Wilderman Triathlon 2021: Race Report

This race report is authored by Stuart Coaching athlete, Erika Kuhnle, who completed the Wilderman Offroad Triathlon on July 17, 2021 in Walhalla, North Dakota.

Arrived just in time to throw together our campsite which was designated to be adjacent to the swim start/swim-to-bike transition, smack in the middle of the camp playground. Um okay, that was a first! Sasha and I went right away to the pre-race meeting at a nearby ski resort. I was so full of nerves I had broken out in hives about a week earlier. This special kind of event requires a lot of research and different gear! Multiple lists and last minute items purchased such as quick drying pants for several miles of creek bed running and bushwhacking.

My coach Kari Stuart had called me prior to our leaving on the trip and was so kind and encouraging. I was pretty thrown off because my usual pre-race way is mental self-flagellation. That stuck with me, I was and am very appreciative of that time out.

There were around 20 participants including full and half Iron distance as well as a relay.

The buoys were placed .3 mile apart, and the full was two trips around a long straight line. I had a good, strong rhythm going and ended up with a solid for me swim finish at around 1:30 for 2.4 miles. Before working with Kari that would have been unimaginable. I was blown off course a bit by the current but got back on. After some time I realized I was the last still in the water. Turned out there was one more guy behind me but it is normal for me to be one of the last out of the water.

Transitioned right at our campsite of course, and started out feeling slow. It got hot early and maxed out at forecasted 90 degrees, but Jason read on my bike computer 105. I broke out in a sun rash on my legs and got heat exhaustion chills. I had planned out my aid station bag wrong so ended up a couple of hours short of fuel for the first loop. Downed Liquid IV and came back pretty soon after.

The bike course was nuts - 112 miles of mostly gravel roads, a lot of it loose packed in mounds, squirrelly and terrifying, sharing the road with screaming fast trucks, mixed in with ATV trails that relentlessly went up and down and turned around. The forest opened up on occasion to the view from the top of the gorge, vast and luscious. There was a creek bed crossing which we did twice, and as the area was experiencing a scary drought for the farmers, the water was so low that I didn’t even get my shoes wet the first pass through.

On the bike course, I ran into a lady I’d met the evening before at the pre race meeting - she had just completed Unbound Gravel 200 not long before! She was having trouble with the heat, but I believed she would get through it. At the end of the bike I rolled into transition, which was someone’s front yard. About 12-1/2 hours for the bike. The other lady rolled in after me and that’s when it clicked, that we would team up and get through this all night run together, watching out for and keeping each other company.

The run started out on the long country roads and then dropped back through the ATV trails into the gorge. So many spiderwebs with freaky gigantic spiders smack in the middle, guarding with their many eyes and ready to eat your face. I picked up hundreds of random fallen sticks and swiped them, laying the creepy mamas on branches. They made quick work of reclaiming the trails after the last runner came through!

So tired but we pressed on with gentle, meandering conversations that kept us awake and alert. We got out of the creek and went back in a couple more times, the last of which had Jenny Delzeit doubled over, crying with laughter at the absurdity. We took turns leading and eventually found ourselves out of the creek again. Back climbing the ATV trails, to absurd heights and back down again. We climbed to the top of the winding hill on one side of the road then tried out the fun of doing the same thing on the other side. The RD and race organizers/volunteers were there at our finish. What a feeling to have them there as they were the creators of our adventures. Run finish was about 11-1/2 hours for over 26.2 miles so hey, that’s an ultra.

I can’t thank Jason Kuhnle and the kids enough for coming on this journey to the middle of only this one thing going on in this town so far away from home, after so many months of me gone training. For coming out to cheer me on and help when they could have been doing their own fun things.

So humbled by this great sufferfest. It brings you to the edge and shows you what you are made of. When it’s tough are you going to break? Or will you give it a moment, accept it and find the joy in the insanity? Jenny and I were the only female full distance finishers this year with a time of around 26-1/2 hours. 50% finisher rate.

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