Bursell, Rivera conquer Ironman

Juneau men finish eighth, ninth in age group at Idaho triathlon

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2007

Juneau's Tracy Rivera and John Bursell used teamwork and a year of hard training to post top-10 times at the Ironman Coeur d'Alene triathlon Sunday in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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Rivera and Bursell each finished the triathlon with identical times of 10 hours, 20 minutes and 13 seconds. Rivera placed eighth while Bursell placed ninth in the 40-45 year old division. The triathlon consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race and a 26.2-mile run.

"It's pretty exciting," said Rivera, a 40-year-old physical education teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School. "This is my seventh Ironman race I've done. The best time I've done before is 10:39. It's a PR (personal record) for me."

The pair of fantastic finishes also served as a bit of vindication from last year.

In the 2006 race at Coeur d'Alene, a blazing sun and temperatures in the 90s pounded the Juneau duo.

This year, more agreeable temperatures in the 60s greeted the athletes.

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For more on the Ironman triathlon, check out www.ironman.com.

"It was so hot (last year) it was hard for me to do real well," said Bursell, a 40-year-old physician. "I think having another year of training under my belt helped. I wanted one decent Ironman time before I quit. Hopefully I'll have one more to do."

Rivera and Bursell's times may be good enough to qualify them for October's world championships in Hawaii. The duo will find out if they qualified for Hawaii today.

"It's always in the back of our minds," Rivera said of the world championships. "They've got so many slots and take a percentage from each age group. We're thinking there might be 10-11 slots from this race. We're not 100 percent sure. We're don't want to jinx ourselves."

The race started with a 2.4-mile swim in what Rivera categorized as rough water.

He said the wind created two-foot waves going out and three-foot waves heading back to shore.

"The swim beat us up pretty bad," Rivera said. "I definitely swam better before. I was in survival mode."

Despite the rough seas, only 61 seconds separated Rivera from Bursell. Bursell completed the swim in 1:16:08 while Rivera completed the triathlon's first leg in 1:17:07.

Next loomed the 112-mile bicycling portion of the race. The longest part of the triathlon is something the two have been training for since winter. Rivera and Bursell also trained in Arizona for a week.

In preparation for the race, Bursell built a cycling studio on a mezzanine at a boat condo. Every Saturday morning for months, Bursell, Rivera and friends would log hundreds of miles to get ready for Coeur d'Alene.

The previous training, coupled with the fact the two were within sight of each other, made for a turning point in their race.

Despite maintaining a mandatory four-bicycle length distance between them, the duo gobbled up the course.

"I was amazed to see Tracy on his bike," Bursell said. "He came out of the water just a little behind me and caught up in the first four, five miles on the bike. It was great. We know each other. We ride similar paces. It really helped a lot. We passed about 500 people on the bike."

Incredibly, the two ran nearly identical times in the bike portion of the Ironman. Rivera finished in 5:26 while Bursell completed the 112 miles just 17 seconds later.

The final leg of the race is a full 26.2-mile marathon through Coeur d'Alene.

"We finished at the same time on the bike, and Tracy made it though the transition a little quicker than me," Bursell said. "I worked a little harder to catch up to him and we ran side-by-side."

Having a good friend to run with proved crucial.

Bursell finished the marathon in 3:29:03 while Rivera clocked in at 3:30:36.

"I probably could've done the bike with the same time by myself, but the run? No way," Rivera said. "We went 3:20 probably where it would've been four (hours) by myself. It was totally having John there. It was encouraging to each other."

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at sports@juneauempire.com.

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