Our Without Limits Athletes & Coaches concurred an incredible and very selective race in beautiful Alaska! Read their words, their thoughts and their once in a lifetime experiences!
Coach Sami’s Race Report
Erin Green’s Race Report
Phillip Davis’s Race Report
Coach Kristen’s Race Report
Erin Jackson’s Race Report
Coach Sami’s Race Report:
It’s difficult to truly write about my experience because in a way it still seems so surreal. I mean, we really swam 2.6 miles in Resurrection Bay, biked 112 miles and ran 28 miles up a mountain twice. Well, we didn’t really run that mountain…I’m still dreaming this week and wondering if we really did that.
Dreams weren’t with us the night of 7/14/17, as rise and shine was early for our adventure on July 15th. Our bags were packed and we were ready to go at 1:15 am!!! Yes, wake up call, but Phillip was already up. Coffee time and try eating breakfast at 1:30 am. We had the most awesome house and were in transition at 2:30 am dropping our bikes. It was misty and raining, so we left all of our clothes in bags and I tucked the Cervelo in for a little nap. Anxious, nervous, excited…Embrace the butterflies, I say!! I hope they wore winter coats though, because whew Resurrection Bay promised to be a wee bit chilly. We said good-bye to our team, the best team by the way, and got on the bus to head to the swim start. This race felt so different and I loved it. The camaraderie between the athletes was amazing because we were all in this together and everyone supported each other. Before I could blink an eye, we were dressed in neoprene and wading into the bay. Honestly, and this is crazy, I wasn’t that cold. That comes from someone who is sitting here in a sweatshirt now, but I was dressed perfectly for the 52 degree water. The directions were swim towards the light: no buoys, no path, swim towards the light, make a slight right and a slight left and you’ll be at the finish. I promise you that light never got any closer. A bit of a current, the wrong way! At one point I turned around thinking I had to be last, but nope, just keep swimming. I glanced at my watch and I had been in the water for almost 90 minutes. At that point, I did get a bit chilly, but I finally made that left and I could see the buoy. I gave it all I had and guess who I found, Phillip!! I swam right up on him and started screaming, we did it, we did it. Phillip didn’t really answer. My sherpas, Erin Jackson and Charlie were there with a warm jacket, warm water to pour down my wetsuit and hot chicken soup. Charlie got me changed in transition because my hands weren’t really working and I waited for Phillip so we could go find Erin. How far ahead, I wondered, but we were on a mission. Oh, and I had the best outfit ever!!! All pink!!! Thank you Holly Cunningham! Everyone could see me on the bike and called me pinkie the entire ride. The bike ride was absolute magic. Mountain passes, snowcapped peaks, open valleys, fog, rain, mist, sun, headwind (thank you Portage Glacier Rd), tailwind…we experienced it all. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I rolled through our first stop to try and catch EG and soon we were together at Mile 43. How fun, having your own aid stations and help. Seeing Charlie, my Dad, Leigh and my nephew, Little Charlie at every stop was priceless. Having Kristen, EJ and Miss Diana was icing!! I can’t believe everything they did for us and for that I am forever grateful. EG and I rode together until she gapped me a bit towards the end, but I knew I would see her in T2. Yep!!! Now here’s an experience…no changing areas…Just change out in the open and we did. Good thing, I’m not shy. Well within the cutoff and off we went. We talked, we laughed, we ran (actually fairly well), we made lots of friends, we took pictures, we ran (still running), we jingled and jangled with our cow bells, we stopped to pet dogs (always stop to pet dogs) and soon we were at the last hill until Mile 14.5 when we would see everyone. Did I mention it was a perfect weather day? Warm, sunny, bright blue skies. We walked the last ½ mile until we found our Sherpas and I went into my head a bit there. The pack, the bear spray, the food, the water, the phone, were all in my pack with more. Grrrrr….like a big Grizzly. There was Miss Diana with a huge grin tracking us on our phone! There was Kristen coming to get EG and there was EJ, my angel, to take that bear spray. She fed