Reflections – Escape from Alcatraz

While generally I would write a race report for an event like this. This particular crossing and course gave me so much insights about life that I have decided to share them.

To give everybody the context; Escape from Alcatraz is a very classic race that is also a unique triathlon. A number of people like myself also do the Alcatraz crossing which involves swimming from the island to either Angel Island or Acquatic Park. I ended up doing the crossing more than 4 times last year (twice in each direction) and also did the course once.

Here is what I learned:

  • Nothing is truly impossible – I decided to cross Alcatraz few years ago while showing my mother the view from the shore. She thought that I was joking. She would be rational to say that – I was barely a swimmer. Having little experience in the pool – and generally not comfortable in the water. Ocean swimming would have been far fetched. Why bother?
  • Your enablers and partners are as important as your effort – while I could take credit for all the effort my self; it would have been just impossible to have done it without having great partners and supporters. My first supporter would be my wife. She would let me drive long distance to downtown (could be 2 hour drive each way taking precious weekend time) to the freezing waters of Acquatic Park. Secondly; I found a great group of swimmers at world swim Alcatraz. They swim every Thursday and Sunday; and Coach Pedro makes this difficult swim look like a walk in the park. I don’t think that I would have known what to do without them – it really helped me focus on the core task at hand. While I would have still probably done the crossings without them. It could have easily taken me couple more years.
  • No step is small as long as you are moving forward – you have heard this saying before. I truly say that come to life for me. From my first 5k to the 1000 yards in the pool to my first ironman race. None of these steps were viable when I first started. However, race by race – mile by mile – I did march forward. There were a lot of moments of struggle in the middle but it was important to put that in perspective and keep moving forward.
  • Self awareness is key – there are so many people along the way that decide to live in a parallel universe creating their own sense of reality and success without realizing what is happening to them. The best example in this race for me to watch some swimmers trying to cross the ocean at the very end. They are not necessarily going anywhere since they are not crossing the tide at the right angle. The irony is that they don’t know this. They put their effort and keep working hard. They would run out of energy quickly and would eventually be picked up by a boat. It is critical as you March towards your eventual goal to know where you are going and if you are making progress towards SUCCESS!

Hope that you will put this crossing and course on your bucket list 🙂

Stroke Rates and Strokes Per Length – Total Immersion

These days I have been working on improving my stroke using Total Immersion. While I have read the book before; this time I am taking an actual workshop to help polish all  the various details.

One of the keys is to think about reducing the number of strokes it takes to complete a length. I personally think that it is a controversial topic as a number of other people suggest that really look at the swim golf score and overall efficiency. Here is a link by Terry (The guy who is the TI Guru and Founder) detailing the SPL suggestions per length.

I will write up my experience with Total Immersion Drills as I go along as a way of reinforcing it in my head as well as sharing my experience.


Triathlon Checklist – Olympic Distance

Olympic Triathlon CheckList v 1.0 – (c) Younus Aftab – Revised – 06/17/2010

.Charge Garmin
.Clean Swim Lenses
.Clean Sun Glasses
.Laundry of clothes (if needed)
Bag Pack
.sun screen
.Registration and Directions Print Out
.plastic bag for wet clothes


ziploc bag
.electrical tape for glasses and gel
.antiseptic wipes
.band aids
.rubber bands
.pain meds
.race suit/race singlets
.body glide
.lens cleaner
.bike bottles
.fuel belt
.racing flats\shoes
.race number belt
.perpeteum 1 bag
.heed 1 bag
.gu x2
.chomps x2
on the bike
.bike repair co2
.bike repair tubes
.bike repair patch kit
.bike repair levers
Before Tri Setup
..Helmet on the bike on the side\mat
..Watch on the bike on the aero bar\mat
..glasses on the aero bar\mat on the bike with rubber bands
..Fuel Belt
Before Tri Checklist
.All items setup
.Watch started up
.All fluids ready

Race Report – Duck Bill Thrill Olympic Triathlon – May 23 2010

Olympic was the next logical distance of triathlon for me after the sprint. I was really worried about open water swims since I had really not done them before this season besides the sprint in April. So I decided to attend the wet suit demo day and open water swim clinic on Saturday. That actually really helped build my confidence. I knew that I could do the swim and should just finish it and relax.

So there we are; 6 hours of drive later -> Seattle – Eugene (OR). Got a nice room at the Holiday Inn there. Nice Location; Friendly people; decent pizza. However, nothing much to do there… Really just a quiet town.


Finish the swim and try to have decent bike and run times. Getting to the race location in the morning the temperature was right around 37 degrees. Not really a confidence builder to be jumping in water though 🙂


I got there early enough to find a good spot. Turns out my bike does not hold all that well on the stand. But I took my time to setup and was well set to go in the race. Did some quick warm up pre-race and took out my Garmin forerunner 305. And it would not start up. I guess it really did not charge completely last night. Anyways; one more time. I would have no data. Usually I just try to run\bike without numbers but I was really hoping to get data this time. Good thing that I brought my basic watch with me. Nike Triax Fury – Works great for swimming laps and will work great now for the whole triathlon.


So the swim starts and I was feeling really confident. I actually start getting slower and slower. I think that I was getting a little worried inside about finishing it so my body was naturally trying to preserve the energy. Finished the first lap; and on to the second one. I was probably in the last few to finish the swimming. The swim was even slower then I had expected. For one; thing I slowed down on my own; I was worried about the distance and it was cold.

The end result was not all that great. My hands were freezing for staying in the water for so long. I could not really feel my fingers and legs either. Came to the transition area and was taking out the wet suit. It barely comes off 🙁 Spent bunch of time in transition.


Ok, so done with the swim -> Bike should be great right. This is where I felt my second mistake. I did not have much breakfast in the morning. And I was not able to feel half of my body so I started slowing down on the bike. As I progress couple miles; I started passing people. At this point; I had some energy shots and heed so I was starting to feel a little better. Moments later; one of my tooth crown falls out of my mouth. Yes! That is right. One of my tooth was giving my trouble before and the cap had to just come out at this time. I actually caught it before it went down. Enough to make me smile and worried again 🙂 I put myself together and push it on the bike to 14 miles easily. This is where the newly fitted bike started to hurt my lower back. I could not hold the aero position any longer. I had to come up and just ride the regular position 🙁 But I was still passing other people. My bike pace was still not all that bad after all that…


Run started out okay. I was feeling a little tired and cold. Still my hands were freezing but by the time. I crossed first few miles. I had warmed up and started feeling better on the run. Not as good as I would have liked but still good enough and way better then the swim. after 5 miles. I was really warmed up and ready to go. But now was the end of triathlon to 6.2 miles.

Lessons Learned

* Charge the forerunner and use heart rate zones

* Improve swimming pace – Use you can do long and slow but need to go fast now 🙂

* Improve the bike fit. Swap bike\fit etc.

* Eat better