Ironman Lake Tahoe Training · Race Reports

Race Report: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2014

Nine months ago I entered the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon lottery (one of the only ways to get in) which was driven by a small dose of peer pressure and a large dose of wanting to experience this iconic San Francisco race. A couple months later they announced the results and I got in!! And you know what? I almost didn’t register. WHAT?! I know, that’s madness.

Lottery e-mail from November 1st, 2013
Lottery e-mail from November 1st, 2013

Because at the time I was terrified to the core of the swim; jumping from a ferry boat near Alcatraz and swimming 1.5 miles to shore was beyond comprehension for this novice swimmer. I truly didn’t believe I could actually do it. But a few days later I was talking with my triathlete friend, Sam, and he simply told me I could. He gave me that confidence that I needed to at least register for the race and give it a try.

So from the time I registered to race day I made it my mission to do everything I could to be prepared for June 1st. I swam in open water regularly, I swam at the pool 2-3 times a week, I even did a practice Alcatraz crossing two weeks before the event. With all of that preparation and determination I found myself on race day feeling well-prepared and ready to “rock” the swim from the rock. And I made it! I escaped from Alcatraz!!


Similarly, when I was trying to decide which Ironman to do, I almost immediately dismissed Ironman Lake Tahoe. “That course is way too hilly, and at altitude I’ll never make the cut-offs”. But I talked with people who did the race last year and they encouraged me to give it a shot. So I registered. And I’m doing everything I possibly can to be ready for September 21st. I hope that my Ironman experience is as positive as my Escape experience and I can look back and wonder what I was so scared about!

So the bottom line is… if you have a big, scary, audacious goal, GO FOR IT! What in the world is holding you back?! Break through those barriers, step out of your comfort zone, and try something that you never thought was possible. You’ll amaze yourself. 

OK getting back to the race. This event is unique because it attracts people from all over the world and I had the pleasure of meeting people from absolutely everywhere; from Florida to the UK and everywhere in-between. I can’t tell you how many people commented on the weather — “this is June in California, where’s the warm weather?!” Then I reminded them of the famous Mark Twain quote: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

Below is a more detailed summary of the race if you’re interested! Thanks everyone!


  • RaceEscape from Alcatraz Triathlon
  • Date: Sunday, June 1st, 2014
  • Goal: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Actual Finish time3 hours 24 minutes
  • Distances:1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz to shore, 18 mile bike, 8 mile run
  • Weather: 55 and cloudy
  • Wake-up Call: 3:30am
  • Start Time: 7:30am
  • # of Participants: ~2,000
  • Location: San Francisco, CA. Started by jumping off a ferry boat near Alcatraz
  • Highlights: Almost too many to list! 1) Finishing the swim was the most unbelievable feeling. It wasn’t easy. 2) Meeting Andy Potts. 3) Meeting people from all over the world.
  • Lowlight: Must’ve swallowed some Bay water because my stomach was not very happy with me.
Thumbs up at the race expo
Thumbs up at the race expo

Leading Up to Race Day

The days leading up to race day were filled with the usual logistics planning, mandatory meetings for the race, expo and packet pickup, hydrating and eating well. But what’s awesome about this race is that it’s on our home turf in SF and the first time I wasn’t sleeping in a hotel room or a tent.

Packing up my stuff and showing my age (28) and race number (98)
Packing up my stuff and showing my age (28) and race number (98)
Golden Gate Tri Club ladies at the expo!
Golden Gate Tri Club ladies at the expo!

The BEST part about the race day prep was meeting pro triathlete and winner of the race, Andy Potts. Andy was so genuine and gave a short talk at Sports Basement that mostly centered on sports psychology, nutrition, and his history in the sport. I just adore Andy; not only is he a huge inspiration but he’s a Michigan grad (GO BLUE!) and has a smile that will melt anyone’s heart.

Andy Potts and I! Go Blue! Go Andy!!
Andy Potts and I! Go Blue! Go Andy!!
"To Carolyn, Live Your Dreams"
“To Carolyn, Live Your Dreams”

On race morning my alarm went off at 3:30am. I didn’t sleep well (par for the course pre-race) so I shot out of bed, grabbed my breakfast (toast with almond butter and dates), water bottles (one water, one with Nuun), transition bag and biked a mile down the road to the transition area at the Marina Green. It was still dark so I’m really glad I had a headlamp with me.

I set up my transition area, chatted with some people, and boarded the shuttle bus to Pier 3. We arrived at the pier at around 5:00am which gave us plenty of time to get our wetsuits on and do some dynamic stretches before boarding the boat at 6:00am. At 6:30am the ferry (the San Francisco Belle) took off and we were headed to Alcatraz Island! This is a one-way ticket, folks! There was a lot of nervous energy on the boat, but I just tried to stay calm and talk to as many people as possible. Luckily I was with a group of Golden Gate Triathlon Club people, and also saw my friends Rory, Oscar, and Brad, so we kept each other focused and excited.

A couple of us girls went to the restroom before the gun went off and were hilariously surprised to see the Men’s line 10x longer than the women’s! Haha now you guys know how we feel all the time!! I think it was a function of more men than women participating in the event. Loved it! No waiting!

Lower deck of the ferry. Photo credit:
Lower deck of the ferry, waiting to start. Photo credit:

At 7:30am we listened to the National Anthem and then the professionals dove off the boat! The race officially started and now we have 6 minutes for all 2,000 people to get off the boat. So if you can image, it was just a total free-for-all. When I was inching toward the door opening I was definitely starting to get really nervous for the first time all morning. “Wow this is really happening. Deep breaths. A body in motion stays in motion. You’ve done this before. You’ll be fine“. I just tried to stay as positive as possible and use visualization to see myself finishing strong.

