Tag Archives: Triathlon

Lost in the Bay

copyright ©, 2011

I have this big celebration planned for my 99th and 100th Alcatraz crossing next Saturday, a swim from Angel Island to Alcatraz and then to the City.  I have a slew of people organized for the swim and celebration.  The issue is that I was only at 96 crossings.  My plan was to do a bump-and-run (out to Alcatraz and back).  The goal is two fold, to get to #98 and to get a long swim in before attempting the long swim this Saturday.  I need to make sure my swim endurance is up.  It was a few months ago that I did a 3 hour swim, however have not been working out regularly.

The bump-and-run was planned for Monday.  I looked at the current chart and saw a 2.2 flood dying at about 7 AM going into a 4.0 ebb.  I scheduled the swim for a 5 AM jump to avoid the strong ebb.

I lined up a friend to pilot me and emailed a few swimmers that have a similar pace as mine to join me and to help share the cost.  There were a total of four swimmers including myself.  My pilot’s brother asked if he could join his sister in the boat (rigid-inflatable boat or “RIB”).  Of course this is great.  He has kayaked for many swims and it is good to have a second pair of eyes.

The day before the swim, three things happened.  First one of the swimmers backed out.  I attempted to find another 4th, but could not.  3 would be easier on the pilot anyway so I did not mind.  This also prompted me not to ask the pilot’s brother to kayak instead of co-pilot the RIB.  I thought 3 people would be easy enough for the RIB to keep an eye on.  This turned out to be a mistake.  With a kayak the coverage would have been better even for three swimmers.

Also I realized I read the currents wrong.  7 AM was the peek of the 4.0 ebb and not the end of the 2.2 flood.  A bump and run with a 4.0 ebb is a much harder swim.  I remembered just a couple weeks ago 1,800 swimmers did the same as the second stretch of our swim for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon with the same ebb.  I thought if they could do it, so could we.  Game on!  While a harder swim, it can also be fast.  If fast I might not get in the long swim that I wanted.

The 3rd thing was that I learned another group from the club was planning the same swim, but a one hour later jump.  I contemplated moving ours to jump at the same time.  It is better with two boats and two groups even if the groups are separate.  I elected not to do this because one of our swimmers needed to be back early to get to work in Sacramento.  As it turns out she swam a little longer than expected and wound up late anyway, but I’m get ahead of myself in this story.

The swim was set.  I picked up my pilot and her brother at her apartment at 4:15 and we headed to the club.  We all got ready fast, did a quick briefing and headed out.  Jump at Pier 35, bump Alcatraz and swim into Yacht Harbor.  That was the plan anyway.

The fastest way to swim an Alcatraz crossing is to start at Pier 35 (ish) and swim out during an ebb.  The current does most of the work.  We sight off Point Blunt of Angel Island and swim, almost past Alcatraz until the yellow sign lines up with the chimney.  Then turn into the island being careful not to swim past the yellow sign or the current will carry us around the back.

So that was the idea for the first leg.  I admit I’m a terrible podder.  I have a hard time keeping with other swimmers.  I saw the other two swimmers to my left, but they were getting further away.  I was already in danger of missing the sign on Alcatraz so rather that swim towards them I just kept on course.

I did not make the sign.  I got pretty darn close!  Pilot and brother were cheering me on but the current was too strong pushing me back.  I gave up and reached the island at the rocks and stood there on them.  “Were are the others?” I asked.  “They are on the other side,” she said.  I started to swim in that direction to catch up with them but then she said it was OK I could start swimming back.  This was the last mistake … on both of our parts.  I should have been repositioned to where they were.  It would not have been a loss.  I was already at the island and would not have been repositioned too far away that I couldn’t count the return trip for #98.

So I started swimming back while the RIB zipped off to check on the other two swimmers.  A little while later she returned and instructed me to sight more towards the east.  The current was strong pushing us west rather fast.  I obeyed and she zipped off again.  That was the last I saw of her during the swim.  The two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  When she came back to find me again, she could not.  I was on my own.

It took me a while to realize that.  After ten or fifteen minutes without seeing her I started to worry.  I could tell I was getting swept west faster than what could be safe.  The Golden Gate Bridge was getting bigger too quick.  I kept going, but would stop every once in a while to look for her.  Each time I stopped I would lose ground getting across before reaching the bridge.  After a few time and another ten minute I had my little panic attack.

I stopped and yelled for the RIB, a sound that spread out in a circle around me only to die out before it reached any ears, how quiet our voices are at full volume when surrounded by nothing.  I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.  The shore was still far away and that damned bridge was approaching quick with the current.  The bay seems mighty big when I’m alone in the middle of it, and I was heading right for the center span of the bridge.  I thought if I got swept out there that that would be the end of me.  I would get washed out to sea and eventually drowned.  I contemplated what options I had as I was convinced I was about to be washed out to sea.  Should I risk wasting my energy swimming or should I just sit there treading water until someone found me?  The Marin headlands looked closer than the San Francisco shore, perhaps I could reach there.  I was resigning to the fact that I was going out to sea and even began contemplating my death.  Would this be the end?  Would I be the one South End swimmer that loses his life in the bay?

