An extreme triathlon with a twist

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The Alaskaman Extreme Triathalon began bright and early at 4 a.m. in Seward. 87 percent of participants finished with a final race time between 14 and 18 hours. Photo credit: Eric Wynn

 

All the way from Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska to Mount Alyeska in Girdwood, Alaska, 198 triathletes competed in the extreme event that was founded and designed by Aaron Palain.

Palain has ample experience in designing and constructing events such as this.

“I’ve been producing endurance events in Houston for nearly a decade and surpassed the 100 mark earlier this year. In 2015 I was lucky enough to be accepted as an athlete in the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. The organizers mentioned that their race took place at about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. That comment got me to thinking that the US deserved an extreme triathlon of grand proportions and what better place than the Last Frontier? Less than a year later we opened registration for Alaskaman,” Palain said.

The Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, that boasts the title of being the “hardest long course triathlon in North America,” initially intrigued over 300 to people to register, but it didn’t take long before the number dwindled down to only 198 athletes at the start line. Only 153 made it to the finish line.

Palain described that it was a dream of his for nearly a decade, which was an immediate hit that sold out in days due to the appeal of the event.

“Our AlaskaMan distances are all longer than most normal long distance triathlons, we have 54 degree water with no visibility, our bike course is one of the most beautiful on earth but the valleys and mountains can create some extreme weather and our run course takes athletes through just about every terrain imaginable,” Palain said.

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With the extremes of the race, 12 athletes were not able to finish the swim portion, six didn’t finish the bike portion, 15 dropped out during the run and an additional 12 forfeited the event for alternative reasons.

The athletes that did finish managed to cover the entire distance of 142 miles. Before the sun even rose in Seward on July 15, the athletes were able to jump into the bay at 4 a.m.

The water temperature and air temperature stayed consistent with one another, both averaging low 50’s. The water temperature even proved to be colder in the middle of the bay, at around 46 degrees.

After swimming for 2.6 miles, the athletes continued to take on the next challenge by biking to Alyeska Ski Resort. The 113.5-mile bike ride took place on the Seward Highway, right along side traffic.

To finish off the event, the remaining athletes ran 27.5 miles, longer than a traditional 26.1-mile long marathon. In addition, the unconventional run portion of the event took the competitors to an elevation of over 6,000 feet as they had to scale Mount Alyeska twice on two separate sides of the mountain.

Although challenging, most of the competitors thoroughly enjoyed the race, such as Patrick Hiller who finished 15th overall with a time of 13 hours and 37 minutes.

“Everything you’d expect from a race called Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. It takes all you’ve got to finish. Super well organized with an abundance of useful information for athletes and support leading up to the event. Volunteers and local communities were outstanding and made us athletes feel welcome,” Hiller said.

Hiller’s time within the 13-hour bracket put him in with only 8 percent of all other athletes, with 5 percent finishing in 11 or 12 hours and the other 87 percent finishing between 14 and 18 hours.

The fastest time for men’s overall went to Andy Fast of Salt Lake City, Utah. Fast finished the event in an impressive 11 hours and 18 minutes. On the women’s side, Morgan Chaffin took the title. The Elkhorn, Nebraska local finished the race in 12 hours and 47 minutes, proving to be in the top 5 percent placing 6th overall.

Additionally, on the women’s side, Jessica Anderson, a Texas local, competed and managed to place 6th in women and 41 overall. Being a woman in the race put Anderson in the minority, but being 28 years old gave her another minority title with the average female age being 39.

Coming from Texas, the appeal of an Alaskan race is what drove Anderson and many competitors to this inaugural race.

“After this event, I can certainly say the race was challenging but well worth it. The views help to ease the suffering and once I was out of the water, which was the most brutal part in my opinion due to the cold and the tides, the bike was spectacular and the run course was stunning. The mountain part was just one step in front of the other, and sharing it with my brother as my crew made it was by far my favorite part,” Anderson said.

Racer and former UAA hockey player Conor Deal competed in the race as the youngest participant at 24 years old.

Deal finished the race being 11th place overall and 9th in males with a time of 13 hours and 12 minutes. Over the past year, Deal spent his days running, swimming and biking to train for the race; in addition to his training, Deal practiced with the UAA hockey team every day.

After not being satisfied with the turnout in his collegiate hockey career, Deal turned to triathlons and mountain running, after already competing in and enjoying Mount Marathon 11 times.

With such a successful 2017 Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, Palain hopes to make this a summer tradition in Alaska, with 2018 registration opening in October and the race already planned for July 21, 2018.

To learn more about the event itself, visit www.akxtri.com or their Facebook page of Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon (@akxtri) and to access the 2017 race results visit www.akxtri.com/results.