As soon as Sharon Ehasz ran down the final hill coming out of Tsalteshi Trails, her two young sons stood and cheered her all the way to the finish line.
With a smile of relief Sharon Ehasz, of Anchorage, received high fives and hugs after completing her first triathlon. While she is an avid runner, the combination of swimming, biking and running turned out to be an incredible challenge, she said.
About 10 minutes later, husband Bobby Ehasz, who encouraged her to do the race, crossed the finish line to the same fanfare.
“The biggest thing is it’s important for our kids to see us do this,” Sharon Ehasz said. “Exercise can be fun and rewarding, not just something mom and dad say you have to do. It’s better than sitting around watching TV.”
Under sunny skies, more than 200 athletes competed in the fifth annual Tri-the-Kenai race Sunday at Skyview Middle School. Youth racers kicked off the day at 8 a.m. and swam 100 yards in a swimming pool, biked 4-kilometers and ran a 3k on Tsalteshi Trails.
At 10 a.m. athletes started in intervals throughout the morning into the afternoon grouped in either the intermediate or sprint race and nine teams also competed. In the sprint triathlon, competitors swam 500 yards, then hopped on bike and rode a 10-mile loop on the road before arriving back at Skyview and completed the race with a 5k race on Tsalteshi Trails. Intermediate racers did double the running of each event.
Many of the athletes said the swim was the most difficult part of the race.
Sharon Ehasz, who finished seventh in the female sprint division, said she devoted a lot of her training to the road bike and run but spent two times a week for the last month in the pool taking laps to build up endurance.
“As a runner, I’m used to being able to breathe when I want to,” she said. “In the pool, you have to pace yourself and get into a rhythm. It is hard to get used to, but its all the same mental stamina.”
Sterling resident Kevin Lauver, 52, who completed his first triathlon Sunday, said he hadn’t done much swimming since high school with the exception of snorkeling in Hawaii. He said a little more practice would have helped.
“It was more exhausting than I thought, but once I got out of the pool I felt OK,” he said. “I have been doing a lot of running and biking trying to keep my health good. As you get older, you want to keep the heart working good.”
The triathlon was rescheduled from June to September due to the Funny River Horse Trail Wildfire that consumed nearly 200,000 acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge between Soldotna to Kasilof. Skyview Middle School, the venue for the triathlon, was used as an incident commend center for firefighters.
Tri-the-Kenai Race director Tony Oliver said with the race being pushed back, more people registered over the summer and at one point 280 people had signed up. Organizers did receive some cancellations before the event, but still saw a big contingent of racers from all over the state, he said.
Five active military personnel received free entry into the race, Oliver said.
Bobby Ehasz, who is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, said he was excited to receive a medal after the race, something he didn’t get after competing in a triathlon in Eagle River earlier this summer.
“We are going to keep doing this one for the medals,” he said. “It’s all about the bling.”
Shauwna Arend, of Chugiak, returned for her second triathlon on the Kenai Peninusla. She said this race is her favorite of all the triathlons in the state because of the great location and how the transition zone is in the same spot.
“I talked three friends into coming to do it because I had so much fun last year,” she said. “This is a more intimate venue. You couldn’t ask for a better day.”
Soldotna resident Breean Pitts has been involved in Tri-the-Kenai all five years and raced the last three years. She said it was difficult to keep up her training intensity when the race was rescheduled, but said she felt good and finished, which is the most important thing.
“I like how the community gets behind (the race) and brings attention to the peninsula,” Pitts said. “More and more elite triathlete from around the state compete each year.”
Sisters Kristy Berington and Anna Berington competed in their first Tri-the-Kenai and both finished within a minute of each other. Kristy Berington, from Kasilof, and Anna Berington, from Aniak, are dog mushers and have competed in the Iditarod. Kristy Berington said while their dogs take vacation in the summer, they compete in races to stay in shape.
Kristy Berington said her sister is a better swimmer and she had to catch up with her from the start.
“I fell behind on the bike and (Kristy Berington) builds a better race than I do,” Anna Berington said. “I had trouble keeping up with her at the end. We feed off each other.”
Patty Moran, of Soldotna, said the hills on the running portion of Tsalteshi Trails are the most challenging, which is an advantage for the locals familiar with the course.
“The run is a killer for those who don’t know the trails with a lot of steep hills,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly and talk on the trials they say, ‘Wow, this is a hard course.’ I say, ‘Wait until you turn the corner and see that hill.’”
Team Supernova placed first in the adult sprint division with a time of 1:14:09. The “B” team, which consisted of father Rick Bagley, son Trevor Bagley and daughter Jamie Bagley, came in second place a minute later.
In the youth race, the fastest time went to Jeremy Kupferschmid, of Kasilof, with 29:55. In the female youth division, sisters Sydney Juliussen and Alexandra Juliussen, of Soldotna, came in second and fourth respectively.
Lauver said now that he has completed his first triathlon he is looking forward to doing it again. He said everyone participating has a lot of fun and the weather made the entire day pleasant.
“This was a good learning experience and a lot of fun,” he said. “I have baggy swim trunks and everyone else has Speedos. You can tell who the rookies are.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org