“Swim … I must swim!” I told myself.  This is all on me now.  I cannot count on anyone rescuing me.  If I’m to survive I have to do it myself.  I cannot afford to panic.  Panic is the real demon here.  It can take a strong swimmer and turn him into a drowning baby in the bay.  I must let it go.  I could also not afford to get fatigued.  All I could afford to do is swim.  I put my head in the water and swam.  I did not look up again for a boat to rescue me.  I did not look at the bridge.  I kept my breathing to the left.  It’s a “Do no look down” sort of scenario.  I did not want to see how close to the bridge I was getting or it might induce more panic.  Knowing how close it was would not help me any.  I was going to cross under the bridge wherever I was whether I knew where it was or not.

My goal was to get to the south tower and hang onto or climb up on it until someone found me.  I learned later this is not a good idea because the currents can pull people under, so it is a good thing I missed it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Once I got over the panic attack I was strong.  I have swum for three hours before.  I knew I could do it again.  I didn’t have water or nutrition, but have also done long swims without them in the past.  I knew I could do it again.  I also wasn’t worried about the cold.  The water temperature had warmed up enough that I could stay in it for a long time.  Being hit by a boat didn’t worry me.  Heck if there was a boat in sight I would be grateful … perhaps for a rescue.

Even if I missed the south tower (which you already know I did), there was Baker Beach.  While it is a ways away south from the bridge, there is a back eddy there.  Once I reached the back eddy I would no longer be washing out to sea with the current.   I had just kayaked some swimmers to Baker Beach just two days prior so I was familiar with these currents.

I began to relax and even enjoy myself.  It is not often I get to just swim without the concern of other swimmers or pilots giving me instructions, sometimes in contradiction to what I wanted to do.  Yes, there was a certain freedom in my experience.

As I swam, I kept my sighting perpendicular to the shore.  I wanted to go in as short a line as possible.  I thought this was better than trying to swim towards the east and fight the current to gain a little time against the ebb, even if that little bit of time gained might help me make my goal of the south tower.  It would be Ok if I missed the tower.

Miss it I did.  I don’t know how long I was swimming.  Even breathing to my left I could see the south tower getting closer and realized I was getting too close to the bridge to reach it.  Under the bridge I went with the current.  That’s OK.  Plan B = Baker Beach.  I was still feeling strong.  The only setback was that the water can get quite rough on the other side of the bridge, making swimming a little more challenging.

Luckily, I was blessed with calm water.  There was only one fright when under the water I sighted the red blob of a nettle jellyfish.  These are the stinging kind!  Just as I sighted it my hand hit it on the top of the head, not where the stinging tentacles are.  A few seconds later I felt my foot kick it … again on the head.  I panicked a bit not knowing how many of its friends were with him.  “That’s panic,” I reminded myself and let it go.

I was still only breathing only on the left side.  Once on the other side of the bridge I could see how much southern progress I was making as I kept eye on the features of the bridge and watched them pass.  This was comforting.  Soon I was passed the south tower, and while later I could feel the water getting choppy.  That was a sign that I was crossing the current line into the back eddy.  Then it calmed down.  I stopped and looked up.  It seemed so still.  No more current rushing me out the gate to a death at sea.  I was happy.

I could see the familiar landmarks of Baker Beach.  Just two days before I kayaked a few swimmers into Baker Beach so I was familiar with the water and landmarks.  “How fun it would be to swim into Baker Beach,” I thought after kayaking those swimmers that other day.  Now it looked like I was going to get my chance.  What I was going to do once I got there I don’t know.  Me standing on the beach with nothing but a swim suit, cap and goggles … earplugs too.  I figured I would hike up to the road and flag down a vehicle.

This plan would not be needed however as I saw a small fishing boat about 200 yards to the left near the shore.  I contemplated “fishing boat or beach?”  I knew there were people on the boat so headed in that direction.  I waved my arms at them and swam up.  “I’m lost” I told them, “Can I come on board.”  They were Asian men.  I wondered for a second that they might not speak English, but the reply came in English, “Yes.”  “Do you have a radio?” I asked as they were helping me on board.  “Cell phone” he said.  I situated myself on a seat in the front of the boat.  He handed me his cell phone and his warm coat.

I immediately called the Coast Guard … 411 first to get the number.  I couldn’t get vessel traffic, who I knew was on the radio and could reach the RIB, so I called the general San Francisco Coast Guard number.  “I’m a swimmer that got lost, I don’t know if I’ve been reported lost.”  They did not have a lost swimmer report.  This made me a little mad.  I explained to them the situation and asked them to call the RIB and the South End Rowing club.  They said they’d do their best.  I learned later from the pilot’s brother that they did report us lost after about forty minutes that they last saw us.  There seemed to be a communication breakdown between the Coast Guard, vessel traffic and the RIB.

After a little while I got a call back from Robin from the club.  I explained to her the situation.  She said she see what she could do.  Not knowing what had happened, I had pictured that the RIB would have picked up the other two swimmers by now and may have given up on me and called the Coast Guard.  I wanted people to call her or the other swimmers to let them know I was alright.  I was not sure how I’d get home though.

The time on the cell phone said 7:30.  We jumped at 5:10.  So I was swimming for 2 hours 20 minutes.  That’s a pretty good haul.  I made it to the shore … or close enough, so I would count this as #98.  Also I got in a long swim too!  My swim endurance seems good enough for the swim next weekend.

