Athletes compete in Hagg Lake ultra-triathlon
Extreme athletes from around the world swam, biked and ran around Hagg Lake for two days straight on Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14.
Seventeen people had 39 hours to swim 4.8 miles, bike 224 miles and run 52.4 miles, twice the distance of an Ironman triathlon. The weekend's extreme heat kept several of them from making it.
Five athletes competed in a race equivalent to an Ironman, which they had to complete in 18 hours.
USA Ultra Triathlon has hosted the races, the longer of which is called the double anvil and the shorter known as the single anvil, at Henry Hagg Lake for five years now. The organization also has annual races in Virginia and Florida.
Though it has only been around for five years, the Hagg Lake course has developed a reputation as one of the hardest in the sport of ultra-triathlons.
"Hagg Lake is one of the toughest courses at this distance because of the elevation gain on the bike portion," Caroline Brosius, who competed in the double anvil, said.
Brosius competed in the Hagg Lake double anvil in 2017, as well as multiple other ultra-distance races.
Racers biked a 10.5-mile loop on the roads around the lake 21 times for the double anvil and 10.5 times for the single.
If the course was already difficult because of its incline, it was made all the more so by this weekend's heat. Temperatures in Forest Grove reached 95 degrees, with temperatures on the asphalt reaching into the 100s.
Despite its difficulty, the ultra-triathlon competitors love Hagg Lake for its scenery.
"Racers like the beauty of Hagg Lake the best," Steve Kirby, race director for USA Ultra Tri, said.
Though it is immense in distance, the sport of ultra-triathlon is small in numbers. There are only about 100 athletes around the world who compete in these races, Brosius said.
The scarcity of people capable of competing in these types of races has allowed the sport to foster its own tight-knit, family-like community.
"It is one of the most selfless races I've ever done. Everyone wants everyone to finish," Brosius said. "You don't have that same sense of community at Ironman."
Competitors at ultra-triathlons will do whatever it takes to help each other keep pushing through the most grueling parts of the race, whether it's by grabbing the food or water they need, helping them fix a bike chain, or simply finding the right words to keep them moving.
"Even if someone didn't like you, they would still help you," said Shanda Hill, another accomplished ultra-triathlete.
Another unique thing about ultra-triathlons is that most of the athletes are not professionals, or even semi-professionals. There is no prize money involved. The majority of racers don't have sponsors backing them. Most have regular jobs. Hill said she works 12- to 14-hour days as a landscaper in Vernon, B.C.
"They race just for the self-satisfaction," Kirby said.
Michelle Echeverria, a 24-year-old from Guatemala who competed in the single anvil, said she used to think competitively about her races.
"Now I just do it for the fun of it," Echeverria said.
That atmosphere and attitude sets ultra-triathlons apart from races like Ironman, which are busy with sponsors and professional athletes.
"This small laid-back feel is like old-school triathlons," said Lisa Wei-Hass, who has competed in the single anvil at Hagg Lake for the past four years. "It's how triathlons used to be before the hoopla of Ironman."
Racers learn a lot about themselves when they push their bodies to these extremes. And that's just the reason that many of them do it.
"Our bodies are capable of so much more than we use them for. I want to know how far we can go," Brosius said.
A lot can go through an athlete's mind in the 39 hours they're given to swim, ride and run.
"You learn a lot about yourself," Hill said.
"You hit some really high highs and really low lows," Brosius added. "But that's part of the reason I do it."
Five individual racers and one team of three that split the race into a relay managed to finish the total 281.2 miles of the double anvil. The top individual racer, Nobuyuki Shinohara of Japan, finished in 33 hours, 43 minutes and 36 seconds.
Colleen Wilcox, Vasilis Toxavidis and David Seres, who made up the three person team, finished in 31 hours, 20 minutes and 37 seconds.
Five more double anvil competitors were able to finish more than half of the race, or what's called a single anvil plus. These five swam the entire 4.8 miles to start the race, but they surrendered to the intense heat after riding most if not all of the 224-mile bike ride, though they still finished by running at least 26.2 miles.
Three racers became too sick during the bike portion to carry on.
Four of the five racers in the single anvil completed the 140.6 total miles of the race. Will Turner of Richmond, Va., was the top finisher with a time of 16 hours, 42 minutes and 48 seconds.
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