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Posted by on Mar 4, 2013 in Blog | 3 comments

Escape from Alcatraz 2013

That is me on the far left (bum to camera). Photo: Nils Nilsen

Alcatraz–my favorite race. When it was announced it would be taking place on March 3 due to the America’s Cup I was really worried about the cold.  I have had trouble with the cold in the past. I swore off Oceanside forever after 2010. However, I figured since the race was only an hour from my house I had to race it. I was hopeful that I would be able to handle the cold and I was happy because the weather forecast for the day seemed pretty good, especially given what it could be (rainy!).  I trained hard over the Napa “winter” and felt fit and ready to see what I was capable of on Sunday. I do not go into a race worrying about a certain place or who I can “beat.” I have developed some confidence (always a work in progress) and know if I put together a solid race I will be up there in the results. I wanted to go out and have the opportunity to bury myself and see where it shook out in the end. Unfortunately, the end came sooner than I thought….

First, I knew the water was going to be shockingly cold. I dove off the boat and had a great start. I was swimming well. However, after a few minutes I started to lose those around me.  Maybe it was the chop (worst I have ever experienced in the bay) or the fact that I was unable to feel my arms at all but I felt like I began to slow down a bit.  I saw a group of pink caps to my right. At that point I told myself “no matter what, you HAVE to stay with this group.” From that point on the only thoughts going through my head were one of the following options:

  1. F**K, get me out of this water! I have never been so cold.
  2. Spin your arms faster and kick you idiot.
  3. Go away chop, I hate you.

I made it to the beach and that made me very happy. I stood up and then fell down. I ran (shuffled?) to the three steps before the parking lot where they keep everyone’s shoes. I put my hand on each step before I put my foot down to steady myself.  I ran as hard as I could to T1 and got passed a lot. I tried to pick it up and promptly fell in the chute heading to T1. I fumbled with my wetsuit for what felt like an eternity. I was able to mount my bike without incident and tried to hit the first few miles hard before starting the first climb. Putting my shoes on was quite an adventure and I was weaving all over the road. I climbed and descended and then did that a bit more. I was shivering the entire time. I made it to Golden Gate Park and continued to be unable to generate any body heat. A motorcycle went by and I tried to ask where I could get help but I did not make eye contact with them and they drove off.  I kept asking myself if I was just being a wimp for wanting to stop. Sometimes a bad bike can mean a good run…can’t I just stick it out? I was also worried if I kept going I might crash or crash into someone else. My coordination was terrible and I could not ride straight. Ultimately, I was still wrestling with the decision but when I saw the paramedic truck my only instinct was to pull up next to it and utter the words that I rarely say because I am fiercely independent and stubborn—“I need help.”

I was wrapped in blankets, the heat was blasted and I received a warm saline IV. I shivered so much my legs cramped. The paramedics told me I was smart for stopping but I was still questioning my decision. In fact, post race, a lot of people said I was smart. I hoped I was but part of me figured they were just saying that to be nice and really thought I was a big wimp since they had toughed it out. Even as I write this today I question whether I was really that cold.  What if….? Maybe…?

As usual, the sun rose today and I have started to heal from my DNF on Sunday. It will make me smarter, tougher and hungrier to reach my next start line and finish line. Good job to everyone who finished the race in such adverse conditions. I look forward to redemption, in JUNE, next year!


  1. They pulled an unusually high number of people out of the water. I don't think it was just you.

  2. I seriously just got cold reading this report.

    Glad to hear you are okay! I was a little worried and wondered if you crashed. I can't believe anyone could finish under those conditions–brrrrr!

    Maybe next year I can join you out there–but in JUNE for sure! I still can't wrap my head around a race the first weekend in March.

    On to the next one! I'll be cheering you on 🙂

  3. I'm glad to hear you made the SMART decision. A much scarier “What if?” may have resulted had you made the call to finish under those circumstances. Now you can recover faster and stronger and live to fight another day. Add that hunger to your "bank" and UNLEASH it at your next competition!