Friday, 10 June 2016

2016 Escape From Alcatraz Pre-Race Briefing

Rarely do I do a write up about training, but for big races, I feel it's important.  It's important for 2 reasons.  First, it helps to update you, my faithful readers, on my progress and inform you on what goes on between races.  And second, it helps me to organize my thoughts in writing, to better visualize my race and bolster my mental game/confidence.

Back in September (of 2015), I signed up for the random lottery draw for the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon (EfA).  I had seen the coverage on youtube and felt that this race would be a great challenge.  You can only get into EfA by qualifying or being selected in the random lottery draw.  I knew I was not good enough to qualify, so random draw it was!

One month later, I received an email stating that I was selected for "VIP Registration."  First round random draw and I was in.  I signed up on a whim, not expecting to get in.

After some serious contemplation, and speaking with my Coach, I decided to take the plunge (pun intended).  The race entry was very expensive, and so is travel and lodging, but we both agreed that it would be a great bucket list race.

4 days later it was official.

The Course

The race consists of a 2.4 kilometer swim (in 15 degree water with boat jump start), a 30k bike (with hills, if you want to call them hills), and a 12k run (sand, steps, trail, hills, and the dreaded Sand Ladder).

The Swim

The swim would pose several challenges.  The first being the distance.  An Olympic Distance triathlon is 1.5k, an Ironman 70.3 is 1.8k, and a full Ironman is 3.8K. At 2.4k, EfA will be quite the swim.

The second challenge is the water temperature.  At 15 degrees, it will be quite cold indeed.

The third is the start.  No beach start.  You jump right off the boat into the water.  No warm up.  No acclimation period.

After the swim, there is a half mile run from the beach to transition.  There is a small "mini transition" for those who choose to use it. 

The Bike 

The bike comes with its own set of challenges. Although shorter than an Olympic Distance race, the course it nothing but hills.  If you are not descending a hill, you are climbing one.

The course is an out-and-back, so what you come down, you must climb.  On one section of the course, a rapid descent leads to a sharp turn and an immediate climb.  There is not a ton of room to for momentum to help with that climb.

The Run

The run seems to be more of a trail run.  Dirt paths, gravel paths, stairs, wet sand, dry sand, and the dreaded (400 step) Sand Ladder all make this a very formidable run course.


Andrew has done an amazing job preparing me for this race.  My pool swims gradually became longer and longer until my sets started to be 2k+.  The Outdoor Cycling Sessions have prepared me for hills as well as helped me to be more powerful on the downhills and flats (not that there are any flats at EfA).  And the constant brick workouts have trained my legs to be ready for running right off the bike.

And of course the continued work with SeaHiker has ensured that my swim is not only at good speed, but efficient and technically sound.

As stated in previous entries, I also invested in a better wetsuit.

One thing that really boosted my confidence was the bike course simulator on Andrew's Wahoo KICKR.  The KICKR took account the elevation and map info along with my weight to simulate the resistance I would feel on the EfA course.

In late March, I also received a professional bike fit from BC Bike Fit.  Small adjustments may not seem like a big deal, but stack all those small adjustments up and you see a huge difference.

I made some small changes to my bike as well.  I upgraded my crankset and cassette to a compact setup to aid in hill climbs.  I also upgraded my wheelset to a very sleek set of Fulcrum Carbon wheels. My aero bottle is mounted a bit differently to ensure it does not drop or slide down the aero bars and I replaced the Velcro on my gel bottle with 2 strong refrigerator magnets.


It is important to note, that although I have times in mind for the swim and the run, I have set no goals for this race.  My main focus is to finish.  This is an extremely difficult course and I will respect its challenges as it well deserves. 

The Swim

Up until this past week, the swim has done nothing but induce fear and panic.  As stated in previous race reports (Subaru Vancouver and Shawnigan Lake), I've struggled with anxiety issues during the swim.

One thing I have taken from these experience is that starting with the pack is not a good strategy for me.  But at EfA, I will have no choice. My plan is to try to position myself as far to the left on the boat as I can, jump as far left as I can, and try to get a nice open space to myself.  I know my heart rate will spike and panic will set in, but I also know that as long as I keep moving, I will settle in and be fine.  Both at Vancouver and Shawnigan, the second laps of each race went very well.  When swimming in San Francisco Bay, I just need to remind myself that as long as I am moving toward shore, eventual I will settle and have a good swim.

Last Monday,  I did a nice open water swim with my fellow Coach Powell athletes.   They took off as soon as they got in the water. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to feel comfortable in the water, but once I did, I kept up with the pack.  At EfA, I'll just have to remind myself that the swim start will suck, but once I settle in, I'll be fine.

The temperature does not concern me that much anymore as well.  Although it will do nothing but feed what will already be a high heart rate, I have swam in colder water (Banff) and know that once you get moving, you get used to the water.

After the swim, I plan on making use of the "mini transition."  I will strip my wetsuit there and have a pair of shoes I can use to run to transition.

The Bike

My strategy on the bike is to just keep moving.  I know how the hills will feel and I know where they are.  My first marathon was in San Francisco and that course followed almost all of this bike course.

One thing the KICKR simulation did not take into account was rolling momentum off of a downhill.  Once down a "hill" and on a "climb" the KICKR immediately changes the resistance.  On the actual course, I will be able to use the downhills to gain some momentum on the following climb.

Having the compact crankset and compact cassette will aid in the climbs, as well as having very strong legs.  My goal is to never let my cadence on the uphills go below 40rpm and to stand only when needed.  I still have a 12k run and I do not want to burn all my matches on the bike.

Climb strong, spin it out at the top, make up time/recover on the downhills, and enjoy the views.

The Run

The run poses several challenges and thus I will not be going at my normal 10k or triathlon pace. I plan on taking my time on the run, finding a pace that feels good and holding it.  If I need to walk on an uphill, so be it.  If I need to take some walk breaks, so be it.  This course is hard and I will not underestimate it.

The Sand Ladder will be walked.  I have no desire to burn any and all energy on that climb.  I have strong legs and should have no problem powering my way up at a slow and steady pace.

Like I mentioned before, I have no goal times for this race.  The course is tough.  Alot can happen.  Going in with the goal of just making it to the finish line will quell any negativity brought on by unforeseen circumstances.

My coach, trainer, instructors, fellow athletes, friends, and loved ones, while all thinking I am slightly crazy, have the utmost confidence in me.  I will go out and give it my best and enjoy the day as it comes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this entry.  This was written more for me to get my thoughts out of the jumbled mess that is my head and into a coherent and centralized place.

While anxiety for Escape from Alcatraz still looms, the ratio of anxiety to excitement has swung in excitements favor.

I cannot wait to write the race report for this one!


  1. Proud of you Joe. Sounds like you have a good plan. I know how much you have given to get to this point. I cannot wait to hear all about the race and the experience of it all!!!

    Chris Logan