2019 AKXTRI Race Report : Andrew Rich

RACE REPORT DISCLAIMER: Race reports are provided by athletes and are not edited for content.

This is my first day after having a full night’s rest in my own bed in two weeks, so I thought I’d sit down and do something I’ve never done before. I’ve been racing tris’ for five years now and have never done an ‘official’ race report, but since Alaskaman 2019 may very well be my pinnacle of athletic feats, I figured like always, I’ll go full dive. For many this will be a TL:DR. If that is you, read no further. My past posts will surely suffice for all you care to know.

This journey began back in late October when I first began seeing advertisements for the upcoming lottery for Alaskaman. I had spent the last year and a half working full time while finishing my RN degree and there finally seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel! Graduation was merely a few weeks away. I had not been training at all since Ironman TX 2017, so to say I was not in ideal shape was an understatement. I hadn’t been in a pool in over 18 months, (no ragerts) and my longest bike and run had been less than 50 and 5 miles respectively. Like all bad ideas, I started dreaming about how insanely difficult this goal would be. Before too long, I began rationalizing how I would be able to tackle it. I immediately cranked into overdrive in the gym and started putting in mileage. However, I knew this foolhardy plan would be dead in the water if I didn’t have the mandatory support. I texted my Ironman buddies from church to see if they would be insane enough to climb a mountain with me, but with the hurdle of young children, wives, and logistics, I was gently turned down. With no other recourse, I called up my brother.

“Say man, do you love me?”
“If I needed you for the most important event of my life, would you be there?”
“even if it involved mountains???”

Within a short conversation, he begrudgingly agreed to be my Sherpa “in the unlikely event that I win the lottery.” Next up was convince my wife… whom I also convinced to agree based on the fact that it was a lottery entry. (something tells me this argumentation will ever work in my life ever again)
On November 16th at 0140 AM, I received a text stating my bank account had been charged. Shortly after, I got the congratulatory email saying I had been selected. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger “oh s***” moment. I had signed up, taken the leap of faith, prayed about it, and put in the work necessary to prepare, but I never actually thought I’d get in! I woke Lindsey and told her the horrifying news. I was equal parts excited and terrified. I didn’t sleep much that night… The next day I called David up and broke the news. After a short pause, his first words were “Dude, you’re gonna die.” I’d like to say that was the only time I heard or thought those words, but like anything worth doing, you just gotta laugh it off and accept the truth with a good “yeah, I might…”

Thus began the real training! I won’t bore you with details, but it involved lots of swimming, biking and running. However, unlike previous seasons, I took the first few months to build strength in the weight room before extending my endurance on the bike and run. My theory was that this race was going to rely much more on power on the mountain than endurance with running. With this approach I was able to get stronger as well as cut a full minute off my average run pace. Tri-sport very much favors veterans and I believe its due to all the little things one learns about their body and how each person learns to squeeze out as much efficiency as possible. This was a solid gamble, but I was confident it would pay off.
Now, on to the Alaska part! I think most people get nervous in the days and weeks leading up to a big race. I’ve had those feelings as well, but never like I did this time. After flying into Anchorage, we headed to Girdwood to get a lay of the run and see Alyeska for the first time. Like a beautiful behemoth, the mountain towered above the small town. Standing a few miles away, David and I gazed at it’s face and tried to decipher where the trails were. My favorite part of that talk was arguing where the north face climb was. I finally spotted a tiny trail poking out of the tree line before snaking back in. “There it is!” He didn’t believe me for a few minutes before he finally saw what I was pointing at. “No way! You can’t climb up that!” At that point all I could do was laugh. We had flown 4000 miles for this and there was no turning back. Suddenly It all became real. That mountain was gonna be a beast and we were going to conquer it! With newfound respect, we got back in the truck and turned on to the highway. We had to drive the bike course in reverse as we headed to the starting town of Seward. It was around mile marker 70 when I realized that this bike course really was in the mountains! As we headed south, the road was full of long climbs, steep climbs, and tight turns of the highway with no shoulder. The gravity of the situation finally took hold. Like a punch to the gut, the bike course immediately became my biggest fear. Doing all my training around Houston, I had never even been on a climb more than a half mile or so. All I had ever read about the bike course is that it wasn’t that bad and most of the climbs weren’t that steep. Seeing the course up close instilled a fear I just couldn’t shake. I needed to ride it.

