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by SS at 7:34 am on Wednesday 10th June

It's finished! As I mentioned way back in November, I had committed to the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, a historic triathlon that involves jumping off a boat into the San Francisco Bay, swimming to the city, biking around a bit and then running around a bit.

The swim is really the most significant aspect of the triathlon and it's the one I prepared the most for. Preparation started in ernest at the end of 2014 and my motivation really kicked in after my cousin Rita told me more or less that I was an idiot for attempting to swim a distance on my injured shoulder. If there's anything that I hate more than anything, it's being told I can't do something - so this really helped :).

The day of the event began at 3:20 am with a hastily consumed bowl of Trader Joe's granola decorated with a severely overripened banana. The banana was potentially a mistake because I immediately felt nauseous. At 3:35, dad and I were on the road to San Francisco. My phone battery was at 14% because, in the age of technological progress, it was deemed wise to manufacture a USB cable so thin that it could feasibly be plugged in upside down and the user would be none the wiser.

Thankfully it lasted long enough for us to reach San Francisco and at that point I reassembled my bike, gave my dad the phone with 6% of battery remaining and wished him luck with navigating to a parking spot. (He ended up finding parking near by and attempted to nap for a couple of hours.)

Arriving at the transition area at 4:15am, there was already a long line of riders waiting to enter. A female triathlete in a foul mood asked a volunteer why it was necessary for them to queue at this time. He shrugged and said he didn't know, as she rushed away to the end of the line. Another triathlete jumped in and said to the volunteer, "thank you, by the way, for giving up your time to be here."

Once in, I was very happy with my position at the end of the rack. An officious looking woman observed me laying out my towel underneath my bike and insisted that I make sure I didn't extend out too far outside of the rack. Given that my towel was perhaps 30 centimetres in width and the adjacent walkway was several metres wide, I could only laugh.

By the time I racked up, it was 4:30 am and I decided that it was probably wiser to use a porta-toilet before donning my wetsuit, for the obvious convenience. At this time there was already a substantial queue and so I was forced to take the first stall that was available, a structure that lacked the most basic stability from the outside and gave me the very real sensation while inside that I was about to re-enact that scene from Family Guy where Peter's porta-toilet falls over. Euch.

At 4:50am, the line for the bike pump was about 50 athletes deep. Meanwhile, outside, the line to get into the transition area had a couple of hundred athletes in it. While I was initially miffed at the early start to the event, it turns out to have been A Good Idea.

One of the best things about arriving so ridiculously early was that I got to make several acquaintances from around the world. In particular, there was the British woman who had flown in from New Zealand, the British man who had flown in from Toronto, the Rice university student who was the sole competitive triathlete in their club, the French man who was here for a second time and the German man who was a professional triathlete.

I got to the boat at just after 5am and gave up everything that I didn't need for the swim (including my glasses) and found a comfortable spot on the carpet next to a fence they had erected a few feet from the starboard windows to stop the boat getting unbalanced as people jumped off. Later, after I remarked that the carpet was actually fairly comfortable, the German pro mentioned I should notice how the carpet is wet as we leave. That, apparently, is from triathletes who don't wish to queue for the limited toilets on the boat. Euch.

Speaking of the limited toilets, one of the few possessions I had with me that I wasn't swimming with was a water bottle. Staying hydrated is important and I finished that bottle fairly quickly. However, now snugly wrapped up in a wetsuit, it made visits to the facilities somewhat tedious. The first was okay, given enough space in a stall, but the second and third involved significant queueing and some careful balance (I'm adamant my wetsuit will be exposed mostly to water).

1.5 hours later, we were close to departing. I felt like a nap. The adrenaline from waking up at 3:15am had mostly worn off. There wasn't, however, any space to lie down. Walking to the bathrooms involved hopping into tiny triangles in between excited triathletes. It would have been nice to do the Escape with a friend.

The boat departed at 6:34. There was much cheering. I was nervous.

At just after 7, we completed a circuit of the Alcatraz island. Athletes were stretching on the balcony. The queue for the bathroom was the entire length of the boat.

As it approached 7:30, the American national anthem played. I started an activity on my watch. It was searching for a GPS signal.

At 7:30, triathletes clustered at each end of the starboard side, where there were two openings in the rails. The fog horn rang. A loud cheer erupted, simultaneously with the almost non-stop sound of beeping as athletes walked over the timing mats and jumped off the boat. I made my way towards the exit at the back of the starboard side.

I walked over the timing mat. It beeped, many times, as others also walked over. There was little time to think, I wanted to walk straight off but ended up walking to the right to find a gap in the row of people jumping off. My watch was still searching for a GPS signal.

