Saturday, April 17, 2010



By: Darin

Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary was opened in 1934 in order to create a harsh, disciplined environment for the nation’s most notorious criminals and to send a message to gangsters that the federal government meant business. Alcatraz did mean business as the inmates were required to follow an unrelenting, methodical daily routine (sounds like a triathlete’s schedule). In the end, the environment and routine broke the likes of Al Capone, Doc Barker (who was the last surviving sone from the famous Ma Barker Gang), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud, Floyd Hamilton (a gang member and driver for Bonnie & Clyde), and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. Capone eventually resigned himself to Alcatraz by stating, "It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked."

Before becoming the home of the infamous federal penitentiary, Alcatraz was chosen to house civil war prisoners due to its isolation from the outside by the cold, strong, hazardous currents of San Francisco Bay. Interestingly, those same cold, strong, hazardous currents are now what draws many triathletes to the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon.

The challenging 1.5 mile swim was one of the main reasons given for participating in the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon by all 4 of the Minnesota triathletes that MTN is chronicling for this year’s race.

Why did you decide to participate in the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon?

David Swanson: Well the swim of any triathlon has always been the challenge to get through mentally. I haven't had moments of race ending fear during a swim, but I haven't been able to approach a swim with the same confidence and relative speed as a bike or a run. The lifeguards have always been very helpful "Sir, the course is that way!" And considering the sinusoidal swim pattern I favor, my Olympic distance swim times have really been satisfactory for a 2500 meter course. I wanted a race that would be have a memorable swim so that in the future and I can look back and think, "This isn't nearly as bad as the Alcatraz swim". It will make the Buffalo triathlon seem like a dip in the tropical waters of Kona. The hills and the sand ladder are just a bonus.

Jen Martone: Back in November, a friend of mine told me about putting his name into the Escape from Alcatraz lottery and this peaked my interest. Escape epitomizes some of my biggest fears and weakness, and I like the idea of trying to overcome fear and rising to a new challenge. I am deathly afraid of the cold, choppy, ocean, and I don’t navigate well in open water, so we’re talking some pretty major apprehension. As all of us multisport athletes know, triathlon is very much a mental game, as much as a physical test of endurance. I’ve been reminded recently by a fellow triathlete to above all “have fun,” and San Francisco is certainly a great place to do that…spectacular scenery, family vacation for my 6 and 4 year old, hordes of spectators, and a trip to Napa when I’m done. We’ll see if wine ends up being a good recovery drink : - )

Gabby Keller: I decided to sign up for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon because I have heard many great things about this race and I've always wanted to participate. More specifically, the swim intrigued me. This course presents the challenges of temperature and current that I look forward to trying to manage and complete. Also, San Francisco is one of my favorite cities and it will be fun to take part in the city's most famous triathlon.

Darin Wieneke: Besides the challenging swim, I have always wanted to have something in common with Sean Connery. Sir Connery escaped and swam from Alcatraz in “The Rock” movie and now I will accomplish that same feat on May 2! Now if he could just get me in the next James Bond movie...

More Alcatraz coverage to follow, including tips from Pro David Thompson and Laura Sampsell Hoffman.