Every year since I ran the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in 2011, I have volunteered at the race. Each year, I have worked the morning shift in transition. While this requires me to be in San Francisco at 4am, it is a great shift to work. You get to see all the athletes, including the pros, and there is a lot of opportunity to cheer. And really, there is nothing better than lifting somebody’s spirits when they need it most. The Dashing Sister joined me this year, as she did last year.
We left Sacramento around 2am and made it to Marina Green in about 90 minutes. Traffic is really light in the wee hours of the morning.
We got checked, got our green volunteer shirts (which didn’t have the date on them, like they did the last few years), and I checked in with the transition volunteer leaders. It was Robert and Steve again. They have been the leaders there the previous years as well. Also there was Roberto, who was a paid staff member.
As with the previous two years, I worked athlete check in. Making sure that everybody has an official wrist band and had their bike number attached to their bike. The bike number check is a “fun” part of contention. Of the 2000 athletes, about 50 each year don’t have their number on their bike and complain that I won’t let them in without it. Okay, only a few actually complain, but still. The rules say that bikes can’t go into transition without a number on them.
Check in went better this year than in previous years. We didn’t have the guy (yes it has always been guys) that showed up as the last person was getting on the bus. In the previous years, I have taken their bike, their gear and told them to get their ass on the bus or they were going to miss the boat for swim start. I then rack their bike for them.
When I did the race, I showed up as early as possible and had multiple alarms set up to be sure I got up on time. Yes, I am implying in that last sentence that I am better than you if you showed up at the last minute. I was stressed enough about the race, and if anything went wrong I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get it fixed, so I got their early.
What we did have two interesting cases this year. One was the pro athlete that showed up after the last bus had left because he misread the schedule. He grabbed a taxi, but still missed the boat. The other case was a guy who showed up about 20 minutes before the last bus. He had missed packet pick up the day before and needed to get his packet. Well, there is no race day packet pick up. He got into a huge argument with race officials, and us volunteers about how it was unfair that he couldn’t do the race. “Why won’t you work with me?” he continued to say. Mind you, he missed the packet pickup, didn’t inform race officials of his situation, and showed up 20 minutes before the last bus to get it straightened out. He was also kind of a jerk about the whole thing too, which made us less inclined to help him.
After the buses were gone, one of the Triathlete judges came over and informed some of us volunteers of five bikes that did not have plugs in their bar ends. They had been warned to get plugs as the bar ends can impale a rider if they were to fall on them. The judge told us that we could find some quarters and electrical tape and plug the holes, or we could pull the bikes and the athlete would be disqualified. Having done the race, knowing how much it cost, I couldn’t let that happen. I ran to my car, dug through Dashing Sister’s purse, and grabbed three quarters out of her purse and two quarters out of my cupholder, and ran back. We found the bikes, plugged all the bar ends, and let the judge know what we did. Nobody got disqualified for unplugged bar ends.
If you were at Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and found a big wad of white tape at the end of your handlebars, you owe me big time. While I did plug the bar ends because I know how important this race was to me and it would suck to be disqualified for something so small, and not for any reward, but you can thank me by making a donation to Running with the Bears, which is in the right side bar.
One of the nice things about working transition is that during that break between buses and swimmers arriving is that we have time to look (and drool) at the nice bikes, and there are a lot of bikes to look at.
Also, you can look at how people set up their transition area, and get learn from how they do it. I would love to be minimalist like the pros.
After that, we had a small break while we waited for race start. It was foggy out, and it was cold for June. Check that, it was cold for a normal place in June, but this was San Francisco. So, it was a normal chilly 52 degrees. We saw the boat circle Alcatraz Island and get in place to disperse swimmers. We knew that once they left the boat, the pros would be in transition in less than 30 minutes.
This year, I was stationed at the mount/dismount line, which is the line that marks where riders can be on their bikes. Last year I was at the run in/run out chute, and the year before that I was by the bikes in transition doing traffic control. I would have rather been in by the bikes, as you can cheer more, but the leaders remember me and know I am going to do my job and not chat with my friends like the high schoolers do.
I did get to watch everybody come through for all stages of the race, including the pros. Not only was I able to see the lead male (Andy Potts) run in from the swim,
and lead female (Sarah Haskin),
I was able to watch the pros go through transition.
Working at the mount/dismount line was kind of a pain in the ass. I had to yell to the riders to not get on their bikes until the line. I had to stop people that were on their bikes, have them get off, and walk their bike across the line. I also got to watch how the pros get on and off their bikes, and that is amazing. The leader, Andy Potts (who was in the lead the entire time and won the race), came running out of transition, (with bare feet), jumped on his bike (after the line), and without slowing down at all, put his feet on top of his shoes and started pedaling. He then stuck his feet in his shoes while on the go. On the way back, he popped out of his shoes, leaving them clipped to the bike, and stood on one pedal for the last 20 yards, hopped off right at the dismount line and ran his bike into transition.
The pros had no issues with the mount/dismount line, and actually most people had no issues on the way back. On the way back, I got to yell, “Dismount before the line!” over and over and over again. I got to cheer a little bit too. Especially towards the end when people were just trickling in. We did see about four people run their bikes in because of broken chains. When I did the race, I saw several people with broken chains. I am not sure if this is common or not, but that has to suck. Running in bike shoes or in your bare feet does not sound like fun at all.
Bikers were coming in pretty steady when Andy Potts come in to win his 6th Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in 7 years (he was injured and didn’t compete last year) with a time of 2:04:21. Sarah Haskin maintained her lead the entire race and won as well with a time of 2:17:40.
I was on duty until the last bike came through, I did some cheering in between bikes. Telling people they had almost finished and only had 200 more yards to go until the finish line. That part was really fun. After the swag wagon showed up with bikers that got swept, I was done for the day. I got some pizza at the volunteer tent, walked through the expo and then drove back to Sacramento.
Every year I have been involved with Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, I am always amazed at the people who are participating in the race. Like with marathons, they come from all walks of life and in all shapes and sizes. I am also surprised at the number of people with the $5000+ tri bikes that are in the back of the pack. Some of these people appear quite young and fit, but they are often behind older, more out of shape people, with older or less suitable bikes.
A perfect example was the 50+ year old 220 lb guy on a steel frame ten speed who came in at the same time as a late 20 year old fit guy on a carbon fiber Specialized tri bike. Now the younger guy may have made up time on the run, but I saw it as training and dedication vs. youthful exuberance and technology.
Also the amazing challenged athletes that not only compete in this race, but often dominate. I didn’t see as many as I have in past years, but there really is nothing more inspiring than a gal with one leg heading off on the final run, or the guy with only one arm coming in from the swim (Seriously, his name is “One Armed Willie” and he is super fast in the water.)
I will definitely be back next year, probably just volunteering, despite how much I want to run the race again.
One more thing: here are some quick rules if you are a volunteer at a race
- Do your job. Focus on the athletes, not chatting with your friend next to you.
- You can’t do a favor for one athlete and not do the same for the another.
- Have fun and cheer for the athletes. Not only will you lift the spirits of those running by, you will get smiles, thank yous, high fives, and the occasional fist bump from the athletes. And that, my friends, is an awesome feeling.