Heather Jackson’s Alcatraz Win

American Heather Jackson added another tough-course title to her name at Sunday's Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.

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American Heather Jackson added another tough-course title to her name at Sunday’s Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.

With the switch from June to March for the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, there was a question of whose early-season fitness would shine in a stacked field that included multiple Olympians and two current Ironman world champions. Olympic silver medalist and Xterra World Champion Javier Gomez showed his seemingly endless versatility by taking the men’s win, followed by Graham O’Grady and Jesse Thomas. Current Wildflower champion Heather Jackson earned the women’s title, proving she’s primed to start the year.

Given that the race is notorious for its tough 1.5-mile swim across the San Francisco Bay, Jackson, who has claimed swimming as her weakest discipline, was thrilled with her win at yesterday’s race.

Her bike split, a 51:40 for the hilly 18-mile course, was two minutes faster than the rest of the field and helped her gain time on the leaders. She was around two minutes behind Sarah Groff heading out onto the run.

“I knew it was going to be tough—I mean, she’s an Olympian,” Jackson says. ”Probably at the top of the hill on the way out, I got within about 90 seconds and thought ‘wow.’ Then out on the beach I could see her across heading to the sand ladder, but it was still pretty far. I think I made up time on the sand ladder because I got to the top and someone said 47 seconds.”

Jackson fought her way up to Groff in gritty fashion. First she face-planted on the sand ladder and was convinced she broke her nose. Then, on a downhill section heading back to the finish, someone told her she was only down 20 seconds, so she started sprinting down the stairs. “I think I caught her on that stairwell down—I think I took those about 10 at a time. I nailed into the side and kind of ricocheted off. People were like ‘whoa!’ At the bottom she was right there. I thought, ‘what do I do what do I do?’ It’s two miles. But I was hurting. Should I settle in? I didn’t want to be in a sprint with that girl.”

Little did Jackson know that Groff had also sustained some battle wounds during the run. “The race would have been hard enough just battling the course and conditions, but I made things much harder on myself by clocking my head on the tunnel a couple miles into the run,” Groff says. “My race completely shifted from clinching the win in my Alcatraz debut to merely finishing.”

The pair ran side-by-side for about a quarter mile. With less than two miles to go, Jackson decided, “I needed to go now or it’s going to be a sprint.”

She pulled away from Groff and maintained her lead to the finish, clocking a race-fastest 48:22 run split on the demanding 8-mile course. “Heather ran well and I simply couldn’t match her at that point,” Groff says. “I knew that Alcatraz would be challenging; I never expected I would end up getting nine staples in my head after the race.  That said, I can’t wait to return in the future to improve on my result.”

Jackson finished in 2:18:08, adding another tough-course title to her name, with Groff just behind in 2:18:37. Ricarda Lisk took third in 2:23:36.

“I’m in shock right now,” Jackson said after the race. “This isn’t one that necessarily suits me with the swim, so my goal was to just go all out on the bike on the run, and it ended up working out… This race is awesome. I’ll definitely be back.”

Jackson will race Ironman 70.3 Oceanside on March 31.

PHOTOS: 2013 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon

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