I had the opportunity to visit some friends near San Francisco , and got a chance to watch live the 33rd edition of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. This is an fantastic spectator race with a very scenic backdrop , SF bay , the bridge and of course Alcatraz Island.
The race is a modified Olympic distance triathlon 1.5 mile swim, 18 mile hilly bike course and a 8 mile run course. Its allure is the adventure of jumping off the notorious Alcatraz prison island into SF bay, swimming to the beach (the escape part) and then taking a scenic tour of the Presidio district of San Francisco by bike and on foot.
The pro field was pretty deep, although defending champ Andy Potts had to withdraw last minute, other very strong contenders took part. Among them were Javier Gomez Noya, Jesse Thomas, Pete Jacobs, which are world class triathletes. The women’s field was also equally deep with Olympian Sarah Groff , Heather Jackson and Linsk.
The pro race played out much as expected , with 2012 London Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez winning the men’s division and Heather Jackson running strong and coming form behind to beat Sarah Groff.
Watching the Race…
Being our first time watching the race the trick was trying to find good locations to catch key action . The athletes push off the San Francisco Bell boat, floating near the tip of Alcatraz . All you see is the boat at Alcatraz , then the athletes go off an a wash of arms and legs churn in the water. About 30 minutes later the pro field begins to emerge from the water, you can be right there at the beach which is a short shallow beach . From there its a 0.5 mile run up to the transition.
After the leaders exited we walked slowly back ad watched the action unfold as a constant stream of age groupers , cheering the on , encouraging them and enjoying the event. Its different being a fan rather than a competitor since your cheering for everyone, and urging them on.
At the bike out the leaders were long gone and we got a chance to watch the less then elegant mounts by the age groupers (AG) . Its surprising seeing how many AG appear to be trying flying mounts, or mounting with shoes in the pedals and its clear they have not practiced it often, surprisingly few tipped over but plenty of congestion when packs were coming out of T1.
About an 1 hour and 15 minutes into the race the first of the pro’s started to come in to do the run. The pro’s smoothly transition from bike to run and in a matter of minutes are back out on the road.
We walked up to the stands at the finish line and got a good position where we could cheer and watch the pro’s come in.. In about 2 hours the first of the men’s finishers started to come in.
This was a great way to watch the finish and action parts of the race, but we did miss out on most of the cycling and running portions especially the infamous sand ladder.
Race marred by competitor death
Sadly we learned later that day that there was a death of one of the age group participants. A 46 year old from Austin, Texas died during the swim portion of the event. Tragically triathlon has been experiencing a slew of swim deaths, during the last few years in several notable races. The causes are varied most are typically the result of stress induced anxiety during the early moments of the swim, that may cause athletes with underlying conditions to succumb to those conditions (heart ailments or respiratory distress) during the sometimes stressful swim segment. Swimming can induce a variety of physiological effects, which can tense or stress a variety of body systems. Even the pro’s are not immune, the sport’s best swimmer (Andy Potts) in a recent talk mentioned that even he occasionally fights panic attacks before the swim. New York times had an excellent article: Draw Attention to Triathlon Swim based on a recent study . In any case condolences to the family of the participant.
Overall it was a very well organized and run race, with many sponsors a well organized finishing shoot , great for spectators, great post meal for athletes. I might consider doing it some year, but this early in the year would not be ideal, its normal time slot of June would be much better,