RACE REPORT DISCLAIMER: Race reports are provided by athletes and are not edited for content.
My journey to the Alaskaman 2019 Extreme Triathlon began some months ago back in 2018. I had just began my journey as a Triathlete, completing in my first local Olympic-distance triathlon after only 2 months of self-training and coaching. I got hooked and the next month completed a 70.3 distance triathlon. As I began plan for future races, I came across the extreme triathlons, leading me to the Alaskaman. I went through the website, looked at the photos, Google Mapped the area, and decided that I was gonna be crazy and sign up to do this. Not only was it going to be my first full-distance (well more than full-distance) triathlon and gonna require more than average preparation, I was gonna have to really prep myself for this thing. So I began to train. I mapped a plan out and began the journey of preparing my body and mind for the challenge ahead. I will be honest I had no idea what I was getting into or what was gonna happen. However the thrill of the unknown propelled me forward regardless of setbacks. I knew that if I stayed constant I would achieve what I set out to do.
Fast Forward months later and my life just went nuts. I ended up moving back to Alaska in April after being hired by LifeMed Alaska, driving my family and myself from Idaho to Anchorage AK in 5 days. Being back in Alaska felt great, and would make it much easier for me to travel to the race. However, as I began to get closer to the race, I noticed that my training began to become more tiresome. I felt that I was not making progress and that I was just going through the motions. I knew that if i kept this up I would be in a major world of hurt come race day. I view of the mountain i would be going up twice opened me up more to the reality of things. So with that in mind I pushed through the barrier and kept my training, knowing that in the end it would pay off and instead of hurting, I would be able to enjoy it more. That is why I race.......it is fun. I have joy when I am competing in events such as this.
The day before the race, my support captain Adam and I loaded up our things and traveled on down to Seward. Along the way we made pit stop plans for where we would stop along the bike route to do a check-up and refuel. As we got into Seward, I could feel the energy from the rest of the racers and it was sure infectious. All my preparation has led me to this moment. And I could not wait for the next day.
RACE DAY. I woke up bright at early at 2am for a nice hearty pre-race breakfast of oatmeal with a protein drink of my own making. Washing it down with good ol Gatorade, I felt ready to go. We made our way down to T1 and got my bike set up as well as the gear I would need to transition from the swim. Putting on my wetsuit, I made my way over to the bus, knowing that the next time I would be at this place would be after a nice long dip in the water. Inside the bus, the atmosphere was bright, energetic and lively. Everyone was in the best of moods and doing everything they could think of to ward of race day jitters. I found it relaxing and entertaining. As we eagerly awaited for the start, I ran into some familiar faces. One of them was a fellow coworker from LifeMed Alaska, Kristen from Fairbanks AK. I also ran into Carmen, whom I knew from Kotzebue AK and who now lives in Barrow. It was nice to see some familiar faces amongst the sea of people. Finally, it was time. After the national anthem, we all waded into the water. During this time I was so glad for growing up in Bush Alaska for the water did not feel too cold to me. It felt quite pleasant. As we awaited for the clock to click down I did my mental checklist making sure that I was all ready. Stretched, check. Warmed up, check. Ear plugs, check. Goggles, check. Brain, no check. Oops. When the flare went off, I began my swim. The cold water invigorated my face, giving me a rush as I fell into a steady pace that I was familiar with during training. During this time, the saying "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming" played in my head like a mantra, relaxing my mind and letting my body do the work. The first bit of the swim felt slightly sluggish as my body got into the flow, but from my training I knew that it would pass as I pushed through. For the most part, the swim was uneventful for me. It is the most relaxing part of the course. As I neared the shore, I felt excited for the next step. Coming out of the water into shore, I was surprised that I was not unsteady on my feet from the cold. Instead, I felt full of energy after being in the water for 01:15:43. And the best part of it all, I spotted my family up on the shoreline with the rest of the bystanders, cheering me on. Seeing them brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart. I was doing this race for them.
Getting into T1, I got my gear on needed for the bike, checked the bike and the tires one more time, then proceeded to begin the start of the 113 mile journey to Girdwood. As I made my way out of town, the steady climb uphill began to make me realize a critical thing: I would need to pace myself out during this whole thing, take advantage of the downhills, and keep steady on the uphills. My first pitstop was around the 38 mile marker, a quick draining of the tank, filling up the hydration packs, and few mouthfuls of food were enough to keep me going. As I continue onward, the heat began to become quite bothersome. I made a mental note to myself that this would affect me more than I realized. Thankfully the smoke was not bothering my breathing at all. It did ruin the view of the mountains but it was still amazing. As I made my way towards Girdwood, the downhill portions of the race became a huge relief for me. I hit upwards of 42 mph, making me quite aware of every bump, every breath of wind, every car passing by, and every twitch of my arms. If I go down, it will not be pretty and I will be in a world of hurt. Thankfully, my trusty bike held up and kept on going. The last stretch of the bike was by far the most challenging as the upright position taxed my arms and hands. I made a mental note to get road bike bars to go with my aeros so that I could have more of a variety of grips for next race. A familiar face, Carmen passed along side me on our way to Girdwood, spurring me on to keep up and make it in good time. I arrived in Girdwood after being on my bike for 07:32:11, I made a quick change into my running gear and pack before leaving T2 with my support captain Adam, whom had decided to accompany for the whole duration of the run.
