A few weeks ago, I was able to participate in and finish the inaugural Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. This is definitely one of the craziest/stupidest things I’ve ever done….and it was awesome. I definitely want to share this experience with the internet so everyone can know how awesome this race it and get it on their bucket lists!
Ok, so this is the first triathlon I’ve ever had to fly to, so I was stupid neurotic worried about my baggage getting lost on the way. I had shipped my bike up to Alaska 2 weeks prior, so I knew it was already up there, safe and sound, but I was totally sure that my checked bag with my race gear was going to get lost. I packed my carry-on bag full of race stuff that I absolutely had to have that couldn’t be replaced (helmet, wetsuit, etc) and hauled that bad boy all the way from Atlanta to Anchorage. (Spoiler: my bag did not get lost and everything was fine).
I landed in Anchorage around 1 pm, but one of our crew wasn’t coming in until almost 7, so we had a good bit of time to get some groceries, pick up my bike, and waste some time at REI before picking up our last co-hort at the airport and heading down to Seward. This gave us a chance to check out the bike course (backwards) and also just generally enjoy one of the most scenic highways in America – although it rained the entire way there.
We stayed at the Harborview Inn, which was just fine and more reasonably priced than some of the other hotels in town. We got in and pretty much crashed right away so we coud get up and go to the social swim in the morning.
I got up to head to the social swim around 5:30 (so we could sleep in a bit after our late night). I told the crew they didn’t have to come with, but they all wanted to, so we all went down to the swim start with our swim gear on. I’m glad we got there a little later, since of the other participants had already been in the water and warmed it up a bit 😉
I squeezed into my wetsuit, and also put on booties and a neoprene cap and gloves to try out – I had been in the wetsuit, but not the other gear before. I pretty much immediately had to have the gloves off – they made me feel super claustrophobic and I couldn’t grab my goggles. So that wasn’t going to work. Once I had those off, I was able to get out in the water and swim around a bit. Everything in the wetsuit was fine. My hands were cold, but I was just going to have to deal with that, and when I put my face in the water, it really kind of hurt, but I hadn’t put any vaseline on it that morning. I made a mental note to not forget that for race morning.
Then everybody got in, so that was fun.
After that, we went and got breakfast, did packet pick-up and went back to the hotel. Because I am kind of a dummy sometimes, I accidentally made two reservations at the same hotel for Thursday and Friday night, which meant we had to give up our room at 11 and couldn’t get the new one until 4….not ideal for the day before the race. But we tried to make the best of it, so I spent the rest of the morning organizing all my race gear into bags so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later. We spent a few hours at the Sea Life Center, but at one point I got really, really tired and just wanted to lay down, so I went out to the car and relaxed in there for a while. There was a still a little time before the mandatory pre-race meeting so we drove over to the Exit Glacier. My crew went and hiked up to it, but I napped in the car (geez I was tired).
Finally, it was time for the pre-race meeting, where I found out I should have already checked my run bag (I thought for some reason we checked them at the meeting). I kind of panicked a little bit (a lot) and ran over to where the bag check was, but everyone was over at the meeting. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who missed this, so one of the other support crews offered to wait there with our bags while we went back to the meeting. My nerves were definitely in full-force at this point, and my support crew captain picked on me a little because I pretty much chewed off all of my fingernails during the meeting. YEP I’M NERVOUS NOW.
After the meeting, we were finally able to go back to the hotel (to our new room), and I sent my crew off to dinner so I could have some time to finish prepping my stuff and check out my bike (I’m glad I did because the back brake was rubbing on the wheel). I made everyone get in bed by 8 because we had an early morning and a long day ahead of us!
Alarm went off at 2:45 AM…ughhhh. I had everything already packed in the van, so all I’d have to do in the morning was get dressed. My support captain drove me to transition and helped me set up all my stuff and get my tires pumped up. Then we got my wetsuit and booties on and I got on the bus for the swim start -buses were off at 3:30!
There was a good bit of time to just hang out at the swim start, so I found a chair to chill in with my pop-tarts and coffee drink. I only drank a little bit of that before I realized that I was super anxious and probably didn’t need any coffee. I’m pretty sure this is the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race. I chatted with a guy about pre-race breakfast (he eats bologna sandwiches and Mountain Dew??) to try to calm my nerves, but I’m not sure it helped. I’m pretty sure this is the only time I haven’t finished my pop-tarts too.
Finally, the RD started calling for everyone to get ready so I got up and started getting vaseline all over my face (and all inside my goggles, oops). The national anthem was sung and then all of a sudden it was time to get in the water and then 3…2…1….go! SHIT.
