Monday, August 31, 2009

IAU website article

Embracing the Elements and the Terrain: Story of a Long Distance Runner from the Yukon (Nadeem Khan, 01 Sep)

Long Distance Running, or ultrarunning, is difficult in itself. Now, what would you say if you had to wrestle -30C (-22F) to -40C (-40F) on a regular basis during the winter months. Furthermore, add snowy trails and icy roads to chilly weather conditions. To top this contemplate 4pm dusk and darkness that persists till 7am in the morning.

Now, combine all of the above elements and imagine an ultrarunner trekking through the trails embracing the wilderness and running a multi-day stage event. This ultrarunner is Canada's top 100km runner Denise McHale.

Denise, a Recreation and Active Living Consultant with the Yukon Governemnt, is not your regular fair-weather runner. Living and working in the Yukon, a region that gets one of the Canada's most extreme winter weather, has made her into one of the most versatile runners from the Great White North.

It does not take a running enthusiast to ask the question on how did Denise start running, given her extreme environmental conditions. She says, "I started running when I moved to Yukon in 1996. I had always secretly dreamed of being a runner and running a marathon someday, but it seemed at the time, like a huge goal."

A hundred miles starts with a few steps. Denise agrees, "I started running by joining a running group and running just a few blocks at a time. By the end of that first summer, I ran my first half marathon and started to believe a marathon was maybe possible!¨

In March 2009, Denise ran an incredible 6-Day event covering 225km. The Diamond Ultra race treks through stages spanning from 25km-46km. Denise lays down the conditions during the race, ¡§The race course involves a series of lakes with portages in between. Some of the really large lakes can get very cold as Yellowknife is well known for being very windy.¨

Denise found the opening day of the course very challenging. She says, "The first day was the worst as the wind picked up in the afternoon across the largest lake and it was essentially a white-out. The course was marked every 100m or so with orange flagging, but in these conditions many of the flags had been blown down, tracks were filled in behind racers in seconds and visibility was limited.¨

However, she ran through the tough conditions and kept her lead through the stages winning the female division. She says, "I ran a very consistent race, stuck to my game plan and was pleased in the end with my run.¨ Always competitive by nature, Denise never lets her guard down in a race. She added, "We (another female racer) ran much of the days together and close to the end of the stage I would generally pull away and put a bit of time on her everyday, which gave me about 30 minute lead overall in the end.¨

I was intrigued to know how one copes with the chilly conditions. Denise explains, "Layering is the key and my Salomon gortex runners and gaitors are essential gear for winter running¨. Wearing several layers has always been my best friend during cool winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.

IAU World Cup 2008 in Tarquinia was Denise¡¦s introduction to international ultrarunning. At this race she finished top Canadian in 8:32. Denise recalls this race, "Overall, I really enjoyed my experience in Tarquinia and being part of the Canadian team. In general, I was fairly pleased with my race there. Because I hadn't run that distance on the road before my race plan was to run a conservative pace that I hoped I could maintain.¨

Like many ultrarunners, she has tremendous support from her family. Her husband Greg is an accomplished Adventure racer himself. The McHales have participated in several events as a team.

Denise credits her adventure racing background for her achievements in ultrarunning. The two are different yet very similar sports. She says, ¡§I find it¡¦s all about breaking the course down into sections, and just focusing on what you are doing in the moment, which I do with my ultra running.¨

It has been a busy year for Denise. She has run the Rock & Ice Ultra in Yellowknife in March, Elk/Beaver 50 mile Canadian trial running championships in Victoria in May, the Best of the West adventure race in Southern Alberta in June, the Yukon Trail marathon in August followed by a 1000 km Adventure race in South Dakota.

Talking to Denise about her training, her life in the Yukon and about her outdoor activities, I have been enlightened that the sport of ultrarunning truly transcends extreme weather conditions and terrain.

Great performances require even greater sacrifice. Numerous ultra-athletes that I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking have eluded this persona.

I am confident that this relatively new ultrarunner has just touched the surface of her ultrarunning prowess. There is more to come from the Recreation Consultant living in the heart of the Yukon.

Nadeem Khan
Director of Communications

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Team Merrell - 3rd place at Primal Quest!

