This is an amazing account of this this truly extreme event - read on for all the gory details by our very own Morgan Chaffin, Professional Triathlete ....
When Kris Story first mentioned Alaskaman, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. But I’m always up for a challenge. Extreme triathlon, approximately ironman distance, why not? I signed up the moment registration opened with my heart set on doing well. Whether my coach, Shawn Weirick of Triple Threat Racing, thought this was a good idea or not, I knew he would get me prepared, and I truly was! I will never forget this special event and the excitement of being the first female to crest the mountain! Thank you Kris and Grant for being my support team. Through it all you were by my side: giving, happy, calming me down, and pushing me to my best! I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
I joined Team Endurance for MS this year and had raised $1,000 in the months leading up to the race. Thank you to everyone who supported this great cause! The money raised goes to the Rampy MS Research Foundation. Jo and Scott Rampy are very dedicated, loving people, and I’m proud that I can help them with their fundraising aspirations. As stated on my fundraising page this race, because of its extreme nature, was dedicated to my father whom I lost at the age of 15 due to a brain hemorrhage. He was a fighter, and I knew I was going to have to put up a good fight to finish. I told Kris as we were climbing the mountain that I could hear my dad telling me, “Morgan, you got this keep moving, keep strong!” The $1,000 prize I was awarded for being the first female to finish the race will also be donated to the foundation so, 2K in total!
Kris and Grant Story, and I arrived in Anchorage late Wednesday afternoon. We headed to Seward, where we stayed, and where the race started. On the way, we stopped at the mountain I thought I was going to be “running” up, Mt Alyeska. Later, I remember telling Kris I thought it was going to be like Schramm Park/Lake Cunningham. Not so much, and I will explain why later. I won’t forget her facial expression and laugh. I’m sure it will be a joke for years to come. It was a picture-perfect view, like nothing I had ever seen before. I was excited, but a bit fearful of what was going to be in store come Saturday afternoon.
Thursday morning we drove to Moose’s Pass, part of the scenic bike course. I looked up at snow covered mountains, down at aqua-blue water, and gazed at the greenest of green trees and plants. I couldn’t wait to ride some of the course and make sure my bike was shifting smoothly. It was great and everything checked out! Thanks to Scheels and Shane for getting my bike race ready, and installing a 11-27 cassette on my rear wheel. I definitely needed it! Later that afternoon we picked up my packet and headed to Glacier Exit located in the Kenai Mountains. We did a short hike of roughly 2.5 miles there and back. Scientists continue to monitor and record the glaciers recession. There are check points along the trail dating back to the 1970’s. It’s a sight to see, and there is nothing like experiencing the high winds sweeping off the glacier. Later that evening we had dinner at a quaint log cabin restaurant, Salmon Baked. It was excellent. I had salmon there every day. You just can’t go wrong!
Friday morning we were up and at it by 4:15 am. The practice swim started at 5, because the tides are high and it would simulate race day. In addition, fisherman start early, and Aaron Palaian, the race director, wanted to make sure we were respectful to their sport. Kuddos to him! Kris braved the practice swim with me. What a trooper! We got all suited up. By suited up I mean wetsuit, booties, gloves, and neoprene cap. The water was a nice and toasty 55-56 degrees with the air temp matching, BRRR! For the first 5 minutes, any sensation in my face was gone. It was like having a cold headache ie. Brain Freeze! Ouch. Once that was over it wasn’t too bad. However, within 3 minutes my booties were filled with water and dragging at the ends of my feet. Hmmm, what to do? I got out and Kris said I could try hers. Same thing, but not as bad. I used them for the race. I did do about 300 meters without gloves and booties and could have managed ok without. As long as I was moving I felt ok. The rest of the day was dedicated to getting race ready. Kris helped me divide up all of my nutrition (my favorite TYR Endurance Sport drink mix on the bike) and get everything ready for my T2 bag (Which included roughly 65 oz of liquid divided amongst a pack and fuel belt, gels, whistle, bear spray, bear bell, a base layer top, gloves, beanie, insect repellent, gauze, and bandages. All of these items would travel with me for the whole 27 miles of the run. After that was ready, we headed to the pre-race meeting, grabbed a quick (but a lot) to eat, and headed to bed at 8pm.