The next day, I assembled my bike and took it out for a test. Our Airbnb was north of town, so I started the ride around mile 5. It was a perfectly calm day, but within the first 5 miles or so I was averaging 12mph on fresh legs! I pulled off on one of the turnouts to inspect my bike. Surely I was running a flat? Nope. Brake rub? Nope. Chain rub? Nope… finally I turned toward the road to start again. From my view away from the road, I finally saw the very apparent incline. I had been fighting uphill and didn’t even realize. Several things became evident. First, I was an idiot. Secondly, I need to calm down and just see how it pans out. Thirdly, trust the power. I got back on the bike and just kept cranking. It wasn’t long before I saw a sign foreign to Texans, a yellow diamond with a picture of a truck on a steep incline. This was my sign to tuck in. As I approached the precipice, I tucked into aero and started feeling the wind. With less than a foot of shoulder between the highway and guardrail, I flew. I topped out at 42MPH over the next mile or so. Explaining that feeling is nearly impossible, but to give you a frame of reference, you are perched two feet off the ground on a piece of carbon weighing less than 20 pounds and your only two points of contact are less than an inch wide. Any gust of wind natural or from a speeding car could turn your wheels into sails as you careen off the mountain. Any sudden jerk of the headset could cause you to flip. Simply put, the rush was amazing, but the pucker factor was real.

After I got back from the ride, I pulled up the elevation map again. To my relief, it appeared that the first 12 miles of the ride were some of the worst climbs. I tried to tell myself the first half of the ride was the worst, but I kept having the nagging fear that if I burned out to begin with, I would ruin my race. To my assessment, there were three major factors to the bike portion being my downfall. 1. Burnout: during my training ride, I was pumping 150-200% of my normal power on the climb. I always keep a steady watch on bike effort in order to save for the grueling run, but I knew the clock would be against me on this one, so I would have to bank up some time from the start. 2. Heat: Alaska had been experiencing a brutal heat wave and race day was expected to be in the 80s. Being from Texas, this is nothing, but I had trained on the expectation that it would be 10-20 degrees cooler. That type of temperature difference is a huge deal in endurance sports, and I expected several DNFs from the unexpected temps. 3. Air Quality: At the time, a 40,000-acre forest fire was raging on the other side of the Kenai Peninsula bringing heavy smoke to portions of the bike course. I had no idea what to expect regarding visibility or breathing issues so fear of the unknown was in the back of my mind.

Race Morning- I woke at 0200 to begin my race routine. I had prepared all my equipment and nutrition beforehand and hate the pacing feeling I get when I get up too early. Somehow, I had managed to sleep (which I never do before a big race) about 6hrs. I started my morning coffee and took a warm shower to ease my mind. Race morning is too late to worry. Training is done. Weather will be what it is regardless, and all the unknowns in the world will come to pass without your permission. There is simply one thing to do. Finish! I took my time eating a banana and bagel with cream cheese as I sipped my morning coffee. David looked nervous as heck, so I just took out my headphones and let my easy-going Pandora station lull us into relaxation. The drive into T1 was lighthearted. I kept my music playing as I quickly assembled my transition area. I was blessed with the end of the rack, so I had all the room in the world. Once everything was accounted for, I started blaring my hype music. I squeezed into my wetsuit and boarded the bus taking us to the swim start. Miller’s Landing was much less solemn than I had anticipated. Unlike other Ironman races, this seemed to be populated with the craziest of the crazies that inhabit tri-sport. All triathletes are a bit loopy, but Alaskamen are truly insane. I would describe the mood as primarily jovial. Most of the competitors I saw were smiling and cracking jokes, though there was no doubt a fire in everyone’s eye. Before I knew it, we were singing the national anthem and preparing for the cold embrace of Resurrection Bay. I turned my gaze to the icy waters before me. The cool mist rising above the waters shrouded the flood lights almost 2 miles away. Seward was just a faint glow in the early morning light. True to the embodiment of this race, it was both mesmerizing and horrifying. One of my biggest fears is open water and I hate the cold. This was by far going to be the coldest I’ve ever been as well as my longest swim in a natural body of water (one with sea life.) Once instructed, we entered the water and waited for the starting flare. I took my time wading out and paid special care to climatizing my face to the water. One of the biggest shocks faced by cold water swimming is just jumping in and going for it. Without preparing, it can lead to serious breathing issues as well as intense pain as your exposed skin takes a 50-degree dive in temp.