So then I just sat there for a while … cell phone in hand.  I was shivering.  Are you OK? The fisherman asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  I knew the shivering would stop soon.  The water was not that cold as the season was warming and I was not too uncomfortable with the post-swim shivering.  “Do you want some water and a sandwich?” he asked.  I took him up on that without hesitation.

It’s funny how I do not know anyone’s phone number.  With cell phones, we do not use numbers anymore, just click on their name and the call is made.  I was sitting there with that cell phone and did not know anyone’s number that I could call.  Tina!  I knew Tina’s number only because when I got mad at her last year I took her out of my contacts.  Every communication we had after that came up with her number instead of her name and I memorized it that way.  I got her answering service.  I left a message about what happened and asked her to call the pilot and the other swimmers and let them know I was OK.

Then I remember 411 again.  I tried to find a listing for the other swimmers, but could not.  I tried our RIB pilot and got her mom.  I explained the situation to her mom and asked for her cell phone number.  She dug it up and read it to me.  I did not have anything to write with (something I do not think to carry when I swim).  I tried to memorize it but did not do a good job and did not connect.  That was the last call I attempted to make … except Tina a few more times.

“How long do you guys stay out here?” I asked the fishermen?  “Until we catch our limit,” He replied.  He told me they were from Oakland.  I didn’t know how I was going to get back.  I could hang out there all day if I needed to.  I might end up sunburned though.  They had an extra fishing pole.  Perhaps I could fish with them?  Oh, but I don’t have a fishing license.  All I could do is sit there.

A lot of time went by before the phone rang.  It was the Coast Guard.  They told me they were in touch with the RIB and let them know I was safe.  A few minutes later I spotted a small craft coming under the bridge.  “That could be them,” I thought.  I heard someone call my name.  “That’s strange,” I thought, “They are too far to be calling my name.  I looked around and did not see any boats near by.  “Jay,” the voice said again.  Then I spotted the two yellow caps in the water.  They were still swimming!  My God, I was out of the water for and hour already and they are still in it!  No RIB in sight.  The fishermen zipped over to pick them up.  They were no longer concerned with fishing anymore and reel their lines up into the boat.  After picking them up they started bringing us in under the Golden Gate Bridge.  I was plenty warm so took off the coat for one of the swimmers.  The wind chill was a little unpleasant on my bare skin, but I could live with it.

The phone rang again.  It was our pilot’s brother in the RIB.  We had contact!  He said they were looking for us near Crissy Field.  I told the fishermen and they steered us in that direction.

There were lots of boats out there.  I learned later the Coast Guard issued a mayday for three lost swimmers.  Boats came out from all over to look for us.

We reunited with our RIB.  There was also the second RIB from the other group that had already successfully completed the very same swim we were attempting.  The RIB came back out to help look.  We divided up between the two RIB \s and departed back to the club.  I was still feeling mad at our pilot so got in the other RIB.

When we were back on the dock I caught our pilot’s eyes and could see the sorrow and regret.  We fell into a tearful embrace.  My anger dissipated.  I learned later that the two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  She was moving back and forth between us.  Then one time when she came to find me, she could not.  She went back to find the other two and then could not find them either.  We were all lost!  The current was moving us much faster that she estimated and wound up looking for use too far east while we were getting swept west.  The problem was us being spilt up and/or not having a kayak.  So many lessons to learn!

She told me that while she was worried sick she knew we were all strong swimmers and that we could make it.  She was looking for us by Crissy field.  It never dawned on her that we would go beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you look at the map below it seems unlikely that we would.  The bridge is almost in a straight line directly west.  It looks as though in order to get there that we were making no progress south at all.

I also learned in later conversations that because I called her mother that they were able to get a hold of me.  Her mom called the brother.  The brother said, “I can’t talk now Mom we have a situation here.”  The mom said, “I know you have a situation.”  The brother instructed her how to retrieve the phone number for the fisherman’s cell phone from the records.  That was when I received the call from them.

Back at the club everyone seemed aware of the situation.  I was a little embarrassed and ashamed.  Glad we were all safe though.  Things happen to teach us a lesson.  As long as no one ends up hurt or institutionalized I’m happy to learn the lesson.  I look back at the decisions I could have made differently.  I think next time I’ll error to the conservative side.  Better to be safe to swim another day.


(currents that day: http://jay.ligda.net/tide_graph.asp?tsid=421703)

The Story Behind the Madness

(This was written before the event to share with the people at the campout to give a little history about me and the triathlon)

At the community campout, five years ago, I had my tent set up near the river.  Early Sunday morning I was awakened by a man on a PA system across the river making announcements, introducing people and shooting off a starting gun.  After the starting gun I could hear the splashing in the river.  “What is this, a boat race,” I thought to myself.  The announcing, introducing and starting was repeated over and over for about an hour before I got up to see what was going on.  It was a triathlon.

When I was in high school, I was into endurance sports like running and cycling.  Everyone thought that I would get into triathlons as I got older, but instead I went away to college and stopped my endurance athletics.

Here it was, 15 years later.  I was overweight by about 40 pounds, sitting across the river from a sport that I never got myself involved in.  I was feeling disgusted with myself.  “I should be on the other side of the river,” I thought.

