BELFAST, Maine — Beth Anderson wasn’t steeped in the lore of the original Escape from Alcatraz — and its lingering 50-year-old mystery of whether three convicts survived a watery 1½-mile journey across San Francisco Bay to the mainland to become the only successful escapees from the iconic former island prison.
But after braving those frigid waters recently while competing in the 32nd Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, the 39-year-old Northport woman has a fairly unique perspective on the challenge faced by escapees Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin on the evening of June 11, 1962, as they apparently used a makeshift raft to attempt that same route.
“The water was 54 degrees at the start of the race, and there’s such a significant current that you had to sight certain landmarks to make sure you were on course,” said Anderson. “It’s tough enough when it’s during the day and you’re wearing a full wet suit, I don’t know what it would have been like in the middle of the night with whatever they were wearing.”
Anderson not only survived that swim from Alcatraz Island to the shoreline, but she went on to finish sixth in the women’s 35-39 age division and 52nd among all women finishers in what is described as one of the most difficult triathlons in the world.
Anderson, who placed 463rd in the triathlon’s overall field of 1,714 finishers, was timed in 38 minutes, 24 seconds for the swimming leg, 1:04:34 for a hilly 18-mile bike ride and 1:13:27 for her 8-mile run through the trails of the Golden Gate Recreation Area for a cumulative time of 3 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds.
“The swim was great, but the bike ride was a very demanding course with a lot of ups and downs, which is what you’d expect in San Francisco,” said Anderson. “The run, which is the biggest challenge for me, was mostly on trails, along with a sand ladder at Baker Beach.
“You run halfway down the beach, turn around and run back to the sand ladder, which is all sand and timbers, and then you had to run up that.”
Andy Potts, 36, of Colorado Springs, won his fifth overall title in the event with a time of 2:03:17, while the women’s champion was Leanda Cave, 47, of Tuscon, Ariz., in 2:18:17.
“I first read about the Alcatraz triathlon 10 years ago, and I thought then that if I ever got the time I’d like to do that someday,” said Anderson, a mother of three children and a former swimmer at Bates College in Lewiston. “It looked like a really cool race, and the more I got into triathlons and the more competitive I became, it became a bucket list race for me.”
The veteran triathlete qualified for the Alcatraz race last year, then learned in October that she landed a spot among the exclusive field.
“I was so excited, and I trained hard all winter to get ready for it,” she said.
Anderson and the other competitors gathered on the Marina Green in San Francisco early on race day, then were transported to the starting line on Alcatraz Island aboard the San Francisco Belle cruise boat.
“There were 2,000 athletes all descending on Marina Green ranging in age from 15 to 70-something, and you could see Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge,” she said. “It was just a surreal experience.”
Anderson had hoped to complete the race in less than 3 hours, but the tidal effect on the swimming leg slowed many of the competitors.
“This year the top times were 10 minutes slower because the tide wasn’t as forgiving,” Anderson said.
But Anderson was pleased with her finish within her age group.
“I was in the transition area between legs, and my 12-year-old son Cameron yelled out, ‘Mom, you’re sixth in your division,’” she said. “I was just thrilled and I held onto that for the rest of the race.”
Anderson said she has benefited from working with her coach, Angela Small Bancroft of TriMoxie Multisport in Paris, Maine. Bancroft is a Kona Ironman finisher.
Hunt 3K rapidly approaching
Maine’s fastest road race of the year is less than two weeks away.
The 32nd annual Walter Hunt 4th of July 3K Road Race is set for 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 4, and event organizers are hoping to top last year’s record field of 581 runners who completed the 1.8-mile route from the Brewer Auditorium on Wilson Street in Brewer across the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge to downtown Bangor.
Awards are presented in 28 different categories, and the first 350 entrants receive a free T-shirt.
Entry forms are available at www.Sub5.com, and early registration may be completed by sending in a completed entry form and fee to Joe Capehart, 1134 Essex St., Bangor 04401.
Last year’s race produced a record-setting victory by Bangor native and current University of Oklahoma distance runner Riley Masters, who won the event for the third straight year in a time of 8 minutes, 2 seconds. That shattered the previous mark of 8:10 set by Tim Wakeland in 1987 and equaled by Gerry Clapper a year later.
Masters is scheduled to compete next Thursday in the preliminary round of the men’s 1,500-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Bangor native Jen Dagen is the defending Hunt 3K women’s champion with a 2011 time of 9:52.