Iron sharpens iron as the proverb goes, and for a tight-knit group of 23 Juneau residents and athletes, they’re training to be the sharpest in the competition ahead of Juneau’s first Ironman triathlon, Ironman Alaska, now just two weeks away.
High Cadence Triathlon Team, based in Juneau and led by four-time Ironman finisher and Juneau resident Jamie Bursell, has spent the last 22 weeks following an intense training regimen in preparation to take on the three-pronged race. The group of adults, ranging decades in age, met Wednesday evening at Auke Lake dressed in full-body wet suits with faces caked in Vaseline to endure an hour-long swim in the lake’s cold waters while heavy rain pattered around them.
“It’s a team of people who are incredibly supportive of each other with new relationships that have been formed,” Bursell said. “It’s just one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever done is bringing this group together and enjoying the process of learning about each other and learning about ourselves is an immense experience.”
The group had just finished talking with Kathleen McCartney, the 1982 Ironman World Champion, who spoke to them via face time as they stood in sandals, sweats and cover blankets at University Alaska Southeast ahead of their swim.
The two dozen athletes that meet to train together once a week are a part of the around 60 Juneau and Southeast Alaska athletes affiliated with the team who will be competing in the upcoming triathlon. Bursell, who has also finished 18 half Ironman triathlons and around 10 Aukeman triathlons, said she originally began coaching people for Ironman and Aukeman races around 12 years ago when she undertook the Ironman coaching certification program among other coaching certifications.
She earned the Ironman certificate — more out of curiosity from her background teaching gross anatomy and physiology to medical students for nearly two decades— to learn more about how to train, recover and provide nutrients to healthily prepare for the difficult endurance races she was doing.
But, when Juneau’s most prominent triathlon trainer moved away a few years ago, she decided to take the reins in helping people in the community achieve their training goals and has since hosted Aukeman training camps for years. She created the Ironman Alaska camp when she heard it would be coming to Juneau because she wanted to bring a group of Juneau athletes together to find camaraderie in the difficult race and to grow a bond not only with each other but with themselves.
“When you get to a point that is so difficult that you can’t move on, think about the people who believe in you and remind yourself to believe in yourself and you have done the hard work and you can do this — dig deep and you’ll get there,” she said. But, she said she also emphasizes to each athlete that the finish line isn’t necessarily the goal. The goal is to compete to the fullest extent possible while also not pushing the limits on what is healthy and safe for each person.
“The most important thing is our long-term health,” she said. “We don’t want to go so all out that we damage our own health, and we’re looking at long-term optimal health in the process and listening to our bodies and minds. We need to function optimally for many more years and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jeannette Lacey, an athlete part of the group and the social work case manager at Bartlett Regional Hospital, said she decided to start training for Ironman Alaska after she heard it was coming to Juneau, and wanted to use the training as a way to have something outside of her work to focus on and “just having something to really pull me away and take me away from difficult few years that COVID-19 has made.”
Juneau resident Corrie Weikle said she is excited about the opportunity to do an Ironman right where she lives and has been training for around six months with the team. She already has one Ironman triathlon under her belt but said training for the cold and wet climate of Juneau has been much different than the training she did for the sunny and hot Florida Ironman she undertook. Though she said it’s an extremely difficult thing to do, she can’t wait to finally put all her training to the test and is grateful for the group and the hardships that they face together.
“I love to see friendships form, a lot of us train together seven days a week. It’s a huge commitment, and it’s crazy that it’s right around the corner,” she said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.