San Francisco | Alcatraz "Escape from the Rock" Duathlon

We spent the weekend before last in one of the most beautiful cities in all the world: San Francisco. I was up there to compete in the 2015 Alcatraz XXXV Escape from the Rock Duathlon, which was a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island followed by a 7-mile run to the Golden Gate Bridge. This was also a first for me being an athlete in any multi-sport competition.

I had wanted to compete in just the Sharkfest Swim from Alcatraz, but the swim-only event was sold out. So I committed to the duathlon and so had to get up to speed on not only proper swim form, but also a long run.

A long history of comfort in the water alone does not make one a good long-distance swimmer. I realized when trying to cross from La Jolla Shores to La Jolla Cove that a casual swim (with the help of snorkel and fins!) does not equate to 1.5-miles off the coast of San Francisco. So I started getting training in freestyle from my local Masters coach, and started figuring out body position and side-breathing.

I also signed up to compete in the local La Jolla Pier-to-Cove swim (above), which is 1.5-miles in open water. I swam it without a wetsuit. It was long and difficult, and inspired me to train harder. I also signed up for the local Balboa Park 8-Miler race, just to make sure I could do the run portion of the Escape from the Rock.

So I flew up myself the Friday before, and settled on a perfect pre-race meal at my hotel's restaurant, which was right near the race start on the Wharf.

Did I mention that they are known for their Crab-&-Corn Chowder in a sourdough bowl? Get the recipe here. Pictured below with a Hemingway Daiquiri, which is made with Clement rum, a Luxardo maraschino, and grapefruit + lime juice.

 I was also treated to an excellent floral beard while queuing for the cable car.

The whole cable car business is a fascinatingly archaic mode of transportation for such an otherwise modern city, but at $7 a ticket they are having the last laugh because people - including Yours Truly - still buy tickets to ride them.

The process of turning the cars around for a new track run goes as follows:

 And once on the car, you are treated to lovely views of the city at high speed.

After a break-neck tour of the city, I decided to scope out my challenge: where exactly is that Rock again? I think it's just off in the distance?

That little island to the left of the red-bottomed ship is Alcatraz Island, and in mere hours I would voluntarily jump off a perfectly good ferry and elect to swim to this shore.

At least that was what I had signed up for.

So I tried to get some sleep and awoke a 4-something in the morning to drink some coffee and meet the rest of the herd to prepare for our swim. This is an early-morning shot in the pitch black as we're walking to the ferry. We all had to wear the yellow caps to be more visible to boats/rescue in the water.

Dawn ascends as we board the ferry, circle the island, and await jump-off time.

I filmed some video from inside the ferry and some of the swim, although the cold water seemed to tax my GoPro battery more than usual and it quit not long into the swim. Still, you can get a feel for the atmosphere on board. Fantastic, interesting, funny athletes with very diverse backgrounds!

This is the swim completion - I was hoping to finish in less an hour and I did! Even better, my legs felt decently strong (unlike after the La Jolla Pier-to-Cove swim, where I was rubber-legged). That's why I'm smiling so much even though I had the run to get through still.

Next I swapped my wetsuit for a shirt + bib for my run. At this point it's not even 8:00 am.

I was hoping to average around 10 minutes/mile for the 7 miles.

I finished in under 10 minutes/mile! I can hardly believe that since I don't normally run that fast on my local trails, but other than a giant hill in the beginning/end, this course was really very flat. Good news for anyone stressing about running the "hills of San Francisco."

It went from Aquatic Park to the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

The old man met me right at the finish not 10 minutes before I broke through - how's that for timing? Then we went looking for the perfect brunch spot. I would have worn that Finisher's medal all damn day if not for the rash on my neck from my wetsuit! Rookie move, not taping up my neck. 

After I showered and changed, we headed straight to Boudin Bakery for brunch. I had the French toast made with sourdough baguette. I don't have a photo because it was inhaled, but I DO have a pic of us sitting at a nice table with a view of Alcatraz (top left corner of the photo):

I also have some bread porn, if that's your thing. How adorbsies are the bears!?

These are the talented bakers, making magic. Looks like turtles being formed:

I guess San Francisco is also known for its Dungeness crab. This is what Mermaid Lounge uses in its famed Crab & Corn Chowder, and it really is delicious.

It's too bad you can't just grab one and pull it apart and snack on it as you meander the Wharf, like one would with a pretzel. I mean you could - but it would be a wet, fishy-smelling mess and no one would welcome you into their shop. Be serious!


Boats at the Wharf. What a day this was!

The hardest-working pigeon-scaring owl wasn't doing its job after all. #notscaringanyone.

Well now that we had my task of the race accomplished and a gorgeous Saturday alone in San Francisco without the kids, we set out to do some sight-seeing.

We started at the Conservatory of Flowers. On a sunny summer's day, the blooms were really popping.

Next we met up with some friends I hadn't seen in years... and we went on a little culinary adventure.

