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Leslie Mellet

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The Great Escape -- The Time Is Now

Posted: 06/22/2012 2:23 pm

The Mellet Tri Tour (continued)

Race #3 - Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

After the Quassy race we quickly drove home and packed for San Francisco. We were scheduled to fly out of Philadelphia first thing Monday morning, June 4. Our plan included staying at our son Vince's apartment in the Marina District. When we arrived, I realized that his apartment overlooks Alcatraz! I was going to stare at my nemesis all week. My stomach started doing flip-flops and the voice started again -- you are crazy! To relieve stress and loosen my legs I went for a two mile run.

Tuesday morning it was time to acclimate to the cold water, so Hermes and I went to Aquatic Park to swim in the bay. We met a local man named Doren who showed us how to get into the Aquatic Club that has hot showers and a sauna. We also spoke with another local named Eric who gave me some important swimming tips from Alcatraz. Both of these men swam in the bay without -- I repeat, without -- wetsuits (water temperature is approximately 56 degrees) everyday.

I am not as brave when it comes to cold water -- anyone in my family will tell you so -- so I put on my wetsuit, neoprene bonnet, latex swim cap and goggles and walked into the water. It was not as bad as I anticipated so I started swimming. My hands and feet weren't cold but my jaw went numb -- again, not what I expected. I finished the swim and felt both relieved and confident about swimming from Alcatraz on Sunday. Of course, I couldn't talk for about 15 minutes because my jaw was so numb, but I didn't care since I wouldn't need to speak after my swim during the race.

Hermes and I went swimming again on Wednesday morning. This time I wasn't cold at all. In fact, Hermes's hands and feet were freezing. My confidence grew as a result! We rode the bike course on Thursday morning -- again it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. My confidence continued to grow -- I was going to nail this race.

Saturday was spent picking up my race packet, getting body marked and going to the athlete meeting. One thing to note: We were told the current would be strong. I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. because I had to get up at 3:15 a.m. for the race. Pre-race I ate a banana, drank a little coffee, bike to and set up my transition area, took the bus to the pier, and then the boat with 2,000 other athletes to Alcatraz. I don't think I slept all night. In my mind I was either swimming or biking or running.

On the boat ride to the island I met really wonderful people from all over the world, including Merry from Houston, Texas. She was doing the race again because she had a terrible swim last year and had to be picked up by one of the kayaks (or as us swimmers call it -- the shame boat). She wanted to redeem herself -- I call that guts!

The 1.5 mile swim

Once we arrived at the island, everyone zipped up their wetsuits and put on their caps and goggles. The National Anthem played, raising the tension (oh, my stomach...). The horn went off and the pros jumped into the bay. The horn went off again and the rest of us started jumping off the boat into the bay. In I went, and began swimming toward my first sighting point, the Fontana Apartment buildings. I felt great and swam at a fairly decent pace. My next sighting point came into view -- the trees at Fort Mason, then the next point, Fort Mason.

All of a sudden, another woman and I continuously collided. It was as though we were magnets. A volunteer came over on a surf board and tells us that we are stuck in an eddy and to swim to our left out of the eddy. Once I did, the wheels started to come off because the current really picked up. I told myself not to fight the current and just continue to sight and relax. Relaxing was very difficult; the swells were tossing me around like a row boat in the middle of the ocean.

Time to sight the Palace of Fine Arts. Wow, I had been in the water for what seemed like an eternity. I could see the beach (swim exit) and I passed it! The current was really strong. I tried to swim back to the beach against the current -- no luck. At that point, I decided to swim to the rocks that are past the beach and walk over them to the beach and timing mat. I looked around me and about 200 or so other athletes were doing the same thing. I guess I wasn't the only one having a problem with the current!

My son snapped my picture as I came out of the water -- I have a big scowl on my face because I was upset about the swim. He sent it to the family with the following caption, "I haven't seen mom this mad since I told her to shut-up 20 years ago." I knew my swim time wasn't good but I had to let it go because I still had the bike and run left. One of the volunteers helped me strip off my wetsuit and I ran a half mile to transition. I do not recall how I got to transition because my equilibrium was off balance and I felt drunk.

The 18-mile hilly bike
Once I arrived in transition, I quickly put on my bike helmet, glasses and bike shoes. I still felt very woozy and needed nutrition. I knew if I ate a whole gel packet at this point I would get sick, so I rode the first mile and half sucking on the gel pack. I also drank from my bottle of Cytomax and started to feel better. I started to approach the first hill...

It wasn't too bad. In fact, the hilly bike ride was a lot of fun (thank you Barry for all the hill workouts). The scenery was phenomenal. We rode by the Legion of Honor through the Presidio and to the Pacific on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Before I knew it, I was back in transition and putting on my running gear.

The 8-mile hilly trail run
I knew before the race that the run was going to be a challenge, but I was really psyched up for it after my bike leg. About one mile into the run, we turned onto the trail path. It started out flat, but we quickly started to climb. We climbed up 300 feet on a trail, up steps, through a Civil War tunnel and up a path that had two-way traffic because other runners were on their loop back. If you got stuck behind someone slow you had to pass them once the coast was clear! Up and up we went -- thank you Barry for the Lemon Hill repeats -- until I saw Baker Beach. The run then went down steps to Baker Beach for the difficult mile run on the beach -- again, thank you Barry for the beach fartleks -- I felt really good. In fact, we were all joking with each other. One topic that came up was the current during the swim. Athletes who had competed in the race before said they had never experienced such a strong current. This made me feel a little better.

As I turned around on Baker Beach, in front of me was a spectacular sight: The Golden Gate Bridge was just to my left and was surrounded by mist. Life couldn't get better than this! As I looked to my right, I could see the other runners climbing the 400 steps of the Equinox Sand Ladder, one of the last tests of the race. Up the sand ladder I went, using the plastic coated cable to help me get up the steps so I don't sink too far into the sand. It wasn't too bad, and I was actually enjoying it -- thank you John for all my strengthening exercises -- my hamstrings were holding up quite nicely.

After the sand ladder, there was more climbing and then we headed back down the trail and through the Civil War tunnel. Finally, the last two miles were flat. I was feeling really good and had enough left in the tank to step it up. I could hear the announcer calling out the names of the other finishers. I was getting close... I could see the finish... I was running through the finish shoot, I couldn't stop smiling... I heard the announcer call my name... I did it! I escaped from Alcatraz, then rode 18 miles and then ran 8 miles. Despite my awful swim I finished second in my age group.

Next up -- the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon (Olympic Distance) on Sunday, June 24

 
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