It wasn’t for another year that I started to do something about it.  “What happened,” I contemplated.  “Why did I stop with the sports?”  The conclusion that I came to was that when I went away to college I moved away from the friends that I used to bike and run with.  I lost my support.  I lost my motivation.  Upon making that realization I did not waste any time, went straight to the Internet and looked up “Triathlon Club san Francisco.”  I found the Golden Gate Triathlon Club and began my journey towards health.

This is my 4th season doing triathlons.  The first season I mainly did sprint triathlons.  These are about ¼ mile swims, 10 to 18 mile bike rides and 3 or 4 mile runs.  It took me awhile to work up to that.  I could barely run a mile at first and could not swim at all.  At the end of the first season I set my goal to do an Olympic distance.  This is a .93 mile swim, 24 mile bike and 6.1 mile run.  Completing it was a huge accomplishment.  While I was training for it I noticed a group from my triathlon club training together with a coach.  I felt a little envious and learned more about the special program, Tri and Give, to help first timers train for an Olympic distance triathlon.  OK, I wasn’t a first timer, but I joined up for the next season.

The Tri and Give program was a great experience bonding with others working towards the same goal.  I wound up doing 4 Olympic triathlons that year.  The next year (last year) I over did it.  I signed up for too many events and could not really train for any one of them.  I wound up hurting myself and ending my season early.

I decided this year that I would do no triathlons.  I had to focus on my business and did not have the time and energy to train.  This plan came to a halt when the triathlon club announced a training program for a ½ ironman triathlon, specifically, the ½ Vineman.  A ½ ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run.  The ½ Vineman is the very same triathlon that inspired me across the river for the family campout.  That fact combined with the fact that I would turn 40 5 days later and that the EBNoM community campout would be on the same weekend, in spite the efforts to not schedule the campout on the same weekend since that year, compelled me to sign up.  I’ve been training for 3 months.

I’m not too worried about the swim or the bike.  It’s the run that worries me.  In my teenage years I ran a ½ marathon (13.1 miles) and did not finish.  I’m not nearly the runner that I was then.  During our training I ran 10 miles and that was quite a challenge.  This weekend I’m going to run … or attempt to run 13.1 miles, farther than I have ever run in my life, and I’m going to attempt it after completing the swim and the bike.  Am I insane?  We shall see.

The Story After the Madness

It’s Monday. I’ve been feeling incredibly high all day after the completion of the ½ ironman yesterday. Not even learning that I finish about 1,700 out of 1,800 finishers has lessened my mood. Finishing this event feels like one of my biggest accomplishments. I feel great. Legs are sore, but spirits are high.

I did not coordinate the support efforts very well, so I’m sorry to the men that showed up and missed me. It was great to see the men at the swim and bike start and great to see Nick riding his bike out on the run course.

My day did not start out in the best way as my bike tire was low. I had just filled it up the day before. A low tire is a sign of a slow leak. I figured I’d fill it up again before the race and see what would happen. I had a spare tube and could change it out at any time, but would rather not if I did not have to.

Mark Beam walked over to the start with me. I was feeling nervous in an excited sort of way. After setting up my transition area and pumping up my tire I was ready to go. There was Nick smiling as I headed into the water. I swam across the river to the Parker Resort beach. No one was there. I wound up starting 16 minutes before I had published. Everyone was still sleeping or drinking their coffee. I swam back to the start line and awaited the starting gun.

After an uneventful swim that was a few minutes faster than I had anticipated, I ran up to the transition area. Mark was supposed to be there waiting to grab my gear to take back to the camp. I felt my tire. To my disappointment it was a little low. It was too fast of a slow leak to make it through the bike, but enough for me to ride on for now. I would take my chance. I finish my transition and packed up my gear. I looked one more time for Mark. There he was down at the finish line looking in earnest for me to come out of the water. “Mark” I yelled. “There you are.” He did not see me come in. He ran up to grab my gear. And I was off.

On my way out of the transition, pushing my bike towards the bike mount line I saw the familiar faces of Mike Peck and Lynn Marchand cheering me on. The bike ride began.

My tire was lower that I thought and rather spongy. If I took a turn hard I could feel it slip. My strategy was to make it to the first aid station and pump it up there if they had a pump. I could make from aid station to aid station pumping it up at each station. I had to ride carefully, especially on turns down hill. I reached the aid station. They did not have a pump. I took my time changing the tire and was on my way again. It was nice to have a solid ride.

I wanted to take it easy for the ride. Even so I was moving at a fast pace and by the ½ way point I was very happy with my time. I continued through the hilly second half still taking it easy but still maintain a 17 mile per hour average pace. The last ten miles I really backed off as I began to think about the challenging 13 mile run. The run was the great mystery of event for me. I was nervous about the run for a couple of reasons. First I had never ran 13 miles before. Second, running is twice as hard when place at the end of a triathlon. I did not know what to expect, which led to me with a little apprehension about it.

I rolled into the bike/run transition feeling good. I took my time in transition to procrastinate the run a little. I checked my cell phone to call Nick to let him know where I was. He was supposed to be my contact person for me to call at various landmarks to let people know where I was. This turned out to not be possible as I was not allowed to have my phone on the course. I decided to leave it at the bike/run transition to at least make a call there when I arrived. I did not have a signal. I was completely out of communication. I finished putting on my running gear and headed out.

The first couple of miles of the run after the bike are usually pretty tough. Legs are getting used to one way of working after working hard in another. I usually just have to buckle down and get through it. Perhaps it was the training, but I was not feeling bad this time. This was the first good sign.

