watching the 2013 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon 13

Alberto, Christine and me across form Golden Gate

Alberto, Christine and me across form Golden Gate


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

Pro men leaders exiting Swim Javier Gomez is #2

Pro men leaders exiting Swim Javier Gomez is #2

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’s

Age grouper on his way out of T1

Age grouper on his way out of T1

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.

Jesse Thomas starts run out.

Third place Jesse  Thomas starts run out. True to fashion he’s wearing his “Aviators”

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.

Pete Jacobs at the finihs line

Pete Jacobs 2012 Ironman champ happily finishing the race.

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.

Ironman champion Leanda cave, enjoys her finish.

women’s Ironman champion Leanda Cave, enjoys her finish.

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.


Men's winner Javier Gomez crosses finish line

Men’s winner Javier Gomez crosses finish line

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,

13 thoughts on “watching the 2013 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

  1. Reply tonyb Mar 8,2013 9:07 pm

    To minimize this from happening to you, if you do triathlons , Do a warm up swim shortly before the event, so your body acclimates to the water, and you minimize effects of the mammalian dive reflex and thermal shock associated with rapid immersion into cold water. problem here is there is no warm up , they jump off the boat cold turkey, (shame on the race director for this) . Doing that can exacerbate the above effects, and expose cardiac weaknesses or panic conditions.

  2. Reply MichelleWeeats Mar 5,2013 8:12 am

    I swam in San Fran bay last week, it was 52 degrees.

  3. Reply PJ Mar 5,2013 9:35 pm

    It’s sad that a death happened, but there are worse and crappier ways to go.. just look at “1000 ways to die” on Spike TV.

  4. Reply JanetL Mar 9,2013 7:22 am

    plunge your body into cold water you are taking a chance.

  5. Reply NancyD. Mar 4,2013 4:06 pm

    Cool Photos, how did you get such nice pics, what camera did you use.

    • Reply abrandao Mar 19,2013 5:48 am

      Most photos were taken with My Nikon D5100, with a 35-135 Nikor lens. You need to use a DSLR to capture the fast action of the race like this.. Also the organizers had a nice grandstand setup at the finish and it made it easy to get a good seat and watch the action.

  6. Reply RealDope Mar 11,2013 6:22 am

    Much better to go out that way than living to be 99, wearing a diaper, drooling your food and staring into a corner in a nursing home.

  7. Reply PaulPandit Mar 12,2013 7:00 pm

    I did this race two years ago, and the initial shock of 52 degree water was… Well… invirograting to say the least. The water is filthy and you can barely see anything because of the waves. Good thing is you swim with the current.

  8. Reply WesternWall Mar 5,2013 8:12 am

    Maybe they should rename the race…Escape from Alcatraz or Die trying…

  9. Reply JonesL. Mar 10,2013 3:20 pm

    I saw Andy Potts on the side lines, he looked fine to me, anyone know why he didnt start.

  10. Reply MandyMo Mar 6,2013 12:47 pm

    Leanda and Pete J must have cashed some nice appearance fees? wonder how much…

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