When Todd Jackson found out that Ironman was holding an event in Alaska, he knew it was likely his one and only shot to compete in a full-distance triathlon.
But Jackson found out Monday morning, he’ll have at least one more on his calendar.
Jackson took 15th overall in Sunday’s Ironman Alaska in Juneau and second in his age group, which was enough to qualify him for the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 6 in Hawaii.
“Alaskans will always take an excuse to go to Hawaii,” he joked Monday during a phone interview from Juneau.
Jackson, a 46-year-old Anchorage resident, was the second Alaska finisher in the race with a time of 10 hours, seven minutes and four seconds. Juneau’s Will Coleman finished one spot ahead of him, in 14th place overall, with a time of 10:03:24. Anchorage’s Amber Stull finished in eighth place in the women’s division with a time of 11:16:54 — good for 58th overall.
Alex Whetman from Riverton, Utah, won the men’s race in 9:11:17. Liz Cullen, of Gibson, B.C., was the women’s winner, completing the course in 10:23:03.
Jackson said he had run a number of shorter triathlons in Alaska previously but hadn’t committed to traveling out of state to run a larger race.
“(Ironman) bringing one to Alaska kind of sealed the deal for me,” he said. “I was like, I have no excuses. It’s close by. I’m signing up.”
The conditions in Juneau on Sunday were cool and at times, rainy. Jackson, who competed in the 45-49 age group, said the weather may have given Alaskans an upper hand on their out-of-state competitors.
“I think being an Alaskan, being used to some of the conditions we faced yesterday probably worked a little bit in my favor,” he said. “A lot of people from other places might not be used to what we encountered (Sunday). I don’t necessarily choose to be out in that stuff all the time but at least it’s something I’ve been through and trained for so it didn’t really shock me.”
Around 1,000 athletes competed on Sunday, including competitors from 46 states and 30 countries or territories.
“When I saw this race, I knew that I wanted to do it ‘cause I knew it would be a cooler marathon,” Whetman said in a race release. “The (Juneau community) was amazing. Everyone was following along on the (Ironman Tracker) app, I heard my name no doubt about a thousand times — just the support from everyone was amazing.”
The race was set to be 140.6 total miles, including a 112-mile bike ride, a 2.4-mile swim in Auke Lake and a marathon-distance 26.2-mile run.
But the water in the lake was just 56 degrees and organizers cut the swim in half, for a 1.2-mile loop.
Jackson, who runs an insurance agency in Anchorage, said that it was a “bummer” that competitors weren’t able to swim the full length, but he understood the decision.
“I think that was the right move,” he said. “But when you’re standing there and they announce that, you go ‘Oh no!’ But you get in the water and swim for about 30 or 40 minutes and you go ‘OK, that was probably a good choice.’ ”
Juneau’s Bethany Gollin was second in the women’s 25-29 age group with a time of 11:28:32. Anchorage’s Stacey Nieder also finished second in her age group. Nieder’s time of 12:32:32 put her in second in the women’s 50-54 group.
Juneau’s John Bursell won the men’s 55-59 group and placed 21st overall. He’s competed in over 20 Ironman races.
“This is my favorite. Really the best thing about this race is Juneau,” he said in an Ironman statement. “The community support was amazing. The course is amazing, Auke Lake is just a great swim; the water is clean and beautiful. The water was colder at first but then it got warmer — that’s the way it’s been the last few days.”
Fellow Juneau resident Jim Ustasiewski finished behind Bursell for second in the age group. While Coleman was actually the fastest Alaskan, Jackson was the first Alaskan to cross the finish line due to staggered starts in the swim. Coleman finished third in the male 35-39 age group.
Jackson, who grew up in Kenai, grew up swimming and said he enjoys all three of the disciplines in the triathlon. But he said the first few moments following the bike ride were the most tenuous of the race.
“The scariest part is knowing the pain you’re going to feel when you start the run because you’ve just finished a 112-mile bike ride,” he said. “Knowing you’ve got a marathon at the end of a 5-6 hour bike ride, you just don’t know how bad that’s going to hurt.”
Jackson said preparing for the race meant being in the elements like winter bicycling and using the natural training grounds like the nearby Chugach Mountains.
“I think there was somewhere around 100 Alaskans that were in this race and the representation kind of in each age group of some of the top finishers and I just think that’s super cool,” he said.
“People probably don’t think of Alaskans necessarily doing all this stuff because they think of it as a warm-weather sport. We’re doing this stuff in the winter on our bikes and when the weather’s less than ideal weather.”
Anchorage’s Stull — eighth overall in the women’s race and fourth in her age group — also accepted a bid to race in the World Championships.
Forty-five qualifying spots were up for grabs for the Ironman World Championships, which is in Kailua-Kona. Since there are so many qualifying races, there isn’t a uniform standard for getting in.
“I guess now I have an excuse to do at least one more,” Jackson said.
Local artist Crystal Worl designed the logo for the event, which also appeared on the winners’ medals.
“I am thrilled to share Tlingit art & cultural values on Áak’w Ḵwáan territory,” said Worl in an Ironman release. “The salmon symbolizes the strength, resilience, and endurance it takes for the journey home to spawn. It is this salmon that brings nitrogen and nutrients from the deep ocean to our land, which has enabled our land to become as lush and green as it is! It is with great honor I am able to create the Ironman logo for my hometown Juneau.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Anchorage’s Todd Jackson as the highest Alaska finisher. Juneau’s Will Coleman finished 14th, one spot ahead of Jackson. Anchorage’s Amber Stull finished in eighth place in the women’s division and 58th overall.