Well, I am back from a whirl wind 1000km adventure around South Dakota. Our Team placed 3rd in the Primal Quest, after battling it out with Salomon Crested Butte for days. Overall, we had a good race and I enjoyed racing with my new teamates, legendary kiwi racer Neil Jones aka "Jonesy", and Aussie navigator Rob Preston, aka "Rusty". Racing with Team Merrell was a real privledge after competing and racing against them for years. A special thanks to Team captain and AR Queen, Robyn Benincasa for inviting me to step into her spot at the last minute! South Dakota'ins (is that a word??) proved to be extremely hospitable everywhere we went making us feel like rock stars throughout the course. These people were super keen to have the race in their state and help in any way they could.

Now.., back to reality...sigh...

Not sure what's up next, as have decidedto re-naig from the Commonwealth 100km team due to my lack of road miles, and limited recovery time before the Sept 18th event. Feeling good overall though and heading out for my first post race run this afternoon. Definately not done for the season, decision time now....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Media from Yukon trail marathon

McHale wins River Trail Marathon
Mon, Aug 3, 2009
By Tom Patrick
Having just accepted a spot on a team competing at the 1,000-kilometre Primal Quest in South Dakota two weeks from now, Denise McHale decided to skip Saturday’s Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta, and just take it easy—by running a marathon.
“I had a change of plans because I got a call to race the Primal Quest,” said McHale. “The Death Race was a 125-kilometre mountain run and I thought having not even two weeks to recover—I’m racing with three other guys—I thought it wouldn’t be fair to show up at the line not fully recovered.”
Not only did McHale run the full 42.2 kilometres in the River Trail Marathon on Sunday in Whitehorse, she was first over the finish line, completing the course in three hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds. She’s the first women to be the top finisher in the race.
McHale and husband Greg, who will be on the same team in the Primal Quest, have competed in ultra marathons and adventure races throughout the world. And McHale topped the women’s field at last month’s Dry Tri held at the Takhini Hot Springs.
Last time McHale ran the full marathon in Whitehorse was in 2003, when she finished second overall with a similar time of 3:18:21.
“I’m happy with my time,” said McHale. “I didn’t really focus on training specifically for this; I didn’t do any speed work or anything. So I just wanted to have a good, solid run.”
Numbers were down in the full-marathon division, but up overall with 280 runners spread over the full-marathon, half-marathon and relay teams categories.
“We have 280 runners, so this is a record year,” said Keith Thaxter, president of the Boreal Running Association that hosts the marathon. “But last year was the record of full-marathon runners (with 57), usually we have around 40.”
Four continents were represented in the marathon with runners from Germany, Spain, Mexico, Gambia, plus over 20 Americans and about 30 Canadians from outside the territory.
“So we have a splattering of people from all over,” said Thaxter, who finished fourth overall with a time of 3:44:56. “We’re quite happy with the turnout.
“We might have to cap it in a few years if it keeps growing. The thing is, if it gets beyond 300 or 400 people you almost need more volunteers or to have a paid person to manage it.”
Some who travelled farthest were the last to register, with eight South Koreans signing up the night before the race.
“There were about 20 guys hanging around SportLife yesterday and apparently we convinced eight of them to come participate today,” said Thaxter. “And they were having a blast. They were out there running all around and now they’re sitting there teaching people to write their names in Korean.”
Unlike previous years, no bears made any appearances to help motivate the runners along the way.
“I saw two squirrels and a very big dog—no bears,” said Teit Groth from Copenhagen, Denmark, running in his 27th marathon and finishing 16th overall.
“Coming from Denmark, which is very flat, it was really hilly. But the scenery was beautiful, although you have to look down to where you place your feet.”
Full results can be found at
Contact Tom Patrick at

Yukoner Denise McHale finishes with top marathon time
What began as a training session ended in a record-setting achievement for Denise McHale at this year's Yukon River Trail Marathon.
By Jon Molson on August 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

