The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon one of the most iconic races amongst the multisport community, one which you have to qualify to participate in due to its challenging course. It consists of a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz Island, 18mile bike through the hills of San Francisco and 8 mile run which includes more hills, trails, stairs, deep sandy beach, and another staircase consisting of sand! In my 8 years of competing in triathlon, I has always hoped to one day toe the line, or I should say toe the edge of a ferry at Escape from Alcatraz. This race was always attractive to me for 2 reasons:
1. The challenge it presented to swim the 1.5 miles from Alcatraz in cold, strong waters in which you must be a strong swimmer to complete. Mind you, Alcatraz was built there due to the waters being thought as unmanageable for any inmate to be able to swim across and escape!
2. The unusual distances compared to your typical triathlons.
Sprint (.5 mile swim, ~15 mile bike, 3.1 mile run)
Olympic (1 mile swim, ~24 mile bike , 6.2 mile run)
Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run)
Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run)
**Escape from Alcatraz (1.5 mile swim, 18 mile bike, 8 mile run)
This race was always very attractive to me because of its longer swim and run in comparison to the bike portion. I am a strong swimmer and runner, and do a lot of trail and beach running which are both part of the run course. The bike is much shorter, but very hilly and technical which I am good at. It also doesn’t allow for people to get that far ahead due to the constant changes in elevation and stop and go of sharp turns. The run course is has many changes in terrain and elevation which are also to my advantage, being strong on hills, stairs and in the sand! Swimming has become my strongest leg, which over the years of competition I have mastered swimming in open water of all conditions, so this race was exciting for me to be a part of.
Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon is not your everyday race that you can just sign up for on a whim. You have to qualify to get in, which takes being a very serious competitor. For years I had wanted to qualify to do this, but I had never been able to do the one qualifying race that is on the east coast, until last year. I qualified at the Westchester Olympic distance triathlon last September of 2016, and was given a slot to Alcatraz which I had just a couple weeks to decide to sign up for or not! This came with a hefty race entry fee along with all the flight and travel costs to get myself and all my equipment to the west coast. Signing up for races so far in advance always causes hesitation as well, what if I can’t train as much before it? What if I’m injured? What If something comes up? But I signed up of course! We decided we would make a trip of it, kind of like a continuation of our mini- honeymoon we spent in southern California, this time up north!
From the time I signed up, throughout the 8 months until race day, I kept in good shape and got extremely strong in the pool. Over the years the swim had become my strength, and this year I really felt I stepped it up a bit, swimming regularly with a Masters program and working a lot on my other strokes (butterfly, back and breast strokes that is). I definitely could have biked more, especially over the winter, but that’s pretty typical of me. As for running, that’s always my least consistent, but continues to be my strongest leg! I am lucky to be able to get away with the little run training that I do, but continue to hold strong paces.
Fast forward to June 8, and we are on our way to San Francisco! We land around 8pm and take a short 30 min uber to our air b and b. We were located in the most perfect spot for both seeing the sights of San Fran, and for convenience of being near the race site. We walked about 12 miles the first day we were there, starting with an awesome breakfast at Sweet Maple ( I highly recommend if you are in the area http://www.sweetmaplesf.com/ ) lots of walking to the golden gate bridge park, the race site, Ghiridhelli square and ended with a swim in aquatic park , and an early bird dinner overlooking the bay. Let me just say now, being in bed by 830pm was a trend on this trip! Day 2 entailed all the usual pre-race prep. Picked up my bike from tri bike transport (which was so well worth the $$ to ship it) , got my race bag full of escape from Alcatraz garb and my number, listened to the athlete meeting, cooked dinner at our place and went to bed EARLY. 4am wake up to have a quick breakfast, go to the bathroom and head out.
RACE DAY! Was ready to rise, and had no problem getting up to shove food in my face and get out the door! The temperatures out there were cooler than those on the east coast in June, brisk mornings around 55 degrees and highs in the mid to late 60s which would mean it’d be a chilly race. I bundled in my usual sweats and even wore a winter hat. I got to transition area to set up, and head to the buses which would take us to the pier where we boarded the ferry to Alcatraz. A lot of people were wearing booties and extra thick swim caps for warmth. I initially just had my wetsuit, but brought a pair of swim booties just in case. I may be a strong swimmer, but my body doesn’t always react well in super cold water. I had luckily swam in aquatic park 2 days before the race to acclimate a bit, and did so without my wetsuit! I swam about 20 min and I think all the hype about the race being so COLD was worse than it actually felt. This gave me a boost of confidence for when I was to jump in on race day.
About 2000 athletes fill the pier and filter their way onto the San Francisco Belle which we would be jumping off of to swim across the bay. There is a feeling of excitement and nerves that fill the air…which is quickly broken by an announcement on the loud speaker. “The coast guard has issued a small boat advisory in the bay…(which was followed by a silence, and then repeated)…The coast guard has issued a small boat advisory, and the conditions are too rough to allow the swim portion of the race to go on, the swim has been cancelled , and all racers must exit the boat.” I think I saw a sense of relief on some faces and major disappointment in others, mostly disappointment as this race is really all about the swim! Never in the 30 years of doing this race has the swim ever been cancelled! I knew the water would be rough, as that is the premise of the race and Alcatraz island being placed where it is! But, the conditions that morning were unlike days in the past. The kayakers couldn’t even get out into the water to their positions because they were being blown over and white caps coming up over the boats. Supposedly there had been unusual currents in the bay this time of year due to the weather and runoff into the bay. There was no way they could throw 2000 people into the water. I was completely shocked and bummed out. I really wanted to see how I did on this swim. They held the bike and run portions, starting with a TT bike start. This took a bit of time to get organized. Once I set off on the bike, it was a weird feeling to not be soaking wet and a little frazzled from a hard swim. 30mph winds were blowing at us while we biked. At one point I was going downhill and not moving! This made for an even slower bike time then I usually have! Once I hit the run though I felt in my element. I went hard the first 2 flat miles and passed the most people on all the hills, sand stairs and beach portions as this is my strong suit. I ended up having one of the fastest runs among BOTH women and men AG!
After the race it was SUPER windy and all I wanted to do was get some food and move on with our trip down the coast! Jeff and I had rented a car and drove down to Carmel by the Sea, about 1.5 hrs from San Fran. We stayed in a great hotel called The Hideaway (highly recommend) which was one of many quaint, cozy inns nestled in the main town. We stayed here for three nights and covered every square inch of town and coastline during this time as we were on the go every day! We filled our days with lots walking, hiking and biking (oh, and Jeff would include eating as well!). One of our favorite days was biking to a great hiking area called Point Lobos, about 6-8 miles from the town of Carmel that covers the most spectacular coastline I’ve seen. We biked there, hiked 8 miles and biked back. To end the day we had a great dinner at a Ranch outside of town called Mission Ranch Inn. It was a perfect mix of farm and beach (my two favorites), overlooking a field of sheep that leads to the ocean. We had a nice dinner on the porch watching the sunset. A perfect way to end our last night in Carmel!