As aptly named Andrew Fast descended Mount Alyeska leading the inaugural Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, he repeated a question to his support runners even though he already knew the answer: "We going all the way down?"
Yes, they were. And then back up again.
But Fast wasn't deterred on his second trip up the mountain, and the 33-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah, conquered the grueling 144-mile race in 11 hours, 18 minutes, 29 seconds — nearly 20 minutes ahead of the runner-up.
The Alaskaman — the first race of its kind in the United States, according to race officials — featured a 2.67 mile swim in frigid Resurrection Bay in Seward, a 113.5-mile bike along the Seward Highway and a 27.5-mile run, capped with two trips up Alyeska. It was nearly 4 p.m. when Fast finished a race that started at 4:30 a.m.
"That was quite brutal," Fast said. "I'm very thankful this event came around and I'm honored to take the win."
Among athletes who succeeded on the daunting course were women's winner Morgan Chaffin of Elkhorn, Nebraska, who finished sixth overall, and third-place finisher Daniel Folmar of Anchorage.
Folmar put his head in his hands, overcome with emotion, after finishing ahead of an entourage of nearly 20 friends and family who traversed the last part of the course with him.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, hands down," Folmar said. "It felt like the stars had aligned when I saw this race pop up last year. It's everything I'm good at all rolled into one, and it's in my backyard."
Folmar said he endured several "dark periods," throughout the race. He said he hit tough spots on the swim and bike, but most came on the grueling run.
Folmar, 41, said his best Ironman Triathlon finish is 9 hours, 41 minutes — that annual race in Hawaii is about 1.5 miles shorter than the Alaskaman. Saturday, he clocked 12:24:20 — about 46 minutes behind second-place Danny Dvinov, 34, of Oakland, California (11:37:41).
"You can train and be as fit as you want, but it's all about what you've got in your head and your heart," Folmar said.
For Chaffin, finding places to train for an extreme triathlon in the rolling plains of Nebraska was a struggle. Instead of practicing on mountains for the run, Chaffin spent about five hours a week on her "Stairmill."
Her training took a hit when she was diagnosed with a stress fracture about two months before the race, so she had to transition to an "AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill" to relieve the stress and help the injury heal.
"That pretty much saved me," said Chaffin, 34. "I just tried to keep a consistent effort throughout. I'm not used to this kind of terrain in Nebraska."
Racers consumed thousands of calories throughout the race to keep their energy up and keep moving. Folmar estimated he consumed 2,000 calories on the bike and another 1,000 on the run. Most of the top finishers said they wish they planned for more food and water during the race.
Fast said one thing that kept him going was his support crew. He said he dedicated his race to Amy Downing, an Anchorage woman who died in an avalanche in British Columbia in January, who was the girlfriend of his support crew member and friend, Oliver Evans.
"It's certainly a painful day, but if you think of all the pain somebody else has come through, it gives it some meaning," Fast said. "It's a pretty selfish sport, so it's good to do it for something bigger than yourself."
Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon
2.67-mile swim, 113.5-mile bike, 27.5-mile run
For complete results and splits, go to akxtri.com.
1) Andrew Fast, Salt Lake City, 11 hours, 18 minutes, 29 seconds; 2) Danny Dvinov, Oakland, Calif., 11:37:41; 3) Daniel Folmar, Anchorage, 12:24:20; 4) Chris Knight, Dubai, 12:28:38; 5) Adam Feigh, Lexington, S.C., 12:40:39; 6) Morgan Chaffin, Elkhorn, Neb., 12:47:50 (women's champion); 7) Leonardo Mello, San Paulo, Brazil, 12:56:18; 8, T.J. Thrasher, Steamboat Springs, Colo., 12:59:02; 9) Christopher Scott, Dubai, 13:01:22; 10) Linday Ludlow, Dallas, Texas, 13:08:44 (2nd-place woman); 11) Conor Deal, Anchorage, 13:12:43; 12) Mackie Derrick, Anchorage, 13:20:59; 13) Tyson Flaherty, Fairbanks, 13:24:51; 14) Addison Nuding, San Francisco, 13:24:51; 15) Patrick Miller, Hood River, Ore., 13:37:37; 16) Chad Albright, Roanoke, Va., 13:43:26; 17) Sebastian Lopez, Bay City, Texas, 13:46:09; 18) Fernando Lopez, Houston, Texas, 13:47:09; 19) John Bursell, Juneau, 13:49:42; 20) Philip Sanchez, San Francisco, 13:58:15; 21) John Livezey, Newton Square, Penn., 14:05:21; 22) Jimi Young, Dewitt, Mich., 14:07:10; 23) Jesse Schroeder, Carrington, N.D., 14:08:36; 24) Shannon Titzel, Anchorage, 14:12:13 (3rd-place woman); 25) Taryn Spates, Granada Hills, Calif., 14:14:01; 26) Amber Stull, Anchorage, 14:15:02; 27) Pasi Pentikainen, Finland, 14:18:18; 28) Barry Middleton, Scotland, 14:19:45; 29) Tyler Guggemos, Dewitt, Mich., 14:23:28; 30) John French, Roswell, Georgia, 14:27:01; 31) Anthony Beeson, Long Tree, Colo., 14:28:34; 32) John Kelly, Worcester, Mass., 14:31:32; 33) Nicholas Ponsor, Colorado Springs, Colo., 14:35:15;
34) James Lawrence, Orem, Utah, 14:36:22; 35) Andrew Dougherty, Anchorage, 14:36:22; 35) James Lawrence, Orem, Utah, 14:37:49; 36) James Snipe, Lisbon, Maine, 14:47:58.