Knowing that my legs needed to wake up after 113 miles of biking, I settled into a decent jog for the first 5 km of the run. Besides a slight issue with my hydration pack, it was uneventful, except of course cheering my fellow athletes and support runners. As we came to the slight uphill portion before mile 7, the black flies came in masses, biting me for all that I was worth. I hated it. Not only that, but with the heat getting to me, my energy was sapped from me. I made the smart decision and kept a steady powerwalking pace, knowing that if i kept it up I would be fine in the end. At mile 7, we fueled back up before heading into the trail. I immediately felt in my environment. I have a joy and passion for trail running. This was one of the many reasons I like this race, for its running in the trails. The trees, the sunlight, the trail all completed the whole feel of Alaska. I felt my energy perk up and I was able to maintain a nice steady run on the downhill parts before the hand tram. In the back of my mind, I imagined either being chases by a bear or even better, that I was a wolf on the hunt. Such feelings are present for me during trail runs. After crossing the hand-tram, we made our way to the Nordic Trail. This part of the race for me was challenging as my mental fatigue and heat fatigue caught up to me, taxing me greatly mentally. My support runner Adam , himself being a marathon runner and running coach, kept me going through this portion, chatting up with me about anything and everything, even coaching me when to drink and eat. I obeyed every word and followed every instruction with precise direction. After making it out of the trail, we steadily got back to T3 after 05:12:02. 17.5 miles later, and now we would conquer the mountain. A cheer from my wife and shouts of support from my little ones, I said to myself "Lets do this". Drenched in cold water, cap on my head, bandana on by neck, poles in hands, I was ready to go.
I knew that I was not going to be able to run this part, so I pulled out my inner mountain goat and kept up a steady pace with my poles in hand. Being a bit heavier on muscle than some of my fellow triathletes, I was grateful for my powerful legs and arms to propel me upward and upward. Adam kept telling me that we were doing great on our pace and to keep it up. As we trugged up the mountain, the heat made it miserable. I knew that I wasn’t the only one suffering like this. Anytime I could, I would dunk my head in the stream and cool myself off as best i could, the icy cold refreshing me and keeping me going. Looking out, I could see the beauty of the mountain. A sense of calm overwhelmed me, my spirit felt alive, and I felt as if I was stepping on sacred ground. I can understand why many people feel as if mountains are temples, for I was feeling that way as well. Getting through the steeper portions of the trail required timing and careful footing, and at last we were on the ridge. Looking out over the 1,000 to 2,000 ft drop, I made the decision to stay as far away from that ledge as possible, not wanting to feel dizzy or anything. As I checked my watch, I could see that we were approaching the cutoff point for the higher route. Wanting to take advantage of the downhill, I began my decent, keeping it controlled but letting gravity do the work. Along the way I was telling myself "My thighs will die, my thighs will die, my thighs will die" as I absorbed the impact of the decent in my body. As we came up to the turn around point, I checked my watch. It ready 20:52. I still had time. However, we were informed that for our safety and for the past times of previous events, they had begun turning people around at 20:40, making us shy of 12 minutes from cutoff. As disappointed as I was, I trusted the people in charge of my safety and realizing that I was almost finished, I pushed my way along the lower route. By this time, the soles of my feet hurt so much they were almost numb and made it impossible for me to jog. So instead I powerwalked like there was no tomorrow. I kept up a great pace, knowing that my body was in pain but feeling relief that it was almost over. Adam encouraged me the whole time, knowing that I would follow his every instructions. Faster pace on the downhill parts, nice and steady on the uphill parts. As I neared the straight part near the finish, I was greeting my a shout, "Papi". Up ahead of me, my 5 year old son Benjamin came running towards me, his little feet moving as fast as they could and his face split into the biggest smile. I wanted him to finish with me. "Come on Benjamin, lets do this. Keep up" I told him. Laughing as he ran, he kept up with me the last 300 m to the finish line. As we crossed the finish line together at 17:16:48, I felt a fire rush through me and relief wash over me. I was now an Alaskaman!!! All my training and hard work paid off. It was all worth it. All the joy, the pain, the heat, etc. It was all worth it. To my family who supported me for this, thank you from the bottom of my butt. To the support volunteers and staff of the this race, thank you for making this possible. There is nothing like this race out there.
ABOUT SCOTT: My name is Scott West. I am 31 years old and work as a Ground EMT-III for LifeMed Alaska in Anchorage AK, soon to become a licensed RN. Growing up in Kotzebue AK and Whitefish MT (yes the best of both worlds) has given me the love of the outdoors and extreme climates, events, activities, etc. My wife, 5 year old son, 4 year old daughter, and 1 year old daughter make up my life and my joy for they are everything to me. It is because of them that I am a Husband, a Father, and an Alaskaman.