Within the next few minutes, the flare had been shot as 67 Alaskamen hopefuls began splashing toward Seward. To my surprise, it didn’t take long for my face to get used to the 51-degree water. I had attended the warm-up swim, so I knew what to expect. My best guess is that adrenaline had taken over and pain had simply left my body. Before arriving to Alaska, the swim was my biggest fear. I never pay full price for anything, so I got my wetsuit for $50 off craigslist. This was one of my riskier gambles, but as it turns out, fit matters far more than design and that suit did its job! Within 20 minutes, I had expected to be all out by myself. I hate swimming, and it has always been my weakest leg. To my surprise, the same people I started with were around me. The smoke or fog obscured most of my vision, but I could always see the floodlights in the distance as well as one other swimmer about 100m in front of me. For the most part, the swim was comfortable. I swam through several pockets of cold water where it seemed to take away feeling in my lips and tongue, but I never felt cold in my core. Occasionally, I could hear distant clicking. My mind began to race as to the origins of the sound, but I always hear weird noises in the water. Most times, it’s a boat, but my mind wanted to wander towards giant orca just a few feet below that could snatch me up at any time since I looked so much like a tasty seal. I finally told myself it was a playful sea otter. For all I know, I was right, but sometimes I gotta lie to myself to keep irrational thoughts from getting the better of me. Around the halfway point, I detected a noticeable change in the water. Not in temperature, but in taste. I found the brackishness of the bay to be fairly refreshing, but as we approached town, the taste of charcoal filled my mouth. At first all I could think of was all the smoke we had been breathing the last few days. Then I thought about how many more toxins I’d be breathing on the bike… Lastly, I settled on how we were most likely the only things swimming in that bay because surely sea life would stay away from that awful water (always gotta find the positives to make it to the finish.) Soon enough the floodlights became clear. I was almost done! Surely enough, as soon as I had the thought, progress seemed to halt. I was fighting the tide. The last few hundred meters seemed endless, but I remained calm and gutted it out. To my relief, I made it out without any issues to my nagging shoulder. David greeted me at the shore with a towel and high-five. I couldn’t believe it! I had come out around my anticipated time despite the cold. I had read several counts of cold water slowing the nervous system over time and dropping core temperature within 20 mins which decimates swim time. Running up the shore I felt like a berserker. Mostly because I was shivering, I just wanted to give the biggest war cry I could. However, pride cometh before the fall, so I kept it in. In the grand scheme, it was only a small victory. I had to put distance between me and the clock! Unlike Ironman brand races, Alaskaman has several cutoffs that must be met both on the bike, and the run. Thanks to my training ride, I knew I was going to be piss-poor for the first 15 miles on the bike