On a windy Sunday when the air was nearly the same temperature as the water in San Francisco Bay — both in the low 50s — the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon saw one winner that came as little surprise, and another who surprised no one more than herself.
Javier Gomez of Spain led the pack from the moment he stepped out of the water and onto the sand with the Palace of Fine Arts ahead of him, and he finished with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 27 seconds — just over a minute ahead of second-place finisher Graham O’Grady of New Zealand.
Gomez, who won a silver medal in the London Olympics for triathlon and gold in the 2012 XTERRA World Championship, said the conditions didn’t make anything easy Sunday. The Spaniard set the pace through the swim from Alcatraz to the shore, an 18-mile bike ride down to Golden Gate Park and back, and then an 8-mile run from Marina Green to Baker Beach and back.
“I was pretty consistent the whole way,” he said moments after crossing the finish line. “You can’t have any weak points on such a course. It’s not easy at all. The swim is pretty tough, the bike is tough and the run is hard as well.
“If you have any weakness in the three sports, you’re not going to win,” he said. “I was pretty consistent the whole way, and I think that was key.”
Knowing the turf helped as well. Athletes unfamiliar with San Francisco’s landscape may have been taken by surprise when faced with the sand ladder at Baker Beach, a steep climb that saps a runner’s strength just past the halfway point of the run.
Gomez knew it was coming, however, and prepared accordingly.
“It’s probably the toughest point,” he said of the sand ladder. “I slowed down a little bit 200 meters before just to get some air, and then I just pushed as hard as I could.”
Andy Potts was scheduled to try to add a sixth Escape title to his résumé, but never got the chance as an Achilles tendon injury kept him sidelined.
Leading the women was Heather Jackson of Carlsbad, who was clearly having trouble believing she had come out on top. Her time of 2:18:08 was good enough for 18th overall and just 29 seconds ahead of Sarah Groff of Hanover, N.H.
Giddy with excitement after her surprising victory, an ecstatic Jackson didn’t hold back a huge smile at the finish line.
“I’m in shock right now,” she said. “This isn’t necessarily my distance; it was more just kind of ‘bucket list.’ I’ve always wanted to do it. It was a blast and I can’t believe I won.”
Long after the swim was left behind — the area she said was her weakest among the three disciplines — nearly met with disaster when her turn on the sand ladder came, however.
“I misstepped at the third stair and face-planted,” she said. “So I was like, better be careful on the rest. I didn’t even look up. I was just looking at each stair.”
Runners from more than 34 countries completed the triathlon, which was run for the 33rd time.