The finish line at the 2023 Tongass ToughMan Triathlon. There is an inflatable arch with the word "Finish" at the very top.
The finish line at the 2023 Tongass ToughMan triathlon. (Photo courtesy of Tongass ToughMan)

A Petersburg resident won the fifth annual Tongass ToughMan triathlon on Saturday, July 1st. The event drew 17 athletes out to swim across Zimovia Strait, then peddle and run across Wrangell. Two solo participants and five three-person teams raced across a little over 72 miles of icy water and rugged terrain.  

Matthew Thompson won the triathlon, which he completed solo. He wrapped up the race in about nine hours. Thompson says he spent most of that time in his own head, in silence — not even listening to music. 

“I guess thoughts are going through my head, but just kind of out there,” said Thompson. “[I’m] just chugging away yeah, I don’t know it goes by quicker than it seems — the nine hours. And I felt pretty good. I wasn’t in [a lot] of pain for most of the race.”

On his way over Wrangell’s hills and through its forests, Thompson found time to enjoy his natural surroundings. 

“I think that I saw…” Thompson drifted off, deep in thought. “My birding knowledge is not expert, but it might have been a Western Tanager on the run. Which is a bird I hadn’t seen before, but I looked it up after the race. I don’t know — I was pretty tired at that point. So maybe I was seeing things.”

Thompson moved to Petersburg two and a half years ago, where he works for the International Pacific Halibut Commission. He’s enjoyed running since childhood, but Petersburg is where he really dug into triathlons.  

“The triathlon club that started in town here last year kind of got me into the triathlons,” said Thompson. “So, yeah, I’ve been training this spring with a friend out on Sandy Beach — we’ve been doing swims in wetsuits in open water and got in a couple of long bike rides.”

Matthew Thompson also won the 2022 Alaska Bearfest marathon in Wrangell. (Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The Tongass Toughman is a half ironman. But Thompson is set on doing the real thing someday — all 140-odd miles of it. Last year, Thompson signed up for Ironman Alaska in Juneau — and then it got canceled over logistical problems and economic concerns. However, he says this year’s ToughMan was more than enough for him.

His next steps — and strokes — are oriented towards doing an Ironman in Penticton, British Columbia sometime in the next year. He thanks the ToughMan organizers for putting the race together and recommends anyone who’s even mildly interested in triathlons to train for the race.

The final race times of the 2023 Tongass ToughMan triathlon’s 17 participants.