and subsequent climbing portions, so I couldn’t afford to fall behind. T1 went off without a hitch. Despite the uncontrollable shivering while standing, moving my legs quickly thawed me. As expected, the first climb out of Seward was brutal. I kept close watch over my effort just to play it safe. Within the first 20 miles, one person had passed me and the rider I started behind was not gaining or losing. I was embracing the suck, and as far as I could tell, was doing okay. Not being constantly passed eased my discomfort of lack of speed. Obviously this was a tough portion, so just have faith, keep pedaling, and I’ll get through. Finally, I reached the top of the initial climb and tucked into aero. As a slight downer, I only hit 36mph. This told me I definitely had a bit of headwind to fight. I found my support at mile 37 where we did a rolling handoff for liquids. I knew I wasn’t going to sweat as much as normal, so I had to force water intake to keep from latent dehydration. After the initial climb into the mountains, I settled into a nice cadence and took in the sights. Despite the haze from the fires, Seward Highway was by far the most scenic country I’ve been through and pedaling at such paltry speeds really allowed me to take in the scenery. Around mile 45, there was a nice steady decent. This is where I saw the most beautiful scene of my life. As I cruised downhill feeling the cool rush of morning air, I looked to my right to see the trees open up into this beautiful pond. It’s glassy surface perfectly reflected two peaks towering above. Less than 100 feet away, an eagle was floating across the scape perfectly matching my elevation and speed. The moment only lasted a few seconds, but it is most definitely an image I will never forget. The next 30 miles was much of the same. Beautiful scenes and lots of hills. I settled into the pace of steady nutrition and hydration, mixing between gels, bars, water, and Gatorade. I never worry too much about calculating calorie count and sweat rates to temps. Over the years, my body has never failed to tell me what it needs, plus my math always gets bad after a few hours of exercise. Mile 80 came with a new set of challenges, more traffic and less hills but with added wind. My speed ended up with a net increase, but my power output was plummeting. I ended up making the decision to take it easy rather than gut it. Overall, I had come to the determination that I had put enough distance on the clock to finish the race but didn’t want to run the risk of burning out. Given the numerous unknowns on the run portion, it seemed better to be conservative than to make a rash race-ending decision. By the time I reached the bird to gird path, my garmin was on battery fumes. The path was much hillier and unkempt than anticipated and I now understood why they required us out of aero position. My garmin died with merely 7 miles to go. I wish I had the remaining numbers to analyze, but oh well. The final 3 miles of the ride sucked. The final push into Girdwood involves a steady climb to the base of Alyeska. Once off the bike, I commented to Lindsey how there was no more of a sadistic way to end such a brutal bike leg. (In truth, the bike wasn’t all that bad. I was just underprepared and bitchy.)

