Thursday, March 07, 2013

Death at Alcatraz

The story of the death of a man during the recent Escape from Alcatraz triathlon generated some chatter with our open-water swim club.  Having done the swim several times myself, it is a bit of an attention grabber.

The Escape from Alcatraz is normally held in the summer, but was moved to March due to the America's cup being held in the San Francisco Bay this summer.  Yes, the San Francisco Bay is getting crowded with sporting events.  Swimming in March means that the water is a few degrees colder, but really not that bad since it is the same as the lake where I train.  More importantly, triathlon swimmers all use wetsuits, but I swim without one, so they really shouldn't have a problem due to the cold.

Each time I did the Alcatraz swim the wave and wind conditions were different.  The last time was out to the island, around, and then back.  On the western side of Alcatraz facing the Golden Gate, the waves were full ocean sized and rough, whereas the usual conditions are smaller choppy waves in the channel between Alcatraz and San Francisco where the triathlon is held.  This time the conditions must have been quite severe, since 150 swimmers out of 2,000 were pulled from the water.  On my around the island swim, a few of us were pulled and moved, but this was due to the much longer time needed for this out, around and back event together with the changing tides.

Most Alcatraz swims are for those who are focused on swimming for their primary training.  The triathlon brings in a good number of those who really aren't swimmers, but can swim a mile in the pool.  Throwing them into the rough water with minimal open water experience will quickly put them into a panic mode, especially since there is no where to retreat to once you jump off the boat.  Add in the usual pre-race adrenaline rush, and the heart is going to be under a bit of stress.

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