Professional triathlete, Morgan Chaffin, shares her personal experience from the 2018 Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon...
As I crossed the finish line in 2017, I knew I wanted to come back in 2018! Both years this race has presented new challenges. By doing an Xtri World Tour event, I’ve learned so much about my strength and weaknesses as an athlete. Not only the physical aspect but the mental and psychological aspects that go into completing an extreme triathlon. I’ve only completed Alaskaman but I have a love for these non-traditional ironman distance events. Kristine and Grant Story along with Eric made up my support crew this year: Amazing, Selfless, Supportive, and Encouraging—An All-Star TEAM! As you will read, they were there for me every step of the way! Here’s how my day unfolded...
The alarm went off shortly after 2 am. I quickly got my things together and had my usual pre- race breakfast which consistent of a bagel with peanut butter and jelly, a ½ cup of oatmeal, and coffee. It was a crisp, but calm morning. I slipped on the bottom portion of my Xterra Vector Pro wetsuit and for a warm-up road my bike and gear over to T1. I started setting up while Kris, Grant, and Eric walked over. As they helped me set up I connected with Talia, a lifelong friend I grew up with in Norfolk, and who I also coach. We chatted on the bus on the way to the swim start. Three to a row on the bus, it was nice and cozy and made a chilled morning much more comforting. We arrived at Miller’s Landing with plenty of time to spare. Talia, who was also competing, and I, got zipped up and smeared vaseline on our faces to provide an extra barrier against the cold, resurrection glacier fed water. I wore a pair of xsmall Xterra booties and their neoprene cap. The gear kept me warm enough to bare the cold-water changes. 56 balmy degrees at the start, 46 degrees at the waterfall, and 54 degrees at the finish!
We had approximately three minutes in the water before the flare went off. It was quick! The exposed skin on my face was numb within minutes. From the beginning I was breathing a lot heavier than normal, so I used some positive self talk to quickly calm myself down until I got into a rhythm. I was comfortable throughout the entire swim and had good sighting visibility to the flashing fire truck lights at the end. I sighted every 6th stroke and swam a fairly straight path. I noticed from my swim map I swam pretty wide at the end but I don’t feel it caused a significant disadvantage. Perhaps the friendly marine mammal that touched me during the swim was telling me to move in closer to the shore. Sea otter or porpoise? I will never know! I do know that I was happy to see Eric as I made the final turn about the buoy to the exit. He quickly pulled me out of the water and we ran into T1. My swim time was 1:05 for the 2.7 miles. A new course record!
Kris and Eric helped me get ready in T1. We rushed to get my wetsuit and booties off and my arm warmers, reflective vest, and socks on. They turned on my bike lights and started the Race Joy Tracking App and I was off. There was heavy, dense fog for the first 30 miles. I had to slide my glasses down on my nose to be able to see the road and any approaching traffic. After the fog broke, it turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny morning, the absolute perfect conditions for racing. I was pushing the pace decently for the first 75 miles, but felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere! A bit frustrated, what was going on? Later I learned I wasn’t the only one who felt a slight headwind. It was enough to make most of the ride a slight challenge. After the Portage area I was able to pick up some steady speed before hitting the trail back into T2. I made two stops along the way for the 113 miles. One at mile 42 and the other occurred at 88, where I also picked up the required bear spray. Every 15 minutes on the bike I was taking in nutrition. Niki Kubiak has it very well played out for me at approximately 80 g/CHO an hour. I felt great and focused throughout the ride. I entered into T2 in 3rd overall. A solid ride with 4,800ft of elevation gain.
Kris, Grant, and Eric helped me get all of my run gear on and my hydration pack together. Eric was set to go and we quickly got moving out of T2. Now for the most challenging part of the day! The crazy run course of 90% trail, relentless ascending and descending for a total gain of 7,000ft for 27.5 miles! The first 2 miles we settled into a good pace and chatted about how the bike went and shared some laughs. Our first small climb began around mile 2 where we veered onto Crow Creek Road. We ascended roughly 500ft in 2 miles. It was a beautiful, less traveled dirt road. The sun peaking through the trees helped keep the area well lit but shaded and cool. From mile 7.5-10 we were on the Winner Creek Trail. A winding trail throughout the wildness of Girdwood. I was very surprised, and a bit disappointed, we didn’t have a bear or moose sighting. From there, we crossed a raging river in a hand tram. A nice little break for the legs. Next, we completed the Nordic Loop, a 10K of steep, rocky, and challenging terrain. There was nothing flat or easy about it. We did a mix of running, jogging, and power hiking. After the Nordic loop we ran back to T2 at the Alyeska Resort to get our packs checked for necessary gear and headed toward the mountain. From there it was 10 miles of challenging climbing on mountain biking trails with loose rock, gravel, sand, and snow, and an elevation gain of 4,000ft before descending to the Alyeska Ski Resort. Eric got in front of me several times to brace me in case I accidently tumbled over. My descending skills definitely need improvement, so I know what I will be working on in the future!
Despite the challenges, I have to say, Alaskaman tops any other race I’ve ever completed. I love how supportive and encouraging my team was for me every step of the way. Without my crew this day wouldn’t have been possible and I wouldn’t have been able to defend the W! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Thank you to Aaron Palaian for another incredibly experience in Alaska! I was nervous about the layout and challenge of the course, but his team did a wonderful job of planning, explaining, and executing the race. No other words to explain the venue other than breathtaking. Thankyou to the Alaska residents and the Alyeska Resort for opening your property for us athletes to enjoy! $1,000 dollars will be donated to the Rampy MS Research Foundation in honor of my win. I hope this event continues to be successful for years to come!
A big thanks to my coach, Shawn Wierick, Triple Threat Racing for getting me to the start line in great form! Leslie Martin, with Martin Chiropractic and Wellness, for all of the adjustments and wonderful ART treatments,
Specialized Physical Therapy Omaha for their preventative treatments, orthotics, and use of the AlterG. Scheels (Omaha, NE), and Shane Proksel, for the wonderful bike, gear, and nutrition support. Rotella's Italian Bakery Inc and First Nebraska Financial Services for their kindness and generosity, Rocket Science Sports for the comfortable race apparel, and TYR Endurance Sport. And lastly, my Crush 3 Racing athletes who amaze me, and inspire me with their efforits day in and day out!