The Stage Race

Last weekend in West Lafayette, IN some friends and I participated in a bike race. Actually, it was three separate bike races which together formed a stage race. My Wild Card cycling team had 6 riders in the cat 4-5 race: Thomas, Luke, Mark, Karl, Dan, and Rob.

The Criterium

The first stage on Saturday was a criterium in a residential neighborhood near the campus of Purdue University. Criterium races are okay, but they’re definitely my least favorite. The idea is that the course is very short and racers ride several laps around the course for a set period of time. After the set period of time the first person to cross the finish line is the winner. Crits are generally very fast with lots of turning in close proximity to other riders, so there’s a little bit more danger involved. Perhaps danger isn’t the best word. There’s just more possibility for mistakes, both by you and the other riders.

On the bright side the roads are closed to traffic. Err, uh, at least they’re supposed to be. After warming up a little we were informed that the race organizers were having some traffic control problems. First, the course was going to be shortened by half, leaving only a 0.6 mile loop. Second, a couple of the roads were going to be open to traffic!

In the words of GOB Bluth, COME ON!

As we lined up to start the race the officiant explained a few rules. He explicitly stated that riders who get lapped should stay to the far right of the road so as not to interfere with the lead riders. Fine.

The race started. There were 57 riders. Now on narrow residential streets that may or may not be open to traffic, we could really only ride three or four wide across the road. This meant there was a huge distance from the first riders to the last riders at the start, probably a quarter mile. The fastest riders only needed to gain maybe a third of a mile to lap the slowest riders. That’s exactly what happened, and it didn’t take long.

I started a little conservatively in the middle of the pack. The lap had a short steep hill (which was to my advantage), then a long downhill with a sharp turn at the bottom (which was to my disadvantage). I passed around four or five riders each lap for about 24 minutes of the 35 minute race. The leaders were still well ahead of me and were close to catching up and lapping me.

When I finished the lap it sounded like the race directors yelled at me (as well as everyone else) to get off the course. What? The next lap they did the same thing. The pace car passed me and the lead rider was not too far behind so I moved over to the right. When I finished that lap I heard more clearly what the directors were saying, and indeed they told me to get off the course. I stopped (many other riders had already stopped) and asked one of my Wild Card teammates what was going on. Apparently they wanted all lapped riders off the course (I actually hadn’t been lapped yet). Okay, I guess, but that wasn’t what they told us before the race. Why on earth did they change their minds in the middle of the race? I guess I’ll never know. Only 13 riders remained in the race until the finish. My teammate Thomas finished 2nd in the final sprint. Kudos to him.

I apparently tied for 17th place with every other rider who was pulled on the same lap. Since this was a stage race the finishing time actually did matter, so there was some confusion how this was going to work when the majority of riders didn’t actually finish. The organizers prorated the finishing times. I was a little over one minute behind the leader after 24 minutes of racing. Worst case scenario I would have been two minutes behind after 35 minutes of racing. So my prorated time was… 5:21 back.


The prorating was equally bad for everyone, so it’s not really worth getting too upset. But lots of people take themselves a little too seriously and there were about 40 super pissed cyclists after that race.

The Road Race

Early the next morning was the road race. The 22 mile race took place mostly on a four mile loop in the country that included a pretty big hill that was clearly going to be decisive. Again, I started in the middle and worked my way up to the top third or so before we reached the hill. Several riders dropped off the back of the group on the climb. The same thing happened the next lap, and each lap after.

I stayed with the lead group the whole race. The group was down to 25 or so riders by the last lap. I thought someone might try to escape on the last hill, but the strong headwind at the top prevented that. We approached the finish line as a big group. The pace started to slow, as everyone wanted to conserve energy for the finish. Thomas was again well placed near the front of the group, so I shot to the front and whipped up the pace to lead out the sprint for him. I led for 400 meters or so until the sprint started about 200 meters before the finish. Thomas finished 2nd again, though a different rider won. My teammate Luke was also in the lead group and finished 8th. I rolled across the finish line in 15th. I was much happier with the outcome of this race than I was with the previous race. It was good that I not only stayed with the lead group, but was strong enough at the end to try to help Thomas & Luke finish higher up. I didn’t really stand a chance in the sprint anyway.

