On June 5th, 2011, I will be doing the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon: One of the most iconic and possibly toughest races in the world and the biggest adventure in my young life as a triathlete. I was incredibly lucky to win the entry in a competition sponsored by ZipVit, and since then my life has turned slightly up side down. Let me bring you up to speed.
Who am I?
I’m fairly new to triathlon, by now I have only ever raced three sprint triathlons. In my previous life as an athlete, I ran middle distance races and moved more into cross country and longer distances when I went past the big three-oh. At that point, I was more in it for the joy of it than to win it, although that competitive strain in me occasionally resurfaces. Due to injury (like so many), I started training with the tri club at Stirling University about three years ago, swimming and cycling only, and mainly to keep myself sane over studying when running was not an option. Six months later and pain free again, I got this idea in my head to add the running back in and finally do my first triathlon. After finishing the British University Sprint Triathlon Championships 2009 I was hooked. But my triathlon life ground to a semi-halt due to moving to London for a new job and the clock ticking very loudly to finish my degree. In March 2011, finally, I was all done with my degree and ready to launch myself back into the world of triathlon. To ease myself in, the plan was to do a couple of sprint triathlons and attempt my first ever Olympic Distance in August. But then it all changed…
So what’s the big story?
I’m no different from a lot of triathletes – I immerse myself in my sport, devouring every piece of literature and information I can find: magazines, books, facebook, blogs and twitter. Through a tweet I learned of a competition run by ZipVit Sport and tri247. The task: simple. Answer a question, where the answer was screaming in your face from the sponsor’s website – It’s Emma Pooley! The prize: entry to one of four triathlons in the States: New York, Washington, Chicago or the Escape from Alcatraz. I approached the selection process wholly from a sightseeing perspective: I have been to New York and Washington, don’t know anyone in Chicago, got friends in San Francisco, never been there and everyone tells me I would love it. Easy choice then, Alcatraz it was. I filled in the form, and then… forgot – as you do with these kinds of things, because let’s face it, what are the chances?
Imagine the range of emotions I went through when I received a rather inconspicuous looking e-mail with the subject line: “Congratulations from ZipVit Sport!” – Who? What? After reading the e-mail through several times, it finally dawned on me… I was going to San Francisco! I suppose at this stage I could have said: No, thanks, I take New York. But that thought never crossed my mind. At some point, while still overwhelmed with joy and after phoning my mom, I finally thought about checking what the Escape from Alcatraz actually entailed – I still had no idea. A thorough read of the event website revealed:
1.5 miles of sea swimming from Alcatraz across San Francisco Bay
18 miles of cycling in the streets of San Francisco and
7 miles of running through streets and parks, on the beach and up a 400 step sand ladder.
This was where panic set in, because I am not the most gifted of swimmers (in fact, the look of utter despair on my coach’s face when I attempted my first ever length of front crawl at Stirling cannot be described) and have never been more than hip deep in the sea after an unfortunate encounter with a jelly fish and a crab when I was about nine. But I am not the sort of person to stick my head in the sand at the first little obstacle and so it was decided: I was going to Escape from Alcatraz, I was going to tackle this swim (the rest I was not too worried about – how foolish!), and I was not going to be collected by the boat that gathers the swimmers remaining in the Bay after an hour.
A planning and information collection frenzy ensued with the obligatory check list to work through: accommodation- check; flights- bit of a frustrating experience, but check; kit- rather flash ZipVit kit, thanks and check; bike- bit of a hassle this one, but eventually- check; maybe a sea swim before? I collected all pearls of wisdom I could find, people’s tales, videos – anyone go sea swimming at some point? No? Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact I would not have a sea swim before the Escape, which turned my attention to the issue of training.
Just how do you train for this, when your main focus are sprint distance triathlons and your first goal race of the season is a week before the Escape from Alcatraz? You can only serve one Master, so what’s a girl to do? To be honest, not much. I continued with my normal training, which adds up to about 10-12 hours per week. Over the winter I had done quite a few cross country races and so had a half decent base to work from. My swimming has increased substantially in distance, but it would have done that in any case, because really, just doing one session of 1000m a week is not going to get you far. On the bike, I started doing targeted sessions including hill climbs and sprints, mainly because I need to build up some leg strength for those time trials. Running is my strong suit, naturally, but I got a bit worried about the 400 step sand ladder. It is a bit of an unusual obstacle, so an unusual method would do: I ditched all elevators and escalators and started climbing stairs – and boy, does the London Underground have stairs. However, to put that last polish on my training and get prepared for the hills in San Francisco, ZipVit have offered me a place on the Etape Caledonia – 81 miles of cycling in the Scottish Highlands, up and down a few passes. That’s my next adventure which launches me into 4 weeks of racing, the last of which is the Escape from Alcatraz.
Now that you are up to speed, I hope you come back and have a read through my blog where I chronicle the trials and tribulations of getting there and doing the Escape from Alcatraz. With the race fast approaching and race action every weekend until then, there will be quite a few stories to tell…