This is one race I would recommend everyone enter! It somehow manages to combine a big race feel with small race sensibilities. Definitely the best of both worlds. It is a spectacular setting and has some wonderful unique features, like jumping off a ferry in the middle of San Francisco harbour!
I arrived on Thursday and had great accommodation in a condo about a kilometre from the finish/transition area. We were able to get in a swim in the harbour and pre-ride Friday and put the feet up, for the most part, on Saturday. Weather conditions were pretty consistent for the whole stay, sunny but with a cool breeze that strengthened though the day. The water was cool but not breathtaking, around 15 degrees.
Race morning was a 4.00am wake up. You have to have transition sorted and be on the bus for the ferry by 6.30. With around 2000 athletes there is a lot of standing in line! The ferry takes about an hour to get to Alcatraz and position for the start. Like 2000 lemmings, the athletes pour off the ferry through 3 exits, it is about a 2 meter jump. There was some low cloud making sighting a bit problematic rather than automatic but the pre-race briefings and videos they send are very clear. It is advertised as a 1.5 mile swim. But you definitely swim further than that! My Garmin measured 3.4 K in under 33 minutes! Talk about a boost from the current. For me it was pretty much a clear swim, the only issue was the shoreline seeming to take forever to get any closer! There was a little chop, being able to breathe to the left is a big help.
Once on the beach it was over 1k to the transition. I had shoes ready and ran by a lot of folks in that section. Despite it being paved I would strongly recommend taking the time to strip off your wetsuit and put on the shoes. With 2000 athletes the transition area was pretty tight and traffic was pretty slow.
Once mounted, the first part of the ride is dead flat allowing you to settle in before the first climb. Then the up and down starts with a flat middle portion before the return journey. The scenery is spectacular but there is little time to take it in. It was apparent on the bike course that the chosen method of start means there is no natural seeding of the athletes by swim duration. There were riders all over the road of very mixed abilities, drafting was everywhere, in most races this would be super frustrating. The upside was you were always passing someone! The downside was a lot of terrible and dangerous riders, some suicidal downhill passing being for me the scariest part as idiots rocketed by on the wrong side of the road. All of this compounded by a tricky course with lots of dodgy road surface. I mostly rode well within myself and tried to stay out of the draft zone, riding steady up the hills. My Garmin has me just under an hour for the course but that includes all of T2 time.
On to the run, with a similar profile to the bike course in elevation. The climbs were long, some stairs, some steeps. It was a mixed bag of trail and road before hitting the beach and a longish section of sand. I felt strong climbing and was passing quite a few athletes but was nervous about the return trip and the dreaded sand ladder! Which turned out to be hard but not killer, I have to admit I was conservative, I did not run! Walking was hard enough and there is still more climbing after! After the last descent my legs were starting to feel it and with a couple of K to go I made the mistake of letting one of my AG go. We had been backward and forward all run and I should have had the confidence to stay on him. (He finished 6 seconds in front of me).
Interestingly, my last 2 k over the same path as the first 2 k was nearly 30 seconds faster in comparison so I definitely finished strongly. The run course was a bit short this year apparently 11.9K in 58 minutes.
To wrap in all up, I ended up placing in the top ten which was a bit of a bonus! I had a super fun race and enjoyed every second. If you possibly can I would enter the lottery and do this race! I plan to be back.
I can’t credit the coaching plan I have had from Chris this year enough. We have had an interesting and challenging time trying to balance about a million different life commitments and through all, his coaching has been adaptable and varied putting me in the best shape possible for the time I have been able to commit.