The Time Trial

Finally, on Sunday afternoon was a 5.8 mile time trial. This is a race where each rider is timed individually, starting 30 seconds apart so they can’t work together. The course was the same as part of the road race, and it included the same big hill. As an experienced triathlete I generally enjoy time trials (which are identical to the bike portion of a triathlon). I also enjoy riding on hills. Perfect… except for one thing. Take a guess what that was.

The course was point to point and it was almost entirely into the wind. Heavy riders have a harder time riding uphill than I do. I have a harder time riding into the wind than many others. The reason? Physics. I’m fairly big/tall and I’m kind of lightweight so I have a high surface area to weight ratio. Higher surface area causes more wind resistance. Lower weight (mass) means less momentum one can use to counter this effect. I shouldn’t make excuses, but when it’s related to physics I can hardly resist…

I rode reasonably well, but not as fast as I would have liked. I tied for 19th place. I averaged around 21 mph into the wind, while the winner averaged around 24 mph. Thomas also tied for 19th, and Luke was 13 seconds faster in 15th place.

The General Classification

Since the time gaps between the riders were not that large after the criterium and the road race, the time trial results pretty much determined the final overall stage race results. Here’s how the team did:

Thomas 11th
Luke 12th
Rob 15th
Mark 29th
Karl 39th
Dan 46th

We were not quite as dominant as we were in Hillsboro, but we had a solid race.

The Race for the Cure

Okay, so this is a little late. The weekend before last Melissa and I travelled to Peoria for Mother’s Day weekend and while we were there we both ran in the Race for the Cure. We missed this race last year while we were in Nicaragua, and we were somewhere else the year before. Prior to that Melissa has run this race most every year.

This Peoria Race for the Cure used to be women-only, so I could go and watch but I couldn’t participate. A couple years ago they changed that and allowed men to run and walk at the event. I think this was a good change. For the actual race they still started the women first, so a woman will be the first person to cross the finish line. This is great. Unfortunately, they only left a 10 minute gap between the women’s start & the men’s start. That means that men running 18 minute 5k times will be finishing at the same time as women running 28 minute 5k times and finishing ahead of women running slower than that. Out of a field of 433 women, this turns out to be quite a few (around 250 according to the results).

The race itself went as well as I could have hoped. I ran 18:23, which is only 11 seconds slower than my last 5k and this one had more hills. I ran more even splits this time (5:53, 6:01, 5:53) than the last race, so I’m pleased with that. I finished in 6th place overall (out of 145) and 2nd 1st in my age group.

The only real problem, as I alluded to a moment ago, was that I had to dodge 250 women as I was running. We passed a couple of stragglers in the first mile. As soon as we hit the first mile marker we caught up with the back of the pack. Over the second mile there were people spread out maybe five wide across the road, which wasn’t that bad. There was usually a clear path along one side or the other. By the time we reached the third mile the runners were spread out more like eight or ten wide and there wasn’t always a clear path down one side or the other. So for the third mile we had to do some fancy footwork to weave in and out of the runners.

To put it simply, the 10 minute gap was not ideal. I like the idea of having the women start first in this event which is primarily aimed at women, but in that case the gap needs to be longer to give more women a chance to finish and clear the course a little better for the next wave of runners. Even waiting an extra five minutes would make a big difference. Waiting an extra 10 minutes (20 minute gap) would have cleared nearly all the runners off the course.

Despite my complaining, it wasn’t that bad. I was happy just to be able to run my first Race for the Cure. As Melissa mentioned we couldn’t track down any of the little cards to write down the names of people close to you who have been affected by breast cancer, but we certainly had them in our thoughts. My aunt Sharon passed away two years ago after a nine year battle with breast cancer. Despite her deteriorating health she was one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever known. She set great example how to live life to the fullest and I miss her dearly.

