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10 Great California
Tris, Swims, & Runs 2002

Best of the West

by Todd Walsh

Alcatraz Triathlon,
Hammering through the Presidio

Want to get out and race in the splendor of California? has come up with a concise list of 10 great races that will not disappoint!

The difficulty level of these races range from moderate to extreme. If you're a first timer or veteran, you should be able to find a super race in this list. Enjoy!

June 1- Lake Berryessa Open Water Swims

Distance: 1 and 2 mile swims
The quintessential Pacific Masters Open Water. This race has it all! Situated near Napa, Berryessa is the ideal day trip for the Masters swimmer. Bring the family, or go with friends and do some wine tasting afterwards. I even know some animals who bring their bikes and go biking after the swim(s). Super water (clear, and warm- usually around 70F) and a well run event. The park is situated amongst stunning oaks and an idyllic lake shore setting.You have the option of the 2 mile or 1 mile swim. If you're really serious, do both! Make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and flip-flops. It is usually between 80 - 90 degrees! Web site: Pacific Masters

June 30, 2002- Alcatraz Biathlon.

Distance: 1 1/2 mile swim, 12K run.
This is one helluva race! Put on by the same group for the past 20 years or so, this race is a classic! It's a purist multi-sport race. No fancy, thousand dollar bikes to be seen. This race tests you-- not your gear. It's just you, your swim gear (wetsuit if you must!) and your running shoes and singlet. A crisp Bay swim from the Rock to Chrissy Field (on an outgoing tide), then a quick 12KM jaunt over the Golden Gate Bridge and back. The only multi-sport race that goes over the bridge and back. Sign up at,
or email,

July 14, 2002 - Monterey Bay Triathlon

Distances: 1/2 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 4 mile run.
A relatively new race on the circuit, but a solid little triathlon that has a bit of that old school feel. Maybe its the ocean swim, or the swim to bike transition that takes you across a wide sandy beach and up a challenging set of stairs. Or maybe its just the laid back setting in Aptos, Ca. A great mid-season race. Register at

July 21- Donner Lake Triathlon. Several distances, but the Olympic is the marquee race. This race is a gem. You race between 6,000 and 7,500 feet elevation in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas. Donner Lake is known as the "gem of the sierra" for its beautiful, clear water and picturesque setting. Imagine a tiny version of Lake Tahoe (which is only about 15 miles away.) They've added a sprint distance race to the venerable Olympic distance and the weekend also features a 10K and open water swim. This is a really well run race in California Gold. Web site:

August 3- Santa Cruz Pier Swim
Distance: 1 mile.
Big race and big fun. Swim out and around the Santa Cruz pier. Just under 1 mile and a fun, popular race. Almost always nice weather for this race. Temperature of the water can range from 60 to 65, but leave your wetter at home. It's not cool to wear a wet suit at this race. If you're lucky you'll get to body surf into the finish. Web site:Pacific Masters

August 17- Alcatraz Triathlon XXII - The Ultimate Escape.

Distance: 1 1/2 mile swim, 2 mile run, 15 mile bike, 7 mile run.
City Sports magazine has called this race one of California's toughest races. It's also one of the most legendary and magical races out there. While there is always controversy over which Alcatraz is the real one -- the Alcatraz Triathlon always ensures you start your swim from the Rock! And isn't that the whole point of it? Beyond the tough and legendary swim, the ride and run(s) are almost as scenic and special. You can read post-race accounts of the past Alcatraz Triathlons at, Golden-Coast Active Life. Web site:

Finishing the Alcatraz Triathlon is a great feeling!

August 24- Santa Barbara County Triathlon .

Distances: 1 mile ocean swim, 34 mile bike, 10 mile run.
Race summary: Santa Barbara is often referred to as the American Riviera, so racing in this California, coastal paradise is a real treat. The swim is in clear, warmish water (64-65 degrees) and is usually calm, although in year's past fog has been an issue. The bike is a spectacular ride through the hills of SB and Montecito, and Carpinteria. This is a tough race and attracts top notch triathletes from all over California and the south. Definitely a longer triathlon, and really a biker and runner's triathlon. Make sure you hydrate and fuel up well on this race as it gets plenty hot by the time you head out on the 10 mile run. A sprint course is also available. Web site:

September- Catalina Island - Run for Site. 11.5 mile trail run. This is one tough, inspiring race. The tag line on the shirt states, "Not Just Another Pretty Race." Make sure you go there with some good base miles and a penchant for steep, steep running. Careful on the downhill too. People really wind it up and haul ass down the hill. Catalina is a beautiful island 20 miles off Los Angeles but feels like a world away! It beckons adventure and good times so go there for the race, but be sure to do some swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and dining and dancing. There's also a 5K offered the same day. Web site:

September- Santa Cruz Sentinel Triathlon. Olympic Distance. For those not going to Kona (or competing in off-road tris), this triathlon is usually the end of a long triathlon season. And it rewards you with one of the best triathlon courses you could ask for! Same swim as the SC Pier (detailed above), hilly, yet fast bike ride (tons of drafting), and beautiful coastal run. Weather is almost always great, and the volunteers and Santa Cruz townspeople that come out are all smiles. A feel good race. Now if only you can break two hours... Web site.

The start and finish of the Sentinel can have some challenging shorebreak. Time it right and you'll be fine. Click to enlarge.

October 27, 2002. RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water. A late season open water that takes place in the San Francisco Bay. The course is a point-to-point course from Tiburon Island to the mainland. (Tiburon is located about 20 miles nNorth of San Francisco) Race organizers tell golden-coast that 630 swimmers, 18 that were Olympic and World Class pool and open water swimmers from around the world, and more than 250 volunteers participated during last year's race. Moreover, "the event's designated charity is Special Olympics and we raised over $50,000 for the cause!" Can't argue with that kind of fundraising, or, a challenging, exciting bay swim. Water temps in October are between 60 and 65F. To volunteer or find out more about this race, visit,

Agree? Disagree? Want more insight on these races? Send an e-mail to Todd Walsh at,

Golden-Coast Productions, 2001