Minutes after she secured her third straight victory in the Gold Nugget Triathlon on Sunday, Amber Stull was eager to talk about the future.
Stull knows the history of the Gold Nugget, which means she knows she now is in position to add to that history.
"You look back through the years, and you never see anybody who's won it four times in a row," she said.
And so Stull is very much looking forward to next year and making a run at becoming the first person to claim four straight victories.
Beyond having a chance to do something no one has managed in the 31-year history of the race, Stull has another good reason to be excited about next year -- and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that.
At age 36, Stull was one of the youngest racers in Sunday's top 10 at Bartlett High.
"A lot of women -- a lot of Alaskan women -- are peaking in their 40s," she said. "I'm pretty stoked, because I'm 36, and I've got a lot of women to look up to."
Half the women in the top-10 are in their 40s -- two-time runnerup Erin Beam, 43; third-place Larrell Lockard, 40; fourth-place Lori Deschamps, 44; sixth-place Shannon Titzel, 44; and ninth-place Danelle Winn, 46.
And then there was the Sally O'Malley Division for the AARP-eligible set.
Fifth-place Lisa Keller, 50, became what is believed to be the fourth woman in race history to break into the top 10 after hitting that milestone. The others, according to Keller, were Susie Holway, Jeni Winegarner and Tasha Bergt.
"That was my big goal," said Keller, who noted her 50th birthday in January by changing her Facebook profile to a photo of the Saturday Night Live character who proudly declares her age while demonstrating her fitness ("I'm Sally O'Malley and I'm 50! I like to kick! Stretch! Annnnd kick!")
The result was Keller's best race in several years, pretty much since she and some friends started Up and Running Event Management, which provided timekeeping and race organization for events like the Gold Nugget until Keller and her partners sold the business two years ago.
Keller said not having to do double-duty as a racer and a race manager made a difference in her performance.
"I'm not having to set up all day Saturday. I'm not losing two or three weeks of my life before the race," she said. "I was able to train a lot more."
A record field of more than 1,600 girls and women enjoyed sunshine and warm temperatures for the 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike and 4.1-mile run. That marked a stark difference from the previous two years, when snow and ice still covered parts of the course and temperatures were in the 40s.
The pleasant weather allowed spectators to see another side of Stull. She was able to race sleeveless, which put on display a big tattoo on her left arm and shoulder.
Stull got the tattoo two years ago to camouflage an ugly scar, the souvenir from a bike wreck that left her with a broken arm in need of surgery.
Six weeks after she broke her arm, Stull won her first Gold Nugget, edging eight-time champion Shannon Donley by seven seconds.
She repeated last year. She trailed Donley by more than a minute until a flat tire ended Donley's race. This year, Donley chose to accompany her 11-year-old daughter Quincy instead of joining the wave of top-seeded racers. Next year, Stull's daughter Cadence, 9, is likely to join the crowd at the state's biggest triathlon and the nation's oldest all-female triathlon.
Stull finished in 1 hour, 8 minutes, 38.3 seconds to join Donley (2000-02, 2009-11) and Laurie Abrams (1994-96) as the only women to win three straight Gold Nuggets.
Stull finished more than a minute ahead of Beam (1:09:27.3). Beam, a former college swimmer for the Air Force Academy, was leading until the halfway point of the bike race, when Stull -- one of the city's top bikers -- passed her on a hilly section of the course.
"I felt my age today," Beam said. "I'm just so thankful that my body can still do this. It hurt today. It was hot, and there's some tough competitors."
Racers ranged in age from 9 to 76 and, as is the custom at the Gold Nugget, came in all shapes and sizes.
Debbie Corral, 63, is a veteran of the 1992 Iditarod who stopped mushing when her dogs got old. The nice thing about the Gold Nugget, she said, is she can go home and sleep when she's done -- there are no dogs to booty or feed.
She said the triathlon helps keep her active.
"I love the preparing for it," she said. "It gets me outside in the winter, skiing and walking."
The Gold Nugget is famous for giving girls and women to reason to get fit or stay fit. Karissa Good, a 17-year-old South High junior, is a member of her high school's swim team, but the Gold Nugget turned her into a runner and biker too.
"I'm not much of a runner," Good said, yet she logged two miles a day in the month's leading up to Sunday's race.
Good was one of nearly 600 triathlon rookies who competed Sunday. Newcomers typically make up a significant portion of the field, because the Gold Nugget has a widely known reputation for being a welcoming and accepting place. The race is limited in size by the capacity of the Bartlett High pool, and this year's online-only registration lasted all of five minutes before the field was full.
"Everyone's really nice," Good said. "They were saying 'Good job!' even when they were passing you."
Even the wildlife is accommodating.
Fairbanks racer Kristan Kelly said her bike race was interrupted near the 10-mile mark by a black bear that walked onto the road in front of her.
"A fricking bear comes out of the woods and there's no one around me," she said. "I had to unclip and stop.
"It stopped and it looked at me and I said, 'Hey, bear,' '' and it went back into the woods."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Gold Nugget Triathlon
Sunday's top 10 (unofficial)
Name Age Time
1) Amber Stull 36 1:08:38.30
2) Erin Beam 43 1:09:27.33
3) Larrell Lockard 40 1:11:47.68
4) Lori Deschamps 44 1:11:50.68
5) Lisa Keller 50 1:12:15.49
6) Shannon Titzel 44 1:12:29.66
7) Laura Gardner 32 1:12:35.28
8) Annie Liotta 21 1:12:48.69
9) Carrie Setian 35 1:12:50.77
10) Danelle Winn 46 1:13:06.45
The Gold Nugget Triathlon awards ceremony and potluck is Monday at 6 p.m. at Begich Middle School bear the intersection of DeBarr and Muldoon roads.
By BETH BRAGG