South Surrey’s Tina Hansen-Baker completed the Alcatraz Challenge in San Francisco last month.

South Surrey’s Tina Hansen-Baker completed the Alcatraz Challenge in San Francisco last month.

A landmark day for runner

Tina Hansen-Baker completes Alcatraz race

Tina Hansen-Baker doesn’t consider herself a competitive runner, although by all accounts, she’d have the chops for it.

Among other things, she’s competed in a handful of half-marathons, a few triathlons and some relay events, but the modest South Surrey resident is quick to admit that she doesn’t compete for the glory of victory, or even necessarily for a new personal-best time.

“I’m typically among the last dozen to finish,” she laughed. “I always say that I’m not a competitor, I’m a participant. But I just enjoy exercising and staying in shape.”

As a participant, Hansen-Baker said she tends to focus on events that pique her curiosity – “I do interesting races,” she said.

“They just give me new goals – something to train for and shoot for.”

Among her athletic highlights are the Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay, a 177-km team event from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, NWT, that traces a route used during the gold rush of 1898; and the Great Canadian Death Race, a grueling 125-km course in the Rocky Mountains, near Grande Cache, Alta.

Late last month, the 45-year-old massage therapist was at it again, taking part in the Alcatraz Challenge, a combination swim/run event – “splash ‘n’ dash,” Hansen-Baker called it – along the shores of San Francisco.

“I’d heard about the race a number of years ago, and it always stuck in the back of my mind. The first time I was in San Francisco, in 1985, I remember standing there, looking at out (Alcatraz) and thinking, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’” she said.

“And now I can say that I have – and nobody can take that away from me.”

The race, held July 17, began with participants, nearly 600 of them, leaping over the side of the Hornblower Ferry and into San Francisco Bay, just a few hundred metres away from the shores of Alcatraz; because of the famous prison’s high cliffs, and rocky, bird-poop covered shores, the race cannot actually begin on the island. From there, Hansen-Baker and her fellow athletes swam the 1.5-mile course back to shore, and after a quick transition period to get out of their wetsuits and into their sneakers, took off on a seven-mile run that took them across the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Here’s two of the world’s most famous landmarks, and I got to play on them both in the same day,” she said.

“And they don’t close the bridge to traffic during the run, so the whole time you’re dodging, weaving, trying to keep out of the way (of vehicles). But down below, there were dolphins in the water, and surfers… It was pretty neat.”

Hansen-Baker, who began running as a hobby in 2002 and has been part of the Semiahmoo Sunrunners the past four years, completed the race in two hours, 22 minutes; an hour for the swim, 1:16 in the run, and a few minutes in the transition zone.

But while she was happy with her time, she was more thrilled with the overall experience – and was pleasantly surprised that the famously frigid Pacific Ocean was not as cold as she expected.

“It wasn’t that cold, actually. I was quite surprised,” she said.

“I’d been taking cold showers for two weeks to try and prepare for how cold it was going to be – I was expecting to jump in and not be able to feel my arms and legs.”

Next on the agenda for Hansen-Baker is a half-ironman race in Lake Stevens, Wash. on Aug. 14, which, when completed, will be yet another feat she can check off her athletic bucket list.

“I’m just trying to live each day, and do as many things as I can before I’m done being 45,” she said.