I continued on. My sights were set on the 4 mile mark where my triathlon club, the Golden Gate Triathlon Club (GGTC) had an aid station. I missed the first mile marker, but at the second I was at 22 minutes … faster than my desired 12 minute mile pace. I slowed it down a bit. With each aid station every mile I took in lots of water. I had gel packs in my bags and took in energy through those. I continued on through the next two miles at a 12 minute mile pace. If I could keep up this pace I would finish the run in 2 hours and 42 minutes. Combined with my faster bike time I could finish the entire event in 7 hours 15 minutes. 45 minutes faster than I was budgeting. Perhaps it was too early to be thinking of that.

I made the turn onto Mark West Station Road, knowing the GGTC aid station was just up a way. Over the hill, around the bend I could see it a few hundred yards ahead along with another welcoming sight of my coach’s canopy, Tri More Fitness. I expected to see my coach somewhere on the course, but did not know where. “Jay Ligda!” I heard him yell and I drew near. “You rock! Way to go!” “Hey, Jay Ligda is coming through,” he turned to yell to the rest of the people at the aid station. I got lots of cheers from friends as I ran through grabbing up my water. 5 more miles and I will be back to this welcoming crowd. For now I set me sights to my next goal, the turn around point. I ran on.

By mile 5 ½ I was still feeling pretty good and I felt good about that. A friend from the GGTC caught up with me. He was not feeling good. He started to tell me what he was feeling wrong with him and I was glad to know the solution. “You need electrolytes,” I said. I did not have any, but knew there was plenty in the Gatoraide that was being served at the aid stations. “Drink Gatoraide,” I said. He slowed down and peeled off to use the pora-potties. I reach mile 6 and began the 1 mile loop through the winery back out to mile 7, the same location as mile 6. That was when it hit me. My legs started to feel fatigue. My same friend passed me. At least he was feeling better. “Drink more Gatoraide,” I yelled as he passed at a fast pace. I was starting to slow down.

It was great to see friends from the club running in the other direction, or passing me. Even if we didn’t know each other we would cheer each other on when we’d see the “GGTC” on our clothing.

By the time I reached the GGTC aid station again, at mile nine I was really hurting. My time was down to about 14 minutes per mile. It was a great pick up to see friends again, but as I passed, what was there to look forward to. The finish? It was still 4 miles a way and would take almost an hour at the pace I was running. I kept plugging away slowly. I rounded the corner off Mark West Station Road and began the windy Starr Road. The sun was getting hot. I was feeling miserable. “Jay” I heard a voice and looked up. There was Nick on his bicycle. “Perfect timing” I said, glad to see him. It was a nice pick up. Nick let me know that Mark and Aerin were out there looking for me too. While I never saw them it was great to know. Nick talked with me for a while and reminded me that everyone back at camp was thinking of me and then he road off. Perhaps I’d see him again, closer to the end. I know he wanted to ride around and check people out.

With each mile I would look at my watch and do calculations in my head. How much time was left? My 14 minute miles were turning to 14 ½ minute miles and then 15 minute miles by the 11th mile. If I can make it 11 miles I can make it 12 and eventually there will be a finish line. I had not stopped to walk yet, except during the aid stations to take in water. That was what I wanted to finish without walking. At the pace I was running, however, some people were walking faster than me.

In the midst of my pain I suddenly thought of a joke. I just needed someone to share it with. As I turned off Starr Road there was a volunteer at the corner to point runners into the correct direction. I looked up at her like I needed help and she engaged me visually to offer support. “Do you know the way to Windsor High School?” I asked, Windsor High School was the finish line. She looked at me at first like it was a strange question to be asking before she realized it was a joke, a joke that she was not expecting from a suffering runner which seemed to make her appreciate it more. She laughed and I smiled. “Well you are heading in the right direction,” she said I inched off in that right direction.

After Starr Road there were two more short streets before turning into the high school. Short roads become long roads plugging away at a 15 minute mile pace, but they get shorter again with each step. I passed the 12 mile mark. Only one more mile to go. I looked at my watch and started counting down. 15 more minutes.

I was keeping my focus towards the road. It was still hot and I did not have any more fluids with me (I carried a belt pack with containers of water). I knew I would finish, but 15 minutes can be a long time when one is suffering. “Jay?” I heard a woman’s voice call out. I looked up and there was an angel up ahead on the other side of the road. She waved and I waved back as I tried to recognize who it was. My mind raced through the people that I expected to see on the course, but it was not coming. “It’s Elisa,” she said. Elisa was a woman from my training program who was training with us, but not doing the event. I had a little crush on her, so was a little awkward around her. She was a little evasive around me. When I realized it was her I started heading across the road towards her. “Don’t come over here, keep going.” But I did not, I kept heading to her. I don’t know what I was doing. I just wanted some contact. As I reached her she held her arms out to offer the hug. As I hugged her I said, “I’m going to finish this” and I got a little emotional as I ran on.

I made the turn onto the main road and looked at my watch, 7 ½ minutes … only ½ mile to go. I made the turn into the high school. I still had to run all the way to the back of the school. I made the turn at the back of the high school and looked for the finish line. It was not there. I kept running and remembered as I saw a runner ahead of me turn onto the field in the back of the school that the finish line was half way down the field. I turned onto the field and into the finish shoot. I had 300 yards to go. A man passed me with “39” on the back of his calf. He was the same age as me. He was going to beat me. There was nothing left in the tank to match his pace and race him to the finish. “Let him go.” It does not make a difference. I just need to finish.

