Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

After jumping in I knew this would be unlike any swim I had done before.

Saul Stenbak, blueseventy shipping manager


On June 12, 2016, triathletes from around the globe including two blueseventy employees took the plunge into San Francisco Bay to take part in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Several iconic races have come and gone since the early 1980s, but in its 36th year, the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon continues to grow and remain a bucket list race for triathletes from around the world. World Champions, Olympic Medalists and the best amateur triathletes from 50 states and over 40 countries have ‘made the escape.’ Entries are limited to 2,000 competitors who either qualify through the Escape to Alcatraz Triathlon Series or land a lucky spot on the ferry through the random lottery. Once in, athletes are put to the ultimate test when they take on San Francisco's legendary Bay with a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the shores of the St. Francis Yacht Club, steep hills of the 18 mile bike, and rugged terrain of the 8 mile run through the trails of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. Consistently ranked as a favorite event among triathletes, this thrilling race is a virtual postcard of the City by the Bay.

Athletes curious about blueseventy products including the new Thermal Helix Suit got an up close look at the Fitness Festival and Expo the day before the race. The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon played a large role in the development of the Thermal Helix. Water temperature in the Bay rarely warms past the mid-60’s and most swimmers rely on accessories like neoprene hoods and booties to stay warm. The Thermal Helix is different from other swimming wetsuits in that it is fully lined with a mid-weight zirconium jersey that enhances warmth compared to standard jersey. This unique liner dries fast, minimizes weight and meets our rigorous standards for stretch and durability.

Race morning was met with challenging swim conditions. Unlike most years, water temperature was less a concern replaced instead with huge swells and strong currents.

The swim was epic. The current was so strong, if you swam six strokes without sighting, you were 15 meters off course! The swells were so big that it was tough to time breathing with the timing of the waves, especially since the swells were erratic.

2014 Champ Sarah Haskins

Our shipping and logistics manager Saul Stenbak was racing Alcatraz for the first time in his ten plus years of racing triathlons. He knew from the race tip videos, pre-race meetings and talking with athletes that you have to focus on swimming towards shore, not the swim exit. “The swim is a tricky one. You need to swim straight across from Alcatraz and let the current take you to the swim exit. I started swimming and there were big ocean swells rising and falling 4-6 feet at a time. Within minutes I was swimming by myself only seeing an occasional triathlete.”

Customer Service specialist Molly Larson, also racing Alcatraz for the first time, is relatively new to the sport coming from collegiate swimming. She echoed Saul’s experience. “After swimming away from the boat the chop continued to get worse and made sighting challenging. For most of the swim I wasn’t able to see anyone else in the water.”

First time Alcatraz swimmers were not the only ones who got thrown around in the Bay. Six-time champion Andy Potts and several top swimmers were swept two minutes out of contention by misreading the current and choosing the wrong line during the swim.  Rio Olympics bound USA Triathlon Team Member Ben Kanute was first out of the water, with Cameron Dye and Joe Maloy close behind. Dye took control of the race on the bike building up a strong lead and held it until Maloy pulled ahead in the last half mile of the run to win by just 11 seconds. It was Cam’s best finish at Alcatraz. Defending champ Eric Lagerstrom bounced back from injury and missing selection to the Rio Olympics with a strong showing finishing 4th.

Nearly all of the contending women had trouble with the puzzling currents. 2014 Alcatraz champ Sarah Haskins exited the water with swim leader Katie Zaferes, but it was Great Britain’s Holly Lawrence who took a commanding lead on the bike and never let up, winning her first Alcatraz title. Haskins took a tumble exiting T1 but recovered and finished 4th. “This race is so different from any other triathlon. I can understand why there is such an appeal to compete in this iconic race. The scenery is beautiful, the hills are challenging and the run is a mix of off-road, sand, hills, grass and gravel.”

Stenbak and Larson had stellar days in the challenging conditions and grueling course. “When I reached the finish it was lined with spectators cheering me on. What a great feeling,” said Larson. Saul summed it up perfectly, “Alcatraz is the experience of a lifetime.” 

It was an awesome experience. I loved that every aspect was challenging in its own way, it keeps the race interesting and helps you to stay focused.

Molly Larson, blueseventy customer service