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A Grueling Race to Swim-Bike-Run

Any race on the pro triathlon circuit can be envisioned to examination the outer limits of human endurance, self-induced punishment, and nutritional complement sponsorship. But only just one has a starting off line that would’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 yearly Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon turns 40—fully afloat in the wake of 2020’s canceled function, thanks to the pandemic, and however the scariest 3-aspect race named soon after a former most-safety jail.

Triathlete Ben Kanute finishing swim
Ben Kanute will compete this 12 months for his document fourth consecutive earn. Courtesy Impression


















“That 1st soar is a quite surprising jolt every time,” says specialist triathlete Ben Kanute, EFAT’s reigning 3-time champion, about the commence of the race.

That notorious commence has rivals leap into San Francisco Bay from a passenger ferry parked in the vicinity of Alcatraz Island. Which is followed by a breathless one.five-mile swim to the deceivingly distant Marina District shore of San Francisco via darkish, choppy, fifty five- to sixty-diploma h2o with treacherous currents and the odd laughing sea lion. “You definitely have to mentally put together on your own for that swim,” says Kanute. “It’s type of a cost-free-for-all out there at 1st. Then things commence to settle down and just go sort of numb—including your arms and face.”

For the duration of the famously “escape-proof” offshore prison’s many years of operation (1934–63), many Alcatraz inmates graciously pretested this 1st leg of the triathlon course all through more than a dozen breakout bids from the Rock. All were being unsuccessful (a lot of fatal), apart from potentially for just one 1962 endeavor by 3 inmates who either made it all the way across the bay without having a trace. Or did not.

“We do not suggest this to be a participant’s 1st triathlon,” says Jennifer Lau, VP of Action Sports for function-runner IMG, which will also be launching its inaugural Escape Aquathlon race (Aug. 14) that same weekend, consisting of an abbreviated 750-meter bay swim and 5K operate. “The open-h2o swim is like no other in the environment, and just one of the most difficult in the sport,” says Lau. “It’s like crossing a rapid racing river with hundreds of thousands of gallons of h2o flowing out underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Runner walking up Sand Ladder with San Francisco Bridge in the background.
Postcard sights are minor consolation on the misery-inducing Sand Ladder. Courtesy Impression

Off the Rock

The remaining two-thirds of the triathlon contain touring some of the prettiest corners of San Francisco’s Presidio and Golden Gate Nationwide Recreation Spot at prime pace on an 18-mile bike course full of brutal hills and turns, and managing a punishing eight-mile multiterrain course on pavement, grass, dirt, beach and a horrible set of cliff stairs known as the Sand Ladder.

“At the Sand Ladder, you’re generally managing up a steep, huge dune,” says Kanute of the 200-in addition primitive picket slat techniques awaiting wobbly triathletes at Baker Seaside. “It’s yet another aspect of this race the place you just have to accept that it is gonna hurt.”

Conceived all through the early many years of triathlon level of competition as a shorter, meaner option to Hawaii’s Ironman slog, the 1st Escape race was held in 1981 with zero fanfare. A modest pack of neoprene-a lot less 1st-generation triathletes knocked out a swim from Alcatraz, followed by a former model of the course that sent cyclists across the Golden Gate Bridge into the grueling hills of Marin County and a operate on the notorious Double Dipsea trail leading up and down Mount Tamalpais, the region’s optimum peak.

Now solely centered in San Francisco, EFAT’s cycling and managing courses have adjusted more than the many years. So have the quantity of individuals, ballooning from an primary 200 predominantly local rivals to 2,000 triathletes from much more than 50 international locations. A random attract technique was set in put to manage the triathlon’s ten,000-in addition candidates, who may possibly have as lower as a 30 % prospect of receiving in. This year’s inaugural Aquathlon guide-up race is intended to appease some of the overflow.

What hasn’t adjusted about the triathlon in its historic forty seasons?

“I consider almost certainly just the whole feel of it—the amazing obstacle, the unpredictable conditions, the amazing location and vibe, and naturally that swim. It’s definitely just one of the previous classics in the triathlon environment,” says Kanute, a Rio Olympian who’s aiming for a men’s document fourth-consecutive EFAT title in a winner’s circle that contains a lot of of the biggest names in the sport more than the previous 4 many years.

“Whether you’re going for 1st or 500th put,” the prime-seeded triathlete adds, “it is however just one hard race.”

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