There were no cheers as I crossed the finish line. No one I knew was there. I just stopped and stood there. I didn’t have to move anymore. After 7 ½ hours of strenuous activity I could just stand there and that was what I did for a few minutes. Bad news … I was standing in the sun and the food was a hundred yards across the field. I had to move a little more to get out of the sun and get some food. There were a few friends from the club milling around. “Remind me never to do that again,” was all I could tell them. I was happy I had finished. I was happy I did it the run without walking, and I was happy I did it in ½ hour faster than I thought I would. However the pain I was feeling was not worth thinking I would want to try that again. I got my food and sat down, waiting for more friends from the club to come through the finish shoot.

So here it is the following day. The high that I’m feeling is great and has overpowered the memory of the pain I felt and I’m thinking ahead. “What’s next?” I think I could do one of these in less than 7 hours. I took my time in transitions. I could take 10 minutes off my time there. If I did not get a flat tire I could take 10 minutes off my with that. I have performed much better in the swims in the past and I can probably take 5 or 10 minutes off my time there. I could have gone a little harder on the bike and perhaps taken off another 5 or 10 minutes off with that. I can trim off more than 30 minutes without even addressing my worst of the 3 events, the run. I can do it in less than 7 hours. Not this year. Maybe next year. I look on-line and did signed up for a ½ marathon later this year. Now that I know I can do a ½ marathon, I want to see what it is like without the swim and bike in front of it. I also have a few Bay swims also scheduled this year … another Alcatraz crossing, a swim from Angel Island to Tiburon and one from Treasure Island to the Embarcadero. That will be enough for this year. The ½ ironman was the big goal for the year. Next year I will make plans for next year.

I was 302 of 313 in my age group, 1173 of 1221 men and 1704 of 1817 overall.

My Final Times

Swim 00:47:47
T1 00:09:57
Bike 03:28:53
T2 00:09:44
Run 02:55:55
Finish 07:32:17

My Climb up Haleakala


I awoke at 4:30 AM, still on California time. In 2 ½ hours my friend was to awake and we were to depart to the base of Haleakala. I used the extra time to arrange my gear and pack it in the car. As I entered the house from my final trip to the car, there my frined, Debra, was standing there. 6:00 AM. “You made it up,” I said. “Well not yet,” she said in a morning voice, all sleepy eyed. She’d just got back from 3 weeks in China and was still adjusting to the time change. She’d been up for several hours in the middle of the night and was not working on very much sleep. “This will be a tough day for her,” I thought. She was going to be my support for the climb, driving in her car and stopping every few thousand feet of climb to make sure I was alright and had enough water, food, etc. Within 45 minutes Debra was up, fed and ready to. We were on our way. I was energized and excited.

We’d scoped out a start location the day before just at the intersection of the Haleakala Highway and Highway 36, just outside of Kahalui. This was about 3 miles into the road and at about 300 feet elevation. There was a large shoulder there plenty big enough for her to pull over and for me to get ready. The mountain still seemed about 10 miles away. Perhaps, I thought, the road will be rather flat until I got there. I started rolling at a moderate pace.

The highway was a big one, 3 lanes with two in the upward direction and one in the downward direction. There was a lot of traffic going down, heading into Kahalui from the up country for work. Soon the second lane was blocked in the upward direction so the downward traffic could use it. This forced all the uphill traffic into the lane next to me and often onto the four foot shoulder where I rode. Cars zipped by at freeway speeds. “This won’t last long” I thought as I headed towards the mountain, “Maybe ten miles.”

Soon I was gearing down as the peddling was getting harder. Within 3 miles I was already in my lowest gear. I was hoping I would not need to use that gear until at least after I’ve climbed 5,000 feet, but there I was 3 miles into the climb and already in it. What made it feel worse was that the road was still a straight highway and did not look to be climbing very much at all. The mountain still seemed to be off in the distance. I had to remind myself, “Jay, you are climbing. It’s going to be like this for the next 6 hours. Take it easy. Don’t be worried about using the low gears. Don’t push too hard. There is a long way to go.”

The weather was nice. I had no idea what to expect, heat wind rain? I did not know how the altitude would affect my breathing. My plan was just to take it one mile at a time. I brought plenty of water in the car.

Debra and I agreed to meat just outside of Pukalani, about 10 miles and 1,700 feet into the climb. However, there she was at mile 8. “I don’t think you should go this way,” she said explaining how there was no shoulder on the road and lots of traffic. She directed me on another road. The two would join about 2 miles up. “There is a stop light there. I’ll be parked there.” Two miles up was the first rest stop near Pukalani. I was feeling good, although I was working hard. I was still very energetic and excited. I almost forgot to fill up my water bottles, which was the main purpose of the stops in the first place. We looked at the map and agreed to meet in Upper Kula. Upper Kula is where the road turns up to the mountain and it appears that the climb really begins, however there was no mistake, I had been climbing and working a lot harder that I thought I would have been. Not only was I in my lowest gear, but my heart rate was about five beats above what I determined was my maximum sustainable heart rate, just three weeks before. This worried me. Perhaps my measurements three weeks before were incorrect; perhaps I will burn myself out at this rate too early. But I could not keep my heart rate down and still push that lowest gear. I had to keep moving.