The New Shoes

A friend from the local running club sent out a link to an online store which had a good pair of trail racing flats (running shoes) on clearance for a bargain. What the hell, I’ll always need shoes. So I bought some on impulse. Now I have new shoes.

When the shoes arrived I was reminded of Grandad Freeman’s New Shoes song (from the animated TV show The Boondocks). It’s catchy. Melissa was singing it the rest of the day. It was such a hit that he reprised it as the Soul Plane song in a later episode.

Grandad Freeman’s New Shoes song

Grandad Freeman’s Soul Plane song

I wore the new shoes for a short run last week and also did some walking in them. Next it was time for the Habitat for Humanity 5k race at Crystal Lake Park last Sunday.

This was the same venue and course (though backwards) as the last 5k two weeks prior. It must have been the new shoes, because I ran over a minute faster for a time of 18:12. Again, I finished 3rd place, but I was very pleased with my time. This was probably the second fastest 5k race I’ve run since college.

Most 5k races have age group awards split up into 5 year or 10 year intervals (e.g. 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, etc, or 20-29, 30-39). Interestingly this race had three age groups: 25 & under, 26-40, 41 & over. This translated roughly to: college students, townies, parents of college students (it was Mom’s weekend at UIUC). I won first place in the townie division, for which I was awarded a sweatshirt. It would have been nice to have been wearing the sweatshirt during the 30 minutes between the race in 36˚ weather and the awards. Oh well.

The Double

I did a somewhat rare double this weekend by following up Saturday’s bike race with a 5k run this morning at Crystal Lake Park. The Aid to Ecuador 5k was held to raise money to purchase medical supplies for UIUC med students to bring on an upcoming humanitarian trip to Ecuador. The event was pretty low key with a fairly small turnout. In fact there appeared to be maybe a dozen people there who weren’t themselves medical students.

There were two badasses in the race who appear to be U of I runners. They, of course, blew everyone away. There were a handful of people (as there are at every 5k) who sprinted the first half mile and then slowed to a crawl. After I worked my way around these people I didn’t really see anyone else the remaining 2.5 miles. The two leaders were literally out of sight by this point.

The mile markers were a little off, which caused some confusion, but I ran a decent time of 19:25 for third place, over three minutes behind the two leaders, and over two minutes ahead of the next runner. I would have liked to have run faster, but being completely alone made it a little more challenging. A little while after that next guy finished I looked up to see Melissa closing in on the finishing line. She finished fifth overall, and was the first woman to finish.

We stuck around after the race to pick up awards in the form of gift certificates to local restaurants. Then we ran the mile and a half back home. Melissa then went out and ran for another hour. That girl’s a running fool.

The Cobbles

Saturday was my first bike race of the season. Melissa (the photographer) & I woke up early and drove down to Hillsboro, IL for the 2008 edition of the Hillsboro Roubaix bicycle race. The race actually has nothing to do with Roubaix, France. The name is just a play on the famous bike race Paris-Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix is known for horrible weather, poor roads, and, most of all, many sections of cobble-stones. In the spirit of the spring classics like Paris-Roubiax, the Hillsboro race threw in a half mile section of brick roads for every 22 mile lap.

Hillsboro Roubaix course map

Many members of my Wild Card Cycling team took part in this race. We had a particularly large group in the Category 5 (beginner) race, including me. Amateur bike racing events are generally split up into several different, non-competing, races. Much like running races and triathlons have age group competitions, bike races are split up by category, which is generally determined by the ability and experience of a rider.

Team Wild Card had six riders in the Cat 5 race, out of a field of 50 participants. Our six riders are pretty good, each of us simply lacks race experience. The Cat 5 race was only one lap–22 miles. This is pretty short for a bike race, so chances were good it would hard racing from the get-go. Knowing this, Larry (one of the most experienced racers on the team) came up with a team strategy for those of us in the Cat 5 race.

