Escape From Alcatraz
When my good friend, Tyler Robinson, told me he had won an entry to the 2010 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, I knew right away that I needed him to provide a guest post about it. You see, Tyler has an incredible sense of humor in his writing and I had no doubt he would provide one heck of a great read. So here it is, one very humorous view of the cycling portion of his first “big name” triathlon.
It’s all about the swim. When you tell people you’ve completed the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, the only thing they want to hear about is the swim. The run sometimes gets a bit of attention because of the infamous sand ladder, but the focus is always on the long, cold and allegedly shark-infested swim from “the rock.”
Nobody wants to hear about the bike segment – the poor, red-headed stepchild of this infamous race.
Except you, followers of Loving the Bike. Or at least so I’m told by my buddy Darryl…
With that in mind, I’m going to pick things up as I exited the San Francisco Bay a couple months ago, cold and slightly disoriented from inhaling half my body weight in brackish water and having had my goggles rudely knocked off by a perfectly placed foot to my face. After spending enough time in the swim-to-run transition to write a short novel (did I mention I was slightly disoriented?), I made the half-mile dash to “Big Red,” my rental road bike for the day. At this point I should mention that when I rented a bike over the Internet, I had a choice of either a brand new Trek Madone 4.5, or the house special – a perfectly functional Trek, but definitely not a plastic-still-on-the-seat pristine work of art like the Madone. I chose Big Red because there’s nothing quite like the added excitement of wondering if your handlebars are going to fall off while careening down the streets of San Francisco.
After completing a slightly speedier run-to-bike transition and having finally managed to get clipped in, I bolted along the flat initial segment of the course thinking “pffbbtttt… San Francisco isn’t that hilly – this is going to be a breeze.” Hmmmmmm…
In all honesty, the hills weren’t that much of an issue; I’m a pretty light guy which is ideal for climbing. And besides, as we common folk were working our way up the endlessly winding hills there was plenty to focus on as the pros and elite age groupers rocketed past on their way back down. It was quite an experience – you would hear the telltale “whump, whump, whump” of a disk wheel in the distance and then all of a sudden a flash of carbon and spandex would scream by at a velocity I’m reluctant to travel in my car, let alone on a bike. How those men and women managed to make some of the turns at the bottom of those hills I will never know.
What I’m not, however, is a particularly seasoned or confident rider, having reintroduced myself to cycling last summer when I started down this mid-life crisis path known as triathlon. You see, because I live in Canada and am subjected to cold and snow eight months of the year (and that’s in a good year), most of my cycling time is spent securely attached to a trainer in my basement. And while this is fine for conditioning purposes and for catching up on reruns of Dexter, it doesn’t do much for one’s bike handling skills unless you consider napping while riding a skill. Add to this the fact that prior to this race I had been out on the road in 2010 exactly once for a grand total of ten minutes, in the snow, to make sure I could still clip in and out of my pedals, and you can probably guess that I wasn’t exactly vying for the Most Nimble Cyclist award.
As such, it came as little surprise to me that as I was simultaneously trying to change gears, return my water bottle to its cage, start up a hill and dodge the riders on either side of me (at that point I may as well have tried to make a ham sandwich I had so much going on…), I suddenly found myself staring up at the sky as I slid to a halt on my left hip. And if that wasn’t bad enough, as I righted myself I overcompensated and ended up going back over the other side onto the boulevard in a horrific display of slow motion, just as the only other person I knew in the race happened to ride by. I can’t seem to win the lottery, but I can manage to fall twice at exactly the time my buddy cruises by. Perfect. The best part is that any time I want to relive those few glorious moments, he is more than willing to recount the episode to anyone and everyone who will listen. My only saving grace was the fact that there were no event photographers stationed at the bottom of that hill.
In any event, the only thing that was really hurt was my pride so I hopped back onto Big Red, dusted us both off and made my way to the top of the course. The next half-hour or so was primarily spent applying an involuntary death grip to the drop bars as I made my way back down the various switchbacks and straightaways. For a moment or two I convinced myself that I was going as fast as some of those pros, but the smell of burning rubber from my rear brake suggested that perhaps I wasn’t quite as committed to the downhill thrill as they might have been. Falling uphill onto your pride is one thing; launching yourself into space at 70 kph is quite another and I had little desire to experience the latter.
That said, I’m pretty sure I heard a “whump whump” or two from Big Red on the way down as I headed back toward T3.