Sunday, July 1, 2007



Here is the website for a great Half-Ironman I did in Desaru, Malaysia:
I did this one with my friends at Triathlon Family in Singapore

I had to be in Singapore on business, so I met up with some friends from the Triathlon Family (Singapore's premier triathlon organization). We drove from Singapore to Desaru, Malaysia. The weather was hot and humid. I was worried about how I would do - I wasn't "competing" in this one, just looking for a finish. About 7 weeks earlier I was moving a garbage can in my garage and fell to the ground as if shot - I had slipped a disc in my lower back. After weeks of rehab at Chiro-Medical Group in San Francisco (an AWESOME sports medicine practice) I was finally was able to move again. I was not about to set any p.r.'s but at least I could do the race.

We got the the resort on the Desaru Golden Beach and checked in. It was amusing to see all the monkeys running around. I saw a few pros such as Bryan Rhodes (a Kiwi triathlete). We checked into our rooms and had a nice buffet dinner.

The next morning we went down to the start. Unlike the U.S. races, it was a mid-morning start, not early (too bad - the heat and humidity was building). The start of the swim was a dash to the water of the China Sea. The buoy line was made of against a dark sea (not the best). It was two loops and by the time I exited loop #1 my friend Ser Luck Teo (now a major politician in Singapore) was nearly leading the swim field. After my second lap I ran to T1. Wow....I thought there had been a lot more bikes there earlier :)

I started riding and was feeling pretty good. I started picking off those pesky fast swimmers. Then, all the sudden my legs were feeling really heavy. I just couldn't push the pace any more. After about 20 minutes I happened to glance back. The rear wheel on my borrowed bike has shifted track and was rubbing heavily against the rear brake calipers! I got off my bike and readjusted the wheel. Wow...sure makes cycling a lot easier :)
As I rode the course, I saw lot's of monkeys - they gathered dropped water bottles at aid stations (or just stole full ones when aid station volunteers weren't looking) - some sipping the remaining water & hydration/energy aids in the bottles.

After the bike, I started the run. Here, I could still feel the former slipped disc in my back. It slowed me down a bit, I met up with another Triathlon Family friend and we found that our pace was about the same. We chatted and waved to other friends and finally we cruised in for the finish. This was a great Half-Ironman distance event.


"It seems that even in death there is no escape for those condemned to Alcatraz island." Trevor Mendham


I thought it might be fun to share with you a summary of my first Escape from Alcatraz race - in 1985.

Back in 1985, I had entered the lottery for one of the coveted Ironman Qualifier spots - a trend that I have continued to this day. I was not drawn in that lottery - also a trend that continues to this day. Disappointed, I looked around for an alternate race. I spotted the World's Toughest Triathlon. Aptly named, this race consisted of a 2.4 mile swim in the icy waters of lake Tahoe. Then a 112 mile bike ride which covered some of the highest mountain passes such as Ebbets Pass, Monitor Pass, Luther Pass, etc. (a mini Death Ride). Then finish it off with a marathon - which also incorporated two of those passes. OK, I thought, what the heck. I had my application all ready to go and then I read an article in Triathelete magazine about this small race that included a swim from Alcatraz. Being born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area, the concept of a swim from Alcatraz was very tempting. To be able to swim from the famed, escape-proof prison. OK! I switched applications and entered the Escape From Alcatraz instead.

Back then, the Escape From Alcatraz differed quite a bit from what you will be experiencing in a few days. First, there was no Tri-California. Instead it was run by a committee of various folks including David Horning (who was also a past winner of the race and now runs Envirosports) and the South End and Dolphin clubs. Second, there was no national television coverage or thick media presence. Third, there were only 110 triathletes allowed in the field. Fourth, wetsuits were NOT allowed. Fifth, the course was quite a bit different. In 1985, the race consisted of a swim from Alcatraz Island (from the actual island - not a few yards off shore) to Aquatic Park. From there, it was a 1 mile run up and down the Muni Pier to warm-up. Then it was a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Old Mill Park in Mill Valley. Then it was the Dipsea Trail run - twice (the Double-Dipsea).

Being naive - OK, stupid- I varied my training very little for this race. I was living in Sonoma County at the time and did a lot of trail running in a park called Annadale State Park. I would pack my goggles with me and jump in a small mountain lake during the runs to get some open water swimming practice. Aside from that, it was my normal bike training through Sonoma County and pool swims. I never did a minute of Bay swimming...not once did I even stick my toe in the Pacific Ocean.

Race day approached and all the triathletes met at the Maritime Museum behind Aquatic Park. There we were greeted with some disturbing news. The waters were so rough that the race organizers were contemplating replacing the Alcatraz swim with a swim entirely within Aquatic Park. This would have eliminated the biggest appeal of the race - and the triathletes (myself included) voiced our disappointment. The organizers stated that they would make the final decision race day morning. I went to bed not knowing if I was going to be doing laps in Aquatic Park or attempting to escape from Alcatraz.

The next morning I awoke and headed to Aquatic Park. I checked-in my bike, which consisted of finding a tree next to the Maritime Museum against which I leaned my bike. Then, I met the other triathletes at the Aquatic Park bleachers. Although the water was white-capping, the swim from Alcatraz was " a go"! We were told to sight on the twin towers behind Aquatic Park during the swim. Then it was a march, complete with bagpipes, down past Fishermen's Warf to the ferry boat piers. We all boarded the ferry boat and headed out to Alcatraz. The waters were indeed very rough and the boat was being tossed around. We got to about 100 yards off of the island and the boat doors were opened. I looked out at the water and never thought it would be a problem. I watched other triathletes jump out and begin swimming towards Alcatraz. Some people dove off of the upper deck of the ferry boat. I lined up for my turn and then I jumped.