Mark, Tom, Dan, Stew, Karl, & Rob at the starting line

and they’re off

As soon as the race started there was a long downhill section followed by a steep uphill. Dan (who has a tendency to go downhill faster than most) moved to the front of the group and really hammered down the hill. This strung the pack into one long thin line. It was to be my job to push the pace on the uphill section, but I was badly positioned. I was a little too far back after the downhill section, so Karl hit the front and kept the pace high up the hill. By the time we made a right turn at the top of the hill (less than two miles into the race) we had already cut the size of the field in half.

Hillsboro Roubaix course elevation profile

The pace remained high for the next few miles. At this point we hit another steep uphill section when something unfortunate happened. A car came from the opposite direction. This didn’t endanger the safety of any of the riders. We all knew the roads were open to traffic and we all stayed safely on the right side of the road. The sight of the car did cause a few riders to panic. A lot of people had to slow down, and a couple of people swerved off into the grass. Again, everyone was safe, but this had consequences for the race. Due to all the commotion a gap opened up right in the middle of the remainder of the group. I was at the very front of the second half. I pushed the rest of the way up the hill and I chased the leaders for about a mile all by myself in order to catch up. Once I caught the leaders again I was able to slow down rest a little bit.

It was now only six miles into the race and we had a lead group of 13 riders, four of which (Tom, Mark, Stew, & me) were Wild Card people. Not bad. There wasn’t much action for the next 14 miles or so. I stayed near the back most of the time. I tried on several occasions to move up through the pack, as I was willing to work harder at the front, but nobody really wanted to yield their position. So I basically rested for the majority of the race, my heart rate often in the 120’s. As we came back into town we had two large uphill sections, followed by a long, fast downhill, a half mile of brick roads, then a mad dash to the finish. It was time to move on to phase two of the pre-race plan.

Hillsboro Roubaix course elevation gradient

On the first uphill section into town everyone stayed together. By this point we were starting to pass riders who had been dropped from other races that started before ours. Our pace car got stuck behind one of these riders and we got stuck behind the pace car (which we weren’t allowed to pass). So we moseyed up the hill.

Stew & Tom drop the hammer

The road leveled, we passed the slower riders, then we hit the second hill. This is where Stew attacked. He was our strongest rider in the race and he hadn’t been working very hard up until this point, so he was good and strong. Then disaster almost struck. The pace car got stuck behind another slow rider, and Stew got stuck behind the pace car, AGAIN! Fortunately, this was near the top of the hill and Stew still had a lead over the rest of the group when he was finally able to move forward. Crisis averted.

Team Wild Card took the bull by the horns on the last uphill

The group shattered going up the hill. Stew was out front. There was a chase group of four riders, including Tom. I had moved up from the back of the group and I was just behind the chase group with Mark and one or two others. We made a sharp left-hander then headed down the hill. The high speeds down the hill spread the group out even further. I looked up the road and saw Stew still had a pretty good lead with Tom nicely positioned in the second group. At the bottom of the hill we hit the brick road at around 35 mph. I was with one other rider at this point. We turned another corner, headed uphill, and I pulled away from him.

Every part of my bike rattled as the bricks attempted to tear it apart. At some point I heard a loud popping sound and almost immediately my back wheel started wiggling all over the place. I thought to myself, “Oh shit. I just got a flat tire a half mile from the finish.” I looked down and my tire still held air. I didn’t know what was going on, so I just kept peddling. As the brick road continued my rear wheel was still moving all over. I looked down at it three or four more times and it still had air each time.

The brick road ended and I turned the last corner with just a couple hundred meters remaining. I saw Stew had just crossed the line in first. The chase group of four people were sprinting to the line and I saw Tom win that sprint for second place. Next I finished sixth, then Mark came in behind me for seventh. Four places in the top seven was as good as we could have possibly hoped. A few minutes later Karl finished in 23rd, then after him Dan finished in 32nd. These two made big sacrifices to help their teammates then rode much of the race alone. It was really quite amazing.

