From the Midnight Sun Run to the famed Iditarod, Alaska sets the stage for some of the world’s most unique endurance sports. But the state’s extreme weather makes it difficult to chart the course for one of America’s most popular races: the triathlon.
Scott Burt is the Aquatic Supervisor at Petersburg Parks & Recreation. He’s planning a winter triathlon indoors, so that the show can go on even when “Alaska happens.” And that’s because he thinks it’s important for Alaskans to stay active in the winter.
“I’m not a physician,” says Burt, “But there are conditions out there like seasonal affective disorder. The lack of sunlight can negatively affect people in various ways. And so one of the ways I think to counter that is just to stay active. When it gets dark outside, when it gets cold, it’s easy to kind of shut down. And when you shut down, you might even isolate yourself socially as well. So I think there’s a lot of value to doing activities like this with others.”
But these wintery conditions aren’t ideal for staging triathlons. Ironman Alaska canceled its 2023 Juneau triathlon. The race was discontinued only a year after its arrival. Organizers withheld their reasons for suspending the race, but Anchorage Daily News reported that participants and volunteers named Southeast Alaska’s severe weather as a likely culprit.
So Petersburg’s winter triathlon will be held indoors. Burt says it’s not safe to organize the race on frozen terrain, and adding bikes to the equation could spell disaster.
“Of course, the people who live here — we get accustomed to the cold and the wet,” says Burt. “That isn’t as much of a concern, as is the conditions of the road. Especially for the bikes. There’s a lot of sand, a lot of gravel out there. And if it’s cold enough, the roads can be slick, and we don’t want to risk any injury at all. So a more controlled environment indoors is a bit more safe. And, hopefully, it will encourage more people to participate.”
Unlike regular triathlons, Burt’s indoor triathlon has no finish line. There’s no upper limit to how far participants can run, bike, and swim. It’s all about how many miles they can rack up in a set amount of time.
A classic outdoor triathlon includes a 500 yard swim, a 20 mile bike ride, and a 10k run. But Burt says Petersburg’s race will have set times instead of distances.
“We’ll get them in the pool. And the challenge will be how far can you go in 10 minutes, and then they get out, they change, they get into some dry clothes and go hop on the bike. And then how far can you go back in 20 minutes. And then when 20 minutes is up, we stop, we measure their distance in the same way on the treadmill. So at the end of the race, we simply tally up who went the farthest in the same amount of time, so it’s a bit of a twist on the classic triathlon.”
Burt says this is a way to celebrate another uniquely-Alaskan test of endurance: surviving another winter. He invites “anyone and everyone” to participate. The triathlon is scheduled for February 11th at 1PM at the Parks and Recreation Center. The event is free, but participants are encouraged to register early.