Kotzebue woman competes in Ironman
A Kotzebue woman can now call herself an Ironman after successfully finishing the grueling 140-mile triathlon last month.
"I'm generally interested in those things that are going to push your limits of capability and what your capacity is and [surpassing] boundaries of what you're able to do," said Carmen Daggett, 32. "It's more than just physically capable; it's mentally being able to do certain things, too."
Completing the race, which includes swimming, biking and running segments, had been her goal for quite a while. But, it's not always what she's wanted to do.
"I actually have not been very athletic for most of my life. When I was younger, I was more of a musician and kind of started doing a little bit more non-traditional sports when I got to college," she said. "When I moved up to Kotzebue, I bumped into Katherine Keith and she has done several Ironmans and she inspired me to try and see if I could do it. I kind of was interested in doing it anyways; it was a bucket list thing. But, I didn't really know where to start."
Daggett, who also enjoys mushing and manages the Kobuk 440 sled dog race, turned to Keith for support. The longtime local musher has been her mentor and trainer ever since.
Throughout the year, Daggett runs around the Kotzebue area. She bikes in the summers. In the winter, she uses Keith's swimming machine to train; in the summer, she jumps into Kotzebue Sound.
"We don't have a pool here in Kotzebue, so you have to kind of be creative about how you get your swimming in," she said.
In 2016, she signed up to compete in the Sourdough Triathlon in Fairbanks. It's basically a Half Ironman, also called an Ironman 70.3, and clocks in at exactly half the distance of the full race. She successfully completed the shortened version and made her goal the full-length one this year.
She returned to Fairbanks this summer to repeat the feat and used her travel as an opportunity to get in some more training hours.
Daggett hauled her triathlon bike, which her brother helped her procure, up and down the Denali Highway, taking in the sights and sounds of the Interior while pushing her limits on rugged terrain.
In August of this year, she represented on home turf during Kotzebue's own mini-Ironman.
All of that was leading up to the big day, this year, on Sept. 10. Daggett traveled from her home in the Northwest Arctic to Madison, Wis., for the full-length challenge.
"The weather that I had in Wisconsin was perfect. I couldn't have asked for better training weather. It was actually kind of cool the week I was there. It was between 60 and 70 for most of the race for me and the water felt amazing because I was used to swimming in cold water that makes you hyperventilate when you get in. It was nice to not have that happen when I got in the water in Madison," she said. "It was a really pleasant thing, actually, even though you're in the water with 2,500 other people. You kind of feel like a salmon swimming."
The race comprises an early-morning swim of 2.4 miles, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon-style 26.22-mile run.
She started as a salmon in the morning, then hopped out of the water and onto her bike.
"In the Wisconsin countryside there's rolling hills and farms and lots of cows and wildflowers [that I got to see]," she said.
From there, it was onto her feet for the final, brutal portion. She's never really liked running all that much, she admits.
"But, I really enjoy how I feel after I run and the end product of the strength that you gain from running," she said, which makes it worth it.
Each of the legs of the race is completed right after the other, giving competitors no chance for a break in between. It's considered one of the most challenging races held in a single day.
Daggett finished the full course in 15 hours, 39 minutes, earning herself the title: Ironman.
"It's been a journey and an adventure so far," she said. "There was a component to all of this that I didn't expect and I didn't really anticipate how much it would affect me. You're used to drawing on internal strength when you're doing physical activities. When you're training, you spend time relying on your friends for that energy. What I experienced in this race was that a lot of my family showed up and my sisters and brothers were all super supportive. During the race, they were all over the race route cheering me on. Not only that, but then there was also this massive crowd of people that all cheered [all of us] on. There's this energy you can draw from that surrounding you. I've never experienced anything like that before. It was really enlightening."
It's one of the reasons it doesn't matter if someone comes in first place or last; it's the personal goals and challenges that matter in a demanding event like this, and the feeling you get just from making it through.
"The ability to deal with the discomfort, the pain, the challenges that come along with doing such intense physical activities, is a chance to redefine what your boundaries are and what you're capable of doing," she said. "And then, after you do that, you're like, 'What else can I do now?' I feel like it really opens up a lot of doors of possibility."
That's one of the reasons Daggett is drawn to such a grueling type of challenge. It gives her the chance to try her hand at many different types of sports and push herself in myriad ways.
"I think it also helps if you get bored quickly with a certain activity. When you have three different things you're training with, you can switch it up if you need to and be able to get a lot of variety," she said.
Additionally, there are physical benefits to cross-training, or training in a variety of ways that build different muscles and strengths and skills.
"You can reach this overall higher level of fitness that I like," she said.
Now that she's completed the full Ironman, she has her sights set on something a little more Alaskan. She hopes to draw a place in the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, held every year in Southcentral and the Kenai Peninsula.
It's like the Ironman, but with a truly Alaskan twist. Instead of road running and biking, participants have to deal with about 10,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the race that takes them over the rugged terrain between Girdwood and Seward. They also have to brave a plunge into icy Resurrection Bay.
Daggett said she'd love the opportunity to test herself in a more remote area.
She's also signed up to do another Half Ironman in St. George, Utah. She'll be participating alongside a group from Nome, which she hopes will give her the chance to experience some local camaraderie — something she's never had the chance to do always competing alone.
All in all, she plans to continue pushing her own limits, redefining her boundaries, and maybe even helping others find that strength to do it themselves.
"People will say, 'Oh, I can't do that.' I say, 'Yes, you can. You just have to put in the effort to do it,'" she said. "I really enjoy challenging myself and as a byproduct, changing how I view my own limits, and inspiring others to do the same."
Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.