T2 came with its own frustrations. Lindsey and David immediately started bathing me in sunscreen as I attempted to change my socks and shoes. They had applied to much and immediately started trying to wipe some off. Through lack of glucose and a desire to get the heck on to the run, I quickly started demanding my watch, phone battery check, and other essentials. The team seemed in disarray. Someone had left my watch in the car, keys were being misplaced, and the pressure of time seemed to get to everyone. Transition felt like 30 minutes. I was frustrated with the lack of coordination, but hindsight would prove that we had only wasted a mere 5 minutes if not less. I felt a bit sorry I had been so grumpy, but I had warned David that was going to be the case, so I figured I’d beg forgiveness later. I started the run with mixed feelings. My legs felt good, but my back was aching. Tackling hills on a bike puts much more strain on the lower back and those stabilizer muscles are impossible to train aside from actually going on climbs. This feeling was multiplied by the fact I was carrying about 3.5L of fluid on my back. The run began opposing the same hill I had just finished on the bike. It was a great opportunity to stretch the legs and get some momentum going, as well as enjoy one of the few downhill portions of the run. After a U-Turn at mile 1.5, the course began its first trudge uphill for the next 7 miles. The Alyeska highway portion was not that steep, so I felt good to take it at a comfortable jog. I was eager to get a good start since I had been warned that the Nordic loop at mile 11 was one of the most underrated portions of the course and cause many experienced runners to DNF later. Around mile 5, I found what I still consider to be the most underrated portion, Crow Creek Rd. The 3-4 miles of this road average around 6% grade. I had trained to run everything under 6%, but I was no longer on fresh legs. It was not a difficult decision, but I chose to walk a majority of that road. What’s the point of being in the best shape of your life if you’re going to let pride get in the way of a finish? That portion ended up averaging 13.5 minute-miles. I sacrificed 6-8 minutes of time to save a 20-30% increase in perceived effort. I’ll take that trade all day! Mile 7 greeted me with the first aid station of the run. I got a quick bug-spray, applied some chaffing cream to the sensitive bits, and stocked up on everything I could grab. I also took this time to dump rocks out of my shoes. Alaska is incredibly dusty, and even small debris can cause massive blisters hours later. Before I knew it, I was lost in the beautiful forest. The winding trail was full of lush ferns and tall pines provided much needed sun coverage. The next three miles included lots of views including the hand tram which was an all-too quick journey across a beautiful gorge. I was blessed to have an AKXTRI volunteer pull me across. Once across the gorge, I began the ascent up the other side paying close attention to not let any twisted root send me on my way careening down the valley. Mile 11 began the Nordic Loop. I’m assuming this is where people practice cross country skiing? It was an out and back loop with long rolling hills and loose gravel. Not the pleasant gravel. This was more like smooth, break your ankle if you step wrong gravel. I was not a fan. I was also surprised that Aaron the race director had suggested that this portion was the part where many people underestimate. I can understand crow creek breaking you down, but I was never once fooled into thinking I could even try running those inclines. Before long, I was all alone. The winding trail had made me lose view of everyone in front and behind. Occasionally I would pass someone the opposite way, but I found that place to be quite lonely. In fact, it was too quiet. I am a pretty quiet runner (and walker) so I kept careful watch for bears and moose. Suddenly I heard the snap of a twig off to my right. I stopped to listen as I reached down for my bear spray and loosened the safety. Off to my left I heard another rustle of leaves and quickly spun to face any oncoming attack. As I searched into the thickets, my worst fears were confirmed. “RAWRRRR!” To my immediate laughter, I finally saw the culprit to the noise. A fellow competitor was squatting a few yards off the trail. With pants still around ankles, he began his bellowed laughter. He had apparently thrown a rock across the path in order to throw me off. I couldn’t help but start laughing. There he was, everyone’s worst fear; a bear shitting in the woods. “don’t get bear sprayed man! You might regret it!” I jested as I continued down the path. The rest of the Nordic loop was unremarkable. All I could think about was “my gosh, does it ever end?” It was around that time that I began doing calculations. I wasn’t too pressed for time, but I knew the mountain would likely prove more of a challenge than anticipated. Once out of the loop, the trail ended on a paved path leading to transition. I was happy to see the path was mostly flat. I was able to find a steady jog and eased into transition. Surprisingly, I still had fresh legs on flat ground and could pump out some speed.