The water wasn't actually that cold. And the waves, they weren't that bad. I was disappointed. My competitive advantage was partially in the fact that I'd trained for the intensity of the Alcatraz swim, but the water that day, it was flat. The fastest swimmers apparently finished in 25 minutes or so. I took 40 minutes.

Unlike the HITS Napa triathlon I did, where I had elbows and feet hitting me from all angles, I only got hit a couple of times by other swimmers. One of those swimmers was going the wrong way, so I kept swimming into him. He continued trying to cross my path but I swore under my breath and kept going. He eventually gave up. I like to think I saved him some energy.

Swimming the Bay with 2,000 other swimmers was unlike anything I've ever done before. I felt like I was in a school of triathletes, each mostly swimming autonomously yet collectively we were all going the same way and helping each other navigate that way. Swimming in open water is so unlike anything else - there's nothing quite as expansive and as uniform as the surface of the sea.

After a while (well, 40 minutes), I arrived at the shore. I had left a shirt and a pair of shoes in a bag which was left out there. A volunteer helped me pull my wetsuit off. The shoes and shirt went on, and I overtook a number of people trying to run the half a mile to the bike racks in their wetsuits. Heh.

Bike shoes on, a run out to the mount point and I was off. The wind was at my back. I overtook a number of triathletes struggling to get up to speed on the flat. The hills came quickly enough, though, and I slowed down. Ostensibly, I was preserving energy for the run.

The bike course for the Escape is lovely, a hilly course around San Francisco with some lovely corners. That morning was foggy and descending into the fog on the return trip was much fun. I was adventurous, undeterred by the sight of an athlete who wrecked going down one of the downhills and who was now covered in blood and strapped to a body board being loaded into an ambulance. Out of towners struggle with the hills, particularly if they insist on using tri bikes.

There was a pungent smell emanating from my brake pads after a couple of the downhills. I'm glad I updated them a few weeks ago, they made the corners much more enjoyable.

While in Golden Gate Park, I made friends with a bearded, tattooed chap with a great shorts/jersey combination which were covered in flame graphics. These matched his tattoos well. I commented on this and we had a lovely conversation about Pittsburgh, from which he traveled.

The end of the bike was sad, for me, because running is mostly just pain. I put my new running shoes on and ran out. There's nothing sadder than a runner wearing cycling lycra but I'm too cheap to buy a tri-suit and too Indian to fit well within my cycling lycra.

On my way out, I overheard my dad directing my roommate Ryan to his location and was amused. My friend Alberto, an impressive triathlete who was there as a supporter, yelled "Go Sunil!". I smiled. A few metres later, a lady burst into laughter and commented, "what a great smile!".

The run was slow from the beginning. I was quickly overtaken by many of the athletes I had overtaken earlier while cycling. Still, I enjoyed the scenery and was the subject of a couple of comments, "You've traveled a long way from Cambridge!". One of these was from another 27 year old called Rob, with whom I confided that I was too cheap to buy a new jersey. We had a surprisingly in-depth conversation about why there are so many fast 40 year old triathletes and so few late twenty-somethings. He was faster at running than I was, so I bade him goodbye and continued on.

The finish to the triathlon was odd. You run past people who've already finished and families doing ordinary things. You can taste the end but you're not there yet. There's a good few hundred yards of grass to run through. The grass was slippery and my balance was suspicious. I didn't trip though.

Running through the inflatable finish gate, I was happy that it was over, that I finished. Also, a little underwhelmed. I'd expected that at the end of this accomplishment, my legs would be full of lactic acid, or I'd be ravenous, or faint. I felt fine. Perhaps I should have run faster ;-).

I had an assortment of friends and my dad waiting for me at the finish line. Actually, that's something of a lie, most of my friends arrived a minute after I finished because apparently my time prediction was perhaps a little too accurate - but they were there and that was wonderful! Thank you!

The hardest aspect of becoming a triathlete for any sort of event longer than a sprint distance triathlon is figuring out how to manage your time. The last six months or so have been an endless battle between my social obligations (mostly voluntary, mind you) and this underlying fear that I wasn't training enough. Well, it turns out that less is more - at first I overtrained and I was hellishly tired at work. Then I started training less, sleeping more and suddenly started breaking PRs on Strava.

The momentum is addictive and it'll probably carry me through to a half Ironman distance triathlon in September. My next challenge has already been set though - in March 2016, Phil and I will be participating in the Cape Epic, a notorious mountain bike race described as "the Tour de France of mountain biking".

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"Our thoughts define our reality." - Anon.