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Escape from Alcatraz is the name for two different triathlons held in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The Escape from Alcatraz originated in 1981 as a private club event, beginning in San Francisco and ending in Marin County. The race split in 1983 with a separate commercial event open to the public, which is now an aquathlon (having dropped the biking section of a traditional triathlon) held on a shorter course entirely within San Francisco. However, a new public triathlon, also known by the name Escape from Alcatraz, is now run by IMG.
The first Escape from Alcatraz was proposed by Joe Oakes after he participated in the 1979 Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. The first Escape from Alcatraz race was held two years later in June 1981, with members of the Dolphin Club testing the course. The course started with a swim from Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay to the city of San Francisco, a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley in Marin County, and an out-and-back running course over Mount Tamalpais to Stinson Beach and back. The running course followed the course of the Dipsea foot race, but by making it an out-and-back run rather than a one-way course, became known as a Double Dipsea.
The course evolved over the years. From 1990 to 1993, the course was a swim from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in San Francisco, followed by a one-mile run to Fort Mason. From there, racers bicycled along the great highway with a Sloat Avenue turn around point and a ride back down to the Golden Gate Bridge. After crossing the bridge, riders would ride down to Fort Baker. The final running leg would take participants though a total of sixteen different trails in the Presidio of San Francisco and across Rodeo Beach before climbing an 850 foot ascent up Wolf Ridge and heading back down to the finish.
Winners on the 1990–93 course were Mike Pigg in 1990, 1991, and 1993, and Greg Welch in 1992. Welch held the record on that course with a time just over 2 hours and 54 minutes. In the female division, Terry Schneider-Egger won in 1990 and Paula Newby-Fraser won three consecutive races from 1991 to 1993. Fraser held the course record for females with a time of 3 hour and 24 minutes.
The annual public Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, organized by IMG, now takes place in early June. The current course consists of a one-and-a-half mile (2.4 km) swim starting near Alcatraz Island, a half-mile run from the bay to the transition zone at Marina Green, an eighteen mile (29 km) bike ride, and an eight-mile (12.8 km) run. The run portion includes a notorious section called the "sand ladder" at mile five, a climb from Baker Beach back up to the road that is a combination of sand and about 400 uneven log steps. The event had about 1700 participants in 2009. Entry is by Lottery process for most of the slots and the remainder is through qualification, which done through a good rank in the previous Escape from Alcatraz, or in four other triathlon races held during the preceding year.
The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon was ranked as the number-one triathlon by Inside Triathlon Magazine for 2006.