Alcatraz is a race like no other. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it even felt like a race. Here is my story….
The anxiety race week was high. There were reports of water temp being somewhere around 49/50 degrees. If anyone has ever been in an ice bath, let me just say that temp is generally 56-60. So, you could say it was the perfect way to heal recovery. That is, if you are recovering.
I’d say none of us were. We had bigger goals. 2,000 people jumped in the water Sunday morning to achieve their goal of completing the Alcatraz triathlon, a race so popular, so unique, you can only get in by lottery.
Well, it turns out it was my day to win the lottery.
First, I had my mom and sister there following me every step of the way. Literally! They made me wear, I mean provided me, with this device that I wore so they (and anyone else tracking me through the app) knew where I was every second of the race – minus the swim due to my reluctance to stuff it into my wetsuit (I had enough going on).
Second, Carolina, one of my college roommates came to cheer for me and spend time with me throughout the weekend. If a race is within 200 miles of her, she is there. And she is awesome. Another dear college friend – Sue – was racing with me, a local sister of a sister-in-law – Kimberly – and of course all my friends and family out there cheering me on virtually. You know who you are – THANK YOU!!
AND, there was Tim – my new best friend. Yet another reason I “won” the lottery that day.
Tim is a former collegiate swimmer who is, how can I say this, F A S T. He offered to swim with Sue and I since he had completed this race 6 times and knew how to manage it. Oh, and probably because he knew we both wanted to throw up just thinking of jumping off that boat and swimming to shore. We needed calm, and he was exactly that. Yes, we were college swimmers. But as I’ve learned in the past, that means nothing when it is you vs. the ocean. We had two things against us, 1) 50 degree water, and 2) strong currents. Currents, waves, swells, whatever you want to call them, they sucked. It was like fighting – and drinking – the ocean water every stroke.
The three of us all jump following one another, with not a lot of time to think about what is really happening (or the why???). I was mentally ready to get to shore after I learned if we get in a kayak we have to sit there until that kayak is full, then it takes us to another smaller boat until that is full, then it dumps us 200 yards from the swim exit. Too complicated. Sounded easier to swim. So that we did. Every 5 (or 10? No idea) minutes Tim would stop and check in with us. “How ya doing?” he would ask as we try to force our frozen jaw to answer. We had a few “no”s, some “oks”, and more overall “are we close?” answers. Everyone said to stop and look at the bridge, look at Alcatraz, so we did that too. Not quite sure why, it sorta made me ill thinking about being between the two with nothing separating me but the neoprene surrounding my body. By the way, they need to make neoprene ski masks.
The swim was the hardest I have ever done. But it would’ve been 100,000,000,000 times harder without Tim. Thanks Tim. I owe ya.
Not until I got on my bike did I understand why people do this race multiple times. It is challenging, yet absolutely gorgeous. The weather was still quite crisp outside so I (oddly) managed to put on my arm warmers and gloves. I tried for the vest but frozen fingers aren’t very good at maneuvering much of anything so I gave that up, slid my feet into my bike shoes, and went on my way…..
I have never been so happy to be on my bike. I would’ve been smiling if I could’ve felt my face but the jaw muscles, cheek, etc. felt like I just went through a long round of dental surgery. The course was gorgeous. Lots of hills, in and out of the saddle, but car-free roads and good ones at that. Despite frozen feet and face, I was loving it.
Coming into transition I heard ‘my’ crowd (which either got louder or my ears finally unfroze) shouting for me. Not sure why my feet were still frozen but as I exchanged my bike for my running shoes I realized I can’t feel my feet! It made the miles go by a bit faster so no complaints. The wind was tough on the way out but I was just thinking this way it’ll push me home on the way back. Yes, I’d prefer that.
The run was equally as awesome as the bike (I think by now you know how I felt about the swim). Golden Gate Bridge, trails, stairs, tunnels, and sand. Everyone talks about this “sand ladder” that you hit around mile 4, yet no one talks about the boatload of steps/hill combination you hit at mile 2. It was crazy but in a good kinda crazy way. The sand ladder was tough, but to be expected. Basically a 3 minute uphill battle between your legs and the steps. I walked as I had read somewhere “even pros have to walk” and “save your legs”. At no stage during that run did I see any pro slow down, much less walk. But, even so, I was quite happy to enjoy my walk uphill. 🙂 The last two miles of the run were flat and I decided to kick it up a notch (whatever that means!!). That’s when I saw my first non-pro female of the day! I realized how much I enjoyed being with the boys out there on the course. I realized I had let my guard down a bit for this race. I wasn’t focused on a podium finish but rather to enjoy my surroundings and enjoy the sport that I love so much.
I had on my back a sign that said ‘Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’ (MMRF) and large letters “FOR DAD”. It was him who inspired me to do this – without even knowing it. We found out one year ago to the day – March 3rd – that he had Multiple Myeloma. Three short short weeks later, his life was taken. Too soon. Too unexpected. This race has been on my bucket list for quite some time and to be on March 3rd, I had to make it happen. I went into the race with no expectations but to – as my dad who had a strong passion for antique cars would say – “enjoy the ride”.
People were talking to me about MMRF and a few had told me my dad would be proud. The athletes were amazing. It felt as if we were all in this challenge together. The challenge of life.
I know my dad would’ve been proud. I could picture that grin of his as I neared the finish. I crossed that finish line with such a sense of relief, and accomplishment. Dad, this one was for you.
I have so many people supporting me during this new “how it’s going to be now” life of mine and I can’t begin to thank you. Thank you to everyone who believes in me. Thank you to those of you who supported MMRF and want to help cure this disease as much as I do. Let’s try and end the suffering. And of course – thank you to my supportive husband, who would’ve been there had he not been lugging around our kids to birthday parties and baseball games. It was him who informed me of my 2nd place finish as he had called my mom as soon as I finished. Thanks babe!!! Icing on the cake.
To the wife and family of Ross Ehlinger, my deepest thoughts and condolences go out to you. I am so sorry.
To everyone who raced on Sunday- a huge congratulations. That is a HARD race.
Given that I had a healthy race, got 2nd place, met my new friend Tim, and raised over $5,000, it was a good day. Today I felt like I won the lottery. Thank you.