How to Escape From Alcatraz With Dignity

The night before the race I couldn't sleep: I had nightmares of missing the boat; getting pushed into the water; or getting knocked out by one of the 2000 athletes diving in together.

The next day, as I boarded the San Francisco Belle I thought to myself, "people have to be crazy to choose this race as their first triathlon." But low and behold I met not one but two ladies who were doing just that. Talking to them while we sat for over an hour on the boat calmed me and I realized that I could do this with the support of other triathletes around me.

Tip: If you don't jump, you'll be pushed. We waited anxiously for the coutdown. We were all pumped, cheering, high-fiving and ready to tackle the swim.

More: Race Rehearsal Tips for the Triathlon Swim Leg

And then it happened: 20 steps to get to the edge of the boat and BOOM, there I was in the salty, brackish water of San Francisco. I started swimming, and luckily, the water didn't feel that cold. I was on target for the first landmark and feeling great.

All of a sudden, I looked up and felt like I was in the movie Open Water. There was not a kayak or florescent swim cap in sight. I turned to look at that infamous Alcatraz island standing above me, took a breath, and did the only thing I coud do: kept going.

Unfortunately, when I hit shore, the Golden Gate bridge was a lot closer to me than I would have liked, meaning I was nowhere near the swim exit. I had to run a quarter-mile east to join back up with the other athletes.

More: How to Stay on Course During the Triathlon Swim

I was angry and disappointed with myself. How could I have let that happen? Of course I knew the current was bad, but it really threw me for a loop.

I started another half-mile run to the transition area in my wetsuit with one arm still in. I was freezing and my fingers were not working at all to remove it.

At transition someone told me I had a beard of mud on my face, I was stuck in my wetsuit and could hardly function enough to put socks on my feet, but I made it out onto the hills of the Presidio.

The bike was beautiful. Javier Gomez and Jesse Thomas blazed by in the opposite direction. It made me a little star struck being on the same course as them. The weather was perfect, the sun starting to peak through as we made our way through Golden Gate Park and back to watch some runners coming up the sand ladder. It was hilly, but not terrible if you have a boyfriend who forces you to take frequent rides up Mt. Soledad on Sunday mornings. Thanks Scott.

By the time I started the run, I stopped beating myself up about the swim. It was then that I realized I had done it: I had conquered my fear and done this thing that I once thought was impossible. Regardless of my time, this triathlon had given me an extreme feeling of accomplishment.

I looked down at my wrist and saw the word SMILE, which our National Team Challenge tri coach, Skip Slade, is always reminding me to do: Be grateful and smile.

More: 7 Ways to Avoid Mental Self-Destruction

The run had great views of the beach and of the Golden Gate Bridge. I enjoyed running up stairs, over rocks, ducking down low in a small tunnel (thanks for the tip Nina) and squishing along the sand of Baker Beach. The sand ladder boosted my confidence as I passed my opponents with ease.

If only I practiced my swimming as much as my running.

As I ran down the finish chute it was only the third time at a race that I had a tear in my eye. My first Ironman, for some reason, couldn't touch the height of this accomplishment.

More: How to Finish Proud

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