View Full Version : Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon

07-16-17, 17:49
My mid 40's son-in-law participated in the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon on Saturday and wrote the following about the swim.

TL/DR -- The swim was unlike anything that has come before in my experience - mythical, peaceful.
The water transformed those it touched. It brought me from one place to another by stripping the senses to the basics.

The entire swim was ethereal and otherworldly. It was like swimming through the scene of a Norse myth. I've said before that open water swimming is like church -- it provides access to the great powers of life and is fundamentally and always humbling. There is no falseness or ego when dealing with something so much more massive and powerful than yourself. You can prepare but you are never in charge. That is what it means to turn yourself over to the ocean or a bay or big river.

The water temperature had risen in the past few days to 57. We started at 4.30 about a half an hour before sunrise with heavy, low clouds shrouding the predawn twilight. The water is a milky blue from all the glacier runoff. Looking up to sight the shoreline was a blurry palette of black and gray. Looking into the water was a black and light blue swirl.

There was a mist hanging about three or four feet above the flat surface. There was no wind to speak of and an imperceptible current near shore at slack tide.

The water is brackish. The Chesapeake Bay tastes and smells like a mucky fishing boat - like mud and a crab pot with a side of salt. Resurrection Bay is like liquid granite. It is hard and heavy and mineral heavy with silt.

I wore a two millimeter pair of shorts made for body boarding, silicon ear plugs, a latex cap, neoprene cold water cap with chinstrap that covered the ears from Blue Seventy, and a silicon cap from the race. I wore light blue goggles from ROKA with a wide lens that are designed for low light open water swimming. The swim socks by TYR pulled up to the bottom of my calf. My new Orca SwimRun suit has two millimeter sleeves independent from the suit so I wore the sleeves under my full suit from ROKA.

At the start I took off with a focus on cadence and on the type of breathing you might see at a childbirth. The high turnover -- opposed to building into strong form with good early technique -- was to try to force blood to circulate. The breathing was to cope with the sharp pain across my face and the shock of getting trickles of new water into the suit against my skin. The course was a straight line down the shore for nearly two miles and then we would follow the shoreline around an arc to the finish. Three lights penetrated from the distant shore in front of us and I aimed for the middle one. One was a building and another was a fire truck, all were dim.

I went clear of the field immediately but then I wasn't. After about a minute I was swimming right on someone's feet which is good for speed and drafting but bad for peacefulness. I valued the latter so I went wide to the right toward the channel away from the shore and put in about an 800 meter dig to pass and drop this person. Only, he didn't drop. He was smart and strong and patient and sat right on my feet.

Every ten minutes or so I would get buzzed by a yellow kayak. I never saw it until it was within arm's reach and it was always coming from right to left. I could not hear. I could barely see. But I just imagined he wanted me to move back toward shore, so I would. For the first section, I never once saw the shore but a mountain rises dramatically from it and I could see the tree lined ridge, black against the steel gray horizon.

My stroke was a bit off. Typically my left arm goes short on the finish of each stroke when I get tired. However, I was doing something weird to get my whole face out of the water for each breath and as a result the body roll was exaggerated and there was a timing issue between hand entry and my face going back down. I could diagnose the errors but the fix wasn't available to me. It was just enough to be aware of it all.

At about the 1.8 mile mark a massive waterfall enters the bay from that mountain. It was like swimming into a river that was eight to 10 degrees colder. They told us to expect it but there is no getting ready for it. I stopped around two miles to clear my goggles and the guy trailing me swam by. I jumped behind him but did not at all like swimming in his wake in the dark so I moved to the left, shore side, of him and pulled up parallel. As soon as I did he eased up and dropped in behind. I should have known right there that he was swimming for the win.

We made our way past the bike transition and probably swam another 15 minutes. The pace was up and we were probably 25 and 30 meters from shore. With about 400 meters to go, he went. I tried to match it but didn't have enough and he slowly inched up past me. At two hundred meters he dropped the hammer and I was dropped. Once I lost contact, I had one last shot and getting in ahead of him. The bad light, underwater rocks, and broken pilings of the ramp meant that either of us could take a bad line in or hit something underwater while the other cruised safety in to shore. It wasn't worth it to me so I gently picked my way clear and finished about two body lengths behind him.

About 10 hours later Paddy mentioned that I was second out of the water. I didn't realize. I knew transition was empty except for the guy I had been with but since I couldn't see the safety boats or the other 190 people, it didn't occur to me. It would have been nice to finish stronger and lead him out since I pulled him the whole way, but I didn't come here to win. I got everything and more from my swim experience. It was strange and difficult; it was basic. I had numbness, excitement, and was hyper-alert yet without fear.

It was peace

From their webPage

Join us Saturday, July 15, 2017 for one of the most challenging and breathtaking extreme triathlons on Earth. Alaskaman(tm) takes athletes on an epic journey through the cold, crisp, clean waters of Resurrection Bay (2.6mi/4,185m swim), along the beautifully scenic and mountainous passages of the Seward Highway (112mi/180k bike), and up the extreme trails of Mount Alyeska over one of the hardest run courses in the sport (27mi/43.5k run).
With a water temperature around 55F/13C, air temperatures ranging from 50-65F/10-18C, a gain of 4,046'/1,233m on the bike and 6,012'/1,829m on the run, Alaskaman(tm) will change how you view triathlon.

Update: On his run, between mile 20 & 27.5 he had some issues. At the 20 mile marker, in order to continue, everyone is evaluated by a medical crew.

2nd out of water, 13th off bike, 31st after first 20 miles, 59th after final 7.5 miles.

There were 300 folks registered and paid but on race day, only 192 or something actually showed up. Only 140-something actually finished.