Swim: This is Insane 

Final hugs with my teammates. At 7:33am it was my turn to jump off the boat. When I stepped out of the doorway and looked up at the open Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge I got that chilling feeling, almost like stepping into the Big House for the first time. And then you just have to stop thinking. You CAN’T think about it. You just have to jump. If you hesitate you’ll never do it. It’s about a 6 foot leap so the key is to hold onto your goggles and scissor your legs so you don’t sink too far (you don’t want the person behind you jumping on top of your head). Check out a short clip of the swim start here. It’s really a must-see.

Swim start. Photo Credit
Swim start. Photo Credit

And then it’s one arm in front of the other for 1.5 miles. The water was pretty choppy, but not quite a bad as it was 2 weeks ago when I did a practice crossing. The race had 100 boats/kayaks/jet skis lining the course to make sure we were safe and headed in the right direction. It was funny though, I was swimming toward shore and then all of a sudden a dude in an orange cap swam in front of me perpendicularly — “where’s that guy going?!” With a strong current the water will definitely push you into weird directions. Two or three times I looked up to sight and didn’t see the skyline at all, I was going the total wrong direction. Oops. Back on track.

About half-way through the swim is when things started to get a little lonely. “Where is everyone?” I thought to myself. With the swells it was hard to see other racers and support crew. But I didn’t let it scare me, I just kept putting one arm infront of the other and counted my strokes to keep my mind occupied. In a race like this it’s really easy to let your mind wander into negative territory. But it’s critical to stay positive and focused; something that has to be practiced.

I finally touched the beach of the St. Francis Yacht Club 49 minutes later and was so incredibly happy to finish the swim portion. The crowd support was amazing and I immediately saw some GGTC friends and my roommate. Thanks for being out there, guys!

Strava Swim
Strava Swim

Next challenge was to try and put running shoes and socks on my very numb feet. I really wish someone had video-taped me trying to do this. I must’ve looked inebriated. I definitely felt a little delirious, off-balance, and my feet and hands were completely numb. I almost fell over and I struggled to get my shoes on because I could barely feel anything, but I persevered and got those suckers on! Then it was a 1/2 mile run to the transition area to get my bike.

Bike: Up and Down. Repeat. 

I loved the 18 mile bike ride! It was pretty hilly and the roads were rough in some portions, but generally I felt really strong and just powered up the hills and got in my areo bars on the flats. It felt awesome and I was passing people like crazy.

The bike starts on Marina Blvd, then travels up toward the Golden Gate Bridge, then up towards the Legion of Honor, down past the Cliff House to the Pacific Ocean, then a loop around Golden Gate Park and back. So it’s up, down 4 times in a row. There were a couple flat sections but for the most part you’re either climbing or descending. It’s a very technical course. I finished the bike in 1 hour and 8 minutes which was faster than I expected. Felt great!

Smiling on the bike!
Smiling on the bike!
Bike Course
Bike Course

Run: Chicked

After racking my bike in transition I slipped on my running shoes and started the final leg of the race. I immediately saw my GGTC friends, then my Team in Training group and it was soooo amazing to see you all. You gave me that extra energy that I needed to kick-start my run. Thank you all!! Luckily the first 2 miles of the run were flat so it was a good opportunity to ‘find’ my legs again after that hilly bike course. My feet were still numb at this point.

Happy to see my GGTC friends!
Mile 1 of the run and so happy to see my GGTC friends!

Then we ran up a hill towards the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lands End trail and I definitely started to warm up a lot. The run was so gorgeous with great views of the ocean, the bridge, and the entire SF skyline. On the downhills and flats I started talking with people around me (if they wanted to chat) and this one guy in particular was from Germany and he was in such awe of San Francisco that it really made me appreciate this amazing city we live in. We get to LIVE here! 

After Lands End we descended down to the beach and ran about a mile (I think?) on the sand. Have you ever tried to run on the sand? It’s not easy. I tried to stay as close to the waterline as possible, but a couple times the waves came through and I’d shriek and run in the opposite direction.

On the beach was the infamous Sand Ladder which takes you from Baker Beach back up to the road, about 250 ft uphill. The Sand Ladder is a sand dune that has wooden rungs built in so you can actually run/walk up it. Most people walked it to save their quads. I did a half-jog-half-walk and tried to pass some people. This guy below just got chicked.

The guy behind me is not happy.
The guy behind me is not happy.

After the sand ladder it was pretty much downhill and flat back to the finish line at the Marina Green! Wow! I finished the run in 1 hour 16 minutes which was faster than I expected.

I was so happy that I finished such a challenging and technical course and saw so many familiar faces along the way. It was the perfect day! 

Run course
Run course

Celebration: It’s My Birthday! 

After the race I met some friends for brunch on Union St, chowed down and finally had my full cup of coffee. Yumm. Then at night I had a little dinner party to celebrate my birthday. I did a big plant-based feast with sweet potato lasagna, quinoa salad, portobello skewers, grilled veggies and a HUGE 6-layer chocolate cake from SusieCakes. It was the best way to wrap up a challenging day and to celebrate my birthday. A triathlon and a vegan feast… what could be better? 

Birthday cake! (I also had a separate vegan cupcake).
Birthday cake! (I also had a separate vegan cupcake).

Thanks Everyone. Swim. Bike. Run. Eat Plants.

3 thoughts on “Race Report: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 2014

  1. Guess the SF Press keeps mum on the fact that a man – Thomas Allen – an attorney from Atlanta – died during the swim, 2014. The year before, another attorney, age 46, also succumbed in the water. That was the only one apparently to make the news. They obviously don’t want to make this public as it may cost the city money. i.e. tourist dollars from potential competitors. They need to do away with the frigid water swim….Stay safe-

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