Triathlon: Bruce survives escape from Alcatraz
Daily News Sports Reporter
Under normal circumstances, jumping out of a boat into frigid water and swimming a mile and a half might seem like something a sane person would only do at gunpoint.
For Charlie Bruce and 1,999 of his newest friends, it was a privilege to simply have the opportunity.
Bruce is back in Kamloops after completing the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco on June 10. The 65-year-old retired school principal finished sixth in the men's 65-69 division in a time of three hours 48 minutes.
The triathlon is like no other - athletes start on a ferry, and have to jump out and swim 1.5 miles across the San Francisco Bay. Once on dry land, they endure an 18-mile bike ride through hills around San Francisco, before finishing with an 8-mile run, including a trek up the 400-step Equinox Sand Ladder.
"It was definitely a different experience," says Bruce, in the understatement of the week. "It was one of the most unique triathlons I've ever been a part of."
One could probably presume that all 2,000 participants were feeling the same way. So popular is Escape From Alcatraz, which has just celebrated its 32nd year, that two lotteries are necessary to determine the 2,000 triathletes.
Well, that's all that would fit on the Hornblower Ferry, which took the athletes from Pier 3 into the bay, from where they all swam back toward San Francisco.
Those 2,000 lucky people, who had to put their bikes and transition bags on shore between 4 and 6 a.m., were packed onto the ferry for a 7:30 start.
Once the Hornblower's horn blew - "you could hear it on shore," Bruce says - the professional and elite athletes led a pack out three bay doors on the bottom floor of the vessel. Over the next six minutes, the remaining athletes hurried out the doors and into the water, which was a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 Celsius).
"There was a procession of triathletes . . . in six minutes all 2,000 were in the water," Bruce says. "As soon as you got in the water, you had to get swimming."
Imagine the feeling of running out that door and into the water.
For one, everyone is on edge after waiting hours to get going. Also, it's a long swim in frigid water involving thousands of people, all desperate to get on shore.
"I'm just glad I had previous experience swimming in large groups," Bruce offers. "There were lots of elbows and feet hitting you - it's not intentional, of course."
Bruce battled through a three-knot current, and made it out of the water in 57 minutes 54 seconds. But the fun wasn't over once he hit the shore.
"The water was cold, and I was in a littler longer than I wanted to be," Bruce says. "My equilibrium was a little off when I got out."
A fellow on the beach helped Bruce get his legs under him, and Bruce proceeded to his first transition bag. Because his bike was still a kilometre away, Bruce had to run.
"That worked out well - it gave me an opportunity to warm up," he says.
After the transition to bike, which took 14:51, Bruce set off on his ride, which, because of the crowded roads and hills, wasn't easy.
He had trouble finding an opportunity to use his aerobars, the handlebars triathletes use for comfort and performance. But Bruce's struggles weren't as bad as others'.
"Some of the hills were so steep, I must have passed half a dozen people who were pushing their bikes," he says. "I had never seen that before . . . but good for them for continuing to push forward."
It took Bruce 1:14:44 to finish the bike portion, and he transitioned to his run in 2:19.
The run started off flat, but featured two major hills and a pair of staircases in the middle. The run section actually went below the Golden Gate Bridge, before getting on a narrow trail with traffic going both directions.
"It was single track," Bruce says, "and you always had a line of people behind you and a line of people in front of you."
Not that it wasn't fun.
"I was talking to people," adds Bruce, who finished in 1:18:13. "I was talking to someone from Nantucket, Mass., and another from New Jersey."
Once the runners finished that trail, they had one final challenge to overcome - the Equinox Sand Ladder.
"They have a timing mat before you go up the stairs and another when you're at the top," Bruce says, noting his 4:05 time was largely attributable to his training grounds.
"One of the things that helped me was being able to run the hills in Kenna Cartwright Park," he adds.
It's not uncommon to run into Bruce on trails around town, as he spends lots of time practising for road races and triathlons.
There's no doubt he's in tip-top shape, but he was still looking to get in a little training as he and his wife, Sandy, drove south through western Washington.
While listening to a radio station near Garberville, the Bruces kept hearing about the Redwood Run.
Thinking it was a five or 10km race, Bruce hurried into a Best Western, which had dozens of motorcycles outside. Charlie was able to secure the last room in the hotel, but didn't get the opportunity to race.
"Turns out it's a rally of Harley Davidson owners," he says, with a laugh. "There were 5,000 owners there. We went through on a Wednesday (June 6), and the rally didn't start until Friday (June 8).
"When we were coming home, we were still passing motorcycles coming back."