On the road to Kula I began to pass the bicycle tours going down the mountain. It’s a big tourist industry on Maui to haul people up the mountain in vans and let them bike down. I would see these tours in groups of about 10, all coasting down in single file with full rain gear and motorcycle helmets. There would be a leader in front on a bike and following the group would be the van that they all road up in towing the bicycle trailer. I would pass these groups all day. Sometimes they would wave, or shout things to me like, “You are going the wrong way,” but more often of the time they would remain focused on their descent. The first group that I passed on the road to Kula was just pulling over and packing the bikes back on the trailer. Their journey was over which meant mine was just beginning.

haleakala2The weather continued to be nice. I expected it to get real hot. I could see the entire mountain which meant the usual blanket of clouds covering Haleakala was not there. The good news about this was that I would be able to see nice views all day. The bad news was that I would not have that cloud protection from the sun. I think I would be happy to sacrifice the views for the protection, but without it I will enjoy the views.

There was a rain cloud to the west. I could tell it was dumping rain not to far away. Occasionally I could feel light sprinkles reach my way, but the rain stayed to the west and soon I was riding in a direction away from it, towards the cloudless Haleakala.

As I cycled past the resort in Upper Kula I heard Debra call my name. I almost rode past her. I was still feeling good and still had a lot of energy. I had climbed 3,000 feet, almost 1/3 of the way and already past the height of Mt. Tam. I fueled up fast and was on my way.

In about ½ a mile was the turn up the mountain. Up until this time I’d been riding on the base. The switchback began at this turn. The grade did not change, but the road was no longer straight. The view was spectacular, with each switchback I could see to the west, the western mountains and the valley in-between, sprinkled with sugar cane fields, from one shore to the next. I could see all the way across. If I looked to the east I could no longer see Haleakala as I was now on it.
haleakala3This panoramic view taken about 5,000 feet, just below the cloud line. You can see Maui from shore to shore.

I began to get hungry. Debra and I agreed to meet at 5,000 feet. It would take me about an hour from Kula to get there, but I was growing more and more hungry and wanted that peanut butter sandwich that I had packed. To my delight there was Debra at about 4,000 feet. I was ready for a lunch break. At 4,000 feet I was past the height of Mt. Diablo and nearly to the height of Mt Hamilton. These were the highest peaks that I have ever climbed. I was now on a new mountain.

haleakala4I had about a 15 minute break, the longest of the day. I was still feeling energized and full of energy. I was expecting that I would be starting to get tired at this point, but was happy I was not. Debra thought the next place she would be able to stop was about 2,200 feet up. I was certain she would find a place before that, but I agreed. I knew I could climb 2,200 feet in one shot. I went on my way.

That stretch turned out to be a tough one. I was starting to feel tired in my legs now. I had plenty of water, but I just needed the break of Debra’s support for the mental rest. I past many places that she could have pulled over, but knew I would not see her for a while. I kept peddling away.

The clouds had gathered around Haleakala like they usually are. I was starting to reach the cloud level. It would be nice to ride into the misty clouds, but they just seemed to elude me. I appeared to go around them rather than through them. However the sun was not bad. The temperature remains at about 77 degrees at this elevation.

As I reached the point where I thought I’d see Debra, she was not there. With each turn that I made I’d hoped to see her. She was not there. “What happened?” I thought. “Did I pass her?” I began to wonder how far I’d be able to go without her. I was getting low on water. I knew the visitor’s center was coming up. I could fill up there, but would not have me energy drink. I kept peddling on. Up ahead was the park gate and as I cleared the view of the pay both I could see Debra’s car on the other side. “What a relief,” I thought and was excited to stop. It was only 200 vertical feet past where we were going to stop, but it seemed too far for me. She wanted to get inside the gate so she could use the facilities and now she was napping in the car. I tapped gently on the window as to not startle her out of her slumber.

We were at about 6,400 feet. I had the equivalent of a Mt Diablo climb left. I could see the visitor’s center from where we were. While a good natural next rest stop with it’s store and facilities, it was too close. We picked a place about 900 vertical feet from where we were. I did not want to go more than 1,000 feet at a time.

I continued my climb. The wind was getting really intense. With each switchback it was either a tail wind or a head wind. I could see the top of the mountain now across the barren landscape. I could see each switch back as the road climbed. There were still many to go. I’d been climbing for over 4 hours now. My heart rate finally dropped to where I thought it should be at the beginning and stayed there fo rthe rest of the climb.

At one point as I was riding along I heard a bird chirp sound come up behind me, rather close. It nearly startled me, as this pheasant looking bird ran up beside me. It was about 5 feet beside me running along beside me like a dog chasing a car. It did not seem aggressive, but more like it was fascinated with me and was checking me out. Soon my brain registered that this was a rare Nene bird. These are an endangered species that are native only to Haleakala. It is even rare to see one up here and here was this one, running right beside me. I felt so welcomed by the mountain and honored. I slowed to a stop as the bird did also and it move away a bit. I took a quick cell phone quality photo. the image did not turn out. The bird slowly walked away and I rode on.

