Kelowna foursome conquers Alcatraz tri

Mark Fromberg was the first of four Kelowna athletes to complete the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon June 5 in San Francisco.  - Contributed
Mark Fromberg was the first of four Kelowna athletes to complete the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon June 5 in San Francisco.
— image credit: Contributed

Diving off a boat into the frigid, choppy waters of San Francisco Bay can be a test of mental and physical fortitude for even the most seasoned of competitors.

Four Kelowna athletes were equal to that challenge—and several more that followed—en route to conquering the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.

Mark Fromberg, Leanne Manlove, Steve Pope and Glen Manlove were among the more than 1,700 athletes who completed the 2.4 kilometre swim, 28 km bike ride and 12 km run in one of the world's most unique triathlons on June 5.

The race begins with close to 2,000 athletes diving off one boat at a spot adjacent to the legendary Alcatraz Island, all in the span of a few minutes.

Leanne Manlove saw firsthand why it can be an intimidating proposition for many racers who are taking the plunge for the first time.

"The water in the Bay is cold, the currents are very strong, there are sea lions and sharks in the water—although the sharks aren't a threat—but people can be pretty anxious about diving in there, they don't know what it's like," said Manlove, 29, who prepared by training in Okanagan Lake.

"You get salt water in your mouth…with all those variables, you really have to be mentally ready for it. When you jump into cold water, the tendency is to get going too fast and your heart rate gets too high. So I just slowed it down, and settled into a rhythm. It was cold but I knew it wouldn't be long before I warmed up. From there it went pretty well."

Because of the strength of the current, Manlove said swimmers had to set their course far to the left of the swim exit to reach their target on shore.

Once on land, competitors are required to run about a 1/2 mile to the transition area for the bike leg.

The 28 km ride is hilly and steep with plenty of corners to navigate and a number of dramatic descents.

The 12 km run has a relatively flat beginning, but then turns into one of the most unique running legs of a triathlon anywhere.

"It's very challenging with a lot of hills, stair climbing, sand, and even going through an old war tunnel," Manlove said. "The whole race, I think they wanted to make it feel like an actual escape from Alcatraz and you really did get that feeling."

The run portion included a 400-step sand-ladder where competitors used ropes to make their ascent. There was also more than a kilometre of running in sand along the beach.

About nine kilometres of the running leg was single-track, making passing or maneuvering at many stages of the race difficult.

"You'd have people running in both directions for long stretches, there was so little room, I was bumping elbows with people," Manlove said. "It was an interesting challenge."

What stood out for Steve Pope in his first Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon was the race's wide variety of challenges and features.

"At the start, you look out across the Bay to the city and, as much swimming as I've done, it still made me pretty anxious," said Pope, 55, who was the first Kelowna athlete out of the water in 29 minutes 23 seconds. "It's a very interesting race psychologically from start to finish. On the bike, you can't push too hard because you don't really know the course, it's so steep in places.

"One minute you're running on stairs, then you're running in sand, then you go through this Civil War tunnel where you actually have to duck or you'll hit your head. There was a little bit of everything. It really is a challenging and unique race."

Pope said the key for him and some of his fellow competitors was a relaxed yet calculated approach to running the race.

"It turned out to be a wonderful day because a lot of us just let it roll out, we didn't push too hard, just went out and ran the race and enjoyed the day," said Pope, who has completed two Ironmans, seven half Ironman triathlons, and the Paris Marathon.

"It's right up there with the best and more memorable races I've ever been in."

Mark Fromberg was the first of the four Kelowna athletes to finish two hours 57 minutes 23 seconds, finishing 13th in his age group (55 to 59) and 526th overall.

Leanne Manlove placed 16th in the women's 30 to 34 age division in 3:06:18, Steve Pope finished 18th in the men's 55 to 59 class in 3:10:15, while Glen Manlove, Leanne's dad, completed the race in 3:35:27.



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