Posted On:
Friday, August 20, 2021
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Race Report: Jacquie's Escape from Alcatraz!

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By Jacquie Craggett

Wow! What a race!

I originally entered the lottery for Escape from Alcatraz in the Fall of 2019 to compete in June 2020. I was turning 65 in July 2020, so this was a race to let my Medicare era know I was staying strong! I got in through the lottery and was ready to go!! With COVID-19 cancellations, the race was moved to June 2021 and ultimately to August 2021. When I looked at the date, I realized it was the 5-year anniversary of my mom’s passing after years of enduring the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease. It was very clear that I was supposed to do this race in her honor. I counted down the days on Facebook with posts of memories of my mom, Mary Fran Conley, and the things she taught me.

My sherpa husband, Mark, and I arrived in San Francisco on Thursday evening with plenty of time to get settled and enjoy the experience. There were eight athletes from my fabulous local triathlon club (Rockwall Tri Club) competing, which made it a blast. But as far as the race…

FRIDAY PRACTICE SWIM:

Jumping off of the boat!

Since the swim is notoriously challenging due to water temperature, currents, wind, waves, sea life, and difficult sighting, I decided to invest in a practice swim with Water World on Friday morning. Best decision!

We met at 6:30 a.m. and headed out to Alcatraz for two separate jumps. The first jump, near the island was initially great, but after swimming several hundred meters, the wind picked up. I couldn’t breathe and felt nauseous and was never so glad to hear the horn blow when it was time to swim back to the boat. The swim after the second jump was mediocre. As we swam the 1,000 meters to shore I was still really struggling. I thought, “If I could be teleported back to Dallas right now, I would just abandon this whole race!”

I stopped at a paddle board and asked the “local” for his advice. I told him I was a strong swimmer and comfortable in open water but strangely struggling. He said the waves were really challenging and the best thing to do was just remember my stroke. “Put your head down, swim your stroke, and let the waves adjust to you. Don’t try to adjust to the waves.”

At that moment I made a decision. I wasn’t going to let this beat me. I looked at him and said, “Ok, I got this, I can do it.” And I swam to shore. Victorious, but still nauseous. When we swam back to the boat, I spent part of the return trip leaning over the side of the boat… enough said.

RACE DAY:

SWIM:

Rockwall Tri Club on the boat at the start.

3:30 a.m. alarm. I ate breakfast, took Bonine ginger to prevent nausea, and then walked to the bus for transport to the race site. I got transition area set up, met with other tri club friends and headed to the buses for transport to Pier 3.

Arriving at around 5:30 a.m., we put on wet suits and boarded the San Francisco Belle to head out to Alcatraz. There was a lot of excited energy on the boat. Initially, it seemed we would wait forever, then suddenly the pros dove in and it was our time to JUMP! Our group went in one after another.

I had made a decision the day before: The entire race, especially the swim was going to be spectacular. I was not hoping it would be, but I believed 100% it would be. And it was!

The water temperature (62ºF) was warm for San Francisco Bay and perfect! Head down, sight, stroke, breathe, and enjoy the strength of my 66 year-old body loving the waves. Just keep swimming! I had set my Garmin to vibrate every 200 meters and it vibrated a lot! The currents are unpredictable and I found myself slightly too far from shore at the end, but swam in, just loving every minute of this fabulous adventure.

All smiles after the swim!

After the race, we learned that our jump was at a different location than usual. It resulted in a longer swim (2 miles vs 1.5) and no anticipated current to pull us along. Ben Kanute, a pro triathlete who has won the race the past 4 times said, “the chop and current that pushed us away from shore made this one of the longest and most challenging swims yet.” His time of 33:16 was 9 minutes slower than his previous swim. I was disappointed with my time of 58:37, but was told it would have been closer to 43 minutes in a “normal” year. I was 864/1327 athletes on the swim.

After the swim, there is a 1/2 mile run to transition. I opted for running in my wet suit and neoprene booties instead of using wet suit strippers and putting on shoes to run. I thought I
would be really cold and would want to warm up, but I just found the run very hard on my feet and I was warm. T1 seemed like it took me forever! But soon, I was ready for the bike.

BIKE:

Determined on the bike!

I brought my own road bike, using Tri Bike Transport, which worked fabulous. One of the club members challenged us to try to ride up ALL the hills. I felt the freedom to walk my bike if needed, but also accepted the challenge. I had watched the course video on YouTube so I knew to be in the small ring on my bike at 1.75 miles into the course. This is when we made a sharp left turn leading to a steep climb. The next 14 miles were up down, up down, up down… but magical. Gorgeous views, fun neighborhoods, great crowd support, and some VERY challenging hills. I made it up ALL of them, which meant standing up out of the saddle when I ran out of gears.

Bike time of 1:20:08 was placement of 1026/1327. T2 transition seemed to take me forever (3:30), plus I stopped at the porta potties to be more comfortable on the 8-mile run.

RUN:

Running in Golden Gate Park!

Confession - running is my least favorite of the three sports. I am thrilled to be on the swim and on the bike, but I endure the run. I’m working on my mindset on this. I knew it was hilly and hadn’t made the point to train hills on the run like I had on the bike. I had decided I would walk the uphills and the stairs and just be ok with that. The course started out flat and about 1 mile in I realized I had forgotten to take off my biking gloves! I laughed and stashed them in my back pocket and carried on.

I was pleased to find that there was so much varied terrain on the run that the time passed very quickly. Again, lots of beautiful views, crowd support. I ran close to a veteran carrying the American flag the entire run, so it was fun to hear the crowds cheer for him. I carried hydration w nutrition in it on the run and felt strong and energetic the entire race. The sand ladder (405 steps) comes at about 4.5 miles into the run. It’s an iconic part of the race with a separate time split. The pros bound up in 2 minutes and the strugglers take 6-7 minutes. I just took it steady and strong and completed it in 4:08 (908/1327).

The last 3.5 miles went by so quickly and before I knew it I was rounding a corner to the finish line. There was a woman running in front of me I had met at packet pickup. She passed me earlier on the run saying, “I’m going to be like you one day”. She had 51 on her left calf and I had 66. When I saw her at the finish chute, I said, “Come on, you can’t let a 66 year old pass you!” She picked it up and out sprinted me. So.much.fun. Run time 1:35:59 (1112/1327)

Total time 4:08:28. 1022/1327 all finishers 188/284 female finishers

In summary, this is what I loved about this race:

Honoring Mom.
  • The JOY of honoring my mom, Mary Fran Conley, as I trained and raced.
  • The SATISFACTION of seeing the results from consistent, focused training and using the expertise of my coach, Coach Laura Henry Henry.
  • The SURPRISE of my evolution as an athlete and competitor. This was the first time in my life I honestly considered myself an athlete.
  • The FUN of the Alcatraz course and race venue.
  • The ENRICHMENT of being with people I enjoy. My husband, Mark, and all my buddies at Rockwall Tri Club.


Once you complete this race, no one can ever take that away.

I have Escaped from Alcatraz!

My goal was to break 4 hours. Maybe I’ll come back one day…

All smiles after the finish with Mark!

About

Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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