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A Grueling Race to Swim-Bike-Run

Any race on the professional triathlon circuit can be anticipated to exam the outer limits of human stamina, self-induced punishment, and dietary supplement sponsorship. But only a person has a commencing line that would’ve built 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 once-a-year Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon turns 40—fully afloat in the wake of 2020’s canceled occasion, thanks to the pandemic, and however the scariest three-section race named just after a previous highest-security prison.

Triathlete Ben Kanute finishing swim
Ben Kanute will compete this calendar year for his report fourth consecutive earn. Courtesy Graphic


















“That initially soar is a rather stunning jolt every time,” claims experienced triathlete Ben Kanute, EFAT’s reigning three-time winner, about the commence of the race.

That notorious commence has rivals leap into San Francisco Bay from a passenger ferry parked in close proximity to Alcatraz Island. That is followed by a breathless 1.five-mile swim to the deceivingly distant Marina District shore of San Francisco by way of dim, choppy, fifty five- to sixty-diploma h2o with treacherous currents and the odd laughing sea lion. “You genuinely have to mentally get ready on your own for that swim,” claims Kanute. “It’s kind of a free-for-all out there at initially. Then items commence to settle down and just go form of numb—including your hands and face.”

All through the famously “escape-proof” offshore prison’s a long time of operation (1934–63), quite a few Alcatraz inmates graciously pretested this initially leg of the triathlon study course all through in excess of a dozen breakout bids from the Rock. All were being unsuccessful (lots of deadly), other than possibly for a person 1962 try by three inmates who both built it all the way across the bay with out a trace. Or didn’t.

“We do not advocate this to be a participant’s initially triathlon,” claims Jennifer Lau, VP of Motion Sports for occasion-runner IMG, which will also be launching its inaugural Escape Aquathlon race (Aug. 14) that very same weekend, consisting of an abbreviated 750-meter bay swim and 5K operate. “The open-h2o swim is like no other in the earth, and a person of the most tricky in the sport,” claims Lau. “It’s like crossing a quick racing river with thousands and thousands of gallons of h2o flowing out beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Runner walking up Sand Ladder with San Francisco Bridge in the background.
Postcard sights are small consolation on the distress-inducing Sand Ladder. Courtesy Graphic

Off the Rock

The remaining two-thirds of the triathlon include touring some of the prettiest corners of San Francisco’s Presidio and Golden Gate National Recreation Spot at major pace on an eighteen-mile bike study course entire of brutal hills and turns, and functioning a punishing 8-mile multiterrain study course on pavement, grass, grime, beach and a awful established of cliff stairs named the Sand Ladder.

“At the Sand Ladder, you’re generally functioning up a steep, giant dune,” claims Kanute of the 200-furthermore primitive wooden slat ways awaiting wobbly triathletes at Baker Beach. “It’s an additional section of this race where you just have to accept that it’s gonna damage.”

Conceived all through the early a long time of triathlon competitors as a shorter, meaner choice to Hawaii’s Ironman slog, the initially Escape race was held in 1981 with zero fanfare. A modest pack of neoprene-much less initially-technology triathletes knocked out a swim from Alcatraz, followed by a previous version of the study 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 top up and down Mount Tamalpais, the region’s optimum peak.

Now entirely primarily based in San Francisco, EFAT’s biking and functioning classes have altered in excess of the a long time. So have the quantity of members, ballooning from an authentic 200 mostly community rivals to two,000 triathletes from a lot more than fifty international locations. A random attract procedure was set in position to tackle the triathlon’s 10,000-furthermore applicants, who may perhaps have as low as a thirty p.c prospect of obtaining in. This year’s inaugural Aquathlon direct-up race is intended to appease some of the overflow.

What has not altered about the triathlon in its historic 40 seasons?

“I think in all probability just the full come to feel of it—the extraordinary problem, the unpredictable situations, the wonderful environment and vibe, and obviously that swim. It’s genuinely a person of the very last classics in the triathlon earth,” claims Kanute, a Rio Olympian who’s aiming for a men’s report fourth-consecutive EFAT title in a winner’s circle that incorporates lots of of the most significant names in the sport in excess of the past four decades.

“Whether you’re heading for initially or 500th position,” the major-seeded triathlete adds, “it is however a person challenging race.”

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