TFP Muscles







Heidi Burton
Escape from Alcatraz 2008
Heidi Burton

Many have asked me why and others can’t believe it was possible. I’ll tell you that this was one of the most memorable races I have ever done!

I began my quest to conquer this race in the summer of 2006 when I was midway through my MBA. One of my professors asked all of us what we were going to do ‘for fun’ once we completed our program. I was really missing triathlon since I decided to take the summer off and crank through my program. So I announced that I was going to do the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. I’ve watched this race for years on TV and it seemed amazing! it was and MORE!!

The first challenge was to get into the race. You have two options-- qualify via a Tri-California race or win a lottery slot. So when lottery registration opened-- I went on and said—chances are slim but might as well try. I almost fell over in late December when I got an e-mail notifying me I was in! Brian and the kids were psyched while Coach Matt was shocked. Surprisingly, this was one race with which he had no familiarity. The two of us learned a lot as we started to develop my training plan for the race.

My sister and her husband joined us for the trip to San Francisco and created quite the cheering squad since my TFP friends could not be in attendance. We arrived Friday and decided to check out all the key race spots. We headed down to the water and my heart began to pound. It looked cold and quite choppy! I had to put that out of my mind and get to the 400 sand stairs for a pre-race preview. So we went to Baker Beach and headed down the stairs. We got to the bottom and turned around to see just how daunting the feat was going to be on race day. To our surprise--- the stairs were not as shocking as the fact that we were on a nude beach!!!  My, my, my - not quite the type of triathlon bodies I was planning on seeing!

Now, we headed of for our ‘insiders’ race talk.  Unfortunately, the info we received gave us an incorrect address that put us downtown, rather than the 5 minutes from our hotel that it should have been.  We arrived about 30 minutes late and about 300 people were gathered around a talk where no one had a microphone.  With this entire aside, I was able to pick up a couple of pointers regarding spotting for the swim and proper braking on the hills of San Francisco for the bike. 

I then retrieved my bike from TriBike Transport, which was a simple process.  I dropped my bike off the week before the race at a local IL bike shop and then a tractor-trailer made its way across the country and delivered my bike to the race fully intact!  On Saturday, I decided to do a light pre-race swim to see just how cold the water was really going to be.  Yep, it was cold.  I spent about 20 minutes in the water not far from our hotel and knew that although it was cold, I was definitely ready.  Now, to check out the bike course.  We opted to be the quintessential tourists and rented a little “Go-Car” which is a two-seat death trap.  It has GPS and a computerized guide to tour the city!  We drove the course and were in awe of how pretty and hilly the course was.  At mile 12, the hill was so steep that I jumped out and pushed the car up the hill!  Yes, the locals were laughing!  We then drove our yellow car to packet pick up where security allowed us to park in the media area.  We really did look quite foolish!  Packet pick up was simple, efficient, and a right of passage.  I was told all first timers were required to set up their transition and be on the bus to head to the ferry by 5am!!  No partying for me until post race.

Race Day: 3:30 am wake up (really not that big of a deal- as the time change worked well for me).  Brian was a trooper; he rented a bike to see me along the course and headed to transition with me in the pitch dark.  I used a miner’s headlamp to set up transition and was the envy of all around me.  It came in handy, when I used it in trade to borrow a pump!  I left transition and jumped on the bus, 3 hours prior to race time. I sat next to a local guy who had done the race before and reassured me that I would do just fine.  I tried to not get too worked up but heck-- I was going to head out on a course that I had never practiced on!  Yikes.

Swim - 1.5 miles: 1800 of us on the ferry as we headed out to Alcatraz Island and the 1.5-mile adventure.  It was a slow journey as the sun began to rise.  Talk about butterflies!!  We made a loop of the island (clearly for the effect!)  The National Anthem was played and then the pros jumped in.  The rest of us filed out and everyone was in the 53 degree water within 6 minutes. 

Escape from Alcatraz

I had my full wetsuit, squid lid, and booties on, so I was okay.  The half dozen swims with Matt in Third Lake were definitely beneficial.  I knew the signs of hypothermia and planned to be out of the water as soon as I could.  I spotted the tower the race director said to keep at one o’clock.  It was nearly impossible with the c8/19/08s advice and stopped mid-swim, floated on my back and took in the view for a few seconds.   UNBELIEVABLE!  Alcatraz Island in front of me, the Golden Gate Bridge to my left and little me in the shark infested water. Yes, I’m nuts! 

I landed on the beach in about 35 minutes thanks to good spotting and the current.  Since the bike transition was about a mile away, we all were encouraged to leave a pair of running shoes in a gear bag before getting on the ferry.  This was a quick stop to put on my running shoes and drop my wetsuit. 

Bike - 18 miles:  I originally thought my body would be frozen from the water, but, my adrenaline was pumping and there was no need to worry.  My favorite part of the course was the 19% grade on one hill!  It was an out and back course, so what goes up must

Heidi is happy to be finished with the swim.

come down. In true Alcatraz spirit—the downhills were usually followed by sharp turns.   I saw a crash and prayed that I would not end up the same. I was happy to use every gear I had on my bike and the double braking technique shared by the race director was essential.

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