me M&M’s and took some of my gear and thank you thank you. Then it was off for Mile 14-20. We ran and walked a bit there and saw Phillip and Diana on that out n back and they looked awesome! It made me smile. There was a bear on the course and we crossed to the other side at that point. We saw Little Charlie, my nephew and my family twice on that section and it was awesome. EJ did a phenomenal job of chatting with me and we talked about a lot. We made it to T3…and spent some time changing shoes and repacking. I was like a hibernated bear looking for food and something different at this point. I FOUND A BAGEL!!! Off we went…Mile 20 was 22% up hill on a rocky slope. If the next 7 miles were like that? But, it leveled off a tiny bit and soon Kristen was pelting us with snowballs. Just keep walking Sami, just keep walking. We crossed a stream, made it to the top and across a ridge. We hit the one aid station out there at Mile 23 and then….down we went. Mile 25…time to go back up. EJ put on some great music for me and tried to keep me talking. Just keep walking Sami, just keep walking. Eat that bagel!!! We hit the Stairway to Heaven and Kristen, EG and EJ get right up those stairs. Are you kidding me, they were as tall as me!! Ok, ladies, I’m coming. We could see it, the finish!! And hear it, but that is 5000 switchbacks away. Per EG, it’s only ½ mile more…Hmmmmm…maybe not J But, at that point, I knew it…We had done it!! Can I tell you I cried when we crossed that finish line? We held hands because we had done it together!! 25 Women finished the Inaugural Alaskaman and I was part of that crew! Alaskaman renewed my spirit and my soul in a way. It brought me back to the roots of triathlon and challenging yourself. Living Without Limits, right? It made me face my fears, my doubts, my thoughts and I WON! Would I do it again? 100%, but my body has a finite number of races with a few tweaks and there are some others to do first. At that time, I would return to do it again, if all is well. Grateful, humbled, honored cannot even describe this experience and what my friends and family did for me that day. Now the question remains, what to do with my next 50 years.
Erin Green’s Race Report
“You never know how much you can do until you try to do something that’s more” – Gary Cantrell
I heard this quote while watching a documentary about the Barkley Marathons and while there were more AlaskaMan finishers than there have been Barkley Marathon finishers, this quote resonated with my experiences leading up to the race and on race day. There was lots of travel and logistics involved with getting all of the gear together and getting to the starting city in Seward, but for the sake of time, I will skip all of that and start right in with the EPIC RACE DAY covering a 2.67 mile swim, 111.5 mile bike, and 27.9 mile run! The alarm went off at 1:30am and Kristen, Erin Jackson (EJ), and I all got right up. I’m still not sure exactly how much I slept that night, but I think it was more than Phillip, at least… One of the first things I noticed that morning was that it was dark – it was the first time I’d seen darkness in 4 days. It was also raining. Charlie helped to pump my tires and I finished getting my water bottles filled and gathered my T1 items and bike. My stuff for T1 was already packed in a plastic bag and Kristen and I walked across the street to transition at about 2:15 (because Sami is house-finder extraordinaire and rented us a house right at the swim exit/T1). We left everything all wrapped up because of the rain so the T1 setup was fast. We returned to the house and I got my breakfast of PB & J on waffles and a cup of coffee and Sami, Phillip, and I started gearing up in our booties and wetsuits. We boarded the bus and headed down to the swim start at 3:30am. Passing the waterfalls that would cool our water down into the 40’s on the way had us all shivering in anticipation. We arrived and unloaded at the swim start at about 3:50 and had plenty of time to wait and prepare ourselves. Fortunately, there was a covered porch so we did not have to wait in the cold rain. After about 20 minutes of waiting around, I removed my sweatshirt and donned the top half of my wetsuit, put in earplugs, put on 2 swim caps, my gloves, and then coated my face with vaseline. The race director pointed out the lights barely visible through the fog and said to sight those and “swim towards the light”.
