From shivering to shining, Steamboat’s TJ Thrasher takes on Alaskaman Triathlon
July 19, 2017
TJ Thrasher had already gone through the first step of trying to warm up, having his wife, Tasha Thrasher, dump a hot thermos of water down his wetsuit as he ran, as best as he could, from the shore of Resurrection Bay, which juts north off the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean.
He made his way to the first transition station for the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon in Seward, Alaska, and initially, the "Resurrection" part of the whole equation seemed questionable.
He sat there, between the 2.6-mile swim and the 112-mile bike ride, and he shook, the cold still clutching his body.
He'd expected cold, of course. The water was 56 degrees when he dove in Saturday. A veteran of many triathlons, including an Ironman Triathlon in Florida two years ago, he'd never encountered anything like this, but he compensated with a hood, gloves and booties for his wetsuit, typically not allowed in triathlons, but required for this adventure.
Even that didn't seem like enough, however, when, two thirds of the way through his swim, a waterfall pumped fresh, ice-cold water onto the route, dropping the temperature another 15 degrees.
"I knew it would be cold," Thrasher said, "but I didn't know it would be that cold."
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It was that bit of the unexpected that helped draw the Steamboat Springs athlete to the Alaska race, in its inaugural year, in the first place. He's done plenty of triathlons, but was excited this one was a bit different. It's similar in length to an Ironman, the ultimate test in the sport, but somehow tougher, thanks to that water and thanks to some serious vertical worked into the 27-mile running course.
He didn't go all-in on training the way he did for other events, counting on some swimming in local lakes and at the Old Town Hot Springs pool to help and his general active, out-and-about outdoors lifestyle to take care of the rest.
It did, he said, especially late in the race.
Even after the first leg, which left him shivering on the shore of Resurrection Bay, he had no doubt about carrying on.
"If I'd had another 15 minutes in there, I may not have finished," he said.
He came out of the water in the middle of the pack, roughly 100th, then sat for 16 minutes, waiting for his body to warm up. It did, and he launched into the bike stage. He passed about 50 people there, then clipped another 15 or 20 in a 20-mile run on a paved bike path. Finally, he passed more still on the final segment of the gritty event, seven miles of trail running up the steep Mount Alyeska.
After a very average swim time, he had a better bike time, then the race's fifth-best time through the first 20 miles and the second-best time for the toughest seven, up and down the mountain.
"It was way more abrupt than anything I trained for here. It was more like running up the ski runs the way we have it set up rather than running up the road," he said. "I was prepared for that and made up a lot of places."
He ended up in eighth place, seventh among the men, in a race he entered without any expectation of a high finish.
"I had just set out to do this event, to see what I could accomplish, and have a good, solid race and stay within my means and abilities and be happy with that," he said. "Ultimately, I'm very pleased with that finish."
From the icy water to the steep running trails, he struggled to explain what powered him along the way.
"I've been struggling with that," he said. "No one's paying you. There's no great reward at the end. It's just a matter of staying fit and the personal satisfaction and personal achievement."