At 7,500 feet, there was Debra. This time she had her computer out and was working hard on he manuscript. She got all the napping in that she needed to get caught up on her sleep. ¾ of the way, I could taste the summit. There was one more switchback left and then a straight shot to the top. My legs were still feeling good and I had plenty of energy. There was no doubt that I would soon be completing my goal.

On last rest stop at the last switchback, 9,100 feet. I’m too excited to stop long and continue on past the last switchback. It’s now a straight shot. The mile marker on the side of the road says two miles. I’m heading in the direction of the wind, but it seems to gust unpredictably. Sometimes at my tail, where I feel like a sailboat being pushed up the hill and other time it whips around at my head blowing me to a standstill. At one point it hit me so hard from the side it almost knocked me over. I keep to the center of the road as to now be blown off the side.

haleakala5Up ahead are the observatories that represent the top. As I get closer, to the left is the visitor’s center. This is still not the top. Looming ahead at the very peak is the observation tower. That is where I must go. I see the cars climbing a steep road, this last ½ a mile. I know it’s going to be tough. I don’t know why, but they always seem to make the last little bit of a climb twice as steep. It’s that way with Mt Tam and Diablo as well. I’m in my lowest gear standing, climbing the last few hundred yards. The wind is blowing me back and forth, up and down. Soon I see the parking lot. Debra is there with her camera. I ride up to her as she snaps a picture and I give her a hug. I’m still not there. There is a small walkway leading up to the observation tower from the parking lot. There there is a sign that says 10,028 feet, the absolute summit. The wind is chilly and Debra grabs her coat and runs up after me. I reach the sign and get off my bike. Victory! I have made it. A few more pictures. Debra is cold and she heads back to the car. I ride down to the car. No, I’m not riding down the mountain. Not with this wind, not when I have a warm car to tuck my bike into. Shortly after I get back to the car, four other cyclists reach the summit. We are the only cyclist climbing up that day. They completed the climb in 4:50 minutes, an hour and 40 minutes faster than I. If they mountain had been a little higher they would have past me.

Debra stays in her car working on her manuscript as I stretch out my legs. Soon I am done and we head down the hill. I feel good. Not too tired. My legs still feel strong and I still have plenty of energy. I am sunburned.


Shark Attack

It was about three in the morning.  I knew I would not be able to sleep.  I had all my stuff ready for the morning and went to bed around ten, a couple of hours before I usually do.  Here it was five hours later and I was still awake.  I would describe my state as excited.  Not the kind of excited that one feels before Christmas as a child, no this was the excitement of going into something new and not knowing what to expect … whether one would succeed or fail.  This excitement can take the form of anxiety or enthusiasm depending on the state of mind, and my mind was fluctuating between the two.  In about three hours my alarm clock would go off and I would be off to my first Olympic distance triathlon.  I’ve done a few smaller ones throughout the year, but I was not certain I had what would take to finish one at this distance.

You know what the mind can do, I guess to entertain one when the excitement is keeping one awake?  Mine makes up stories.  This following story was one such story my mind made up that night.  No, this did not really happen, only in the imagination of an excited mind:

It was my first time swimming in the Bay in a wet suit.  I had every intention to get out and practice a little before today, but as fate would have it, I did not.  I just picked up the rented wetsuit the day before, took it out to the bay and jumped in for a little practice.  I only stayed long enough to know that I would be able to move in it, but I did not swim, for I had left my swim goggles at home.

Here it was now on race day.  It was ten minutes before my wave and we were allowed to get into the water.  There I was bobbing up and down with 100 other swimmers in my age group waiting for the starting gun.  Wetsuits do make one more buoyant and I did not have to tread water to stay afloat.  Perhaps the next time I’ll wait other five minutes before I get in the water to avoid all this bobbing.

Finally, the gun went off and we were off.  I keep towards the back because I know I’m not fast.  There were six legs to this 1 mile swim.  As usual, the first few hundred yards were tough as I get used to my new environment.  I like to joke with myself that for the first few hundred yards that I feel like a fish out of water.  Anyway, I made the first two legs and was well into the third when it happened …

I was just kicking into gear when I felt a disturbance in the water forcing me to the left shortly before an intense pain of several knives in my abdomen.  I was completely out of control with pain and this force that has pushed me far out of my path.

I remember from a Biology class that I took one year in college about the phenomena of flocking.  When animals flock it increases their individual chances of surviving a predator’s attack.  I don’t remember the exact figures, but it goes something like this: if an animal is alone and a predator attacks there is a 75% chance it will be caught.  If the animal is in a flock the chances go down to about 1 or 2%, I guess depending on the size of the flock.  The remarkable other side to this statistic is that flocking also increases the chances that the predator will catch something.  Their 75% will go up to about 95%.  What an incredible phenomena then, flocking is to the world of nature.  It increases the chance of survival on both ends.

So, I figured, out there in the bay that day, in a flock of triathletes, the probability of that shark catching one was rather high … especially considering there are not any man eating sharks in the bay and until just now there has never been a shark attack on a human in the bay.  So what was the probability it would be me?  Perhaps I should have played the lottery today instead.  So the shark quickly let me go once it realized that I was not the tasty morsel of a seal that it thought I was, but that did not change the fact that I was not going to be able to finish the race.  The life guard was quickly by my side pulling me up on their handy surf board, and paddled me back to shore and off to the hospital I went.

And that was how I DNFed on my first ever Olympic distance triathlon.