Well, 1 of the 3 lights went out before we even got in the water and the 2nd shortly thereafter. But, we were finally in the water and the gun went off. The tentative plan was for Phillip and I to stay side-by-side and Sami to draft in between us. We lost each other very quickly. Because the swim start was an hour before high tide, there was no push – in fact, it felt very much like the current was against us for much of the swim. Fortunately, I never really got too cold; however, I had moments where I swore I was in a liquid treadmill and became concerned about making the swim cutoff. Then, I thought that if I wasn’t going to make the cut off, what was going to happen to all of the swimmers slower than me? I hit the frigid waters from the waterfall about this time and ended up in no man’s land with no one around me – I was slower than the fast pack and faster than the majority but had no way of knowing this at the time. At one point, my swim cap started to slide back and I knew it was going to fall off and then I’d freeze without those 2 layers of warmth on my head. But, I was afraid to stop swimming because then I’d lose ground and move backwards (at least that’s how it felt with the current). I rolled over onto my back and attempted to pull the cap back down on my forehead – easier said than done with gloves on… Had to take off a glove, fix the cap, and then get the glove back on – all while kicking as hard as I could on my back in an attempt to maintain forward progress. I looked at my watch and saw I’d been swimming 40 minutes at this point and knew that I had no choice except to continue my efforts towards the one remaining light. I became Dory and just kept swimming. Then, all of a sudden I saw an orange triangle buoy, yippee!!! I knew that there were old dock pilings and I had to swim in the middle of them. As I was navigating this, the best volunteer ever came into view and held out a stick for me to grab to help me up the uneven terrain (FYI – he was a local resident who stood in the freezing water all morning to help us all out safely). And then there was Kristen there to help me! Boy was I glad to see her.
Because I was alone in the water for so much of the swim, I had to ask her if I was one of the last ones out of the water. This made her laugh and she assured me that it was quite the opposite. I was much luckier than many because my warmth vest, booties, gloves, and wetsuit did their job and I was by no means warm but was certainly not frigid. We walked and chatted the way into T1 and I stripped off everything on my top half. Kristen was a big help in T1 and the fact that your support could be with you through it all was great. She had a jug of warm water that she poured on me to rinse off the salt water and warm me up and helped me to change into my bike gear. I also enjoyed my thermos of hot chicken noodle soup in T1. I was taking my time because I was trying to wait for Phillip and Sami so that we could all go out on the bike together. But, after about 15 minutes in T1, we decided that I needed to just get going or else I really would start to freeze because it was still in the 50’s for the air temp and light rain. I asked Kristen for my phone to start the RaceJoy app and we realized that it was still on the table at the house – fortunately the house was close so Kristen ran across the street to get it. I thought about heading out and meeting her on the street, but decided to drink a little more soup while I waited instead. (FYI – Sami used to call it “making cupcakes” when someone has a long transition, but I decided that we now need to change that phrase to “drinking soup” since we all 3 did that during our nice, long T1’s).
Finally I was out on the bike, in the rain, on nasty rough roads getting out of town, with cars throwing up muddy water every they passed me. Fortunately, this did not last long. I took it nice and easy getting out of town, wanting the others to catch up – plus it was raining and uphill for most of the first 20 miles. We said we were going to meet our support at mile 32 (one of the first places where we were allowed to get support) if it was raining. It had stopped raining by the time we got through the first mountain pass and to here, but I stopped anyways because I wanted to get the update and make sure Sami and Phillip were okay (plus I wanted to give them time to catch me – biking by myself was not nearly as much fun). I knew they’d made it out of the water because I saw Charlie and Diana pass me in their support vans not too long after Kristen and EJ passed me. I refilled water, cleaned some of the grit and mud off of myself, but the bugs were bad at this location so I didn’t stay longer than 5 minutes or so.
I continued riding and was in complete awe of the scenery around me. No description or even pictures would come close to doing justice to this bike course. After the rain stopped and the clouds started to clear, it was 85 miles of mother nature at her finest. I found myself sitting up and just looking around, trying to take it all in. I stopped again at our 43 mile stop and was only there for a few minutes before Sami pulled in, yay! We took off together and stayed together up until the end of the ride. But, we were very good and did not draft at all (there’s even photo proof of this!). In fact, I saw no drafting packs out there at all. There were always other riders in sight, but no drafting happening. It was a challenging, but do-able, bike course, with some long climbs and tough winds, but it was by far the most scenic course I’ve ever ridden.
