Escape From Alcatraz Race Primer

Escape From Alcatraz Race Primer

Feb 27

This weekend is the 33rd annual Escape From Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, and I’m heading up there to participate for the first time.  I’m fresh off an injury and am not even close to being race-ready, but I’m hyped nonetheless as the prospect of swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco proper sounds completely daunting, terrifying, and so absolutely exciting!  Tack on a challenging, hill-filled bike and run course and it should make for a great (near) Olympic distance triathlon.

In anticipation of this weekend, I watched the 1979 Clint Eastwood classic of the same name, Escape From Alcatraz.

This move is a depiction of the (possibly) successful escape attempt by Frank Morris and two other inmates from the infamous maximum security prison.  I say ‘possible’ because no one knows whether the 3 escapees survived the attempt, although reported sightings of the convicts over the years seem to support the notion that they did.

Its a methodical and suspenseful thriller, supported by a surprisingly minimal but effective score by Jerry Fielding (pre-dating Clint Eastwood’s jump into film scoring), and it features some very recognizable actors in early roles of their respective careers (notably Danny Glover, in his first film role ever).

Does the movie hold up?  In some ways, yes, in others no.  It definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat and was as enjoyable as I remember.  But it also has its moments where you have to ask what would seem like an obvious question, such as…..”If these criminals/convicts are the worst of the worst offenders, having been convicted of some of the most ruthless crimes there are, why in the world would you give one of them a hatchet in the wood shop?” (which he proceeds to chop off his own fingers with for ‘shock’ value).

But because it was made in the late 70s, I give it a pass.  The film does try to make us sympathetic to the inmates, when in real life they probably deserve no sympathy whatsoever, but I suppose you have to have a rooting interest of some kind, right?

All in all, it was fun to watch and it got me HYPED to go do this race this weekend.

I also watched a documentary from the 70s called ‘Alcatraz History’, which was more or less about the history of the island.  I compiled a list of some interesting Alcatraz facts that I never knew about:

  • Alcatraz was originally known as “La Isla de los Alcatraces”, or Isle of Pelicans.  It was given this name by the Spaniard Juan Manuel de Ayala, who came across an island covered with Pelicans in 1775.
  • It was purchased in 1849 for $5000 by General Freeman.
  • In 1868 it was turned into an army prison for west coast confederates, rebellious Indian chiefs (such as Geronimo), and soldier convicts.
  • It was turned into a maximum security prison in 1934 at the end of prohibition, with 137 initial convicts
  • It was famous for its brutal conditions, where inmates were treated like cows in a herd with no promise of rehabilitation and extensive use of isolation cells. 
  • Famous inmates included Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun Kelly’.
  • Prior to the Frank Morris escape, two notable escape attempts had been foiled, one by boat and one by sea.
  • In 1946 a massive riot broke out during a botched escape attempt.  Public pressure to close the island began to build following this event, eventually leading to its closure by John F. Kennedy in 1963, 1 year after the Frank Morris escape. 
  • Frank Morris’ escape attempt was the subject of the show Mythbusters, which proved that this was indeed a possibility.
As far as the race is concerned, this triathlon consists of a 1.5 mile swim, 18 mile bike, and 8 mile run.  Not exactly an Olympic distance, but close enough.  While the swim is what its most famous for, from what I understand its the other 2 legs that are the most difficult because of the hills/elevation gain.  Regardless, this race is almost all about the swim for me, as it just sounds so unbelievably awesome.  I’m not in great bike/run shape, but my swimming is on point right now so I’m pumped to throw down in the water!
This is just another training weekend for me as I build towards a couple of 70.3s this year, and I couldn’t think of a better training weekend to have!  The water is going to be cold as F-, coming in at around 50 degrees, but what better way to simulate an escape attempt than to swim across the bay in freezing temperatures in the middle of winter!  (The race was moved up to March because of the America’s cup).  Let’s do this!