T2b was a sight for sore eyes. I had made it through the “fun” bit and now was ready to tackle the mountain. The aid station hooked me up with ice in my pack as well as a fresh bit of coke. I was glad to see David as conversation would be a much-needed distraction from the pain. We set off from the base eager to finish, but completely unaware of what we were about to face. The first climb hit me like a ton of bricks. My legs felt like they were going to explode, and within ten minutes, I had to stop for a breather. I looked back at what we had just climbed and was surprised to see we had already gained quite a bit of elevation, but it was nothing in comparison to what lay ahead. Once we rounded the first turn, reality began to take hold… This was going to be an endless climb. There was no stopping the pain in my legs. Even stopping for a breath left me standing on a steep incline with at least one of my legs burning. I immediately began pondering whether it would have been better to hike with trekking poles. (probably so) I quickly found myself in one of the worst mental blocks I’ve faced. We were barely a mile into the mountain portion and I already couldn’t hike more than 30 feet before stopping. The worst part was that it wasn’t even my legs that were stopping me. My heart felt like it was beating out of its chest. I stopped to check my pulse, but it was only in the 130s; right where I wanted it. Soon I took a seat. I’ve never sat down during an Ironman, so this was a huge low for me. The last thing I wanted, was for my legs to get stiff, so I limited my sitting to just a minute or so. The hill had at least four other competitors on it and nobody looked good. Unable to diagnose my issues, I settled on blaming the heat. I hadn’t shown any signs of dehydration, but I also hadn’t urinated in about six hours. Temps were in the mid 80’s and there was no relief from the sun. During one of my rests, a lady approached from a nearby medical tent asking if I needed anything. “A helicopter off this Godforsaken mountain” I replied. “Well, you’re gonna have to make it to the next ridge, but we can get a wheeler to take you down.” Clearly my joke was being taken seriously. I quickly backpedaled my dark sarcasm as to not alarm medical. The lady gave us an ice pack and wished us good fortune in the wars to come. The ice was nice, but ultimately wasn’t helping my chest pain. Shortly before reaching the tent, I began puking. This was another first, so I took it as a bad sign. I ended up shedding my pack and hydration belt to my trust Sherpa in hopes that it would ease my suffering. It helped a little. However, we were still barely in the first mile and were burning way too much time. Just after the medical tent was a glacial creek. David and I stopped to take a rest. The cold creek dropped the air temp around us tremendously and felt like we were in a nicely air-conditioned rest stop. I spent a few minutes sitting, drinking, and blasting my face with the cold water. Turns out, that was just what I needed. Once I got up, I felt new life. The climb wasn’t any easier, but I no longer felt overheated and my heart stopped palpitating. My rests became fewer and further between. The rest of the way was slow-going, and even steeper, but I felt stronger. I had made it past the wall, but time was still against us. We still had to make the 2100 cutoff for the second climb. I had come to Alaska not only with the goal of finishing, but I wanted that orange shirt signaling ‘high route finisher!’ It seemed so far off, but I knew if we made the first climb, we could make a push downhill if needed. As we neared the top of the first climb, the few hikers around us got packed together. We formed a caravan of 8. One person was blasting some good tunes, and the general mood was jovial. One man had brought his son and daughter up for the hike. I can’t think of a better way for a father to spend such a momentous achievement than with your whole family. That final push across the snow-filled bowl was one of my favorite experiences. Good laughs, new friends, cool wind, and the approaching ‘ridge.’ This is what I signed up for, and I must say, the view did not disappoint. Despite the view being obstructed by the haze of far-off fires, it is still one of the most spectacular scapes I have gazed upon. I took just a moment to soak in the moment. I was feeling the runners high as well as the culmination of all I had worked for. To me, getting to that ridge was secondary only to the finish line and I wanted so badly to bask in the glory. Unfortunately, time was still of the essence. We topped of our supplies at the aid station and began our descent. The going was fast, but not too fast. Despite being wide trails, loose gravel and shale made the way dangerous. The last thing anyone wants is to push too hard and screw up a race by carelessly rolling an ankle. I was running on tired legs and mentally impaired due to the previous 15 hours. We made it to the bottom with 30 minutes to spare. Kevin G. greeted us at the bottom with an “alright gentlemen, decision time…” I quickly cut him off, “There’s no decision, we’re going up.” At this point I was still riding the high. There was absolutely no stopping me. I had spent thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles for that orange shirt. I was coming for that stairway, and hell was coming