Have you ever experienced that sensation when you fall into a cold stream or dive into a mountain lake where your body does an involuntary gasp due to the cold water shock? Well, that happened to me....right as I went under the bay waters. That's right, I gasped in a lung-full of salty, cold, bay water. I bobbed back to the surface, gagging and choking. I could not believe just how friggin' cold that bay was that day. My pool and lake swimming sure didn't prepare me for this. The temperature was sub-60 degrees and, again, I was not wearing a wetsuit. I had a thin tri-suit on with a cold water swim cap, but that was it. I could not stop shivering - it was so cold it hurt! I decided that I had better swim to the island. Back in 1985, the triathletes actually stood on Alcatraz for the start of the race. We gathered on a small cove called Rocky Beach. I decided to exit the water and stand in the wind thinking that when I re-entered the water it would seem warmer. Wrong! It was just as cold.

Next thing I knew, the ship's foghorn was blown and the race started. I began swimming. The water was really rough and white-capping. I tried to sight on the towers, but they were too far away to see so I latched onto some feet and swam behind their toes. "Son of a b....!" it was cold. My teeth were chattering and I was hurting from the cold. I just kept swimming, praying that I would go numb. Finally I could see the towers - but only when I was on a crest of a wave. When I was in a trough, they were completely blocked out. I was only about 50% through the swim and I was beginning to feel ill - seasick from being tossed up and down in the waves.

After 30 minutes, I begain repeating my name, address and telephone number in my head. At the orientation meeting we were told that one of the signs of hypothermia was confusion and the inability to remember common facts. So far, I remembered where I lived...and kind of wished I was back there in my warm bed at that point. Finally, I saw the entrance to Aquatic Park. By this time, the cold was really getting to me. My right arm stroke was getting lazy and my jaw had stopped chattering - it was basically frozen shut.

I exited the water and walked right past my father and grandfather. I had no idea that they had come down to watch me race, but due to the cold I passed within 12 inches of them and didn't even notice. I told my friend who had come down to watch "Never again. Never f___ing again will I do this swim!" I had exited the water number 60. I then went over to my bike and pulled on my running shoes. I grabbed on a sweatshirt that I had worn down to the race that morning and pulled the hood over my head. I left the coldwater swim cap on my head and started running. I went out and back on the pier and came back to the bike. By this time, my teeth were chattering again.

I left the sweatshirt on, climbed on my bike and popped my helmet on my head - over the hood and swim cap. Then I started riding. I entered the Golden Gate bridge and continued riding - being careful for pedestrians. We were told to put a foot down on the ground when we went around each tower, so I did. Finally, I was nearly on the Marin side of the bridge, when my teeth finally stopped chattering. I left the bridge and dropped down in a quick descent under the bridge and back out onto Marin (if anyone has done the Houlihan's to Houlihan's race, this was the same course in reverse). Then it was a ride through Sausalito. I had to stop at all stop lights and stop signs - police were ticketing. Soon I approached Old Mill Park in Marin. It was a relatively short ride - about 18 miles. I got off my bike - I had moved up to 45th.

I put on my running shoes, pulled off the sweatshirt and swim cap and started running. WOW! Who the hell put all these stairs here? For those of you that have never done the Dipsea, it is a 90% cross-country run that starts with a run up something like a 670 steps, goes up through Muir Woods, over Mt. Tam, and then down into Stinson Beach. For this race, we got to run back the entire way back also. Its about 7.5 mile each way. I love this course! Its not easy, but the scenery is great and its cross-country, one of my favorite type of races.

I was about 1 mile into the run when my chest started to sting. I touched it and saw some blood on my fingers. I looked down and realized that the tri-suit arm holes had chafed the hell out of my chest/underarms. It took all this time before the circulation - previously slowed by the cold water - returned to the surface so that the chafing actually started bleeding! During the race, every water stop I'd throw some water over my head. As it washed down towards my chest, the water and my sweat would cause the chafing to sting again.

Anyway, I continued to run, picking off runners here and there. As we entered Muir Woods, it was like a completely different day. I left scattered clouds and entered a rain forest. Water literally rained down from the trees. By the time I left the forest, I was drenched. I loved it!

After the forest, the trail ran along a ridge and then started to drop. Sometimes, the trail crossed some asphalt roads, sometimes it stayed on the road for a short bit. However, most of the time we were running along dirt paths and trails. After awhile, we dropped down into Stinson Beach at the turn-around. As I entered the turn-around area, someone shouted 31st. Great, I had moved up a bit more.

Now, it was a climb back out of Stinson Beach. I ran back along the paths and trails. I was picking up the pace a bit as I was looking forward to running through Muir Woods again. After another wet and wonderful run through the redwoods and ferns in Muir Woods, I started to descend some more. All along the way, I was slowly passing a few people here and there. Then, finally, we came to the top of the stairs. I flew down these - taking them 3 or 4 at a time. I passed about 6 people on the stairs alone. Then it was a short dash to the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised when I received my results: 19th individual overall. 21st overall finisher - two of the four relay teams beat me....but I beat two of the four teams :)

I received my finisher's award. It was two pieces of wood, a smaller one stacked on top of the larger one, representing the Dipsea run. On top of this was a seashell screwed into the wood, representing the swim, and a small metallic cylinder, representing the bike ride over the GG Bridge. I still have this award representing my first swim from Alcatraz.

P.S. Despite my chant of "Never f---ing again." when exiting the water, I did the same race two years later and have now swam the Alcatraz to San Francisco crossing 6 times.

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