Alex Whetman, suffering leg cramps and numb hands moments after winning the inaugural Ironman Alaska on Sunday, found something sufficient to divert his attention a minute or so later while in the midst of explaining his victory to the surrounding cameras and voice recorders. Whetman, a Salt Lake City resident participating in his fifth Iron Man, finished with a time of 9 hours, 11 minutes and 17 seconds, more than 12 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Alex Whetman, suffering leg cramps and numb hands moments after winning the inaugural Ironman Alaska on Sunday, found something sufficient to divert his attention a minute or so later while in the midst of explaining his victory to the surrounding cameras and voice recorders. Whetman, a Salt Lake City resident participating in his fifth Iron Man, finished with a time of 9 hours, 11 minutes and 17 seconds, more than 12 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Update: Freezing hands and cramping legs still make it across the Ironman Alaska finish line

Willpower and horsepower?

This is a developing story.

Clarification: The first Juneau resident to cross the finish line was John Bursell with a time of 10:13:20 as originally reported. But the fastest time by a local resident was by Will Coleman, whose staggered start time was later and thus he crossed the finish line later, with a time of 10:03:24.

Update: 5:50 p.m.

The top women’s finisher was Liz Cullen of West Vancouver with a time of 10:23:03. This is her fourth Ironman, but the first in seven years and she said the unique first-time location was part of the allure.

“It’s a great crowd out there in the pouring rain,” she said. “Juneau, you are an absolute blast.”

As a resident of the Pacific Northwest “this climate suits me better than some others,” she added. The bumpy cycling course was challenging, but she said the gentler curving marathon route and a strong start to the day helped her achieve a winning finish.

“I just executed really well early,” she said.

The top women’s finisher was Liz Cullen of West Vancouver with a time of 10:23:03. This is her fourth Ironman, but the first in seven years and she said the unique first-time location was part of the lure. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The top women’s finisher was Liz Cullen of West Vancouver with a time of 10:23:03. This is her fourth Ironman, but the first in seven years and she said the unique first-time location was part of the lure. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Update: 5:40 p.m.

The rain began again a few minutes before the first Juneau resident crossed the finish line to much hype from the announcer — although a different resident who crossed some minutes later actually recorded the fastest local time, due to the staggered starting times for racers.

The fastest time by a local resident was by Will Coleman, an engineer with the State of Alaska, with a time of 10:03:24, placing him 14th overall. A prolific cycler who won the 13.2-mile Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club North Douglas Time Trial in June, he wrote in an Instagram post after Sunday’s race the announcer’s classic “”you are an Ironman” proclamation upon finishing didn’t quite capture all he was feeling.

“Also a very beat up and tired man,” he wrote. But by finishing third in his 35-39 age group “it looks as though I may be able to take a Kona slot (for the championship in Hawaii) from my first Ironman.”

While he achieved a time of 5:26:03 on the bike portion of the race, he made particular note of his 3:29:16 time in what “just so happens to be my first marathon. In a freaking Ironman.”

John Bursell, 58, a veteran of more than 20 Ironman races, was the “first” local resident to finish with a time of 10:13:20.

Naturally, he said “the course is awesome — this is my favorite Ironman.”

Bursell, a sports medicine doctor with more than 30 years of experience who has lived in Juneau with his family since 1996, looked considerably more vigorous after finishing the race than Whetman. The doctor said he wasn’t bothered by the cold and wet conditions on his home turf

“Auke Lake is just a great swim,” he said. “The water’s clean…The water was cold at first, then got warmer toward the middle, and that’s how it’s been the past few days.”

Beyond that he said the biggest challenge might have been the collective energy from other racers.

“It was hard to keep things under control so I didn’t go fast,” he said. Still, compared to his other races he called his finish “a really good time for this course, I’m really happy with it.”

John Bursell, 58, a veteran of more than 20 Ironman races, finished with a time of 10:13:20. He was the first Juneauite to cross the finish line.( (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

John Bursell, 58, a veteran of more than 20 Ironman races, finished with a time of 10:13:20. He was the first Juneauite to cross the finish line.( (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Update: 5:03 p.m.

Alex Whetman, suffering leg cramps and numb hands moments after winning the inaugural Ironman Alaska on Sunday, found something sufficient to divert his attention a minute or so later while in the midst of explaining his victory to the surrounding cameras and voice recorders.

“That’s the third bald eagle I’ve ever seen,” he said, breaking off his recap of the race mid-sentence.

Whetman, a Salt Lake City resident participating in his fifth Iron Man, finished with a time of 9 hours, 11 minutes and 17 seconds, more than 12 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. Race officials said winners often finish the endurance race in about eight hours, but conditions in Juneau made for a slow course.

