Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon race-day survival guide

Like most triathlons, the Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco starts with a swim, followed by a bike leg and a run. However, this race is still unlike any other.

It’s a perfect destination race, with one of the most challenging courses in the sport, which is why so many desire for the chance to compete in it.

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Lauren Goss, Hoka One One professional triathlete and Escape from Alcatraz survivor, shares valuable tips to help you endure this grueling race, which takes place this year on June 11.

Before the race

Drive the bike course: Hop in a car and go over the hills, landmarks and turns. San Francisco's streets have significant potholes, too, so take note to avoid flat tires or crashing.

Study the transition: Knowing the transition area will help you shed time and feel confident. “I did not do this very well,” says Goss of her inaugural Escape race. “I knew where the bike in/out was, but I wasn’t sure where the swim-in and run-out areas were. I was frantically doing 180s trying to figure this out. Seems silly, but when you’re redlining and cold, your head does not think straight.”

Pick the best gear: A race kit is simple to wear under a wetsuit, has padding on the shorts for the bike leg and is easy to run in. “The TYR Torque is neoprene and heats the water inside the suit, which heats the body. Also, it's a great windbreaker,” suggests Goss.

Surviving the swim

Triathletes plunge into the chilly San Francisco Bay to survive the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Photo: Courtesy of Rocky Arroyo

Eat a huge breakfast: “You have to set up your transition, catch a 20-minute bus ride to the ferry house, take a one-hour ferry ride to the start and then race. There's a lot of downtime to get hungry. Make sure to fuel up or bring a snack for the boat ride,” Goss recommends. Use this time to hydrate, too.

Bring swim cords: You may think that your body is warm from all the setup you have to do before the race, but your muscles still need to get the blood going. Swim cords help loosen up the muscles and get them ready to tackle the gnarliness of the SF Bay.

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“I think it's a good idea to have these to get the blood flowing. People will look at you in envy and wish they had some,” shares Goss.

Pour water in your wetsuit: Goss suggests you flood your wetsuit before the start so your body can start warming up.

Know your landmarks: With the fog, the chop and the current, you should know where you’re headed. Goss encourages you to know the landmarks to sight for. “Keep the [Palace of] Fine Arts [Theater] dome to the right,” she advises, “and the yellow buoys to the right; you see these as you get closer to shore.”

Surviving the half-mile run to Transition 1

Keep your cap and goggles on: There’s a half-mile run to the first transition after the swim portion. As you’re running, start to take off your wetsuit. Once down to your waist, remove your goggles and cap.

“I made a rookie mistake and took my goggles off first and had to shove them down my suit. It’s small things like this that will slow you down,” says Goss.

Don't put on your shoes: “It will take more time than it’s worth messing with shoes, especially with frozen hands and a frozen brain. The path is paved and your feet are numb anyway,” says Goss.

Surviving the bike

Split the course up into mini goals: Break the bike leg into five sections. This will help you know when to push and when to recover.

The first section is a 2-mile flat segment. Push hard here, because most of the ride is slow and uphill.

The second section is the million-dollar-house neighborhood. This part is rolling with some sketchy roads. Athletes tend to relax here because they feel fast with the rollers; however, this is your chance to make up time and push hard. Trust your bike-handling skills.

The third section is at Golden Gate Park. “Try to push one gear harder than you’re comfortable in and get ready to attack those climbs,” expresses Goss.

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The fourth section is a climb to the Legion of Honor. Go hard up to the top and continue through the beginning of the descent.

The fifth section is the last 2 miles back to transition. The course gets a little crowded, so be conscious of that and go fast.

Surviving the run

Set a pace: Set a good pace and save energy for the stairs and sand ladder. Push yourself the first and last 2 miles of the course. “These are the only opportunities to run fast and to get in a groove,” shares Goss.

The stairs will take a lot of energy. Take advantage of the down portion and go fast. (In training, practice on stadium stairs to get a good rhythm.) After the stairs, there’s the Equinox Sand Ladder; don’t be embarrassed to use the rope, as it will help you greatly.

Once you make it up to the top, know there’s a small uphill portion. The rest of the race is mainly downhill.

“Be confident and don’t hold back!” says Goss. “Race hard and have fun.”