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Escape from Alcatraz 2015: San Francisco's Triathlon
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Escape from Alcatraz 2015: San Francisco's Triathlon

Picture of Ellen Frank-Delgado
Updated: 8 January 2017
On Saturday, June 7th, 2015, San Franciscans had the opportunity to witness the triathlon of all triathlons. Described as a favorite event among Triathletes, the IMG-produced Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon requires participants to undertake the traditional swim, bike, run combination. However, what makes Escape from Alcatraz truly unique is the fact that triathletes begin the race at Alcatraz Island. We find out more.
200 swimmers per minute exit the Bay © Ellen Frank-Delgado
200 swimmers per minute exit the Bay | © Ellen Frank-Delgado

The first Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon was first held in 1981, when the Alcatraz Swim and the Dipsea Race were combined. Part of the race’s appeal is the physical demand being over that of any other typical triathlon. Yet, there is also a mystique surrounding the race, because of Alcatraz’s rich history. For instance, this year’s race was held nearly 53 years after the June 11th 1962 prison escape of Frank Lee Morris and the Anglin brothers. The inmates were rumoured to have fashioned a raft out of over 50 raincoats, but their survival across the bay is still questioned by authorities.

Even so, each year, World Champions, Olympic Medalists, amateur adventure seekers, and local San Francisco crazies sign up to endure the 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz. The bay’s chilly temperatures mean most athletes will wear wetsuits. Even so, many participants, such as those from the SF Dolphin Club, prefer speedos to ensure onlookers truly comprehend their levels of insanity. This year, the bay was warmer than usual at 60°F (15.5° C). Unfortunately, this increased the difficulty of the swim, with extra foamy and choppier waves than previous years. Add this to the fact that the bay has powerful currents roaming with sharks, and you begin to understand why crowds come out to support the 1,811 athletes, beginning at 7:30am.

Crowds begin to form awaiting swimmers from Alcatraz Island © Ellen Frank-Delgado
Crowds begin to form awaiting swimmers from Alcatraz Island | © Ellen Frank-Delgado

Once ashore, triathletes relearn how to operate on land as they run towards their bicycles at Marina Green. As they run, participants must also peel off their wetsuits and throw on their biking gear. If you wonder what this scene looks like, be sure to search ‘Baby Giraffe Learns to Walk for First Time‘on YouTube. At this point, many participants from sponsored relay teams will switch and allow a co-worker to conquer the gruelling 18-mile bike ride over San Francisco’s infamous hills. Relay teams participate as part of the corporate challenge, where businesses have the opportunity to win the ‘Keys to the Rock’ Perpetual Trophy for one year. This year, nearby Sausalito’s Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners marketing agency won the trophy.

Triathletes begin bike portion of race © Ellen Frank-Delgado
Triathletes begin bike portion of race | © Ellen Frank-Delgado

After biking through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, triathletes return to Marina Green where they transition to the eight-mile run. The run leads escapees to Baker Beach to conquer a 400-step Sand Ladder. Although the ladder normally resembles a sand staircase, participants reflected on how the deep sand had all converged to form one exhausting hill. Even so, triathletes who survived the stairs and completed the race ranged from 16 years old to the ever-impressive 77 years old.

Triathletes run under the Golden Gate Bridge on their way back to the finish line at Marina Green. The end to the 2015 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon proved especially exciting this year, as 25-year old Eric Lagerstrom outran 38-year old (and six-time champion) Andy Potts by a mere two seconds. Although the triathlon was made up of 77% males, Ashleigh Gentle finished 1st in her category and just 11 minutes behind champion Eric Lagerstrom. This race was the first appearance for both champions.

Six-time champion Andy Potts begins his run © Ellen Frank-Delgado
Six-time champion Andy Potts begins his run | © Ellen Frank-Delgado

Be sure to add the 2016 Escape from Alcatraz race to your bucket list. You could join participants from over 20 countries including Ukraine, Mexico, New Zealand, and Colombia. Even if you are not ready to ‘tri’ to Escape from Alcatraz yourself, the event is not one to be missed. With features like a food court, a beer garden, multiple sweepstakes and product sampling, even those not looking to dive head first into the San Francisco Bay can enjoy the race.

The finish line overlooking Alcatraz Island © Ellen Frank-Delgado
The finish line overlooking Alcatraz Island | © Ellen Frank-Delgado