A group of local Ironman Alaska finishers are set to trade the cold rainy weather of Juneau for the sunny sandy beaches of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii as they prepare to race the VinFast Ironman World Championship in October after qualifying during the Ironman Alaska just a few weeks back.
Kailua-Kona is the birthplace of the Ironman and this year’s championship and will take place between Oct. 6 and 8. The race takes place between two days and splits the athletes into separate races depending on age group and ability. Each day an expected 2,500 athletes will compete, totaling over 5,000 athletes across the two days of racing.
“If you are a triathlete, the Ironman World Championship is the pinnacle event in the sport,” said Colby Gorniewicz, the director of communications at the Ironman Group. “The legendary course that takes athletes through the barren lava fields that the Island of Hawaii provides the setting for the ultimate test of strength, grit and heart while calling upon athletes to find the spirit of aloha within themselves.”
This early August marked Juneau’s first-ever year hosting the Ironman Alaska and along with it the race offered 45 age group qualifying slots for the world championship. Of the 45 athletes who snagged a spot, 12 of them are Alaska residents, and of those 12, nine of them hail from Juneau.
Though traces of the Ironman Alaska still linger in Juneau, athletes are already cranking up the gears to race yet again in just six weeks. For Juneau resident and world championship-qualifier Corrie Weikle, she said her training is already underway for her and the other racers who qualified for the race, but that didn’t come without some much-needed rest first.
“You don’t want to overdo the training and it’s really easy to jump back in the last week or so. I’m just listening to my body and asking myself things like ‘How am I feeling?’ and ‘Am I taking care of myself emotionally and physically?’” she said. “You kind of expect some rest after an Ironman but for me and the rest of the other athletes that’s not really an option so the question becomes ‘How are we going to mentally prepare ourselves to do an entire Ironman again in 45 days?’”
She said right now a lot of the athletes who raced the Ironman Alaska are still fighting burnout, but are leaning on each other to find motivation and the energy to get ready to race again. She said many of the athletes who qualified are training together and plan to fly to Kailua-Kona in advance to get acclimated to the different weather and training conditions that they will be racing in.
“It’s a very different environment than what we’ve been training in,” she said. “It’s such a different place and we’re talking the best of the best in all these different groups — it’s nerve-wracking,” she said, laughing.
She said qualifying for the world championship has been “a dream for a long time” and she was even selected to be a part of an Ironman series called “Quest for Kona” which is a video series in which the Ironman group selects five people to follow their journey of training and preparing to qualify for the world championship.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time — I knew it wasn’t going to be a shoe-in and I’d have to work my ass off,” she said. “But how cool is it that we get to go to Kona together and support each other and cross the finish line — I feel so incredibly honored and privileged to get to do this and I get to do it with some of the coolest people in Juneau.”
Jamie Bursell, a fellow qualifier and the lead coach for Juneau’s High Cadence Triathlon Team, said she expected the High Cadence team to do “very well” in Ironman Alaska and said it was “so fun and so exciting” to see so many Alaska athletes earn qualifying spots.
Bursell said the world championship is the “pinnacle” of any race she’s ever been to and said it’s an “amazing” experience to see the “fittest of the fit” come together from all around the world to race this competition.
“The energy in the air is just incredible, it’s really an amazing sight,” she said. “It’s pretty mind-blowing and it’s really exciting for family and spectators too.”
She said she and most of the other qualifiers took around the first two weeks after Ironman Alaska easy and focused on recovering and replenishing themselves after the race. But, now she said her team is starting to crank up their workouts again.
“Now, we’re getting back into it — we have workouts planned for every day and people are getting right back into it because now there’s only a six-week countdown to Kona,” she said.
Bursell said she and her husband, John Bursell, are heading to Hawaii three weeks early to acclimate to the weather, and she said it’s going to be very different for her and the athletes on her team to train and figure out what changes they need to make to be prepared for the different race.
“It will be nice to be in a warm and sunny environment, but of course, it’s going to be warmer and it will be very different but we’re really looking forward to it,” she said.
She said people in Juneau can still follow the action from afar by using the Ironman tracker to see how the Ironman Alaska athletes are doing throughout the race days and said it’s exciting to feel all the support from across Juneau as the team prepares to take on yet another momentous race.
Todd Jackson, Eliza Dorn*, Amber Stull, Elizabeth Brennel*, Tracy Morrison*, Corrie Weikle*, Bethany Gollin*, John Bursell*, Jamie Bursell*, Jim Ustasiewski*, Stacy Nieder and Scott Gende*.
* indicates the qualifier lives in Juneau.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.