SWIM (2.67 Miles):
Getting in and getting started wasn’t too bad, but it was cold and very foggy. The only thing we had to sight on was a light on a fire truck at the end of the shore, which was plenty bright but since I had accidentally gotten vaseline all inside my goggles I couldn’t really see anything. I swam for about 30 minutes before I had to stop and try to clean them off. It didn’t do much good but I put them back on and kept going. I was pretty uncomfortable – my hands were cold and my feet and face were numb. Just had to keep going!
Everything was going pretty well until I had about a half mile to go. This is where the glacier melt water was coming into the bay and the water dropped from ~55 degrees to more like….47. THAT IS COLD. The change was noticeable and very unpleasant and I wanted very badly to be done.
I kept pushing forward to try to get away from the coldest part, but eventually I got to the point when I needed to start turning towards the finish but I really couldn’t see. I flagged down a kayaker to see if they could help wipe off my goggles a bit which helped enough so I could kind of see where I was headed.
The last 400-500 were the worst. I was cold, tired, numb, and my arms hurt. I could see one of my support crew waving at me (when your swim coach is there, she knows exactly how you swim 🙂 ). It really took me a long time to actually reach the finish because I kept having to stop and float on my back every little bit because my arms were so tired (blarg wetsuits). FINALLY I could see the old wooden boat ramp where the exit was. As I came out there was a volunteer/support crew guy there who was helping everyone (and did help everyone until the end) out of the water. He is the hero of the day, for sure. Obviously, my support captain would have come down to get me but it was nice that she didn’t have to get all the way in the water to fish me out. I was so happy to be out. This was definitely the hardest swim I’ve done – and I’ve swam 10 miles!
Gear: Blue Seventy Reaction Full Wetsuit, neoprene booties, neoprene cap, Speedo Vanquisher goggles
Time: 1:27:51 (yea, really. This was rough) < I’m adding my garmin files so people can have a good look at the course
Once I was on my feet I was ok, but I let my support crew grab me and help me walk towards transition. They were taking pictures so I tried to smile but I couldn’t because my face was numb 🙂 🙂
My hands warmed up really quickly so I was able to start getting my bike ready while my support captain pulled out my clothes to change into. We got the swim gear off and bike gear on (no changing tent but I think everyone there had seen my butt before so whatever). My feet were frooooooooooooooooooooooozzzzeeeeee, so once I was dressed, my support tried to rub some feeling into them so we could get my shoes on. It wasn’t really working, so she helped me get those on too. Bike lights on, phone tracker started, and I was off!
BIKE (111.5 miles):
THIS BIKE COURSE was absolutely the best part of the day. INCREDIBLE.
It was raining at the beginning of the bike, but no hard so it wasn’t especially unpleasant. I was a little worried about road debris plus the wet making my tires slippery or causing a flat but it ended up being ok. The course started out with a long gradual climb, much easier climbing to what I’m used to. This was the section with the least amount of shoulder and there was a good bit of debris in the shoulder so I kind of stuck close to the rumble strips and only moved over when someone called out that they were coming up to pass (which unfortunately not everyone did). I started in on my nutrition right away because I was super hungry and thirsty after that swim. I had a few oatmeal creme pies in my bento box, plus two bottles of BASE Rocket Fuel in my bottles (and plain water). The first place my support crew was allowed to meet me was after mile 30, so I asked them to go ahead to a pull-off around 32-33 to wait for me
The only problem was that my toes would just not warm up. I don’t know what the temperature was – it was cool, but not cold – but I was comfortable in my regular jersey and shorts, plus my vest for visibility. I had toe covers on my shoes, but those toes just had no feeling. I had full cycling booties in the van and I spent most of the first 30 miles contemplating having my support crew fishing them out for me. Of course, about 10 minutes before I saw them, my feet FINALLY warmed up. I swapped out my bottles with my support and took off again. Not too long after this, the sun came out which was AWESOME. You could really enjoy the mountains on both sides, and the sunshine….it was just great.
I saw my support again around mile 45-50, where I didn’t plan to stop but I had lost a bottle somewhere, so I wanted to get a new one (I wish I knew where because I would have gone to get it). Everything through this section was really great. A lot of people had flats, so I’m pretty glad that I didn’t have to deal with that. There was some traffic on the highway but it wasn’t bad, and most cars passed respectfully. The only one that was a little annoying was a tour bus that must have passed by me like 5 times during the bike course (because SERIOUSLY. go away).
