Triathletes are a different breed. The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon is a different triathlon. But that didn’t stop nearly 2,000 competitors from jumping into the icy waters off of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay Sunday for the start of the 2014 race.
Five-time winner Andy Potts added a sixth in seven years as he covered the 1.5-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride and 8-mile run in a time of 2 hours, four minutes and 21 seconds.
Clermont, Florida’s Sarah Haskins won the women’s race in a time of 2:18.42.
There were a number of San Mateo County competitors, including Will Colglazier, former Aragon girls’ soccer coach who led the Dons to a co-Central Coast Section championships in 2010 and 2012. Colglazier, who has trained with Pac West Athletics in Marin County for the last few years, picked up the sport while still coaching at Aragon.
“I’ve always been competitive,” said Colglazier, 33. “Trying to relive the glory (of my athletic youth).”
This past weekend was Colglazier’s fourth Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and his best finish yet with a time of 2:37.37. His time was good for 15th place in the men’s 30-35 age category and an overall finish of 94th — the best of nine San Mateo County competitors.
“You get the itch (to compete),” Colglazier said of triathlon training. “Once you get that first one or two (races) under your belt, you realize you can do it. You just start to pick up in every race.
“This is definitely my best (performance). The most comfortable I’ve felt.”
Not all triathlons are the same and the Escape from Alcatraz is different than most. The race starts with a plunge into the icy waters of the San Francisco Bay — and that might be the easiest part of the whole race. Because after getting wet, competitors have 1.5 miles to swim to shore. Given the shifting tides and currents of the Bay, it’s no simple task to swim from point A to point B.
“Not being a swimmer by trade, that’s what makes it so tough. You’re not swimming in a straight line,” Colglazier said. “The currents are mainly left to right, so you’re trying to go at an angle to that. You angle left and it pushes you right. You have to change your sight lines (constantly).”
Colglazier said the only real way to train for the Escape from Alcatraz swim is to compete in the race.
“You can’t really replicate it very well (in training),” Colglazier said. “The more triathlons you do, the more comfortable you get.”
After emerging from the Bay, there is a transition area and short half-mile run to get the feeling back in your hands and feet before mounting the bike for an 18-mile ride.
Again, this is no easy Sunday ride.
“It’s pretty hilly,” Colglazier said. “It’s all up and down.”
With wobbly legs, the competitors then hit the home stretch — an eight-mile run that includes running in the deep sand of Baker Beach. And after having already endured 1.5 miles of swimming in the notorious Bay, 18 miles of up-and-down bike riding and five miles of running, competitors face arguably the most daunting task of the entire race — the infamous Equinox Sand Ladder. The sand ladder consists of 400 steps cut into the side of a hill that takes the runners from the sands of Baker Beach up to the Coast Trail for the final few miles to the finish line.
This is such a unique aspect of the Escape from Alcatraz that competitors are timed not only on the swim, ride and run portion of the race, but also the time it takes them to make it to the top of the sand ladder.
“You look at pictures (of the race) and the pros are walking up it,” Colglazier said.
Colglazier handled the sand ladder in a time of 2 minutes, 35 seconds. To put that in perspective, winner Potts covered the steps in 1:52. The fastest time was Steve Mantell of Fort Collins, Colorado, who made the climb in 1:46.
Other San Mateo County competitors who completed the race included:
• San Mateo’s Peter Brostowicz, 40, whose time of 3:52.46 placed 213th in the men’s 40-44 age bracket and 1,319th overall.
• Redwood City’s Heidi Buttery, 32, who finished with a time of 3:00.21, good for 16th place in the 30-34 women’s age bracket and 416th overall.
• Half Moon Bay’s Jeff Centoni, 59, whose time of 3:12.58 was good for 17th place in the 55-59 men’s age bracket and 697th overall.
• Another Redwood City resident, Jennifer Ford, 34, finished 15th in the women’s 30-34 age bracket with a time of 2:59.58, good for 411th overall.
• Brisbane’s Christopher Jerard, 40, covered the course in a time of 3:13.32, good for 109th in his 40-44 age bracket and 710th overall.
• Hillsborough’s Kelly Marren, 23, a Menlo School and Stanford graduate who is a former Olympic caliber snowboarder, finished with a time of 3:29.52, good for 7th place in the women’s 20-24 age group and 1,019th overall.
• Foster City’s Michael Masangkay, 41, finished with a time 3:27.52, good for 159th place in the 40-44 age bracket and 982nd overall.
• Austin Mitchell, 26, from Brisbane, finished with a 2:42.46, good for 22nd place in the 25-29 age group and 139th overall.
In addition to the course itself, Colglazier said one of the cool aspects of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon is the beginning of the race as nearly 2,000 competitors cram onto the San Francisco Belle steamboat before taking the leap into the Bay.
“People are (packed) like sardines. They blow a whistle and the pros dive off. … Two seconds later, a horn goes off and then it’s like lemmings going off the cliff,” Colglazier said. “It’s definitely chaotic. … My first time, it was definitely tough.”
The other aspect Colglazier finds interesting is amateurs get to race with the pros. Colglazier said in other races, the pros get a couple of minutes head start so as not to be caught up in the wash of the masses.
“The coolest thing (about Alcatraz) is you start with the pros and see them on the course. At most [other races], that’s not the case,” Colglazier said. “[Sunday] I got to hear Mirinda Carfrae, who won the Ironman last year, running past me.
“She was breathing hard.”