with me! Right as soon as I dump some rocks out of my shoes. As David and I looked up at the north face, my eyes glazed over. I was ready! This feeling lasted a mere quarter mile as the trail went off the main path straight. Freaking. Up. There was no denying, this way was going to be far steeper. The trail was one mile shorter and still went to the top. David had given me my hydration and belt at the last aid station, so this climb should have been more difficult. I’m not sure if it was due to vegetation coverage, or wind cooling, but it wasn’t. The north face climb was certainly prettier. You could tell that it doesn’t get many hikers as it’s narrow and unkempt. I figured it we were going to encounter wildlife it would be on this trail. However, David quickly found those fears to be unfounded when he tossed a rock off the path and listened as it bounced all the way down. The vegetation was so thick you couldn’t see anything aside from the path, but step a foot off, and you would be rolling a long way to the bottom. Before long, we hit the Stairway to Heaven. The only equivalent I can think of is the Pass of Cirith Ungol in LOTR (don’t judge my nerdiness) but with railroad ties instead of tiny stairs. This is where the gym time paid off. Not only was it steep, but the ‘stairs’ were huge. Being short definitely has its disadvantage here. All I could think about was Kevin posting for 8 months straight about “have you done your stairclimber today???” Turns out, that’s some pretty damn good advice! I could tell the last mile up the mountain really started taking its toll on David. I stopped to wait for him several times thinking, “dude, its not that bad!” but I kept those demons at bay remembering that not only was I severely jacked up on adrenaline, but he had carried about thirty pounds of my gear on the first three miles on the initial climb in addition to his own. We were still pressed for time, but the numbers looked good. We had 2.5 hours to complete the 4 mile high route and were averaging 40 minute-miles uphill. (on par with our initial ascent) Before we knew it, we had completed the last switchbacks at the top and were headed back down. This greeted us with our last surprise. Instead of meeting up with the original trail down, we were directed on a straighter, narrower, steeper way. This provided one last technical mile before the last jaunt down. On one hand, I wanted to not break my leg, but I figured if I hit a rock and took a tumble, I could direct my roll straight toward the finish line. Images of Chris Farley filled my head as I couldn’t think of a more hilarious way to end this race than that scene from Black Sheep. As we entered the last half mile, I looked at the time. We were going to finish with about 30 minutes to spare. We encountered several mountain patrols who all checked if we were good. I kept thinking about Kevin’s last words being “If you see patrol, look strong. They’re pulling folks off.” I was so thankful I was given grace at mile 18 when all hope was lost. As we looked back toward the mountain, it became apparent we were the last ones coming down. As we jogged into the parking lot, I spotted my wife and sister-in-law. There weren’t many people left at the finish line, but the music was bumping! We had done it! As Lindsey would later tell me, “I knew you could do it, but I still can’t believe you did!” The adrenaline of the finish was nothing compared to Ironman. There was little fanfare, no Mike Rielly calling your name, and no giant medal placed around your neck. The next day I would be given an orange shirt; a shirt that means far more than any other trophy, medal, or prize. Despite being DFL off the mountain, I had attained a goal that to this day only 333 people on this planet can claim. I was an Alaskaman! 104 participants had put money down to compete. Whether due to logistics, injury, financial issues, support, or fear, only 67 had taken the plunge into Resurrection Bay. I was the 39th person off the high route joining 18 more from the low route. Many thanks to all the support including kayakers, aid stationers, mountain rescue, and tram pullers. Aaron has put on a beautiful race and I still can’t believe how clearly the course was marked. Lastly, I must thank my family. This has been a momentous logistical and financial undertaking and this dream would have been impossible to realize without all your support for the last few months. To my Sherpa David, I love you man. I still can’t believe you answered the call. Going from couch to mountaineer is quite the achievement and I most certainly wouldn’t have made it past that three-mile wall without you. This is quite a bookend to so many chapters of my life. Thanks for all the support, its been quite an adventure!

ABOUT ANDREW: My name is Andy Rich. I am 27 years old and work as a registered nurse in Houston TX. My wife, brother, and sister-in-law accompanied me to Alaska to help realize this incredible dream. Attached above is my Alaskaman journey. It is rather long, so feel free to abridge to simply the race report as needed. Also, feel free to edit any language. Thanks for putting on this amazing race! I hope my story can inspire more to answer this call. There is absolutely no reason why Alaskaman should not be counted in the ranks of far more popular X-Tris.

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