On top of the tremendous success of team Wild Card in the Cat 5 men’s race, the next race to finish was the Cat 4 women’s race, where Wild Card member Severine won the sprint for first place.

Dan, Karl, Rob, Severine, Stew, Tom, Mark (photo by Luke)

I didn’t see much of the action in the other races, but Larry finished fourth in the Masters 50+ race, but was possibly later disqualified for some reason. Luke, who was sick all week, DNF’d (did not finish) in the Cat 3 race. There were a few other people from Champaign-Urbana there, but I don’t really know how their races went.

Team Wild Card’s first event turned out to be pretty successful. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

The Slog

I just finished reading Jill from Juneau‘s report of her adventures in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350 mile human powered (bike in her case) race across the interior of Alaska in February. She tells an amazing story.

Melissa was a little worried that reading this would inspire me to compete in this event next year… This is a little crazy even by my standards.

The Practice Start

Yesterday was the Earth, Wind, & Fire 5K run put on the by the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois. The race started at 8 a.m. When I woke up at 6:20 a.m. the temperature was 13˚ F. This was going to be interesting.

The start was less than a mile from our house, so I ran over there to warm up. I registered for the race and waited around inside the Natural Resources Building until closer to race time. There was a Festival of Maps (I like maps) lining the hallway so I kept myself occupied. About 20 minutes before the start I ran another mile outside to warm up then I headed to the start line.

There were a surprising number of people there. I thought there would be maybe 20 of the most hardcore runners that braved the frigid weather and howling winds for this race, but I was mistaken. About 150 people showed up.

As everyone was mulling around near the starting line, trying not to freeze, the race directors decided to blow the air horn to test it out and make sure it was working. The thing is, they didn’t tell anyone what they were doing. As soon as the horn blew a few people took off running. Seeing them, everyone else took off running. The race directors were standing right in front of the line and all of the sudden the entire field was running around them. They quickly got on the bullhorn to announce that this wasn’t actually the start. The runners eventually stopped and headed back to the starting line. When it was time for the real start the directors were much more careful to explain exactly what was going to happen. Fair enough. They gave a 5 second count down then we were off.

The race went surprisingly well given the poor weather conditions. I was able to pull out a 19:20, which was good enough for 5th place overall and 2nd in my age group. I guess I’m not as out of shape as I thought I was.

Since the race was put on by geologists, the winners received some sort of special rock as an award.

Update: They posted race photos, including a couple of me.

Rob finishing the 5K (photo courtesy of Joel Dexter)

Rob receiving award (photo courtesy of Joel Dexter)

The Tour de Groundhog

Last night after dinner my dad told me I was crazy for planning to do a bike race today. Of course, at the time it was 34˚ and raining. Luckily the weather was a little bit better for the Tour de Groundhog today. In fact, the weather started out a little too good, as I had to shed several layers once I started warming up.

I noticed on the drive over to Springfield that there was a lot of standing water/ice on the ground from some recent flooding. It wasn’t until I started warming up that I realized what this would mean for the race: mud, and lots of it.

I did the masters 30+ race (which is interesting given that I am 29, but apparently they use your age at the end of the calendar year…). There were only 7 people in the race, so it wasn’t too crowed. After about 10 meters the course immediately turned into the woods and from there it was a battle of wills more than an athletic competition. A good 30-40% of the course was unridable. So there was lots of dismounting and running/walking with the bike. About 2 times each lap my tires would literally stop spinning, so I would have to stop and pull a handful of mud out of both my front and rear brakes in order to be able to ride again.

The course map

It certainly was an adventure. I did get lapped by the winner, but that wasn’t totally unexpected. I ended up 5th of the 7 people in the masters race, which was good enough to win some socks and water bottles (two things of which I own copious quantities, but still never enough). Just to give you an idea how bad the conditions were, I travelled less than 3 miles in 33 minutes of racing. This is a slower pace than I averaged running for 28.4 miles at the Riddle Run ultramarathon 3 weeks ago. Perhaps my dad knew what he was talking about.

