Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What you are about to read is my friend, Pat's summary of the triathlon we just did.
The race was very cool. It occurred to me when we were departing the ferry terminal to Alcatraz that though there are several ways to travel, doing a triathlon as a reason is maybe the best possible way. Thinking about it now I suppose it needn't be a triathlon, it could be a marathon or a conference or anything I suppose. But if we look at a city and its sights like this:
and posit that your objective is to connect all of these sights with as few lines as possible (in this case, 4 ((straight, without lifting your pen))), what begins is a mad dash from sight to sight (dot to dot) that inevitably ends up missing something. The triathlon was like this, though:
The solution to the puzzle requires you to escape the confines of the traditional tourist sites. Your path goes radically astray in several key places and creates its own logic. But, in creating a path that is larger than just the puzzle not only do you accomplish something new, something that shows how limited and unfulfilling a trip spent shuffling from sight to sight is, you often manage to hit the sights as well.
This all came to me when I heard the sea lions barking just off the side of the ship. They lounge on some of the docks like this:
and this is a huge tourist draw. I'd heard how it was important that I go down to Fisherman's Wharf, an over-priced tourist trap to see them, but catching them when I least expected it, on a ship on the way to Alcatraz, where I wouldn't be merely touring but actually swimming around, that was a very good moment of the race.
What can I say about the race? I trained like crazy all month and then two days before stopped training, and as a strategy it did me well. I finished right in the middle of the stack, about 100th out of 200 participants, and if that makes me just an average triathlete, I'll take it. My friend John finished 36th. He always does better than me in these things.
I was pretty tripped out when the ships stopped, though, just off the side of Alcatraz, and we began piling out two by two off the sides. Like lemmings, I thought first, but later revised the thought because it was more how you imagine sky-diving to be. Everyone's in a line, everyone lines up at the door, then everyone jumps. It was only 6 feet down into the water, though. In our practice swims in the bay the water had been extremely cold. We went for a brief swim the day before and I had a very nasty 4-5 minutes as my body acclimated itself. You're heart stops and then accelerates madly, and your breath then does the same. It's a miserable sort of feeling, knowing that you have to keep swimming and that you can't just jump back out of the water somehow. But with the adrenaline and excitement John and I agreed (we jumped together and then, bobbing to the surface, exclaimed) it wasn't that bad.
It was cold, though, and a little choppy, as little by little 600 of us made our way away from the boats and toward the start line. I had scratched up my goggles the day before and was forced to buy a new pair, and I wore them for the first time in those waters. They fogged up immediately and as the swim started steadily let water into my left eye. Chagrin! John had bought the same pair (they promised a wide field of visibility) and we stewed together over our poor fortune and preparation.
The start went off and thus began the long trek toward shore. I was in pretty good shape for the swim, or at least chose a pace that wouldn't exhaust me, so what defined the next 55 minutes was isolation, cold, boredom, disorientation, and salt water in my mouth and nose. Nobody told us really where to aim, and the bay was waaaaaaaaay off and pretty difficult to see, but the rumor that floated around the boat as we headed was to aim for these twin buildings up in the hills. John described to me afterward the great anger he developed for the twin buildings during the swim. It ended up being sound advice. Much of the swim was spent trying to figure out where the heck you were, whether or not you were anywhere closer to the shore (no) and whether or not you were on the right bearing (also no). Being open water the field spread itself pretty wide. I saw bobbing yellow heads maybe fifty feet to my right, but looking back now I think I myself was more to the right side of the trail of heads. Occasionally I had the bearing and visibility in my goggles to comprehend that someone was outpacing me and in turn I would accelerate until they tired. It was a long swim. Nobody looked at you, nobody talked. In fact, the oddest sensation of the whole thing was coming into the bay and seeing people standing up on the pier looking down at me. People! Spectators! On the course! I felt like a voyeur. Two more gallons of saltwater in my mouth later I crawled onto the sand, disorientated but smiling. This is that picture:
The swim transitioned into a 2.5 mile run; the only snag in the transition was the fact I had pinned my bike jersey together with my number. "Why won't this go on!?" It ended just as I was finding a good pace, but opened up my legs for the bike. The bike course was the only part of the race we were unfamiliar with. We hadn't driven the route or anything. It started off with a hill climb that went surprisingly long. I reached a point where the road leveled off thinking What the heck when it began climbing again. Finally I reached another plateau that proved to be the course's only plateau. The bike course actually consisted of a single hill that we climbed up and down 6 times, three times from each side. It was bizarre, the most bipolar racing event I have ever encountered. I actually caught myself hooting on one of the downhills it was so fun and long. Off in the distance more of San Francisco scrolled by. It reminded me a great deal of Cruis'n USA, that old racing game. I have this image of a background of white buildings gleaming in sunlight scrolling by in parallax. It is what I have always imagined Conrad called it a 'sepulchral city'. This was that. These hills were so steep it didn't even make sense to pedal; even in top gear I wasn't adding speed. So, for 10 minutes it was a straight uphill climb, and then 1 minute of sweet downhill ride. The uphills actually became very bearable by the second loop; you don't have to worry about the course surprising you, you know it will simply continue to climb. It freed you up to really devote yourself to those climbs. I had rented a very, very, very sweet carbon-fiber bike from a bike shop and it was like sliding on ice. The bike was my favorite leg of the race. Great amounts of it were spent smiling.
With just a 10 k run left I was pretty excited. But, I've
described the run to you before; it's torture. The actual race was no easier. The hills did not flatten, the wind did not cut out, the sand ladder did not fall. It was, in fact harder. The short beach run was actually extended to a full mile, but it was a picturesque mile. The had us first run away from the sand ladder on the beach, climb up the beach, turn around, climb down the beach, run back to the sand ladder, climb up to it, and then climb it. But we ran on the hard sand right along the surf, which rolled perfectly and consistently 20 meters out. The water that rolled up to our toes (my shoes were wet with sea-water later) roiled and formed and bit of foam blew up the beach like bubbles. I was tired now, but with only a single climb before me I started to really feel those perfect blue waves. My runner's high sputtered for a few moments as I walked up the sand ladder, but back on the narrow trail, dodging runners coming from the other direction, I found it again and powered up. I had listened to the Killer's All These Things That I've Done as my final motivating music right before the swim and here the echoes of that song really started to come into my head. "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier..." again and again, it really matches the cadence of my run. I was probably singing.
I crested the hill and passed some guy walking (walking!) and then started crashing downhill, back past the Golden Gate, back down the tourists, past bikers, past old people walking (we were running on public, open trails), around curving concrete trails meant to mitigate the steepness of the descent and down straight-ass drops made of dirt and cement, down stairs, under the tunnel with a low entrance so you had to bend down. Finally, on ground level, it was about a 1 k run to the finish. I was flagging at this point, but happy, so I started asking volunteers for high-fives, which they gave willfully. Each provided me with 30 seconds of pure joy and speed, and then flashed away. I was feeling greedy, so as I entered the final 100 meters I motioned for the crowd to pump up the cheers with a 'bring in da' noise!' gesture, and they accommodated me.
After that we had to make double time to this conference we had volunteered at for departing JETs. I was on a panel. In between we rode home, cut off my mohawk, returned my bike, showered, ate, drank, changed into nice clothes, all in two hours. I discovered I had been left with a neat reminder of the run: a negative mohawk made of sunburn:

Ouch! Still hurts!

This was the story of the triathlon