AND THEYĆ¢€™RE OFF - Runners in the marathon category begin the 2009 Yukon River Trail Marathon, which began and ended in Rotary Park on Sunday. STAR photo by KIERAN OUDSHOORN
What began as a training session ended in a record-setting achievement for Denise McHale at this year’s Yukon River Trail Marathon.
On Sunday, the Yukoner and ultra marathon runner became the first woman in the 11-year history of the event to finish as the overall marathon winner.
Her time of three hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds was less than five minutes faster than her closest competitor.
“It’s great, I’m very happy,” McHale said about making history. “I felt pretty good. I ran, I think, pretty consistent.”
Some last minute sign ups pushed this year’s marathon total to around 280 people, which was a record. More than 40 people signed up on Friday and Saturday.
Besides Canadians, individuals came from United States, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Gambia and Korea.
Runners had the option of signing up for the the full marathon (42.2 km), half-marathon (21.1km), or run the full marathon as a four person relay team.
Even the weather co-operated with cooler temperatures and overcast conditions, making for optimum running weather.
McHale registered for the River Trail Marathon on Friday after she found out there was an opportunity to race on Team Merrill in the 2009 Primal Quest
The 2009 Primal Quest is a more than 965-km adventure race in South Dakota. Her husband, Greg, is also a member of the four-person adventure racing team.
As a result of being selected to race in the Primal Quest, McHale changed her weekend plans, which originally were to compete in the Canadian Death Race, a 125-km mountain run in Alberta, to signing up for the Yukon marathon.
“This is a good warm up for sure,” she said about the Yukon River Trail Marathon.
The last time McHale entered the marathon category in this race was in 2003 when she placed second overall.
Her time in 2003 was faster than her mark this year and is currently the best women’s marathon time in the event’s history.
“The thing with Denise is that she beats most guys anyway,” said Keith Thaxter, president of the Boreal Adventure Running Association. “She’s in a whole different league amongst everybody else.”
Yukon River Trail Marathon Category Results: Top Three
1. Denise McHale, Whitehorse, (3h18:34)
2. Fawn Holland, Kamloops, B.C., (4h27:17)
3. Melissa Head, Fairbanks, AK, (5h07:32)____
Marathon-Masters[40-49] - Women:
1. Fran Mackellar, Haines Junction, (4h09:39)
2. Rebecca Pohlman, Coon Rapids, MN, (7h18:07)____
Marathon-Master Plus[50+] -Women:
1. Janet Green, Courtenay, B.C., (4h31:21)
2. Polly Thorp, Whitehorse, (4h46:21)
Lynda Churchfield , Lake Charles, (5h44:45)____
Marathon-Open[14-39] - Men:
1. Simon Lapointe, Whitehorse (3h22:27)
2. Ben Seale, Skagway, AK, (4h09:33)
3. Joseph Inverariy, Victoria, (4h26:10)____
Marathon-Masters[40-49] - Men:
1. Keith Thaxter, Whitehorse, (3h44:56)
2. Ken Rutland, North Vancouver, B.C., (4h02:30)
3. Doug Mayr, Whitehorse, (4h20:25)____
Marathon-Master Plus[50+] - Men:
1. William Scott, Whitehorse, (3h41:48)____

Monday, August 3, 2009

PQ bound....

Has been a crazy couple weeks! Was suppose to run the Death Race on saturday and had been super psyched about it, as has been on my 'to do" list for several years. Was signed up and ready to go and then I received a phone call from legendary Adventure Racer Robyn Benicasa from Team Merrell Zanfel asking if I would be able to take her spot in the Primal Quest. After much deliberation she has decided to step back from this years PQ due to a hip injury. This was a super difficult decision for her, but as it turned out a wise decision once the doc's got a look at her xrays. The good news is, she's already been in for surgery and on her way to recovery already.

So now what - For me, it meant a quick change in plans and getting my head wrapped around running, biking, climbing, paddling, canyoneering 1000km in South Dakota in 2 weeks...and some big shoes to fill! I'm looking forward to racing with Team MZ which includes; my husband Greg McHale - team motivator/pack horse extraordinaire, Aussie Rob Preston - Navigator extraordinaire, and another legendary Adv racer, kiwi Neil Jones -paddler extraordinaire. Now I just have to find my extraordinaire role may be?

Did a little warm-up yesterday for PQ and my last long run at the Yukon River Trail marathon. Was really happy with my run overall and surprised myself by running only 13 seconds slower than the last time I ran the race in 2003 when I was on my way to running a pb at niagara falls marathon...and also just a wee girl of 29 =) Feeling good today, hamstrings are a little guitar stringish, but not throwing myself down stairs like I usually do after a road marathon!

The bigger and more surprising news for those who know me well is...I have a blog!! and managed to post my picture on it - wow technololgy, who knew??