I took off a bit after Mile 93 because I looked at my watch and thought I could break 6 hours of actual ride time (race time was much longer with the 4 stops) because we actually had some tailwind at this point. Then, bam, headwind in your face for the last 10 miles (I ended up with 6:01 on my watch so didn’t quite make it under 6). After a flag false alarm because a business a couple of miles before T2 had flags out that made me think it was T2, I pulled into the actual T2. Because of traffic and its location, our support staff wasn’t allowed in T2. But, the volunteers there were amazing! They even filled up my bladder and bottles with water. Sami rolled in a couple of minutes later and we had a leisurely T2. We put on our packs, secured our bear spray and bear bells, got coated with bug spray, and off we went. The first 12 miles of the run from Bird Creek into Girdwood were great – Sami and I jingled our way down the path with our bear bells, making new friends and taking selfies and pictures of the amazing view. We both felt good and would walk for 20-30 seconds every mile but were running most of it. We did walk up all of the hills:-). Sami was good about taking a gel or eating every 4 miles and reminded me to do so, too. We hit the first aid station at mile 12 and I drank a delicious coke and Sami had to stop and pet a dog.
We continued the 2.5 miles down the path/sidewalk into town and had some great cheerleaders along the way. Finally, waiting at the top of the hill at mile 14.5 were Kristen, EJ, and Diana! We were very excited to see them and Kristen even had Pringles waiting for me – boy were they good at that point in the day. The out and back nordic loop wasn’t too bad, we continued with walking up hills and running the flats and downhills. On our way back, other runners, including Phillip and Diana, who were coming towards us said to run on the road instead of the path because there was a black bear and her 2 cubs just off the path. We did as we were instructed but the bears had gone further into the woods by the time we got there, whew. Before going through the checkpoint at Mile 20, we made our T3 stop at the van to change into our trail shoes and refuel. We were about 13 hours into the race at this point and I was still drinking lots of water and Skratch, but was over the sweet stuff. Either Kristen or EJ remembered that there was 1 beer left in the cooler and this actually sounded amazing at this point (plus I knew I’d be hiking instead of running from this point on – and I’ve gotta train for the Copperhead race, right?). Sadly, we didn’t have an opener. But, Sami found a couple of bagels left in the car and boy did that bagel taste good! After another extended transition, we got our packs checked for the mandatory gear we had to carry and passed the medical check and were headed under the arch and up the mountain. And it was STRAIGHT UP! Aside from the cold, longer swim, the course had been equivalent to a challenging Ironman – like Boulder or Coeur d’Alene – up to this point. This was where everything changed. 22-28% grade! I knew it would be a hike, but what we hit right off the bat was crazy.
As we climbed, we chatted about anything and everything, listened to some good 80’s tunes from Kristen’s phone, and occasionally stopped to look out at the views and take selfies and pictures. In addition to trails that went straight up, we encountered snow and Kristen had to take a break to throw a few snowballs at EJ (I think she knew better than to throw them at Sami at that point in the day).
In the glacier bowl, we had to do a river crossing. It wasn’t deep but there was no way across without getting our feet wet. We hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, walking back and forth, discussing our options for crossing. We watched others just run through it and the volunteer there said that’s what everyone else had done. A race videographer was on the other side, videotaping our whole exchange – I’d love to see that footage because I am sure it was entertaining. Finally, we just sucked it up and got wet feet and continued our way to the top. (What didn’t even cross our minds was what Phillip and Diana did – they just walked up past where the snow melt was happening and crossed the snow instead of the river… If only one of the 4 of us had thought of that!) There was a flag at the top of another really steep section and I said yes, we’re finally at the top and can start our way back down again. But, nope, Kristen had to point out another flag up ahead and even higher on the mountain. We finally made it there and then had to cross a pathway in the sky, with drop offs on either side. It was beautiful and amazing!