First we hit Tartine, a bakery that's received a lot of hype and has long lines to match. What to order???

Everything looked so good. I mean almost too lovely to eat.

This is me and my dear, funny friend Cass eating our big desserts and drinking iced coffee.

Spoiler alert: the Coconut Cream Tart is the best thing on the menu. I know this is a photo of the Banana Creme Tart. That's my bad, but it doesn't change the fact that the Coconut Cream one wins all the prizes if the prizes were given out by me.

Now: onward! I love this little slice of stoop life. It's like #thuglife but with a book instead of a weapon. Sun's out, guns out!

Next we hit up Mission Cheese for cheese boards, charcuterie platters, and beer samplers.

It was, in fact, fantastic after the sweets at Tartine. Just look at all those cheeses and beer!

Eventually our friends had to get back to their normal non-tourist lives, so we went on to our next destination: The Tonga Room. They make exotic, giant drinks in keepsake drink holders. They also have an indoor pool that looks like a lagoon.

Did you know that they make it rain every night? I mean rain water, with flashes of lightning, thunder, and everything:

After the Tonga Room we wandered down to Chinatown on foot. I got one of those meow cats that supposedly - theoretically - "grab money" out of the air with their paw... so said the merchant. But I was a little skeptical, given that he had about a thousand of them in the shop and no noticeable riches to show for it. Good thing my eldest daughter loves cats no matter what their purpose!

And we ate again. This time, a full meal of multiple dishes. I wish I could say we didn't finish most of it...

The next day I desperately wanted to tour Alcatraz. Every single person says it's the best tour to be had.

I had tried to purchase tickets in the weeks just leading up to my trip, but apparently you have to book the tickets months in advance or you'll be out of luck like I was.

Unless, that is, you wake up early and wait online at the ferry station for the reserved tickets for people like me who wait until the last minute to book! This was the line when I got there.

This is the ticket to prove I was in line early.

And we were booked on the 10:30 tour! Get up early: that's when all the magic happens.

Aboard the ferry. 

FYI, there's no alcohol sold on the ride over to Alcatraz Island... maybe they know better that to liquor you up before setting you loose around priceless history. But they DO serve beer and wine on the ride back, and that is divine.   

This is riding out to the island, filmed on the ferry deck. The wind noise is intense, but that's what it was like. Imagine being in the water and dealing with that and the chop as you try to swim the divide! Oh, nevermind.

 We made it!

The island is now something of a wildlife sanctuary for these species of bird:

It also still has the haunting feel of its prison history, no matter how many decades pass since it officially housed some of the nation's most challenging criminals.

But it has unparalleled views.

These are a few of the more notorious inmates.

The cell blocks.

The old man takes artsy pics even in a prison.

In the calm of the audio tour, it's hard to imagine life here daily as a resident.

There's just one long, open shower area made to accommodate many prisoners at once. If you are the shy type, you'd better get over it.

The kitchen. Notice the outlines for the knives, so that workers could immediately see if one went missing.

A mock-up of the paper-mache head used in the well-known "escape from Alcatraz," which was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood.

Some of the art made by the prisoners and displayed on their walls was really very beautiful.

Their dwelling space was still tiny though.

You could touch both sides of the cell at the same time.

It's only funny if you can get out when you want!

But observe the exterior. Parts of the island were so beautiful! This was the Warden's House, destroyed by fire. How lovely it still is, especially taken over by the plants and sea gulls.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

Watch tower.

The mainland of San Francisco behind us.

Here I took a selfie of where I swam to from the island ~ the cove in the upper left-hand corner of the photo, near Ghirardelli Square, is what I aimed for during my swim.

After the Alcatraz tour, we went back near our hotel for some more fun at the Wharf. I had to check out their local sea lion population, though I must confess to being underwhelmed considering that we get to swim with ours.

Whatever, your lions are okay. But ours are better.

After that we hit something called The Dungeons, which is a campy, haunted-house kind of tour which is loosely based on some of the creepier local history of San Francisco. The fact that it was situated right next to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum really tells you all you need to know, doesn't it?


We even resorted to hitting up Bubba Gump's for more dranks. This is called a Coronarita.

Please, you've probably had a thousand of these yourself. I'm not showing you anything you don't already know about here am I?

Finally, we tried to cap off our trip by getting into the fab hipster joint run by my friend (and hunting mentor) Georgia's personal mentor, Aaron London, but we booked our flight too early and couldn't get in on time. So we ate instead at La Traviata

It was absolutely delicious. And... we left another fabulous place to try next time.

Hope you enjoyed my very quick tour-for-two. Thanks, as always, for looking!



  1. Great!, a little like you.... I am only swim in pools, I have done 2 open water competions 5k in a lake, and last week I did 1.8 km in the sea.... I rather prefer to swim than run... and now... in two more weeks I will pe participating in the Escape from the rock 2017 =). I am very excited, and just waiting for the moment!!.

    Thanks for your advice... & congratulations!!!

    1. You can do it - it's fun and a great swim!


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