Sunday, June 21, 2009

Volunteering at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

So there I was last Saturday morning, getting briefed with a bunch of other volunteers on how to check people in. I was only there for 5 minutes before the race excitement took hold of me and I started formulating a plan to get myself posted with the boat start crew. I have never had a desire to participate in this race, some of my friends think this is strange, but I do like volunteering for it. This past weekend makes six times I've worked this event the last seven years. I missed last year because I was running the Kettle Moraine 100. Anyway I've been a volunteer on the bike and run course and at the start/finish line but never on the swim. I was hopeful since we were the host club and I knew some of the folks in charge of running things. There was no guarantee but it all worked out Sunday morning.

It was an early start. We were at the race site by 4:30AM then it was a bus ride with the athletes to the dock where the San Francisco Belle was waiting for us. Body marking ensued which is one of my favorite volunteer activities. Nothing like the smell of marker and the hopeful, excited, sometimes nervous demeanors of the athletes. It was race numbers on the top of the hands, both arms, both legs and their age on the left calf. The boat itself was one crowded mess on both floors. 40+ athletes were directed upstairs, 39+ below on the first floor deck and the Elites and Challenged athletes had their own special are which allowed them to exit the boat first. Challenged athletes are a good cure for whining. Triathlon is hard and I can't imagine doing it with one arm or one leg. I couldn't imagine swimming with one arm or running with a prosthetic leg. A group of challenged athletes who had prosthetic legs asked me if their "legs" would be okay if they left them tied with their drop bags. In the past they had a crew person who collected it for them after they left the boat.

Once the boat was full it was all neoprene and nervous anticipation. They were packed tight in there. I took some time to walk around the crowd and wish friends good luck. I was given the task, along with other volunteers, of trying to separate the age groups and keep them in order. Each group had a different color for their swim caps and it determined the order that they left the boat. Uh, yeah right. First of all they were all mixed, second once the boat doors opened they all stampeded to the front. I just told my high school volunteers to get out the way. Stupid, stupid idea. Like trying to stop concert goers from pushing their way to the front of the stage. The other volunteers were just as ineffective and so was the "plastic tape" they used to separate areas of the room. Plastic tape?! Hahaha, I just shook my head. Regardless of the ineffectiveness of the wave start everyone was off the boat in 6 minutes. I made my way to the top as the 40+ athletes were coming down. On our way back to the dock we collected the drop bags, all 1800 of them. These were then loaded into a truck which were then transported and separated by number at the finish line. Thank God for high school volunteers!

Shortly after arriving back from the boat, my friend Lara who was in charge of the finish line drafted me for water and medal duty - giving out water and hanging medals on the necks of finishers. It was fun. I got there just in time to see the first pro finish. This race attracts a good pro field. I got to hang medals on some of my friends. It turned out to be a very good weekend. I got no workouts done but I did spend a lot of time on my feet which was probably fine for my recovery anyway.

Race briefing. That's the Marin Headlands in the background. The site of what should be my next 100.

With some of the tri-club members who were present Saturday. Some were volunteers like myself, some came to register and some just came to hangout.

Jenny getting ready.

Jim and Dave minutes before they were to jump off the ship.

To San Francisco! Jenny said she saw a dark swimming shape underneath her. Yikes! It was a large seal, c'mon. If it was a shark one of these folks wouldn't have made it to shore.

Karaoke with a water bottle. Handing out water at the finish.

Happy finishers, Sandrine and Son.

Lots and lots of medals.

For the complete photoset click here.


  1. Nice event and pitures. Cool crowd. Nice medals too! Good luck to pacing in WS100 next week.

  2. I love that last picture (not to discount the others, however). Thanks for sharing your experience. Why do you never participate in this one?
    Who are you pacing next weekend?

  3. ahhhh good time!!

    see ya on Weds bro & look forward to running some SF trails with ya & having u dust this flatlander on the downhills --- lol

  4. Nice job out there, Rick, thanks for the write-up. These pics are phenomenal!!!

  5. Sounds like a fun time. Love the pictures. SF is a hot bed for cool races.

  6. That looks like one heck of an event...and I really like the Water bottle Karoke pic...

  7. Rick, you consistently take some of the best race day pictures. Great stuff! That looks like quite a party. Everyone looks like they are having such a good time!

  8. Hey J-Lynn, I'm pacing Carrie Sisk. I never do EFA because I don't like the bike course and the run course I run all the time. Only thing I want to do is the swim and I don't need to pay their exorbitant race fee to do that.

  9. good pics. I will pray for Ben. Thanks for the update.

  10. Great pics as always, looks like a serious washing machine in the bay!

  11. Awesome coverage!! That triathlon looks so scary, yet so awesome at the same time!!

  12. Anonymous11:22 AM

    Thanks for volunteering. It was an awesome event. I hope to do it again and maybe volunteer if I can somehow make myself a local.