We got to within feet of the finish line on our way back down the mountain. It was great to see Charlie, little Charlie, and Leigh there cheering us on and I also enjoyed the aid station and another snack at this point. This was the third and final aid station on the run course so I had Kristen add some water to my pack, for which I am grateful because I would have been out of water early on the final climb without it. The steep sections of down were hard on the legs but there were also other sections where it was a little less steep and wasn’t single track so we could run. Running felt better on my knees and quads than walking when I could do it. We made it down to the bottom and crossed under the tram to the top and under another arch and suddenly we were back to climbing again. The route up the second time didn’t seem as steep to me overall as the first route up, but it was extra challenging because I was just starting to get a little tired by this point. Fortunately, we knew we had plenty of time before the cut off and I never had any moments of “I don’t know if I can finish this.” Kristen and EJ were amazing and motivating. I know that no one is allowed on the mountain section alone for safety reasons – as the weather and wildlife conditions can change at any second, but I loved the teamwork element that having our support there created. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without them, that’s for sure! Kristen was the mountain goat and kept us all making forward progress (or, more accurately, upward progress) behind her lead. Slowly and steadily, we made it up the Stairway to Heaven. Some of the “steps” were Sami sized, so I’m still not sure how she got up them. Hands were also needed to assist with a couple of the sections. Finally, we could see the finish! But, it was still quite a ways up and we hit a bunch of switchbacks to take us up that last stretch. I have no idea how long it was distance-wise or how many switchbacks there were from this point, I just know that it was A LOT! But, they led to the light at the top of the mountain. We had come this far together so I grabbed Sami’s hand and pulled her up to the finish arch and made sure that all 4 of us crossed together. Holy cow, we did it!!!
We kept hoping that Phillip would make up some time on the run course and mountain and be able to finish with us, too. He made an impressive comeback on the run, but not quite enough time to catch us and finished shortly after we did. After a year of training and planning and one of the most beautiful, challenging days ever, it seemed like a dream. It was a huge accomplishment and I feel blessed to have been able to do it with my long-time training partner and adventure buddy, Sami, to help her celebrate her 50th year on earth! I cannot imagine a better training or support crew! Thank you to Sami, Kristen, EJ, Charlie, Phillip, and Diana for helping to make this once in a lifetime adventure come true! We conquered the mountain!!!! (Twice! Along with a little swim, bike, and run, too!)
Phillip’s Race Report
The Alaskaman race format/event was made perfectly for what I wanted to achieve as an athlete (yep not much of one) and as a person. I was only 50/50 whether I could finish it. Having a group of us together both as support and participants just made the event even more fantastic. I needed all the help and encouragement I could get. The entire course was just stunning. My race preparations were not ideal with my humerus break in Dec, which slowed down my swimming a good bit. But my biking improved 200% because Sami and Erin pushed me way out of my comfort zone.
The race was EXTREME with the swim being the hardest. The swim was 2.6ish miles, of which the first .75 miles of it I felt okay followed by 2 miles of agony (it’s amazing what a little 5-8 degree drop in water temperature will do). Then the bike… I drove it over the course on our way to Seaward. The hills seemed ever ending, but amazingly beautiful. On race day the bike course was fair and hard but not awful in any way! After my legs came back to life from the swim approximately 2 hours later, the bike course was very enjoyable, especially with our support crews meeting us 3 or 4 times on the ride for both food and moral support. It was just so nice mentally to see them and get that positive feedback that I needed so much (it seemed I needed a lot more on this race than I have ever needed). I all most tapped out during the swim and early on in the bike when my legs were not working, but after two hours on the bike and 1 stop with support I knew I was going to be okay. I owe a lot of this to Diana and the support crew for being so positive when I saw them! This may end up being one of my favorite rides ever! Onto the run, funny thing about the run was I never once had a dark spot… which I can say may be the first time ever. I like to talk and the race director told us it was better to find a friend for the first 14.5 of the run due to the wildlife we may encounter. I found a young man from the North Pole and it felt like we were long lost buddies! At 14.5 the real fun started. We meet up with our support crew for a 6 mile warm up on a Nordic Track XC ski course. It was hilly but not awful compared to what was coming…. 30 degrees up a mountain for 2.5 ish miles followed by 2 miles down. Then the final climb, another 2.5ish miles up (not quite as steep as the first but still very very steep). I saw some people on all fours crawling up at some of the spots. I have always thought I would have an epiphany someday finishing a race (Boston, Ironman) and it never came, I was pretty close at the end of Alaskaman. Amazing thing about this race was it encouraged you to share it with someone. I am so grateful to finish this with Diana and have Erin Green, Erin Jackson, Sami Winter, Charlie George and Kristen Jeno with me at the end and throughout this AMAZING adventure!
Coach Kristin’s Race Report:
Definition of “Race Support/Sherpa” : Highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their terrain. A guide that can play a key role in helping an athlete have the best experience possible at their race.