The winner slowed to a walk as he neared the finish line and immediately collapsed upon crossing it with leg cramps, with his wife Kendall and a handful of racing officials immediately rushing up to offer what aid they could. A couple of minutes later, he regained his feet and, during a brief interview with the “Voice of the Ironman” Mike Reilly, said the most difficult part of the race was between mile 20 and 40 of the bicycling course, when his chilled hands were unable to squeeze his liquid bottles.

“It would have been so easy to just stop and quit,” he said.

Things got a bit brighter as he progressed, seeing his first sunlight since Thursday from one of the bays he passed on the circuit he had to pedal twice. But he was feeling the chill again when he started the marathon.

“My hands stopped working,” he said during an interview after collecting his medal and finisher’s shirt. “The first mile my legs were like stumps.”

Whetman said despite the struggles that saw his per-mile pace slow considerably during the 26.2-mile run “this is by far the best marathon I’ve ever run.” He said the bicycling portion is his strongest of the three events, so the chilly early-morning swim in Auke Lake seemed like it would be the most formidable challenge.

“Swimming is my weakness so the short swim played in my favor,” he said, referring to the distance being cut in half due to the water’s cold temperature.

Mark Sabbatini

Update, 2:15 p.m.

Racers kept the pace as rain drizzled down on and off throughout the bike portion of the Ironman Alaska, with fans cheering down the miles and miles of Glacier Highway out the road. There was no uniform crowd of spectators, but rather a hopscotch and sprinkling of small groups from three to four people up to 10-15 people.

For many of the supporters, each racer that passed by was a sufficient cause for loud cheers and shouts of motivational phrases.

A racer smiles mid way through the 112-bike portion of the Ironman Alaska. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

A racer smiles mid way through the 112-bike portion of the Ironman Alaska. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Mr. Higgins, a large pony, spent the morning eating grass along Glacier Highway as bikers smiled at the brown and tan steed.

Mr. Higgins, a large pony at Ridge Stables LLC owned by Chava Lee, munches on some grass as a smiling biker passes by. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Mr. Higgins, a large pony at Ridge Stables LLC owned by Chava Lee, munches on some grass as a smiling biker passes by. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Mr. Higgins and another horse named Clover were brought down by the highway for racers to view from Ridge Stables LLC owned by Chava Lee. Along with the animals, the handlers painted a motivational sign in support of Ironman Alaska.

Keegan Carroll, a wellness coach for JAMHI Health and Wellness, said she wanted to bring the animals out to bring a sense of calmness and maybe a much-needed smile to the racers.

“We wanted to create a healing experience for the racers, and show support,” she said.

Keegan Carroll, a wellness coach for Jamhi Health and Wellness, stands with Mr. Higgins, a large pony at Ridge Stables LLC owned by Chava Lee, a long Glacier Highway to show support for the bikers. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Keegan Carroll, a wellness coach for Jamhi Health and Wellness, stands with Mr. Higgins, a large pony at Ridge Stables LLC owned by Chava Lee, a long Glacier Highway to show support for the bikers. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Johnny Byrne, a racer who traveled from Southern California, took a stop to drink some Gatorade and eat food near the turnaround point of the bike ride. He said this is his first time competing in an Ironman and said he was feeling good so far.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said, smiling as the rain drizzled.

Johnny Byrne from Southern California grabs a much needed drink of Gatorade mid-way through the 112-mile bike portion of the Ironman Alaska. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Johnny Byrne from Southern California grabs a much needed drink of Gatorade mid-way through the 112-mile bike portion of the Ironman Alaska. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

The aid station he stopped at was staffed by the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School track team who was volunteering at the race to raise funds for their coming season.

Louis Tagaban, one of the team’s head coaches, said the Ironman Association agreed to donate a portion of money to the team, which will then be divided between each student who participated. He said it costs around $1,200 each season for students to travel for their races and he said this volunteering effort is a great way for them to build funds. He said 10-15 students of the around 50 students expected to join the team this coming season volunteered.

Louis Tagaban, a head coach for Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School track team helps give a racer food and water at the aid station manned by the team. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Louis Tagaban, a head coach for Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School track team helps give a racer food and water at the aid station manned by the team. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Edgar Vera, a junior on the track team, was in charge of handing out pre-peeled bananas to bikers as they passed by. He said he was having a great time and was proud to be “the banana guy.”

“It’s pretty special, I love being the banana guy,” he said.