The Escape

This is the unlikely story of my favorite race of all time.

Most every summer I attend Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in California. The first few years I attended the conference it took place in San Jose, then it later switched to San Francisco. Both fine choices.

In 2003 I was at the peak of my triathlon prowess. That summer I did a triathlon or ran a road race almost every weekend. Earlier in the spring I was planning which races I wanted to do, and on a whim I decided to search for races in San Francisco on the weekends before and after the conference. I lucked out. The Alcatraz “Escape from the Rock” Triathlon was taking place in San Francisco the day before WWDC started.

There was only one problem. Triathlons have become so popular that big races nearly always fill up months ahead of time. With just a few weeks to go until the race I was sure it would be full. I emailed the race organizers and I was delighted to hear back from them that there were 2 spots available. I promptly snapped one up. The race entry fee was rather large, but I figured that if this actually worked out it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.


I didn’t really want to deal with taking my own bike on the plane so I rented a bike from Bay City Bike. The organizers required all equipment to be set up the day before the race, so I arranged to fly out to San Francisco a day early. My flight arrived on time. I took a taxi to my hotel, unpacked, then took a bus to Bay City Bike. They had my reservation and I picked up the bike. It was a low end Giant road bike, which is not super great, but it was more than adequate for my needs.

I rode the bike with my backpack full of race gear to the transition area at an old warehouse near Crissy Field. I picked up my registration packet for the race and I set up the bike and all my other gear. Now it was time to return to my hotel. Except I no longer had the bike. And I didn’t see any taxis or buses. So I walked about 3 miles back to the bike shop (the only place I knew for sure where I could find a bus) then took the bus back downtown to my hotel. Given that this was the worse thing that had happened so far, and everything else had gone off without a hitch, I wasn’t too upset about it. I mean, think of all the things that could have gone wrong (delayed flight, missing hotel reservations, missing bike, missing registration, bad weather, etc.).

Race Day

I woke up very early the next morning. I gathered my running shoes, my wetsuit & goggles, and headed to the race start. I had no problems finding a taxi, as the city was dead at this time of the morning. Perhaps I was a little too early. I saw very few people near the race staging area, but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I had worked so hard just to get to this point I wasn’t going to let it slip away. I set up my gear in the first transition area. It was time.

The course map

The Swim

All the race participants gathered onto a boat and headed to Alcatraz island. The organizers went over the race instructions on the way out there. The boat pulled up close to the east side of the island, they opened up the doors, and everybody started jumping into the water. I was one of the last people remaining on the boat and I was nervous as hell when it was my turn.

Then I jumped.

The mid-June 58˚ water of the San Francisco bay hit me like a blast of winter wind. I was wearing a wetsuit, but it still took a minute or so for the water in the wetsuit to heat up to a bearable temperature. My face on the other hand didn’t have the luxury of a neoprene covering. It was cold, and it would remain cold for the next 35 minutes.

As I treaded water, trying to catch my breath, I noticed that several people had started swimming already, even though the race hadn’t started yet. I was quite some distance back from the imaginary starting line anyway, so I started swimming as well. The boat horn blew to signal the start of the race just as I reached the line and I kept right on going.

My swim cap

Now, swimming in the San Francisco bay is notoriously difficult–it’s part of the mystique of Alcatraz. I was beginning to understand why. In addition to the frigid water, the waves were pretty rough. No amount of swimming laps in a pool, nor even short open water swims in muddy midwestern lakes, prepared me for the constant ups and downs of the ocean-like bay water. I had never swam in saltwater before and this also caused me some difficulties. In the normal course of swimming I sometimes get water in my mount and I inadvertently swallow some of it. Well, the salt water was causing me to gag and I had to stop for a few seconds a handful of times to prevent myself from puking.

