Sunday, March 3, 2013

2013 Escape From Alcatraz *Volunteer* Race Report

Still dark out
What a day!  I volunteered at my first event, the Escape from Alcatraz international distance triathlon.  I had an amazing time!  Seriously, I had so much fun I'd almost pay to do it.  My day started at 3am when I rallied myself out of bed to get ready for my 4am shift start in San Francisco's Marina Green.  I didn't allow for walk-time from my car and ended up arriving closer to 4:30am but I didn't miss anything.

I was shown to my area in transition and told we'd be running a hydration station.  So we got busy setting up water cups and mixing the Cytomax.  It was pleasant out when I arrived but a couple hours later, as daylight broke, we were freezing our butts off.  Normally this event is held in June but due to conflicts with the America's Cup they held it early this year.  Next year it's going back to June.  I had four layers of tops on plus a light jacket and my teeth were still chattering (people who live in the snow, I'm sorry, I know we Californians are soft).

We answered as many participant questions as we could and I chatted up my fellow volunteers.  Most people have some connection to the sport but some don't, they just do it for fun.  Everyone was friendly and we managed to keep ourselves entertained, including by taking pictures of ourselves.

Our Crew
Hope I didn't jinx myself if I ever do this event.
Here's a picture to give you an idea of the layout and where I was.

The Big Finish!

This is serious business!
Don't I look cold?
A group of high schoolers arrived just as the race was getting underway around 7:45am.  They would be the ones actually handing out the beverages.  And as we were all settling in to our spots I ended up standing at the entrance to transition, right where the swimmers ran in, the runners would be running out, and also right where the finishers would be passing seconds before they cross the finish line!  Sa-weet!!

Before long the pro came running in from the swim the excitement level shot up.  How fun!

Once the pros passed things settled into more of a conveyer belt of swimmers coming out, some looking a bit rough.  The water was cold, choppy and, based on the looks on some people's faces, generally miserable - "Water temperatures were about 51 degrees, air temperatures hovered in the mid-50s, and 11 mph winds made the air feel closer to the mid-40s." - SF Chronicle.

And unfortunately, someone died.  Again, from the Chronicle:
A 46-year-old man died of cardiac arrest Sunday just after plunging into frigid bay waters in the annual Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, held three months earlier than usual and under much colder conditions.

The Austin, Texas, man, whose name was not released, died less than a minute after he jumped into the bay, which was about 10 degrees cooler than last year's water temperature when the race was held in June, said race director Bill Burke.

"Was it colder than normal? Yes. But in my opinion, the water temperature was not a factor at all in this tragedy," he said. "This gentleman obviously had a heart condition he was unaware of."  It was the first death in the triathlon's 33-year history, Burke said.

In all, rescuers pulled about 150 competitors from the swimming portion of the race, more than three times the normal number, he said.
So sad.  I heard his wife was brought over while they were working on him.  Ugh.

Before long, the pros were back from their bikes and heading out on the run.  Things got tricky for a while because we still had swimmers coming in and the swim-in and run-out are side by side. 

I was kind of shocked by how fast the pros run!  They aren't messing around out there.  You can see (in the bottom picture) people coming in from the swim on the left and behind the runner.  Some people are quite disoriented as they enter transition (well, in general really) and once or twice we had to physically turn people to get them headed in the right direction.

And then, about 2 hours after the start the first place finisher comes running down the chute.

Javier Gomez Noya of Spain finished first with a time of 2:04:27.  Incredible, right?   A 1.5 mile swim, 18 mile bike ride and an 8 mile run that includes running in sand and beach stairs - all in just a bit over 2 hours.  These pictures are with my cell camera, not super zoomed in, that's how close I was!

About 14 minutes later the first female comes down the chute.  I captured this cool series of images of her running in, hearing the announcer say she had a strong lead, looking back to confirm and then joy - pure joy in knowing she'd done it, she won!

Heather Jackson, 2:18:08.
I love it!  I know that feeling.  The feeling of success and accomplishment.  And I saw that face on plenty of regular Joes out there too, pushing themselves and living the dream.  I also saw the face of suffering, another feeling I know well, as some people dragged their spent bodies toward the finish.

Not too far behind Heather was Sarah Groff, who'd been first out of the water if I recall.  I took some fun pictures of Sarah but I have to share the one that ended up in the SF Chronicle that has me in it!

Sarah Groff, 2:18:37.  (and yours truly)
I think I'm pointing runners toward the run exit, which is strange because I took some pictures of Sarah as she passed me.  Maybe I whipped my camera out, snapped some pictures and then got back to work in a jiffy?  Can you tell how excited I am?  I'm telling you, I had a lot of fun out there.

After the bulk of my directing work was done I spent some time picking up cups and empty gu packets.  My official shift was long over but I was happy to help.  And then I got busy cheering on finishers until my voice almost went out.  I especially loved cheering on the women.  Seeing women of various ages, physical shape and overall style out there doing it - it really gets me fired up.  I'd cheer for them and some would break out in huge smiles and I just wanted to do nothing more than stand out there all day.  Fun stuff.  Fun, fun, fun.

Maybe even more fun than ever doing the event.  Based on what I saw today I'm in no hurry to throw my hat in the lottery for this one.  But maybe when it's in June it would be a bit more inviting.  I plan to volunteer again next year (in the same spot!) and then we'll see what I think. 

Well, there you have it, my Volunteer Race Report.  If you haven't volunteered at an event, I highly recommend it (as if you can't tell).  I can't say I'dve had as much fun if I were doing post-race cleanup or manning the results station but who knows - I like to take fun with me wherever I go so maybe a bit less exhilarating but fun nonetheless.

I had a half-hearted plan to run 6 miles after the event but I stayed so late there that it didn't happen, which is fine because my cough is still lingering and I got up at 3am!  I drove the BMW into the city and it was too cold to put the top down in SF but once I was in Marin the sun was shining and the top came down.  I tried to nap when I got home but as tired as I was, I couldn't do it.  So now I'm off for some heavy-duty sleeping.  Is it really Monday tomorrow? 


  1. ohmigosh you don't just look cold, you look TINY in that picture!! LOVE love love the pic of Heather - what a great series you got there!!

  2. Hey! Cytomax girl! I was one of the two guys waiting for your Cytomax at your station before the shuttles left to the swim start! I was just googling blogs and found yours. Thanks for your help before the race, and thanks for volunteering. Fun writeup to read. I'm glad you had a good experience. Yes, the swim was tough. It held your attention the entire time. So sorry to the family of the man that died. I hope you go out an volunteer again!


    1. Hey Tom, Yay, you two were cracking me up! Now were you the young one or the old one? Heh, that's a joke. I do plan to volunteer again. I *think* I might toss my hat in the volunteer lottery (2 out of 3 get in) for next year though...still pondering it. If I don't do the race, I'm DEFINITELY going to volunteer again, that was a blast! Glad you found my blog and liked the write-up.

    2. I was the funnier one in the red jacket! ;)

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