My alarm sounded at 1:50am! I was up immediately. We grabbed everything for the day and headed out the door. Grant drove us down to the transition area. It was a dreary morning; misting, dark, cold, foggy just like you would see in horror movies where the sea monster blasts out of the water lurking for its prey. Yikes! I really needed to get those thoughts out of my head. We unloaded and Kris and I placed everything that I needed after the swim under my bike in a plastic bag to keep dry from the mist falling. I got on the bus at 3:25 am and headed to the official starting point at Miller’s Landing by 3:30. Once there, I sat for a good 15 minutes inside the fisherman’s shack by the swim start. It was bright and warm inside and helped calm my nerves. I quickly downed a Gatorade Prime and slathered extra aquaphor onto my face. Within 10 minutes the National Anthem had been sung and we were lined up in the water ready to start.
It was cold, but I was so anxious to start. I wasn’t even thinking about the water temp. Suddenly, we were off! I swam pretty hard the first 100m getting my spot and raising my heart rate. With it being 800ft deep it was impossible to line up buoys. We were instructed to sight off of the shore and keep the boats and kayakers to our right. They also placed a few bright lights along course that we were instructed to use as sighting points. Thankfully they were bright enough to see through the dense fog. It was a point to point swim, roughly 2.67 miles. Within 5 minutes my booties were down at my ankles and off my toes. I could feel them dragging, but I wasn’t about to take them off and leave them floating. I knew it would slow me down but I kept on. I swam close to another athlete, alternating who was leading a couple of times. As we approached the end of the swim I passed a few more in the final stretch and saw the large orange “end of the swim course buoy”. I swam as far as I could onto the mossy, slippery ramp. I stood up, and immediately fell to my knees. A man helped me stay upright until Kris and Grant could grab me from the water. I was in good, and steady, hands now! I put my arms around them and we headed towards transition. I couldn’t feel my feet for the initial few seconds. But within moments everything was in check. I started running towards T1 with the loose booties sweeping back and forth under each step. I’m sure I looked like a complete goof!
Kris was there in T1 helping me get ready. Everything went smoothly. I put on arm warmers and my chest reflective straps and headed out. I was in race mode and almost forgot to turn on my lights and start the Race Joy App. Luckily Kris and the volunteer reminded me. Once on the course, I immediately settled into a good rhythm. I could tell my legs were going to have a fun day of cycling. With numerous hours on the bike leading up to this race, I knew I could push high Z3 for the bike leg. Around 33 miles was the first aide station, where I met Kris and Grant. They quickly exchanged my bottles, filled up my water reservoir, and filled my bento box with clif bloks. Replenished, I quickly continued on, settling into my groove while occasionally glancing around at the snow-covered mountains and wondering if I would see any wildlife. No such luck. My next stop was at mile 77.5. Kris and Grant topped off my fluids and told me the 2nd place female was nowhere to be seen. At mile 80 there was an out and back stretch on Portage Glacier Road. Out against a headwind, which means the final miles would have a slight tailwind. I saw quite a few men but still no women. In the final flat stretch I tried my best to maintain my power output and keep as aero as possible. For the majority of the bike I was in 3rd place. I came into T2 with either 2 or 3 males in front of me. I felt great. Niki Kubiak has my race day nutrition dialed in to the exact calorie. My mind and body were sharp. Thanks Niki!
As I entered T2, the volunteers directed me towards my large trash bag of race gear and nutrition. I immediately sat down put on my socks and shoes. Stood up and placed my hydration pack around my shoulders and fuel belt around my waist. I felt pretty good starting the run. I was happy, knowing the most challenging part of the race awaited me in roughly 3 hours. Due to a bone injury, my running has been limited to the AlterG at Specialized Physical Therapy (lifesaving PT’s) and the Stairmill. Often times I refer to myself as the walking stress fracture, but I seem to manage them quite well. Either I have a very high pain tolerance, or I’m good at blocking out the pain. I was alone from mile 1-14.5 except for the occasional cyclist, hiker, or race supporter. It was quiet and all I could hear was my bear bell jingling and bouncing around tapping my neck. I thought to myself, “Will I see a bear? What will I do?” Part of me wanted to see one (just a little one?), the other part of me was scared to death. I did opt to carry bear spray in the front of my pack for any close encounters. The race director did well at preparing us for any possible bear or moose encounters.
