After five-year break from Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, Williams seeks new record 

click to enlarge Nelda Williams owns the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon women’s record for the 55-59 age bracket. The now 65-year-old will look to set a new record in her new age bracket Sunday. - JUAN PARDO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Juan Pardo/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Nelda Williams owns the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon women’s record for the 55-59 age bracket. The now 65-year-old will look to set a new record in her new age bracket Sunday.

Nelda Williams of San Francisco has held the course record for the 55-59 age bracket in the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon for 10 years now, and though she expects a new crop of runners entering that age bracket to claim that crown, she's already got a new one in her sights.

Now 65 years old, Williams is returning to the event after a five-year absence in order to go for the record in her new age bracket (65-69), though she doesn't expect to compete at the same level she did back in the days of her youth.

"That was a breakthrough race," she said. "And that was 10 years ago, so it's very hard to keep up that level of performance up, and your body knows it."

Though she won't be the oldest contestant leaping into San Francisco Bay on Sunday -- a 73-year-old joined the field as well -- she said she is as ready for it as she ever has been, though one major wild-card factor has yet to show its hand.

"Every year you get in the water, it's different," she said. "It's like an unknown factor. You never know until you're in it how it's going to be. "

This will be Williams' 25th triathlon in total, and it's safe to say she's come a long way since taking on her first in 1983.

She started because she wanted to participate in the first all-female triathlon, even though she still lacked one important skill.

"I didn't even know how to swim," she said. "I could keep myself from drowning, but I didn't know how to do a crawl stroke, how to put my head down in the water and turn my head and breathe. I drank about half the pool at the Y trying to learn how to do it."

She's clearly figured that out over the past 30 years, and time will tell Sunday whether her old record slips away, and whether she is able to grab hold of another one.

The Sunday race begins with a plunge into the water from a boat off the shores of Alcatraz for a 1.5-mile swim to shore, followed by an 18-mile bike ride down the Great Highway and through Golden Gate Park. It's capped with an 8-mile run through the Presidio toward the finish line at Marina Green.

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