Juneau residents prepare for ‘extreme triathlon’ in Seward

Inaugural event includes frigid swim, run up Mt. Alyeska

The inaugural Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon covers 140 miles through frigid water, tight highways and rocky mountains. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Palaian, PhotosByAaron.com)

For some Juneau residents, a regular triathlon just isn’t challenging enough.


This Saturday, at least three Juneauites will participate in the first-ever Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, traversing Mt. Alyeska, frigid waters and narrow roads. Jamie Bursell, certified USA triathlon coach and compliance officer at Southeast Alaska Surgery Center, said that Juneau residents Ryan Bischoff, John Bursell and Jim Ustasiewski are all planning to make the journey. Former Juneau resident Tommy Thompson will also be participating, Jamie Bursell said.

John Bursell, who has run in multiple Ironman competitions, is looking forward to doing one so close to home.

“We have a home state advantage,” he said over the phone as he was driving to Seward on Thursday. “I think it’s gonna be great. We’re just going through all the details about the water temperature and how cold it’s gonna be. It sounds like there are gonna be quite a few bears on the running course.”

The triathlon’s website brags that the race is “one of the most challenging and breathtaking extreme triathlons on Earth,” and takes more than 300 participants from Seward to Girdwood. It is also extremely popular, as the race sold out in just three days last year.

The run finishes at the Alyeska Resort, with participants expected to be coming in between 3-11 p.m. The finish line is near the resort’s upper tram terminal, and race organizers are expecting about half of the 300 participants to finish the course, per a release. Those who finish the triathlon will have traveled more than 140 miles and climbed a total of 10,100 feet, according to the event’s website.

Alyeska Ski Area General Manager Brian Burnett said in a release that he’s in awe of the participants and is looking forward to greeting some of them at the top of the mountain Saturday.

“We’re excited to host Alaskaman on their inaugural event,” Burnett said, “and looking forward to seeing top-tier athletes challenge themselves in our backyard.”

At 4:30 a.m., participants will begin the triathlon at Miller’s Landing in Seward, dipping into water in Resurrection Bay that averages about 55 degrees in July. Event management is monitoring the water’s temperature and are prepared to adjust the length of the required swim, which is currently set at 2.67 miles.

The next stage is a 113.5-mile bike course with a gain of more than 4,100 feet. Participants are limited to eight hours on this portion, meaning they must average about 14 miles per hour during this phase. This course starts in Seward and ends just west of Girdwood at Bird Creek. The ride on Seward Highway could prove treacherous, as vehicular traffic is still allowed and there are no bike lanes.

The third and final portion of the extreme triathlon is a 27.5-mile run that gains about 6,000 feet in elevation. Nearly 4,800 feet of that elevation gain come on the final 7.5 miles of the run on steep, rocky trail. Once again, there is an 8-hour cutoff for this portion, meaning participants must average a 17:27-minute mile.

Alaskaman doesn’t provide personnel support along the way, so each participant is required to have at least a couple “crew members” who make the trek with them. Athletes are required to have someone with them for the entirety of the running portion, or they will be disqualified.

There are numerous extreme triathlons like this around the world, but the distinctive scenery and challenges of this one make it stand out above others. John said he’ll be sure to bring bear spray and bear bells for the final leg of the journey.

“It should be pretty extreme,” John said.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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