Edgar Vera, a junior student at Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School track team, hands out free peeled bananas to passing racers. He and other track students are volunteering to raise funds for their coming season’s travel costs. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Edgar Vera, a junior student at Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School track team, hands out free peeled bananas to passing racers. He and other track students are volunteering to raise funds for their coming season’s travel costs. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Clarise Larson

Update, 10:30 a.m.

As the last of the Ironman Alaska athletes entered Auke Lake, the first swimmers to make a splash were already making their way to the transition area —and their bikes.

A steady stream of swimmers snakes past spectators Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A steady stream of swimmers snakes past spectators Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

By 9 a.m. the vast majority of participants had pedaled away from the University of Alaska Southeast campus for two loops totalling 112 miles along Glacier Highway.

Among those who biked past were Jeff Zillmer, Ryan Switzer, Eddie Kenney and Todd Savard, who were all in Juneau from North Carolina for the event. The quartet of friends have all completed multiple Ironman events in the past, according to Amy Switzer, who watched and cheered from the sidelines alongside others from the Tar Heel State.

Jeff Zillmer smiles at his traveling supports near the beginning of the bike leg of Ironman Alaska. Zillmer was among a quartet of athletes from North Carolina who traveled to Juneau for the event. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Jeff Zillmer smiles at his traveling supports near the beginning of the bike leg of Ironman Alaska. Zillmer was among a quartet of athletes from North Carolina who traveled to Juneau for the event. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

For Ryan Switzer, Ironman Alaska doubled as a fundraiser for the Holt Brothers Foundation, a North Carolina-based organization named for former North Carolina State University stars Torry and Terrence Holt that supports children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer.

Ryan Switzer, who is a 10-year cancer survivor, serves on the foundation’s board. As of 10:30 a.m., his fundraising effort had reached 32% of its goal, $3,179.

Lloyd Henry of Washington, D.C., was another cyclist with an audible support group at the event.

Lloyd Henry of Washington, D.C., smiles while he bikes past his family, including his wife, Marsha Henry, who photographed him. His father, Dr. Lloyd Henry, and mother, Carolyn Henry, traveled from the U.S. Virgin Islands to support their son, who has completed 30 Ironman events and on six continents. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Lloyd Henry of Washington, D.C., smiles while he bikes past his family, including his wife, Marsha Henry, who photographed him. His father, Dr. Lloyd Henry, and mother, Carolyn Henry, traveled from the U.S. Virgin Islands to support their son, who has completed 30 Ironman events and on six continents. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

His father, Dr. Lloyd Henry, and mother, Carolyn Henry, of the U.S. Virgin Islands and his wife, Marsha Henry, cheered and took photos as he rode past. Carolyn Henry also rang a cowbell with extra enthusiasm, although she consistently gave it a rattle to spur on other cyclists, too.

The energy wasn’t first-time enthusiasm, Ironman Alaska will be Lloyd Henry’s 30th Ironman event, according to Marsha Henry. Dr. Lloyd Henry noted his son has competed on six continents—yes, Antarctica is the odd one out, “can’t swim there,” Dr. Lloyd Henry noted.

“Every place he’s gone in the world, we’ve gone,” Carolyn Henry said.

The Henrys said over the years some participants and their families have become familiar, friendly faces. However, some in Sunday’s event were extra-familiar.

Lloyd Henry trains people for triathlons through OnPoint Fitness, a Washington-based fitness company that he runs.

At least one athlete Henry personally trained and a few others trained by others through OnPoint competed in the Ironman Alaska, the Henrys said.

See more photos from this morning below:

Ironman Alaska gets underway with the swimming leg of the popular endurance triathlon. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Ironman Alaska gets underway with the swimming leg of the popular endurance triathlon. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Kara Hollatz of Juneau waves to supporters before going for a 1.2-mile swim in Auke Lake shortly after 6:30 a.m. Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Kara Hollatz of Juneau waves to supporters before going for a 1.2-mile swim in Auke Lake shortly after 6:30 a.m. Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire) Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Phillip McIver smiles after getting a high-five ahead of the swimming portion of Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Phillip McIver smiles after getting a high-five ahead of the swimming portion of Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

An ironman athlete wades into Auke Lake. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

