Alcatraz: Through the Eyes of a Triathlete

Alcatraz: Through the Eyes of a Triathlete

Jon and the Racing For A Cure team raised a total of $7,585 at the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon last month in San Francisco.  The proceeds benefited the Arthritis National Research Foundation in its effort to find new treatments and cures for arthritis and related autoimmune diseases.  Jon would like to extend a special thanks to everyone for their support and he submitted his entertaining and brave experience of one of the harshest triathlons for your enjoyment.

People keep asking me what was the hardest part of the race and I have to say the hills. Every element of the race was technical and had its own difficulties, but for me, the hills exposed my weaknesses and showed me what I will need to work on for next time.

The race is a logistical project itself.  From athlete safety meetings and packet pickup to getting all 2,000 participants from transition to the boat and out to the start, it is amazing that this race is as well run as it is.  My race day started when I got out of bed at 3:00 AM for an early breakfast and to make sure I had all of my gear in place.  I checked out of my hotel at 4:15 AM and joined a silent group of cyclists riding down towards Marina Green.  I set up my transition in the dark and, hoping I had remembered everything I needed, got on the bus to go to Pier 3 to board the boat.  I was on the boat a little before 5:00 AM and had 2 1/2 hours to rest and mentally prepare for my plunge into the bay.  The boat ride was a lot of fun as I talked to people from all over the globe and there was a lot of energy  in the air as the race drew nearer.  Finally at 6:30  the boat took off for the start and people started pulling on their wet suits, applying body-glide and getting up on their feet.  I had a window seat and could see the white caps forming on the waves.  The two days of perfect San Francisco weather had changed to a windy, choppy water day.  It was going to be a tough swim.

Racing For A Cure team member, Jon, takes on the Escape From Alcatraz triathlonThe air temperature on the boat deck was very cold and I was getting worried about what the water was going to be like.  We all watched as a container ship and then a cruise shipped passed between our boat and our water exit.  The line of kayaks and support boats started to form along our channel for crossing the bay.  Our boat circled Alcatraz and set up in its final position for the start.  The national anthem was sung and the horn sounded – I could see the first professional triathletes as they dove into the water and suddenly I was a part of 2,000 athletes pushing toward the bay doors where we would jump in to start our race.

As we approached the jump, I tried to stay to the far left, instead of the middle, so that if someone was to jump on me after I jumped in, it could only be the person directly behind me.  Gladly, after I jumped in, I got away from the boat safely and was off.  The water was very choppy.  There were people everywhere, kicking and stroking, trying to find their own lane.  It took a little while to find some of my own space, but once I did, I started to sight across the bay to make sure I could cross the currents and not miss the swim exit point.  The current was strong, it was up to 4 knot exiting the bay swiftly.  The only way to make the swim exit was to first cross the current and then swim somewhat parallel to shore to make sure you lined up with the beach.  Along with sighting key landmarks, I made sure I kept a lot of people to my right figuring I was taking a more conservative path across the bay.

I took a number of waves to the face and swallowed bit of salt water, but eventually found a rhythm of breathing on the peak of the waves and riding a swim stroke to the wave’s trough.  I took in the sight of the Golden Gate bridge on every breath and could see the city skyline every time I sighted.  I made good progress across the bay and suddenly realized I was supposed to be cold.  I never even noticed the water temperature.  Not for a second.  I used my instincts and thought I had traversed the current, taking a bee-line toward the St. Francis Yacht club and the Palace of Fine Arts.  It turned out my line was perfect.  I never had to adjust and came in to the beach in great shape.  As I stood up and ran out of the water, I spotted my wife and sister yelling their heads off, clearly relieved to have spotted me and to see me coming out of the swim – it felt great.

I jogged the half mile to the transition area, pulled off my wet suit and pulled on my Racing for a Cure jersey.  I got into my biking gear and was out of transition in 10 or 11 minutes.  I mounted my bike and was off.  I saw Marianne, Lisa and Dave as I rode off.

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I tried to get some calories and was eating and drinking in the first two miles which were pretty flat.  After the flats came the hills.  We don’t have hills like this in Atlanta; at least not near my house. The next 14 miles were a series of long, slow, steep climbs, followed immediately by a quick and rapid descent, only to put us back into the next long, slow, steep climb.  There was some chance for active recovery through Golden Gate park, but it put us quickly back to climbing and descending the same hills we hit on our approach, but in cruel twist, the return was even steeper.  Ouch.

The views were amazing and we saw the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, the Marin Headlands, buffalo in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio  and then as we approached the final transition, we saw where we had started – Alcatraz off in San Francisco Bay.  I saw my family again on the way in on the bike and before I knew it, I was in my running shoes, back out onto the course for the run.

Jon runs to the finish line in the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco.I saw my family again on the way out and I saw Derek, the Marketing Director from ANRF, cheering me on.  As I started into the run, my legs were feeling okay,  but my energy level was low, and maybe the combination of sports gu, energy gels and salt water were lending to some stomach discomfort. I thought I might be sick in the first couple miles, but was able to run through it.  The run started straight into the winds coming off the Pacific in Crissy field.  The paved road turned to gravel path and then to steps, going straight up the hill toward the entrance to the Golden Gate.  The steps proved too much for me and I was reduced to a run/walk pace on the winding uphill steps with race traffic going in both directions.  What followed seemed like an endless hill that punished me, but at least I had some great views to keep me positive and distracted.  I eventually reached the peak of the run and started the descent down the other side of the hill to Baker Beach.

On the beach, the path took us through the deep sand to the turn-around point at mile 4, then back up the beach to the sand ladder.  The sand ladder was a cruel joke at this point. There was nothing to do but walk up the steps, and then, at the top of the ladder, there was still a climb that is equal to any of the hills I run near my house.  At the top of the hill, I had finally reached the last uphill portion of the race and started down the same steps that had punished me on the way up. It was all down hill from here and I was able to keep up a steady jog down the hill and through the flats towards Crissy Field.  I saw the Sports Basement, the 7 mile marker and knew there was one last mile to go.  I tried to pick up my pace, but I was pretty much out of gas at this point and was happy to stride in.  The crowd was growing towards the finish.  I saw Marianne, Lisa and Dave again, turned through the entrance to the finish shoot and crossed the finish line.  3:38:36.

This was a great experience in so many ways.  I feel like we all made a difference through this endeavor.  I know it has elevated me and Mazie and how we talk about our arthritis.  We have made friends through this experience and hopefully, we have helped get that much closer to a cure.  Thank you for being a part of this and for going on this journey with me.  We couldn’t have done this without all of you.”

If you’d like to share your arthritis story, contact Kyle!

To join Racing For A Cure, visit:  To support arthritis research please make a donation.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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