Local iron men ready for world's biggest triathlon

Rivera, Bursell among four Alaskans competing at Ironman World Championships

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just to be in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, swimming in the Pacific Ocean and mingling with Ironman triathlon professionals is amazing enough for Juneau's Tracy Rivera and John Bursell.

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Come 7 a.m. Saturday, however, the duo will be competing in the same race as the pros. Rivera and Bursell lead a four-person Alaska contingent in the 2007 Ironman World Championships that includes Anchorage's Ellyn Brown and Eagle River's Katie Rosane.

"I'm just trying not to get too excited," Bursell said. "I'm just looking forward to it and enjoying the experience."

The duo qualified for the race on June 24 with identical times of 10 hours, 20 minutes and 13 seconds in the Ironman Coeur d'Alene triathlon in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

While qualifying for the world championships remained a goal for the duo, actually making the cut proved special.

"It was a surprise to qualify," said Bursell, a 40-year-old physician. "I think, like most people, the Hawaii Ironman is the thing that got me interested in getting into it. Just watching it on TV and seeing the drama."

Rivera and Bursell will compete with about 1,800 of the most disciplined athletes in the world. The course features a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.

Following their performance in Idaho, Rivera and Bursell took about two weeks off from training before getting back to the grind.

The two train together and log normally 10,000 yards in the pool, 250 to 300 miles on their bikes and 40 miles running per week.

"Normally when you finish an Ironman like Coeur d'Alene you have to back off quite a bit," said Rivera, a 40-year-old physical education teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School. "We had to keep pushing through."

Bursell and Rivera arrived in Hawaii at the end of September to get used to the heat and terrain they'll be facing.

Since arriving, though, the duo has enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding the world's biggest triathlon.

Rivera said he talked to former Ironman champion Mark Allen and veteran athlete Ken Glah while Bursell said he's talked to a number of professionals.

The town has also treated the athletes royally - holding a parade in their honor on Tuesday.

"Everyone is super-friendly," Bursell said. "It's great just hanging out with all the athletes. Everyone is biking and swimming. We get up every morning to the swim course and go for a swim and everyone is out there."

Saturday's world championships are divided into open and professional divisions. The open class also features different age divisions. Bursell and Rivera will be competing in the 40-44 men's division.

However, all of the athletes will be competing together at the same time in Hawaii.

Neither Bursell nor Rivera said they have a specific goal for the race outside of doing their best.

Besides, for an Alaskan, spending a couple autumn weeks in Hawaii is a reward in itself.

Even if more than 140 miles of pain lies ahead.

"It's totally nerve-wracking," Rivera said of the race. "The swim start is crazy. As soon as the cannon goes off, the first few minutes will be crazy, but they're all that way. It'll be nerve-wracking, but we've both done these races before. We'll get beat up, and we know its coming."

• Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or sports@juneauempire.com.

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