The next place I met up with my crew was around mile 62, which was somewhere near the end of the last climb. It was a very gradual climb, but it was long and it was getting to me. I asked them where the end was and they thought I was joking…nope, I made them get out the course map and look. Luckily, it was not too much further, so that really helped me out mentally. After that was a crazy awesome descent where I wouldn’t have braked at all except I got stuck behind a poor skinny dude…you just can’t win with physics! But it was too much trouble to pass him, so I just slowed down a little. It was still great.
After this point the rest of the course was basically flat. This would have been really gnarly if the wind were in our face, but we got really lucky with the weather. There was a little bit of a headwind between miles ~75-85 on the out and back section, but it was really not too bad (and it was at our backs on the way back!). My support could see me 2 more times at the beginning and end of the out-and-back and they stopped me at the start because my phone hadn’t updated in a while, so they thought my battery might be dead and wanted to get the portable battery plugged in. It was fine, but better safe than sorry! Since I was stopped, I asked them to make a sandwich for me for when I came back because I was pretty hungry (OCPs only go so far).
It was nice on this section to get to see some of the other racers and wave! When I got back to my support, they had a turkey and cheese sammich for me (yay!), so I stopped for a few minutes to eat it – I am so glad I did! This was around mile 88, so I only had a little over 20 miles left on the bike. The last 20 miles were definitely the fastest – very flat road, but by they end I was definitely ready to be done. I feel good about my bike – I feel like I was strong and was able to bike conservatively and save enough for the finish. My nutrition was solid as well.
Gear: Felt DA4 (Michelin Power Competition tires), Shebeest shorts/Hincapie Jersey + bright yellow vest.
Nutrition: oatmeal creme pies, BASE Rocket Fuel, Nuun Performance, cheese crackers, and a turkey sandwich 🙂
Time: 7:09:38 (I forgot to turn auto-pause off so it looks like I spent ~10 mins in support stops)
Support wasn’t allowed to come to T2 (for safety reasons), but there were volunteers there to help get my run gear bag and fill up my water bladder. I was definitely a little disoriented getting off the bike, so I took everything out of my gear bag to figure out what I needed – I didn’t pack it very well. The volunteer came back with my full water bladder, so I put that and all my nutrition in my vest, and got everything else I needed (bell, whistle, etc). Then I got changed into my run clothes (shorts and a tank). The volunteers brought me a chair to sit in, which is probably why I took so long – I sat down. Bad plan! But finally, I got my shit together and went over to the aid table, where I got bug spray and cookies and then started the run!
RUN (27 miles):
This was it! I was able to break the run up into segments: the first 14.5 miles where I was on my own, 14.5-20 where I would pick up my support captain, then 20-27 on the mountain. I needed to make sure to save a little for those last 7 miles because I knew they would be hard (I had no idea).
For the first part, we were running on a multi-use path that ran along the highway that we just biked up. So we got to enjoy the scenery since it was still sunny and glorious. It was a little “warm” (meaning like…70), and not too much shade so I made sure to have some salt with my water. I was doing ok with run/walk, but probably walking more than running. I got passed by some people (though some I passed later). I tried not to worry about the time or anything, just keep moving forward. The miles passed pretty quickly. There were some other people using the trail and most of them were really excited about the race and encouraged us as they passed, which was pretty nice since it was pretty quiet and lonely otherwise. Lots of little piles of bear poo 🙂
There was an aid station at mile 12, so I stopped and got some gatorade and cookies before continuing on. The last couple miles before I got into town and to my support crew were really long…..blech. I walked a lot of this section. Finally there was a big hill leading up to the resort and everyone was there! I stopped there and changed into my trail shoes and Kim and I headed off for the next 5.5 miles of the course. This section was pretty hilly. The first section was on sidewalk/road over to the cross-country ski trail, then on the trail before heading back. This was another nice section where there were a lot of people because most participants picked up their support crew for this section. It was nice to see some people!
My feet were really hurting by this point and I could definitely tell I was getting some blisters – even with the change of shoes. Not so fun, but not much you can do about that! Most of this section was walking, but I let Kim talk me into a little bit of running on the flat/downhill parts.
When we got to mile 20, the rest of my crew joined me. I filled up my bladder again and we headed up to the checkpoint! :O
I was in pretty good spirits….for about 30 seconds. This mountain was. STEEP. AS. SHIT. Like we have mountains here in South Carolina. I climbed Mt. Mitchell just a few weeks before the race to train. IT IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THIS. The trail was basically straight up the side of the mountain. It was absolutely brutal. Only Kim brought hiking poles (I don’t have any), and she offered them me but I declined them at first. I didn’t think it would really help since I was basically crawling up the side of the mountain. After the first 50 minute mile of suffering, I finally took them – I feel like it did help a little, but it was still awful. The first two miles took FOREVER (no seriously. forever). Around every corner, I’d think we were at the top and WE WEREN’T. ARG. Near the top, there was a creek – a volunteer told us we could go around, but I was not having that. I just splashed right through and it kind of felt good on my poor hurting feet.
