I’ve been wanting to race in the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon for years. I think I learned about it during my first year of training for a triathlon. When I researched bucket list races, this came up as one of the top contenders. As soon as I went to the website to register for it, it turned out that you either had to qualify through one of their other races, place very high in an age group, raise money for charity, or enter via lottery. I’m not quite in shape to do any of those things, and although I don’t doubt my abilities to raise money, I had already exhausted my friends and family through fundraising for different efforts. The only way I’d ever make it in was through a random drawing.
I’ve been entering this drawing for many years now. I started racing triathlons in 2011, and by the time I was selected, it was 2018!
I was having a particularly bad day at work, and I decided to skim through my Gmail folders for the millionth time that day. When I saw this, I flipped out (all alone in my office) and almost cried. The email took my breath away.
I sat on the idea of registering for four days. I talked to a few people about the opportunity. I knew that I wanted to do the race, but I couldn’t get over the cost. It would set me back almost $800, which is the cost of a full Ironman. However, there were plenty of Ironman races but only Escape from Alcatraz race so I took the leap and registered.
Escape from Alcatraz is a modified Olympic-distance race. It includes a 1.5 mile swim, 18 mile bike ride, and an 8 mile run. The swim is from Alcatraz to the San Francisco shoreline. The 18 mile bike ride is through a hilly, scenic area, as well as through Golden Gate Park. The run includes a jaunt on the sand ladder, which looks like Manitou Incline on the beach.
There are a few things that, for certain, terrify me when it comes to triathlons. The first: a very technical cycling route. The second: a very choppy swim. Alcatraz nails both of those fears. I’ve been out of the triathlon training and racing circuit since I left Seattle (….so, 3 years?) and I’m a bit rusty on transitions, open water swims, and riding outside in general. I’ve done some flat riding, and mostly indoor trainer sessions, but hill climbs and descents? NOPE. Climbs and descents using my clipless pedals? NOPE NOPE NOPE. I have a few friends who are amazing at cycling, so I’m hoping to connect with them during my training cycles for some 1-1 help. I’m also looking at a mountain biking class at REI to help me get over the ups and downs of technical terrain. Maybe I can just ride Alcatraz on a mountain bike or a hybrid. For some reason, I am just really scared of riding with drop handlebars. When it comes to the swim, I may have to fly back to Seattle to get in some open water time with my previous open water swim coach (Lois Marquart, Tri Sport Coaching) down in Tacoma. The lake near me doesn’t open until around Memorial Day (May 27th this year), and that leaves under 2 weeks for me to alleviate my open water swim anxiety. The swim is supposed to be cold, but as of right now, all the lakes and ponds around me are frozen…so I’ll be in the pool for now.
With all of these concerns swirling around me, that left one thing: a training plan. Alcatraz is not quite an Olympic distance tri. In some of the disciplines, it’s more (swimming and running), but the bike is shorter. When I asked around on the various triathlon forums, some people said that they winged it. Others said that they follow the Olympic distance plans. One guy said that he just uses a 70.3 training plan. One article called for pool swimmers to at least swim 3 miles comfortably, since the chop in the San Francisco Bay will exhaust you just as much as 3 miles in a calm lake. I read another article about a course winner who trained by taking 15-minute ice baths in between 1 hour blocks of training. Overall, the information was very conflicting, but I did manage to find one free plan online through Outside Magazine Online. Thank goodness!
I loaded my plan into Training Peaks, and so far I am two weeks in. During my first swim, I strained my shoulder and neck. I’ve been in physical therapy for two weeks! I really should’ve warmed up, or done just half the time (I swam one mile in an hour). After all, I need to get tri-ready…I don’t need to be tri-ready to start. Lesson learned! Right now I am not teaching, but the holidays and funky eating schedules have been interrupting my training.
The last time I strictly adhered to a triathlon training plan was about 5 years ago. I was also single then, so I didn’t really have to juggle very many time commitments. Now, it’s a completely different ballgame! My strength was pretty weak (as demonstrated by my time in physical therapy), so I signed back up for Orangetheory. I got the unlimited pass, so I will be spending much more time hitting the weights.
Overall, I’ve been trying to find my training groove since school ended. I haven’t quite cracked it yet, and now with OTF in the mix, it will be even more difficult. With a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday teaching schedule, along with my usual full-time job, squeezing in these workouts will be a challenge. I now have three gym memberships (one of which I need to cancel…I think). With 24 Hour Fitness I can get all of my workouts in when I’m not at the office. With Orangetheory I can get additional workouts in when I’m at the office or home. With Planet Fitness, I can get my runs and rides (albeit not on my own bike) when I’m at work. The question is…should I keep Planet Fitness? One thing I love about their gym is that it provides me with unlimited use of their massage beds and chairs.
Either way, here is my training recap for weeks 1+2.
As you can see, I didn’t do so hot during the first two weeks.
First off, I missed all of my core workouts. I even downloaded 8 of them to my phone so that I could do them at the gym….but did I? No.
Second, the training is spread throughout the whole week (as you probably saw above in the training plan). That seems to be harder for me to swing because I seem to be at the mercy of my energy ebbs and flows. I took a few early rest days because of my shoulder, or because of the holiday. However, this workout plan seems to be a bit aggressive already, so I need to figure out how to balance my time and energy. As a last-ditch effort, if I don’t make it to my workout, my logic is that I could at least go to an Orangetheory workout. Becoming stronger overall will help me as a triathlete.
Third, my nutrition is way off. A part of my energy spikes and dips are because of this issue. Depending on if I have something in the evening planned, I have to plan very light meals throughout the day. After all these years, I already know that I am a morning exerciser, so what it comes down to is me really capitalizing on this fact. The evening workouts require some superhuman-level discipline with my eating, and it ends with me being ravenous and awake through the night…so, really, getting out the door in the morning is the best for me.
I just need to make it happen.
In the midst of an ordinary training day, I try to remind myself that I am preparing for the extraordinary.
— Shalane Flanagan (@ShalaneFlanagan) March 20, 2013