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Emma Pallant-Browne’s Alcatraz-Winning Workouts

The British middle distance star has been on a roll this year with huge finishes over world championship-caliber athletes. We have the details and two sessions that made it happen.

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Emma Pallant-Browne is making triathlon look so easy right now it’s almost a crime.

In her debut at Escape from Alcatraz on Sunday, the former track runner continued in the same way she’s spent much of 2021: by running away from the opposition and hopping on to the top step of the podium.

Last weekend’s success at the 40th edition of the iconic 1.5-mile swim, 18-mile bike, and 8-mile run in San Francisco marked the Brit’s fifth win in seven starts this season. Brad Culp’s hot take was that she’s the hottest triathlete on the planet right now, and while not shy of hyperbole, Culp might also be correct…for once.

It was also a third showdown of the season against countrywoman Holly Lawrence. Though Lawrence edged her out in 70.3 Des Moines, Pallant-Browne had the advantage at 70.3 St. George and again at Alcatraz, overtaking the 2016 70.3 world champ two miles from the finish in the City by the Bay to win by 44 seconds.

The next round of head-to-heads will see the pair on the same side, joining up for a formidable-looking Team Europe in the Collins Cup next week, before rivalries are renewed at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George next month.

“Different ends of the races are our strengths,” Pallant-Browne explained about her battles with Lawrence. “She’s such a strong swimmer and I’m always chasing. Even in Collins Cup qualification we were quite close on points. It raises my game.”

While she might have come out on top, Pallant-Browne almost turned down the opportunity to jump off the boat at Alcatraz. “When I got the invite, I thought it might not be my kind of race,” the 32-year-old said. “Then I looked back at the past winners and could see strong runners, such as Ashleigh Gentle, had won. It became a challenge.”

First Pallant-Browne had to cope with the swim. Billed as “icy cold,” it was a balmy 63 degrees F on race morning when Pallant-Browne “bombed” off the side of the San Francisco Belle (“I didn’t want to dive in and hit someone!”) and made for shore.

But if the temperature wasn’t an issue, the current certainly was. Men’s winner Ben Kanute’s swim time was 9 minutes slower than when he won in 2019. “It seemed to take forever,” was Pallant-Browne’s assessment.

The lumpy bike course presented the next challenge, where even the fastest section through Golden Gate Park had traffic-slowing speed bumps that meant less time spent in the aero tuck that Pallant-Browne has been honing after finishing 12th in Challenge Daytona in December—when she started work with new coach, three-time Olympian Tim Don.

Pallant-Browne had moved from the U.K. to set-up home in South Africa with husband Jarrod Browne—which led to a switch away from long-time coaching mentor Michelle Dillon. Browne had previously been coached by Don and suggested his wife give it a try too. “He said all the things I don’t do well, Tim does so well,” Pallant-Browne said. “He thought we’d balance each other really nicely.” It seems to be working well enough so far.

Finally, the run: Escape from Alcatraz’s 8-mile run is notorious for the Baker Beach Sand Ladder, where 200 10-foot logs double for wooden steps over an elevation of 120ft, and where some say it’s faster to walk.

“I started walking then thought: ‘No way!’ and ran up,” Pallant-Browne recalled—completing the ascent in 2:07, just 4 seconds slower than South Africa’s Bradley Weiss, the fastest male triathlete of the day.

It certainly set Pallant-Browne up for the victory. And after wins in Ironman 70.3 Florida and Rev3 Williamsburg, second in Des Moines, and third at St George, she has fully justified her summer stint in the U.S. “Because Jarrod had come out as well, I put pressure on myself to make the most of every race,” she added. “If we’re spending that long away from home, I go into each race thinking I’ve got to nail it.

“When I cross the line with no big dramas, it’s not just relief but a sign that the hard work is paying off. I’m probably not racing as much as I was in 2018 and 2019, but there’s a good quality of girls at the races I’m going to. I think performance-wise it’s been my most solid year.”

As well as dialing in the aerodynamics, Pallant-Browne believes Don’s periodized approach is working too. “I was used to racing so much I never had training blocks leading into races,” she said. “I’d say I’ll do any race I can, but Tim would tell me to target races. I had to trust him and it’s paying off.”

Below, we’ve provided two key sessions—a swim and a run—that have helped make 2021 Pallant-Browne’s biggest year yet and propelled her to the top of the podium at the iconic Alcatraz. The first is a short-interval swim set made up of multiple 50s with short rest; the second is a series of Alcatraz-appropriate hill repeats.

A woman in a wetsuit exits the San Francisco bay.
Emma Pallant-Browne exits the water after the swim portion of the 40th annual Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Pallant-Browne’s Session 1

Hard 50s Swim

Total distance: 2700m

Warm-up: 500m of choice: alternating crawl, drills, kicking, backstroke

Main set:

16 x 50s (as 3 hard, 1 easy,)

12 x 50s (as 3 easy, 1 hard)

8 x 50s (as 1 easy 1 hard)

4 x 50s (all hard)

(5sec. recovery between intervals and sets)

Cool-down: 200m: Pull buoy, turning over the arms

Emma said: “I did this session early in the week before racing Alcatraz. The hard 50s imitate the race-start, so it’s 50m all-out, maximum effort. I could swim 400s all day long at the same pace, but I don’t have the speed at the start, so it’s something we’re really working on – the strength to get out on to better feet and not lose the pack.”

Pallant-Browne’s Session 2

Hill Sprint Runs

Total time: 55min.

Warm-up: 10-15min. jog

Main set:


(Hill sprints:

15sec sprint up, jog back down,

30sec sprint up, jog back down

45 sec sprint up, jog back down

10-minute tempo)

Cool-down: 15min.

Emma said: “With Alcatraz and St. George both being hilly runs, this session gets the leg turnover and heart rate going, builds strength, and helps with the feeling of running hard uphill—but with even more intensity. It’s a more exaggerated version of a hill rep. Then I’m into my flow at threshold pace, which I can hold for a long period, but is uncomfortable, then back to the hill reps that bite just a little bit more.”