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Huntington woman completes triathlon

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 04:44 PM

HUNTINGTON -- If at first you don't get in, apply again. Danielle Wiblen-Snyder of Huntington applied that logic and landed a spot in the prestigious 2013 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon held Sunday in San Francisco.

Wiblen-Snyder was one of 2,000 amateur and pro athletes from all 50 states and more than 40 countries who put their endurance to the test in the 33rd annual triathlon. For $20, she was able to register for the Random Lottery (registration began Sept. 1, 2012). She got in on the second round. A year ago, she didn't make the first cut.

"I've watched it on TV. I gave it some thought, but never in a million years did I think I'd be picked," Wiblen-Snyder said in a telephone interview from the Bay Area.

Wiblen-Snyder got the good news around Halloween. Her husband, Randy, found out first and told her. "I thought oh my goodness. This is pretty exciting."

Then it was time to train for what is considered one of the most difficult triathlons in the world. Wiblen-Snyder said she got the inspiration to compete from her father Tim. He died in 2007 from cancer.

"If my dad can walk up a flight of steps with cancer and Jesus died on the cross, I can do a triathlon," Wiblen-Snyder said. "He (her dad) is the reason I'm here."

The format for this particular triathlon is a 1.5-mile swim in icy waters, 18-mile bike ride and eight-mile run featuring steep hills and rugged terrain. Set against the natural beauty of San Francisco, this event is a virtual postcard of the City by the Bay. The work paid off Wiblen-Snyder she finished 43rd in the 35-39 women's division in 4:39.37.

In training, Wiblen-Snyder set a six-day schedule. She split time between running -- including steps at Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium or parking garage across from Henderson Center -- biking and swimming at the YMCA. She said she varied distances in each category. She got some good advice from Jeff Joy, owner of Jeff's Bike Shop, and Sara Gysbers, a registered nurse at King's Daughters Medical Center along with Wiblen-Snyder.

"Jeff gave me some good tips on how to prepare," Wiblen-Snyder said.

Sunday morning Wiblen-Snyder had to battle nerves. Age range for the triathletes was 13 to 80.

"You think you've got time when you find out you're in," Wiblen-Snyder said. "Then it's here. I'm thinking what have I done?"

Wiblen-Snyder and fellow triathletes donned wet suits and took the plunge off the San Francisco Belle into the icy cold water adjacent to Alcatraz Island at 7:30 a.m. Water temperature in San Francisco Bay was 51 degrees. In less than six minutes, the 2,000 athletes made that infamous leap.

"At that moment, you've got to go," Wiblen-Snyder said. "As soon as you hit the water, it takes your breath away. You have to adjust. Six to eight minutes in, my head's in the water and I have a more productive stroke."

This event does present danger. A 46-year-old Texas man died of an apparent heart attack in the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay just moments after the start of the triathlon, race officials said. The race was held three months earlier than previous years and in far colder waters. Organizers said the death was the first in the event's history.

Wiblen-Snyder's time on the first leg was 1:03.30. Once out of the water, it's off to the transition area at Marina Green (start/finish point) to prepare for the out-and-back18-mile ride. Wiblen-Snyder's time for this leg was 1:30.27.

Back at Marina Green, the triathletes begin the 8-mile run to Baker Beach Battery where they return to the shoreline. They encounter Baker Beach's deep sand to the turnaround point and back until they reach the dreaded Equinox Sand Ladder (400 steps up the cliff). The stairs are to the run what the currents and waves are to the swim.

"The hills were not that bad," Wiblen-Snyder said. "The cold water zaps the energy from your legs. I think I could've done better, but my legs were gone."

Wiblen-Snyder's time for the final leg through the trails of the Golden Gate Recreational Area was 1:50.15. During the run, the triathletes pass under the Golden Gate Bridge twice.

"Running the stadium steps helped me prepare for the Sand Ladder," Wiblen-Snyder said. "That was something else."

Thousands of fans take in the action and those cheers inspire the triathletes as they head to the finish line in the grass at Marina Green.

"Relief," Wiblen-Snyder said in summing up the experience. "I did it. Flags (from all the countries) were everywhere. Quite the sight. I thought I'd be closer to 4:15. I'm just happy to finish." Emily Kelly of Louisville won the 35-39 division in 2:58.31.

Wiblen-Snyder's done one other major triathlon. It was the Beach to Battleship Triathlon in Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Legs there measured 2.4 miles for the swim, 112 miles for bike ride and 26.2-miles (marathon distance) run.

Wiblen-Synder said the triathlon and sights in the Bay Area made for a good vacation. Before the race, she and her husband got to tour Alcatraz Island which often referred to as "The Rock." From 1933-63, the island became a federal prison and housed such criminals as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz) and Mickey Cohen to name a few. During the time of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoner made a successful escape. Monday the Snyders headed to Redwood National Park.

"We saw Al Capone's cell," Wiblen-Snyder said. "Everything's so beautiful out here."