be the best at escaping prison, but I’m proclaiming myself the Super Clif Bar Sand Ladder King!

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. Way to go Ben! I still think putting sharks in the bay will result in faster swim times.

    You’ll always be my Super Clif Bar Sand Ladder King 😉

  2. Wow, i didn’t realize that you were having heel problems–way to tough it out. You probably didn’t realize it from the water, but it was a pretty spectacular scene with the helicopter 300ft overhead the the 2 chase boats flanking a string of 30 or so swimmers in the lead pack. After you got out there were a few big rollers that lifted some guys up and nearly bashed them against the rocks, resulting in a big uuuuoooohhhhh! from the crowd. I have to admit, part of me wanted to see some swimmers get washed up on the rocks, I think it would have been an appropriate touch, given the venue.

    I got some pretty good pictures from the beach. The professional photographers were being a bit bashful about getting too close to the water with their fancy-shmancy video cameras and telephoto lenses–ppppffffff! Maybe Brightroom photography will see this and employ me, my iron will, and my camera phone, for Escape 2009.

  3. Ben. You could eat a sandbar faster than most people could run up one, especially if you were eating it at the same time as they were trying to run on it, it would confuse them to a point that they would just fall over and start crying.

    Glad to hear you’re staying on it. We’ll see if I’m still interested in triathlons after I’m done with Ironman in 2 weeks. I have a feeling I’ll really appreciate the speed of an Olympic Distance race when it’s all done.

    Look me up.

    Give me a Hug.

  4. Way to go Sand Ladder King! We we’re bummed that the race wasn’t broadcasted– ok it was, but all they showed was the banner over the finish line and the time clock. We managed to find that much just as they announced “…and here comes the 25 year old from Seattle…BEN COLLINS!” Glad you had a good experience and decided to finish the race 🙂

  5. Too bad the whole bay area decided to have races everywhere that day I would have liked to watch you conquer the sand. But I am sure the other swimmers were glad you were wearing clothing since most were behind you.

  6. i hate the “i shoulda and coulda ridden way way harder!!!!” races. for me that usually means that next time i go the right kind of hardness, so i hope your next race is an awesome one. (also you are NOT ALLOWED to use this heel thing as an excuse to SKIP MY BIRTHDAY AT L.A.)

    sorry to hear it didn’t go superly. you’ll rock the whole thing next year.

  7. Yeah, so usually I kill myself and can honestly say, “well that was everything I had”. This time I’m whining like a 4 year old who found a mushroom inside her mushroom ravioli. Then I read James Cotter’s race report, and it makes me feel even more like a baby for complaining.

  8. G’day Ben! It was nice to finally meet you after hearing so much about you from friends in Hawaii. Sorry to hear about the heel. Hope it heels up soon. Looking forward to catching up at another race down the road.
    Loved the full montey story!
    take care

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