Triathlon Across the USA: State #20 – Alaska
Chugiak, Alaska, June 1, 2014 – Eagle River Triathlon
About 30 minutes north of the Anchorage Airport along Glenn Highway is Chugiak High School, ground zero for our Alaska triathlon, the Eagle River Sprint Triathlon. While race day was rainy, the following week provided spectacular views of Mt. McKinley, a surprise visit to North Pole, and close-ups of glaciers, birds, and whales in Resurrection Bay.
A Family Connection
During the summer of 2012, shortly after embarking on our Triathlon Across the USA adventure, Joy and I attended a wedding of her cousin Linda’s son. During one of the reception speeches, we learned that he and his new bride would be living in Anchorage, Alaska. He was enlisted in the US Air Force and they would be stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for four years.
When we heard this, Joy and I looked at each other and in near unison mouthed the word ‘Alaska’. Later that evening, we shared our idea about visiting Alaska during their tour with the newlyweds. They agreed, probably sure that we would never follow through.
Little did they realize that we started almost immediately laying plans for the Alaska triathlon.
Fast forward two years and this young family had grown to include another member, their son. On the Saturday before the triathlon, we were able to take the young family to lunch at Glacier Brewhouse in downtown Anchorage.
Preparing for the Triathlon
We arrived in Anchorage a couple of days early in order to tour the city and to test out the bike that I rented for this race. During these two days, we sampled the local cuisine (lots of seafood) of various restaurants, including Seward’s Folly Bar & Grill, Gwennies, Glacier Brewhouse, and Bridge.
We were soon reminded of the long periods of sunlight in Alaska during this time of year. Throughout our stay, we occasionally woke at night to peek outside and realize that it was never darker than a Minnesota dusk. Thank goodness for thick room darkening curtains.
The day before the race, we picked up the race packet at Chugiak High School. We also picked up the Scott rental bike at Chain Reactions Cycles. In between we met the couple whose wedding we had attended two years earlier.
Eagle River Triathlon
I don’t think of Alaska as a hot spot for triathlon. So, I was surprised to know that the Eagle River Triathlon has been held every year except one (2003) since 1993, making 2014 the 21st running of the triathlon.
Headquarters for the Eagle River Triathlon was Chugiak High School. The school is located about 25 miles northeast of downtown Anchorage just off Glenn Highway, also known as AK-1 (Alaska Highway 1).
Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:
- Swim: 0.3 mile (500 m)
- Bike: 12.4 mile (20 km)
- Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
Unique Transition Area
Somehow I missed the information on the Eagle River Triathlon’s Facebook page that race organizers did not provide racks for holding bicycles in the transition area. Other racers brought their own means of supporting their bikes – some were purchased while others were clearly homemade.
Since there was plenty of space in transition, I decided to stand my road bike upside down. (This would not have worked with my Trek SpeedConcept tri-bike.) As you can see in the picture below, other racers still gave me more space, probably fearing that my bike would tip over.
The swim leg occurred in the Chugiak High School Swimming pool. The 500-meter swim consisted of 10 laps (20 lengths) of the 25-meter long pool, all within the same lane. Swimmers started according to bib number with about 100 swimmers completing the swim each hour. The result was that the entire field of triathletes was spread out over nearly four hours.
On race morning, the temperature was just under 50ºF (10ºC). By the time I had completed the swim and headed out onto the bike course, a light drizzle had begun to fall. The combined temperature and rain made the ride chilly, bordering on just plain cold.
The course left the transition area in the Chugiak High School parking lot, turned north following Birchwood Lane to the first turnaround. From here, we returned on the same route past the transition area to a second turnaround about two and one-half miles past the school. From the second turnaround, we rode back to transition.
I had used a rented bicycle in a previous triathlon, the Hilton Head Sprint Triathlon. However, the bike rented for the Alaska triathlon did not fit me nearly as well. The time to complete this leg of the triathlon showed it.
The lesson? Next time I rent a bike, I will pay closer attention to the fit.
The run course followed a single out-and back course. The loop followed a paved trail that left the transition area, passed under Glenn Highway, and then turned left to follow another paved trail that paralleled the highway. Upon reaching the halfway mark, we turned around and returned to the red inflatable Finish Line (shown behind me in the picture below).
Small World Story
While chatting with other triathletes before the race, Joy and I struck up a conversation with a young lady and her parents. We learned that while she and her husband were living in Fairbanks, her parents were from Hutchinson, Minnesota, a rural community about 1-1/2 hours drive west of our home, also in Minnesota. That was interesting.
However, as we continued talking with the young lady, we learned that she had not only grown up in Hutchinson but that she had also swam in high school with our daughter-in-law. Now that made the world seem just a little smaller.
Here we were more than 3,000 miles from home and we not only met, but raced in a triathlon with, a person who had swam with our daughter-in-law. By the way, this young lady was the first overall female finisher for the Eagle River Triathlon.
Finishing third in the Male 60-64 age group earned me a ceramic plague. You can see it listed third in “5 Unique Triathlon Medals; They are No Longer Just Metal”.
Joy and I took the next week to put on a bunch of miles in the rental car, first driving to Fairbanks. Enroute, we spent one night in Talkeetna from where we took an air tour of Mt. McKinley and surrounding mountains and glaciers, and one night at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge.
After a quick tour of Fairbanks and North Pole, we returned back to Anchorage and onto Seward for two days. On one of these days, we joined Kenai Fjord Tours Aichik of Resurrection Bay for whale watching and glacier viewing.
- First race in which there were no common bike racks in the transition area
- First race in which I was #1 in both T1 and T2 for my age group
- First race in which the swim start was spread over several hours.