My crew was nothing but cheerful and awesome. They sang songs for me, encouraged me, and well, pretty much never shut up. But it was good. When we finally got to the top, there was this GLORIOUS view but if I stopped I didn’t think I could go again, so I just kept on which they took pictures for me.
We started downhill, where we would pass by the finish line and drop off one of the crew (She unfortunately can’t do steep downhills because of an injury). This wasn’t too bad and I was even able to run a little bit.
I did have a moment which really dragged my attitude even further down though. As we were leaving the finish line area, a spectator felt the need to tell me “You only have two hours left, better hurry up.” Maybe she was trying to be helpful BUT IT WAS NOT. Not at all. I was really upset because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it and I had gone all this way for nothing. Kim continued to be encouraging and told me she was with me until the end – wherever that was. I knew there was a checkpoint/cutoff at the bottom of the mountain, so I decided that if we reached that checkpoint in time, we would continue – otherwise, I’d done the best I could and that would be that. But in my head, I was so sure I wasn’t going to make the cutoff, so I was pretty down. I hustled as best I could down the mountain.
We reached the bottom and no one was there? I had no idea what time it was, but I figured if no one was there to stop us, then we were good to go. So up we went!
The north face of the mountain was not as steep, but loooootttssss of switchbacks. And a whole lotta mosquitoes. Like seriously. We had bug-sprayed up, and had Parakitos, but there was nothing for that level of bug. And I felt bad. I was so tired and my feet hurt so bad and I wanted nothing more than to just sit down on the trail and be done. Kim continued to be 100% encouraging, telling me I was great, and pushing me to continue. At about a mile 26 (1 to go!), we could see the finish line….because it was right above us, and there were so many switchbacks between us and the finish. We could hear the music and cheering. I figured at this point that even if I didn’t make the finish cutoff….at least I would make it to the finish line!
Up and up we slogged. I got passed by a few people in that last mile and they seemed to think the cutoff was in reach, so I started feeling a little better. We finally got to the last couple switchbacks where I could see that the last person who had passed me was reaching the finish line and I tried to pick up the pace. We could hear our other team member that we left at the finish line. I got excited! I was going to make it after all!
Gear: Athleta Be Free Shorts, tank top from Costco, Nathan Hydration Pack, and of course my Malone Coaching visor
Nutrition: Margarite Clif Blocks, a few Hammer Gels, a PB&J Uncrustable, cookies from aid stations, and random junk that Kim had in her pack
Time: 4:57:28 for the first 20, 4:11:46 for the last 7, 9:09:14 total run time (Note: I felt really bad about how long it took me to do the last 7….but it took a lot of people in the ball park of 4 hours to do, so then I felt better haha)
I’m pretty sure we all boo hooed a little bit. I *still* can’t believe I finished! This race really tested my mental strength….and it would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t had such a great support crew! They were amazing and I couldn’t have done it without them!
I made a beeline for some stairs so I could sit my ass down. Everything hurt. We stayed at the finish line for a few minutes, but there were only a few “aid station” food items there and none of them really called to me, so we took off to take the tram down. We didn’t stay at the host resort, but at a really nice ski condo nearby (Alyeska Accomodations Brighton #116 – super nice!). My support captain went to get my bike so I could shower and have a beer (beer > food) and then we all *crashed*. Dead.
Obviously no alarms were set, but I woke up around 8. I was SO SORE, but since I was up, I roused everybody so we could go to the finishers brunch and get my well-earned t-shirt. We got pictures, but we didn’t get brunch tickets so we took off to some place called the Bake Shop. It was solid good.
Race stuff was over! I went back to bed for a long nap while my support crew got started on vacation mode with some downhill mountain biking 🙂
Ok, so that was long. Total finish time was 18:13:21. One of 198 brave souls to start this day, 146th out of 159 to finish, and 25 out of only 26 fierce and fabulous women to make it to the top of that mountain in time. It was a brutal and awesome day and I am so proud to be a part of this inaugural race! I hope there are many, many more race days to come. If you need to break away from the Ironman scene, do a race in one of the most beautiful places in the country, and feel like a badass….put this on your calendar! Aaron really put on a world-class race from start to finish, and I don’t think any of us can thank him enough for such an awesome experience.