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Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon: A Grueling Race to Swim-Bike-Run

Any race on the professional triathlon circuit might be anticipated to check the outer limits of human endurance, self-induced punishment, and dietary complement sponsorship. However just one has a beginning line that will’ve made Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly pee their Speedos. That honor belongs to the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon (EFAT).

On Aug. 14–15, the annual Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon turns 40—absolutely afloat within the wake of 2020’s canceled occasion, as a result of pandemic, and nonetheless the scariest three-part race named after a former maximum-security jail.

Ben Kanute will compete this yr for his document fourth consecutive win. Courtesy Picture

“That first bounce is a reasonably stunning jolt each time,” says skilled triathlete Ben Kanute, EFAT’s reigning three-time champion, concerning the begin of the race.

That notorious begin has rivals leap into San Francisco Bay from a passenger ferry parked close to Alcatraz Island. That’s adopted by a breathless 1.5-mile swim to the deceivingly distant Marina District shore of San Francisco by darkish, uneven, 55- to 60-degree water with treacherous currents and the odd laughing sea lion. “You actually should mentally put together your self for that swim,” says Kanute. “It’s kind of a free-for-all on the market at first. Then issues begin to calm down and simply go form of numb—together with your fingers and face.”

Throughout the famously “escape-proof” offshore jail’s years of operation (1934–63), quite a few Alcatraz inmates graciously pretested this primary leg of the triathlon course throughout over a dozen breakout bids from the Rock. All have been unsuccessful (many deadly), besides probably for one 1962 try by three inmates who both made all of it the best way throughout the bay with no hint. Or didn’t.

“We don’t suggest this to be a participant’s first triathlon,” says Jennifer Lau, VP of Motion Sports activities for event-runner IMG, which will even be launching its inaugural Escape Aquathlon race (Aug. 14) that very same weekend, consisting of an abbreviated 750-meter bay swim and 5K run. “The open-water swim is like no different on the earth, and one of the crucial troublesome within the sport,” says Lau. “It’s like crossing a fast racing river with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water flowing out below the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Postcard views are little comfort on the misery-inducing Sand Ladder. Courtesy Picture

Off the Rock

The remaining two-thirds of the triathlon embrace touring a number of the prettiest corners of San Francisco’s Presidio and Golden Gate Nationwide Recreation Space at prime velocity on an 18-mile bike course stuffed with brutal hills and turns, and working a punishing eight-mile multiterrain course on pavement, grass, dust, seaside and a nasty set of cliff stairs known as the Sand Ladder.

“On the Sand Ladder, you’re principally working up a steep, big dune,” says Kanute of the 200-plus primitive picket slat steps awaiting wobbly triathletes at Baker Seaside. “It’s one other a part of this race the place you simply have to just accept that it’s gonna harm.”

Conceived throughout the early years of triathlon competitors as a shorter, meaner various to Hawaii’s Ironman slog, the primary Escape race was held in 1981 with zero fanfare. A small pack of neoprene-less first-generation triathletes knocked out a swim from Alcatraz, adopted by a former model of the course that despatched cyclists throughout the Golden Gate Bridge into the grueling hills of Marin County and a run on the infamous Double Dipsea path main up and down Mount Tamalpais, the area’s highest peak.

Now completely based mostly in San Francisco, EFAT’s biking and working programs have modified through the years. So have the variety of individuals, ballooning from an unique 200 primarily native rivals to 2,000 triathletes from greater than 50 international locations. A random draw system was put in place to deal with the triathlon’s 10,000-plus candidates, who might have as little as a 30 % probability of getting in. This yr’s inaugural Aquathlon lead-up race is supposed to appease a number of the overflow.

What hasn’t modified concerning the triathlon in its historic 40 seasons?

“I feel in all probability simply the entire really feel of it—the unimaginable problem, the unpredictable situations, the wonderful setting and vibe, and clearly that swim. It’s actually one of many final classics within the triathlon world,” says Kanute, a Rio Olympian who’s aiming for a males’s document fourth-consecutive EFAT title in a winner’s circle that features most of the largest names within the sport over the previous 4 a long time.

“Whether or not you’re going for first or five hundredth place,” the top-seeded triathlete provides, “it’s nonetheless one robust race.”

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