Around mile 7, I stopped and used the bathroom and changed my fluid containers. Settling back in, I was trying to keep my average under 8:30 min/mile pace. I did a pretty good job! I neglected to change out my fluids around mile 13 knowing I had 1.5 miles to go before I would reach Kris and Grant. This was a mistake and quickly caught up to me. When I reached mile 14.5 I was a bit delirious. Kris gave me extra fluids and some salt, which seemed to perk me back up. From this point, there was an out and back stretch before heading up Mt. Alyeska for the final 7 miles. I had a bike lead who kept me alert and focused by talking to me through this whole section. She was a big help. I remember going up one of the hills where I gave in, and walked for a few seconds, grabbing any fluids I could get my hands on. As soon as my pace dropped I got a Race Joy cheer from my mom! With that, I smiled and I was able to start running again! Thanks mom! I also saw Crowie around this point and he told me I was crushing it! Soon, I arrived back at the support crew stop and met up with Kris and Grant. Kris and I had our packs checked for required gear and began the climb. Soon we were off trail and lost. A couple of men helped us get back on track. Looking at Kris’s Garmin we think that added about 15 minutes to my final time. This part of the mountain was the most grueling. In order for the RD to keep it at 7 miles, the initial start was straight up, not your typical switch back trail pattern. There were parts nearing 25-28% grade right off the bat, loose rock, tall grass, uneven footing, and steep drop offs. There were many times when I asked Kris, “Can I do this, are you sure?” She would respond, “Yes, you’re strong, you’re stronger than this race and that’s why you’re here.” I needed those words, and I believed them.
At this point, I had ingested too much fluid and threw up. Kris stopped and asked me if I was all right, as all that mess splashed upward, and hit her in the leg. Sorry Kris! I was ok, just overloaded, and a bit disorientated. As we neared the top of the first climb we made our way across thick snow and a stream of water. Volunteers cheered us on as we crested the top. As we made our way down to mile 23 Grant was there and helped us fuel up. Kris insisted I grab a granola bar. I stuffed it in my sports bra and we kept on going. We did great on the 2-mile downhill stretch. Kris led the way and set a good pace for me. Trying not to completely blow out my quads, I was running with more of a shuffle pattern, trying to brace myself from any loose dirt or rock. At mile 25, we had about a 1.5-2 mile lead on 2nd place. We were in a good spot and just started the trek back up the North Face. By now, I was flat out hanging on. I started getting hot, and my energy level was quickly diminishing. Kris handed me some of her honey stinger chews and I devoured the bag in seconds then took some sips out of her camopack. Towards the end there were 4 ft. steps built into the mountain. I remember using my hands to help pull me up at times. My legs, particularly my quads and glutes, were toast. It was all about finishing at this point. On the last climb near the finish we got passed by 2 more men, but still maintained our 1st female position. As we got closer to the top we could hear music playing and people cheering. We were almost there, both happy and extremely excited! We did a hobble-run into the finish line with our hands together and arms up in the air. We did it! Finished 6th overall, and 1st female, at the inaugural Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon!
Alaskaman was by far is the toughest adventure I have conquered. Race Director, Aaron Palaian did a phenomenal job with the race! He couldn’t have picked a better location for an extreme triathlon in North America. The landscape is unreal, and the people of Alaska offered such wonderful support. Thank you Aaron for letting me be a part of this amazing race! I wonder what extreme triathlon I will participate in next?
Thank you to my amazing boyfriend, Mitch Staiger for keeping tabs on me and supporting me through all of the long training days. My mother, Carolyn Klemz Chaffin and sister LA Mallory Weisbeck, and all of the other friends and family who support me now and in the future.
Thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters!
Specialized Physical Therapy, Scheels, Rotella’s Italian Bakery, First Nebraska Financial Services, Martin Chiropractic, TYR Endurance Sport, Crush 3 Racing, Triple Threat Racing, Women Run Nebraska, Team Endurance, Niki Kubiak (Infinite Sports World) for nutrition consulting and race day planning.
Before I left Alaska, I got to enjoy a couple of days of down time with Kris, Grant, and their son and daughter-in-law, David and Martha Story. I stayed in their beautiful home in Copper Landing and got to enjoy a 2 hour float trip down the Kenia River leaving from Alaska Wildlife Adventures (http://www.alaskawildland.com/). We didn’t spot any bears, or moose. but we did see a few bald eagles. It was an amazing and peaceful time, and allowed me to fully appreciate the beauty of Alaska.
By Morgan Chaffin