PUBLISHED: 4:03 PM on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Train like a Juneau world triathlete
Imagine swimming 2.4 miles among hundreds of others splashing their limbs within an inch of yours, then throwing on a helmet and biking 112 miles, you aren't quite done yet, there are still 26.2 miles of running, otherwise known as a marathon. These are what make up an Ironman triathlon. These events are all in a day's race for local Juneau triathlete's Tracy Rivera, 40, and John Bursell, 43, but not without an immense amount of training.

On Oct. 13, Rivera and Bursell, training partners, competed in the Kailua-Kona World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii.

"That was the ultimate goal, to qualify for Hawaii. It's the big one, it doesn't have the most people, but it's the most important one," said Bursell.

In order to qualify for this event one can be accepted by lottery, which is comprised of two parts, U.S. and International. There are only 150 race positions in the U.S. lottery, and 50 open to the International. Competitors can also gain entry by qualifying in the top 10 of your age group in a previous race. Rivera and Bursell both qualified in June 2006 at the Coeur d'Alene, coming in eighth and ninth in their age group.

A typical day of training for them in the months leading up to the race took up about as much time as a second job. "We started training last December. About 9,000 yards of swimming, 40 miles of running, and 250-300 miles of biking per week," said Rivera. Their training was made up of at least 20 hours of exercise a week, sometimes up to 30 hours a week.

Courtesy photo
  Tracy Rivera on the Queen K Highway, Kona, Hawaii during the World Championship Ironman 2007.
Each day consisted of at least two sports, either running and biking or swimming and biking. "Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we would swim with the Juneau Masters group at 5:30 a.m., Tuesday and Thursday we would run at 5:30 a.m. as well as Sunday, biking five to six days a week whenever we could fit it in. The bike rides were from five to six hours. We pretty much never took any time off," Rivera laughed. Doing two Ironmans in one year is a lot, claimed Rivera, "It took a lot of time, so for now I will do local running, and biking races, the Klondike and stuff. We still run/bike 3 days a week, but aren't doing the heavy training for a while."

Both men have always lived an athletic lifestyle for quite sometime. Rivera's first triathlon was in 1998 and his first full Ironman was in 1999 in California.

"I've always been a runner and just wanted a change of sports, its fun to do different things, I got burned out on just running," said Rivera of his interest in triathlons.

Bursell has always been a runner as well. "I have also done a lot of bike racing.

"I did a few shorter triathlons in the 1980's just for fun, for kicks, then in 2006 decided to do the Coeur d'Alene with Tracy. It was 96 degrees during the race, it was really hard. That's when we qualified for the world championship, and I decided to come back and try to improve my times in 2007 in Hawaii and it went well."

"It was fantastic," Rivera said of the Kailua Kona Ironman. "It was the eighth Ironman I have competed in. Hawaii was the granddaddy of them all, everyone there was top 10 in their age group and there was near 50 countries represented. We finished in the top half of our age group."

Bursell said the best part of the Hawaii experience this past October were the couple weeks heading up to the big day.

"We got to swim on the course everyday and got to spend time with tons of different athletes. My wife was there with me and we got really used to going to the beach every morning. During the race itself, I really liked the middle portion of the bike race, it's the highest point and there's this great view, and that's also how you know you are half way."

Thinking about all this exercise one naturally questions what such athletes do to keep fueled. The day of the World Championship Ironman, Rivera and Bursell woke at 4am for the 7am race in order to leave enough time to pack in as much fuel as they could before start time. "You need to get up that early in order to absorb as much as you can before the race," Bursell said, "I eat regular food, but as much as I can get. Bowls of cereal, eggs, orange juice, etc, lots of carbohydrates but some protein and fat too. It's a challenge to get enough food in and not feel full when you start the race."

Aid stations were provided about every seven miles during the bike portion and every mile during the running. During the race the triathletes drink lots of water and sports drinks, "especially in Hawaii," Bursell said.

"Right before the race start I ate several GU Energy Gel packs," said Rivera and Bursell agreed, "The GU is an easily digestible energy source. I always carry a few bars too though because after a while you can only take so much gel, sometimes you just want to eat a candy bar."

"That morning we ate about 7,000 calories, as much as we could fit to just totally top of our tank. You are pretty much eating all day, some people use power bars and that sort of thing; I prefer the gels or energy GU, power gels. I often pick them up from the aid station and just take them with me. 90 percent of the race is paying attention to nutrition," said Rivera.

Such a lifestyle has lasting benefits, "Its nice to go on a hike or on a deer hunt and never have to "get in shape". I'm always in shape," said Rivera. Though the time taken for such an endeavor can have an impact as well, "It makes you be a little careful with your time. It made me get out of bed most weekdays at 4:30 a.m. The biggest affect for me is I sleep less," said Bursell.

Of being involved in triathlons and this type of training Bursell said, "It's a great experience for someone especially if you've been into sports. It provides the opportunity to train with different groups of people; I get to swim with the swimmers, bike with the cyclists and run with the runners, it exposes you to people you might not otherwise.

"It would be hard to be super serious though, there is so much opportunity for having fun.

"I imagine if someone was just in it to qualify for a race or something, it wouldn't be as much fun. If you are thinking of training for a triathlon take it from Rivera when he says, "Consistency. It's the biggest thing, there's really no tricks, no secrets, you just have to be consistent with the biking, running and swimming and then everything will work out." Both Rivera's and Bursell's wives are training for the Gold Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage which takes place in spring 2008. Bursell is helping to train them.

Both men are continuing their triathlon training but are waiting a year before they dive into another championship. "I'm going to spend more time with my family this year," said Bursell. "Though you hate to train less once you are in such great shape."

Rivera said he is planning for the Coeur d'Alene in Idaho in 2009.