Finally, the current is incredibly strong. We couldn’t just swim straight towards our destination or we would end up out in the Pacific ocean. We had to aim significantly to the east of our destination and the current would correct our course. When I was just a few hundred meters out I realized I had overshot the small entrance to municipal harbor and I started swimming vigorously against the current. By the time I reached the entrance I was still 20 meters or so down current of where I needed to be. That’s when the current slammed me (and everyone around me) into the pier. The force of hitting the pier wasn’t so bad, but it was covered with barnacles. As I pushed off of the pier to get back where I needed to be these tiny sharp crustacea sliced my bare fingers and toes in several places, leaving me bleeding as I exited the water and I ran up onto the shore.

All things considered it was actually a pretty decent swim. I did the 1.5-ish miles in 35 minutes, which put me roughly in the middle of the pack. I don’t think I could have expected any better.

The Run

Normally triathlons are arranged in swim-bike-run order, but this race was a little different. In order for the locations to work out correctly there was a 2.5 mile run between the swim and the bike, then another 7.5 mile run after the bike. So it was swim-run-bike-run.

After exiting the water I ran to the transition area put on my shoes and tried to wipe off as much blood as possible from my fingers. I didn’t want it on my triathlon suit, so I wiped it on my race number. Fortunately, the cuts were tiny and the bleeding stopped within a few minutes.

My somewhat bloody race bib

I did the first 2.5 mile run at a pretty easy pace and maintained my position in the middle of the pack. Normally in triathlons the run is where I excel, but there was a lot of racing left to do.

The Bike

I reached the transition area at the warehouse, grabbed my bike, and I was off. Immediately there was a large steep hill (this is San Francisco). The road went uphill for a mile, then downhill for a mile, then there was a turnaround, then uphill for a mile, then downhill for a mile, turnaround, repeat, repeat.

The bike ride was hilly. I had never trained on hills. There are no hills in central Illinois. But a funny thing happened during the race–a rather unexpected thing. I started passing people. And not just a few people, but I started passing a lot of people. Every uphill section I passed dozens of people. Every downhill section I passed a few more. After the hilly 12 mile bike ride there really weren’t that many people left ahead of me. Apparently I can bike well on hills.

Rob on the bike. Thanks to my mom for buying the official race photograph.

The Run

The second run was an out-and-back. It was longer (7.5 miles) and harder (hills, trails, sand, etc). It started up a trail that went right under the Golden Gate bridge. I mean right under. I could jumped up and touched the bottom of the bridge. The trail wound up, down, and around, and ended at Baker beach. It was at the end of the beach that I saw the race leader headed back the opposite direction. Hmm. How far is it to the turn around? How many people are ahead of me?

After a stroll through the sand the course wound through a neighborhood then up a hill to the Legion of Honor. Going up this hill another runner passed me. Again, the run is where I usually excelled, so it was rare that other people passed me while running in a triathlon. I wasn’t going let this slide. I reached the turnaround top of the hill after counting 24 people ahead of me.

On the downhill I caught back up with the runner who had passed me earlier and did likewise to him. Then after running back across Baker beach I reached the notorious sand ladder. The sand ladder is basically a set of stairs made out of wood and sand. It climbs the steep hill from Baker beach up to the trail that goes right under the Golden Gate bridge. There was no chance of running up this thing, so I just did the best I could to keep walking at a brisk pace until I got to the top. From there on it was all down hill.

The windy trail made its way back under the bridge then back down to sea level. I caught one other runner at the bottom of this hill as we both made a mad dash for the finish line.


I ended up finishing in 2:38:19, good enough for 23nd place overall (out of 440 finishers) and 2nd place in my age group. Not only was the race a whole lot of fun, it was my best triathlon performance ever, and one of my best performances ever in any kind of race.

I am still amazed to this day that all the necessary pieces came together to allow me to take part in this amazing event. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Until the next once in a lifetime opportunity comes along, I’m satisfied to have escaped from Alcatraz.