Posted by: Joe English | February 9, 2008

Races: How tough do you want your next Ultramarathon?

I’m always surprised when I read about races that defy even my imagination. Personally, I’ve been to the ultra-marathon wars and yet once in awhile I still read about a race that makes me shake my head in just a bit of disbelief. And the shocking thing about that might just be that a “normal” person might shake their head at something much more “doable” like your average everyday marathon. So if it makes me go “hmmm” then it’s probably pretty extreme.

There are races like the Great Wall Marathon that runs on the Great Wall of China — with something like 20,000 steps that you have to climb. And then there are the Mount Everest Marathon or the South Pole Marathon that are run in almost unimaginable conditions. And races like the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert that allows me to ponder whether I really would I want to do that to myself.

But you’ve probably all heard of those.

Today I stumbled on one that I’m still working on getting my mind around. If you’re looking for tough, this has got to be your next race.

The race is called the Yukon Arctic Ultra and it’s held in — well the Arctic — in the middle of the winter. It started this morning with a weather report that calls for temperatures around -40 degrees F. As the race organizers wrote in an update on their web-site this morning, “temperatures down to -40 are possible in certain areas. And just a bit of wind is enough to make it quite a bit colder.”

And it’s not just the weather that will make this tough, there’s a matter of the distance too. You can sign up for several different categories, including the marathon (presumably 26.2 miles), the 100 mile event and a 300 mile event. 300 miles!

There are different manners of propulsion that can used, including mountain bike, cross-country-skiing, foot power or skijoring. The registered list of runners showed that they all choose good ole’ foot power this year.

This is a small race to be sure. There were only seven people registered for the marathon (all from Canada), twelve in the 100 mile category (including Will Laughlin from Boulder, Colorado), and twelve in the 300 mile division (two from the USA).

The 100 mile race runs from Whitehorse to Braeburn. The 300 mile continues on to Pelly Crossing. These places are way up north, like around 60 degrees North Latitude. That means that it will not only be cold, but pitch dark as well.

And what of the expected conditions. Race organizers had this to say: “Dead winter in the Yukon can bring just about any kind of conditions. If we are lucky and there is no fresh snow after the initial trail breaking by the rangers, the trail might actually be quite good. In case of fresh snow or strong winds, the situation will be entirely different.

In order to perform this race, the organizers advise that you should consider bringing chemical warming pads and have mechanisms to keep your water from freezing — and to pay attention, because they have observed people stopping to sleep and then starting out the wrong direction when they start again due to disorientation.

And how long does it take? The results from last year showed a range of people coming in between about seven and nine days for the 300 mile distance. That’s a long time to be out in the Arctic in the middle of winter.

Sound like a tough challenge? Yes, it certainly does. It sounds unimaginably tough.

But if that’s not enough for you, they offer a 430 mile distance that goes all the way to Dawson City every other year. You can start training now for the 2009 race if you’re interested.

For more information, see the event web-site for updates on the progress of the race.

Good luck to all of the participants out there. We hope you stay safe and finish quickly!

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
Running Advice and News


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