That was my title and only role for Erin’s Alaskaman and nothing can describe the amazing experience I had… but I’ll try 🙂
1:30am, who get’s up then? Oh wait we ALL did. Thanks racers, thanks alot. Deep down I loved not getting any sleep, thinking about the next 18 hours and how it all was actually going to pan out. I hid little treasures on the racers bike, knowing at some point they’d find them on their journey. Everyone hustled around, ate snacks as I drank ALOT of coffee (round 1). Made sure Erin was good and we went over things she wanted in T1, things I was supposed to pack up, and some last minute randoms before the racers were out the door.
4:30am, the starts!! I continue to drink coffee (round 2) and we packed up the van and cleaned the house we stayed in. We had a new house in Girdwood so our job was the make sure things were ready to roll out as soon as they got onto their bikes. We headed down to the water around 5:30am and no one was out of the water yet?!?!?! I thought to myself ‘gosh thats odd where are they… and then I look out… fog, lots of fog. Not to mention it was misting and seemed like it was trying to rain?? The air temperature was around 55-ish with water temperatures 53-ish. Finally people start appearing and Erin was about the 20th person out, she rocked it! I was right at the water’s edge and walked with her to T1, helped her change, gave her some chicken noodle soup, BUT completely forgot her phone, crap. I BOLTED to the house, grabbed the phone and ran super quick back as the phone was her tracking on RaceJoy. Thankfully she was super cool about it 🙂 She took off on the bike and Erin Jackson and I jumped in the FULLY loaded van and took off. We all had talked about stopping around mile 32 if it was raining so that was our first stop. Along the way I took pictures, finally ate breakfast, and drank more coffee. We got to mile 32 and pulled off into a parking lot and waited. HELLO bugs, like swarms of them. I highly recommend a ThermaCell, bugs-be-gone. Charlie and Diana were close to follow and everyone seemed within 10 miles of each other at this point. Erin looked great and was all smiles. Next stop mile 48. I think Erin Jackson and I took more pictures because I CANT EVEN EXPLAIN HOW BEAUTIFUL ALASKA IS!!! At 48 Erin stopped re-fueled, cleaned up and took off again. Sami eventually caught up and now the dynamic duo of EG and Sami were together!! We stopped a few more times along the bike course and all I can say is it was a blast. Being a mobile aid station was amazing and the time flew by. At this point, I honestly have no clue what time it is… the sun doesn’t set until midnight and we’ve been awake for hours at this point. Erin Jackson and myself head over to the Alyeska Resort to stage the van for T3 (mile 20 on the run) and wait for Diana to cruise in with her van. We had a fair amount of down time at this point so we chilled, moved into our new house, ate some snacks, and watched some of the leading athletes come in from the first 14 miles. The girls were still together and Philip was close behind so as they approached our sherpa duties started to feel real 🙂 The first 6 miles weren’t that bad as it was paved into a cross country ski path, some rollers, but nothing insane. There was a momma and cub sighting on this section. We rocked our bear bells and gladly carried our bear spray. Erin and I had no problem talking about everything and anything as I’m pretty sure we smiled the whole way. Once we got to mile 20 and T3 we re-loaded on fluids and nutrition as we looked up at the mountain. 22% grade = NO joke. Alot of people had trekking poles, I’d actually recommend that IF there was a next time. I’m not even sure how the real athletes must have felt tackling this after everything they’d been through as it was pretty intense. We got to play in snow, cross glacial streams, crawl up rocks, slide down rocks, climb steps, yell ‘hey bear’, play ‘name that animal poop’, talk about completely random things, and share one of the most amazing experiences ever. When we finally could hear/see the finish line we had what looked like a few switch backs but it actually turned out to be 500 of them (probably like 30), and we all were ready to be done BUT knew soon enough we’d cross the finish line together. Erin, Philip, and Sami… you came, you conquered… the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. What a freaking day, I will never forget. This support sherpa was worn out and mission accomplished. If you are looking for an amazing journey this is the race. To the WHOLE crew – Charlie, Little Chalie, Lea, Walter, Sami, Diana, Philip, Erin Jackson, Erin Green, and myself… we have created a memory that will last forever and a journey we can tell stories about in years to come.