RACE REPORT DISCLAIMER: Race reports are provided by athletes and are not edited for content.
Yesterday, I did the 2019 Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon from Seward to Girdwood for the second year in a row. To say the race day conditions were brutal is an understatement. Along with the forest fire smoke filling the skies we had record high temperatures into the mid-80’s which is rare for the area. Those temperatures alone are tough to handle, and to add in swimming, biking, running and mountain hiking tested myself to what I could do, and all the athletes competing.
Started out at 4:30 AM with a 1.8 mile swim in Resurrection Bay. Water temps were not that bad, my watch recorded temps from 50-56 degF; 50 deg close to the shore felt cold, 56 deg when you got a bit further out was no problem. Had a strong swim, my time of 1:06 was within a minute of my projected time so was happy getting out of the water and not feeling cold at all. During the swim, a somewhat eerie feeling with the smoke in the area close to the water and giving the aura a somber feel. A short jog over to where the bikes were staged, changed into my biking gear and off I went.
The smoke in Seward area was noticeable but not to the point of being an irritant, at least to me. Yesterday was a special day on the bike as I rode faster than I’d ever ridden the 113 mile distance before. Rode on a new tri bike I’d bought this past winter and from the beginning I could tell I was having a great day on the bike even to the point of reigning the effort in a bit thinking I didn’t want to blow up later in the day. I caught and passed people I normally would not have, the climbs didn’t seem as hard. Now, the new bike wasn’t the reason I rode so well—always say it’s the engine on the bike that makes the difference—but I had good training leading up to the race so pleasantly surprised in my effort. Had no mechanical issues, no flats, everything worked great. Got off the bike just over 6 hrs, changed into my running gear and readied myself for the real grueling effort of the day.
The 17.5 mile Alaskaman run course is tough on a good day, but when mixed with smoke and 80+ deg temps, it’s downright brutal, and that’s what we had. Its dusty, hilly, minimal shade and downright unforgiving. Knew it was going to be a grind but steadied myself for the effort and off I went. Slow and steady is how I approached the run, not to get overheated. My friends Carol Howarth, Jim Mendenhall and daughter Alexandria met me along the way to provide ice water to cool down with. Took a wrong turn (more on that later), ran when I could, walked the hills to keep my heart rate down, sought out what shade there was and just plowed through. Finished just under 4 hours and felt pretty good considering. Physically, I was fine, then got ready for the most challenging part of the day: 10 mile hike the slopes of Alyeska ski resort.
The toughest part of the climb(actually two climbs as you go up and down twice)is you’re doing it at the hottest part of the day with direct sun hitting you the whole hike. There is zero shade, and it’s a sufferfest the entire time. I’m not a hot weather person tho think I’m getting better handling the heat as I get older. But yesterday was just unrelenting. Well over 80 deg F, you’re climbing up the whole time, just trying to hold it together. My hiking support crew was neighbor Susan Casey, who ran with me last year, friend Lauran McNaughton and Susan’s daughter, Patricia. (Susan astutely pointed out I was the only climber with a three woman crew. I have three sisters so I’m used to that ratio!) and it’s a hard climb for them, too. We’d stop at the creeks a long the route for cold water to douse my head, higher up we did get snow and a bit of a breeze which cooled us down but all in all it’s just keeping yourself from getting overheated to the point of not being able to continue. You get this far that’s not what you want. Stopped to get water, snow, continued on, rested, cooled down. It was an extremely tough time but managed to keep myself upright, moving forward, took it easy on the down slopes so as not to stumble on rocky ground. Susan and I made the complete hike in 4 1/2 hours and I was never so happy to be done with an endurance event: 16hrs 26min which was 23rd place overall and almost an hour faster than last year. And a year older, too. For the second year in a row I was the oldest finisher, which I’m actually proud of being able to do.
So about taking the wrong turn. Running on the Winner Creek trail, about mile 9 and I’m looking down to check my foot placement, not want to trip and fall. Follow the trail and across a cat track bridge. Ran a bit but realized I didn’t recognize this from training runs so backtracked across the bridge. Caught sight of the course marking flags and followed. Go a ways and run up to two hikers. “Coming thru” I said and the first hiker turns and says “Bob Eder?” I replied “Yeah.” Well, yesterday was my 40th high school reunion which I couldn’t make for obvious reasons. The hiker was a classmates mine, Fred Stutzer. I said “You going to the reunion tonight?” and he says “Yeah, are you?” “No, I won’t be going tonight, I don’t think”. Then he tells me that I was going the wrong way, the hotel was the other path. I had backtracked the same way I came from the hand tram. We chatted a bit, pointed me in the right direction, I thanked him for saving me even more additional running and off I went. Kinda funny when you think about it, the timing of it all. Hadn’t seen Fred in 10 years since the last reunion, so sorta had a mini one right there in the middle of my race!
Many people to thank but start off with my race captain extraordinaire Jennifer Eder. This is her third xTri support, done all with me, and she did another fabulous job. She’s terrific at it, chats up other competitors and crew, and has a great time before, during and after the events. Invaluable, she is. Sister Lynda came up to visit our mother so tagged along, too. The aforementioned Carol, Jim and Alexandria were awesome with water support, jogging along with me to keep company. My hike support were great with snow patrol, especially Susan who is very experienced in her own right with endurance events, keeps an even keel and offers great advice when needed. So fortunate to have a neighbor with similar interests willing to join in on the crazy things I do. And thanks to all of the volunteers, race director Aaron Palaian and his team. They make a tough race a pleasure to be part of.
We’ll see about Alaskaman next year. Have another xTri scheduled next month in Iceland, one in Hawaii in December. Like training for them, every one seems to bring a different challenge that I get through, today being probably the sternest test. But happy to make it through to the finish and will get ready for the next big challenge that awaits!
ABOUT BOB: I’ve lived in Alaska most all my life, have been doing endurance events since my first marathon at 15yo, 42 years ago. I run, bike, swim, hike, do SwimRun, stair climbing event; pretty much the gamut of endurance activities. Survived a bear mauling several years ago, keeps me motivated to continually challenging myself. Hope to still have many more years ahead of me continuing to do what make me happy.