Sports

An extreme triathlon is coming to Alaska next summer, and it's already sold out

A triathlon that begins with a swim in Resurrection Bay and ends with not one but two runs up Mount Alyeska is coming to Alaska next summer.

The Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, an Ironman-length race from Seward to Bird Creek to Girdwood, will make its debut July 15 next year.

"It's gonna be ranked up there (as) one of the premier hard-core triathlons in the world," Seward city manager Jim Hunt said.

Hard-core, as in a 2.6-mile swim beginning at Seward's Lowell Point around the same time the tide start going out.

Hard-core, as in a 112-mile bike ride on the Seward Highway, which can be perilous place for a car, much less for a bicycle.

Hard-core, as in a 26.2-mile run that requires racers to make two trips up Alyeska, the last time via the North Face.

But not too hard-core to attract a crowd. The limited-field race sold out in three days this week, according to race director Aaron Palaian of Houston, Texas.

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A field of 295 paid between $400 to $450 to enter the race. Ten slots are being reserved for professional and elite-level athletes and another 10 will be awarded through a petition process.

Among the entries are 61 Alaskans. In all, athletes from 14 countries and 39 states are entered.

The Alaskaman joins a small but growing field of extreme triathlons. The most famous is the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway, which features a swim in a fjord and a run up a mountain.

Palaian said the idea for a race in Alaska came to him last year when he raced the Norseman.

"They mentioned the latitude of the race was the same as Anchorage, Alaska," said Palaian, who oversees nine races and six triathlons as the owner of Onurmark Productions of Houston. "So I thought, wow — the states really need something like this, and Alaska would be perfect. Let's do this."

Palaian quickly got in touch with city officials in Seward, who provided encouragement.

"We're in. We're absolutely all in," said Hunt, whose only wish is the race was closer to the city's famous Fourth of July bash centered around the Mount Marathon race. "It's been my idea forever and ever to extend the big party here."

Palaian spent the next year researching potential routes and potential complications. This month he came to Alaska to check things out first-hand and finalize the course.

One of Palaian's decisions was to hold the race on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, thinking there will be less northbound Seward Highway traffic on a Saturday.

"Especially with salmon season going on, Saturday going north is much better," he said. "Sunday would be a nightmare."

Palaian said he'll work with troopers and police, the Department of Transportation and the forestry service in an effort to forge backup plans in the event something closes the highway on the day of the race.

And he's recommending that out-of-state participants get travel insurance in case something like the McHugh Creek wildfire happens the week of the race.

"We're aware there are accidents that can shut down the highway, so we'll work with (troopers) to see if the bikes can keep going," Palaian said.

"I wish you guys had more roads up there."

The Alaskaman will be the only organized extreme triathlon in North America, Palaian said. The closest thing to it, he said, is the Project DM Triathlon in Arizona, a loosely organized event which has 16 people entered this year.

The Alaskaman is an unsupported race, meaning each athlete needs a support crew of at least one to assist him or her at transition areas and to offer feeds along the way.

Transition areas will be at Seward's waterfront campground, near Jefferson Street, and at the Bird Creek campground on the Seward Highway.

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At Bird Creek, support crews will park on the opposite side of the highway. Palaian thinks there will be an average of 20 bikers coming into the transition area at any given time.

Once athletes leave their bikes, all that'd left is a full-length marathon. The first half has an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. The second half has an elevation gain of about 5,000 feet, "with 4,200 of that coming in the last seven miles," Palaian said.

The race has an 18.5-hour cutoff time. Palaian estimates the winner should reach the finish line at Alyeska's tram terminal in about 11 hours.

The double-whammy ending — two runs up Alyeska — will help distinguish the race, Palaian said. As will the swim in Resurrection Bay.

"I don't think there's ever been a swim in there — nothing where you have upwards of 300 people in the water. This is unprecedented," Hunt said. "We say this as a joke, but we're halfway serious — it's humpback season, and they swim close to the shore.

"There'll be red (salmon) swimming around, we've got the orca factor — it's gonna be fun."

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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