Mile 33 of the Steese Highway was filled with bikers, runners and rest stops Saturday, for the 2019 Sourdough Triathlon. Despite a small turnout of only 18 triathletes, shifting rain showers and gusts of wind, triathletes received moral support from friends and family, and enjoyed rest stops along the course, as well as a barbecue after the race.
The course boasted a 1.2-mile swim, comprising of five laps around a gravel pit, a 56-mile bike route along the Steese Highway, and a 13.1-mile run, also along the Steese. Each component of the Sourdough Triathlon course is approximately half the distance of the famous Ironman Triathlon course.
The Sourdough Triathlon is also part of the Arctic Triathlon Series, which includes four different races taking place throughout the summer.
Race director Janna Miller said that the Sourdough course used to be around Harding Lake, with the swimming component taking place in the lake, while the biking and running courses stretched along the Richardson Highway. “When they upped the speed limit to 65, we just decided it was too dangerous, so we came out here.”
“It’s really nice because the Sourdough is very much a homegrown race,” said assistant director Nick Shamrell. “It’s very local, there’s no big corporation that’s putting it on. It’s just people that are passionate about the sport of triathlon who are putting it together.”
Miller is one of many local triathlete enthusiasts who has stepped up to organize the Sourdough Triathlon. She has directed the race for the past five years, taking over from Bob Baker and her husband, Bruce, who co-directed it since the ’90s.
Like his wife, Bruce Miller is no stranger to triathlons, having competed in the sport for 34 years. This year also marked his 27th Sourdough Triathlon, and despite having had to pull out of the course this time around, he expressed how special the local course is.
“It’s nice because you have racers who are race directors, so they know how to put a race together. From an organizational standpoint, it’s really helpful since they can foresee issues before they really arise.”
Anna Rix was the first triathlete to cross the finish line, coming in with a total time of 5:30.54. “I’m always best on the bike,” said Rix when speaking about her performance in the race. “It’s always the one thing I can count on doing really well in, especially when there’s a headwind. Then I think I tend to do better than most people.”
Rix said she “survived” the swimming and running components of the race. “I’m a decent swimmer, but the running is all about survival mode.”
While she remained confident throughout the biking segment, Rix said she was unsure if she would be able to hold off some of the men during the running portion. “You just try to stay focused on what you’re doing, because you’re only going to get to the finish line one foot at a time. Just as long as you keep moving forward, eventually you’ll finish.”
The Sourdough was Rix’s sixth triathlon of this summer, and she will also be competing in the Moose Nugget triathlon in Anchorage next weekend, before bringing her 2019 triathlon season to a close.
Outside of triathlons, Rix bikes with the Women on Wheels and the Ladies of Leisure, which are both female cycling groups.
On the men’s side of the race, Aaron Marks finished first and second overall, coming in behind Rix with a total time of 5:35.53.
“Today was awesome,” said Marks, after catching his breath. “I set a personal record of almost an hour in the half Ironman distance. I swam the best swim I’ve ever had; I had the best bike I’ve ever had and then kept it going for the run.”
Marks set a 9-minute pace for the run, which was enough to keep the rest of his fellow triathletes at bay. Marks said that managing his pace was one the strongest aspects of his performance Saturday.
“I had a good, consistent race all day.”
Having been a runner since middle school, Marks knows that the mental side of triathlon is equally if not more important than the physical aspects. “You’ve got to know that you can persevere in these longer races. Your mind will give up before your body does, so if you can keep your mind in the game, then you’ll run a great race.”
Saturday was Marks’ first Sourdough Triathlon, and while he enjoyed the course, he expressed how much the local atmosphere meant to him as a competitor. “You hit the aid stations numerous times, and that’s always good. Because when you can see those people, and you can see your friends and they’re all cheering you on, it feels great.”
David Withoff came in second for men’s and third overall with a total time of 5:36.12.
The fourth and final race of the Arctic Triathlon Series will be the Dirty Deeds Offroad Triathlon, which is scheduled for Aug. 13 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center and ski trails.
Contact News-Miner sports assistant Brian Ely at 459-7589.