The Alcatraz test swim

Posted on June 10, 2012. Filed under: coach pedro, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, swim, triathlon, water world swim, wetsuit |

And so it came to be, the alarm went off at 530am yesterday morning and I would meet Coach Pedro and some other mentalists that were planning an escape.

As I arrived on Jefferson Street desperate for coffee I noticed the great and the good of San Francisco and triathlon were up already. There were Proper skinny boy cyclists riding like someone was chasing them with a super size whopper meal and the most graceful runners moving like springbok on the savannah except clad in all manner of dayglo lycra. It was clear these were circles that I don’t really move in. Regardless, I made my way to McDonalds, got the biggest coffee that they sold and made my way to the meeting point just as the sun was beginning to light the Bay.


As the group formed we stripped and pulled our wetsuits on to the waist ready to board the Lovely Martha. Before we boarded, however, Coach Pedro and the Water World Swim coaches briefed us on the currents in the Bay and how we would experience them in the Escape.


Now, I try to be as candid as possible in the blog, however, the handful of us that took part in the Clinic are now sworn by an Omertà. There is a code of silence over what we learnt to ensure that we have maximum advantage in the race tomorrow. So forgive me if I keep some of the secrets of the Bay.

As we tootled out towards the Rock it is fair to say that we were subdued. It was 7am, the sun was just rising and we were about to battle with polar bears for heat when we jumped off the boat – so subdued was probably the appropriate response. Pedro was at pains to point out that the clinic would prepare us perfectly for the race and when we go out in the steamer on race day we would see a lot of very scared people. I think he has a point.


As we pulled our wetsuits on Pedro pointed out the key sighting points to ensure that we could make a safe and quick crossing on Sunday. The current is basically pulling you at the speed of s shark (unfortunately it transports them at the same speed!!) towards the west and if you don’t take a really conservative course towards the shore you will end up under the Golden Gate Bridge and off to China or somewhere like that. He also pointed out that the platform on the boat was exactly the same height as it would be on Sunday so we would practice the “jump” several times.


I really only have two fears about this race (well, technically 4 if you include the bike and the run!) which were the water temperature and the height of the jump. The time had arrived to face both of those fears. The boat stopped just off Alcatraz and we got our final instructions – hold your goggles!


Okay, being perfectly honest I would happily have waited until last to disembark, however, that would probably have resulted in an uncomfortable moment for all concerned as someone applied a boot to my arse to get my sorry paralysed rubber clad body off that platform and into the frigid depths. So I jumped on the platform about 4th and dropped. My instant reaction was that the water wasn’t too cold so I gave it a bit of welly around the back of Alcatraz and then the familiar sensation of cold shock gripped me – tight chest, hyperventilating, irrational fear of waves. I swam breastroke for about 10minutes which settled everything back down. Hopefully the morning in the water on Friday has toughened me up enough for the race morning.

After our first swim we re-boarded the boat and the simulated the start and headed towards shore. The Race Director aims to disembark 2000 people in 6 minutes tomorrow morning and the whole time the ship is drifting away from shore. In his words “this is not a time to be mentally weak”. The swim start is the most critical part, of the most critical leg of this iconic race and I think Pedro set us up perfectly for it.

We swam a hard 300m or so to see the impact of the currents on our travel and it really was quite incredible how little forward progress we made but how far we had come around in front of the Rock.

Our final swim was the finish and up on to the beach. Bizarrely the shallower water was much colder than out at Alcatraz and gave me a bit of brain freeze. What a wonderful start to the day though – it was still only 830.


Next stop for me was to pick up my trusty steed – a very pretty Trek 2.1. That passed without incident except when I bent down to get my cycling shoes out of my bag and my nose started running and didn’t stop. It dripped constantly on to the black floor leaving a large shiny puddle and all that I could say to the dozen or so other people picking up bikes was that I had been swimming in the Bay. I have since discovered that this can last for several days afterwards. I’m not sure where it goes or where it stays until it drops out of your head at a totally inappropriate moment but thats what happens.

Race registration was this morning and we enjoyed the race briefing in the most glorious sunshine while we picked through the best goodie bag that I have seen in a long time.



Anyway, it is now 930 and I need to be up at 330 to breakfast and then cycle up to Marina Green. Boat disembarks at 630 and race starts at 730. Live tracking is available at the Escape website and I am number 1256. Hopefully, the next update will be when I am an Escapee.

One last notable mention. It is 50 years on Monday since the famous Clint Eastwood escape from Alcatraz. The San Francisco Chronicle speculated on what happened on the front page today.

If you can, please help the Make a Wish Foundation.



The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape



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4 Responses to “The Alcatraz test swim”

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Well min, I’ve been on & checked and the site is up & u are there! Guess there is no going back…so good luck in 7 hours…will check back later to see how you are getting on…enjoy?!


Am I the only saddo following this crazy fool?


Good luck, I’ll be watching your progress!


hello, i wonder now you have completed the race if there are “secrets” you didn’t tell that you may now feel able to share with someone competing in the race but coming from England so unable to afford a pre race training camp. I guess any tips for dealing with the current of the swim as i’m not close to the sea in england so am a lake swimmer…..tides and currents are new to me, though i will obviously get to the beach when i can before the race… i also did ironman regensburg but in 2012, they havent run it since so we were lucky….i had an amazing day, look forward to reading your blogs in more detail when i have HR monitor on and gels to hand!


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