An ironman athlete wades into Auke Lake. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Some swimmers vamped for spectators and supporters before the swimming leg of Ironman Alaska held Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Some swimmers vamped for spectators and supporters before the swimming leg of Ironman Alaska held Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A supporter blows a kiss to an Ironman Alaska athlete who reacts with enthusiasm while a nearby athlete throws up a rock’n’roll salute. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A supporter blows a kiss to an Ironman Alaska athlete who reacts with enthusiasm while a nearby athlete throws up a rock’n’roll salute. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Spectators watch Ironman Alaska athletes swim from the relatively dry shore of Auke Lake. While drizzle started shortly before 9 a.m., there was no rain at 6:30 a.m. as the race began. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Spectators watch Ironman Alaska athletes swim from the relatively dry shore of Auke Lake. While drizzle started shortly before 9 a.m., there was no rain at 6:30 a.m. as the race began. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Athletes respond to cheers from spectators before entering the 56-degree water of Auke Lake during Ironman Alaska. The water temperature was the coldest recorded all week, according to an announcement made dring the race, and caused the swimming portion of the event to be cut to 1.2 miles instead of the planned 2.4 miles. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Athletes respond to cheers from spectators before entering the 56-degree water of Auke Lake during Ironman Alaska. The water temperature was the coldest recorded all week, according to an announcement made dring the race, and caused the swimming portion of the event to be cut to 1.2 miles instead of the planned 2.4 miles. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Claire Dysarczyk holds up a custom pink cap made to support Katie Zlotecki. Dysarczyk and several others traveled to Juneau from Michigan for the event and came with flamboyant, bedazzled gear. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Claire Dysarczyk holds up a custom pink cap made to support Katie Zlotecki. Dysarczyk and several others traveled to Juneau from Michigan for the event and came with flamboyant, bedazzled gear. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A cyclist moves past a throng of spectators during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A cyclist moves past a throng of spectators during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Nicholas Schaefer bikes past onlookers early on in the bicycle leg of Ironman Alaska. Many passing cyclists could be seen getting in a quick bite to eat or gulping refreshments near the start of the 112-mile course. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Nicholas Schaefer bikes past onlookers early on in the bicycle leg of Ironman Alaska. Many passing cyclists could be seen getting in a quick bite to eat or gulping refreshments near the start of the 112-mile course. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Stephen Sweeney (614), Joel Wendell (124) and Adam Thalhofer (766) bike away from the University of Alaska Southeast campus and out the road Sunday during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Stephen Sweeney (614), Joel Wendell (124) and Adam Thalhofer (766) bike away from the University of Alaska Southeast campus and out the road Sunday during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Update, 6:05 a.m.

A water temperature of 56 degrees pushed back the start time of Ironman Alaska, and means a shortened swim of 1.2 miles.

Per an announcement shortly before 6 a.m. qualification slots are still in play.

The race-day cutoff will be 15 hours and 50 minutes.

A rolling start for the swim is set for 6:30 a.m.

Ben Hohenstatt

***

It’s Ironman Alaska race day in the capital city.

Thousands of athletes and spectators have converged this week for the first of three Ironman triathlons planned for Juneau —and the first-ever held in Alaska.

The race began at 6 a.m. with a rolling swim start in Auke Lake. After a 2.4-mile swim, athletes will hop on their bikes and ride 112 miles on Glacier Highway before capping the effort with 26.2 miles on foot to the finish line at University of Alaska Southeast. Course maps are available online here.

[Kidding around: Hundreds attend Ironkids event]

The earliest finishers are expected around 2 p.m., but athletes are likely to be willing their way across the finish line until midnight. Results will be available online here. An awards ceremony is planned for Monday morning.

The flurry of activity means it won’t be business as usual on the roads around the race site, and a list of traffic impacts can be found here. Additionally, there won’t be access to the Auke Lake Boat launch on race day.

For those hoping to watch the action, Thunder Mountain High School, which is also the site of the Ironman Village, was one spot suggested by Travel Juneau President and CEO Liz Perry. Montana Creek and Back Loop roads was another potential point of interest.

For those who’d rather skip crowds and stay dry, photos and coverage will be added to the Juneau Empire’s site and social media accounts throughout the day.

Contact the Juneau Empire newsroom at (907)308-4895.

An athlete splashes their way into Auke Lake to start the swim leg of the Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

An athlete splashes their way into Auke Lake to start the swim leg of the Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Cyclists pedal away from University of Alaska Southeast Sunday during Ironman Alaska, the first Ironman to be held in the state. The cycling portion of the event requires athletes to cover 112 miles. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Cyclists pedal away from University of Alaska Southeast Sunday during Ironman Alaska, the first Ironman to be held in the state. The cycling portion of the event requires athletes to cover 112 miles. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A set of motivational signs line Glacier Highway for racers to view. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

A set of motivational signs line Glacier Highway for racers to view. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Emily Northrop from Asheville with family and friends from Kindergarten. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Emily Northrop from Asheville with family and friends from Kindergarten. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Scott and Amy Gende from Juneau celebrate after the inaugural Ironman Alaska. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Scott and Amy Gende from Juneau celebrate after the inaugural Ironman Alaska. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

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