No stranger to tough races, Alaska’s Will Ross heads to ‘Mount Marathon of triathlons’

Go to the home page of the Norseman Extreme Triathlon and you’ll get a hint why Will Ross — one of Alaska’s premier triathletes — was hesitant to enter Saturday’s race in Norway.

Under a photo of someone swimming in a glacier-fed fjord is a prominent warning:

“This is not for you. Nothing personal. But it’s not. This is for people with fight.”

Ross, 30, elaborated.

“It’s like the Mount Marathon of triathlons,” he said. “Five thousand sign up for it and only 300 get in. It’s definitely on the bucket list for triathletes.”

It wasn’t on Ross’ to-do list — “it’s so long and so painful,” he said — even after he won last summer’s 142-mile Alaskaman extreme triathlon, a grueling race that starts with a swim in Resurrection Bay and ends with two trips up and down Mount Alyeska.

But the Alaskaman victory was worth an automatic spot in this year’s Norseman, an opportunity Ross ultimately decided he had to seize.


“I had never tried to get in,” he said, “and even after Alaskaman I didn’t really want to, but after I learned I had a guaranteed spot I decided I had to.”

And so on Saturday in Eidfjord, Ross and Barclay Roeder, another Anchorage triathlete, will be among 151 men and 46 women who leap off a ferry into one of Norway’s longest fjords, the start of a race that calls “epically hard.” Roeder is a two-time finisher of the three-year-old Alaskaman and earned his spot in the Norseman in a raffle, Ross said.

Athletes will jump about 13 feet from the ferry into the fjord, where the water temperature Thursday was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s a little warmer than Resurrection Bay,” said Ross, who said the Alaskaman swim is held in temperatures around 53 degrees.

The Norseman swim lasts 2.7 miles and is followed by a 112-mile bike and a 26-mile run. The men’s record is 9 hours, 52 minutes; the women’s record is 11 hours, 16 minutes.

Ross, who won the 2018 Alaskaman in 11 hours, 33 minutes, typically competes on the XTERRA off-road triathlon circuit, where races are much shorter. XTERRA races usually consist of a 1,500-meter swim, a 15- to 20-mile bike and a 10-kilometer run.

“At the worst it’s three hours of pain, not all day and then some,” Ross said.

In three XTERRA races this summer, Ross owns three top-10 finishes and one podium finish. He placed third in Quebec, fifth in Victoria, British Columbia, and ninth in Beaver Creek, Colorado, where he competed at altitudes ranging from 7,500 to 10,000 feet.

He ranks third in the Pan America Tour standings, and after he finishes the Norseman he’ll start training for the XTERRA national championships on Sept. 7 in Ogden, Utah, where $20,000 in prize money will be up for grabs. After that comes the XTERRA world championships in Maui.

“XTERRA is my passion and what I feel I’m best at, and it does help pay the bills a little bit,” Ross said. “There’s no money in extreme triathlon races at all — it’s sold as an experience.

And it’s an experience Ross is willing to try.

“I would love to be in the top three at Norseman,” he said. “It’s hard to know how the competition stacks up, but time-wise I think a top five is definitely doable, and top three is a goal.”