Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yukon Arctic Ultra

Well, better late than never I suppose for my update....!
Here are a few pics of the happy Merrell campers at the beginning of the 2011 YAU. I have to say, my day proved to be quite enjoyable for the most part....bright skies and sunshine, and warm temperatures for February (-17C at the start). I finished the marathon 3 hrs: 14 later in 1st place, with a new course record. All fairly uneventful to be honest....a lovely Yukon winter day, enjoying a long run, and some friendly competition. The last minute surprise entry of fellow adventure racer, Chad Ulanksi from BC made things more exciting as it took me until mile 17 to finally track him down. Chad is an excellent runner, and I`m pretty sure hadn`t training much, as he just happened to be traveling through Whitehorse for work and saw the marathon advertised. Only something a fellow adventure racer would think was a good idea! It ended up his water had frozen up in his camel back early on in the race (one of the perils of winter racing, and a local trick - must put camel back under clothing and tuck insulated tube back in jacket after drinking), and that didn`t help things. I stopped briefly to share some water with him and make sure he was okay, and carried on to the finish.
I was able to catch up with Greg upon finishing as the marathoners had an extra loop out on the highway to make up the full distance. Greg was the 4th person in on foot at the point dispite pulling a pulk and having another 425 miles to go! He looked great and we exchanged a quick hug and he was off. I think it is a good thing, that he had no idea the pain he was about to endure. The 2011 YAU ended up seeing pretty much all weather conditions. That night temps dropped to -37, as he carried on to Braeburn. He made it to Braeburn, the end of the 100 miler in just over 20 hours, and the first one there on foot. He took several hours rest there and took off that afternoon for Carmacks, the next major CP.
I met Greg in Carmacks, and I have to say, he did not look good. I could see the soul literally drained out of him and the cold and hours alone had definately taken their toll. I think his biggest issue once we got him stripped down, showered and some food into him, was he was very dehydrated. Because it had been so cold over night again (-39C), he had barely drank anything in the previous 11 hrs coming from Ken Lake CP. Everything is such a major effort in the cold. To take off your gloves, open your jacket, drink, blow water back down the tube, shove the tube back down your shirt, put gloves back on, and then spend the next 20 minutes trying to warm your hands up again, makes eating and drinking not that appealing...but still necessary! He took a longer than originally anticipated rest in Carmacks, but he definately needed it. When he left at 1:30 am, I couldn`t help but thinking how fortunate I felt to be not heading out at -40 into the cold by yourself.
I had time to drive home, sleep for a few hours, go to work the next day, and then drive to
Pelly Crossing to meet Greg the next day. I had been a bit worried about him after how bad he looked in Carmacks, but when he arrived in Pelly, the evening of Day 3, he looked very fresh and was in great spirits. He took a few hours rest there and left early in the morning for Pelly Farms, which was only 48k away and he had a mandatory 8 hour layover to look forward to.
Greg arrived in Pelly Farms the next day just after lunch. He was in pretty decent shape overall, all things considered, but knew leaving Pelly Farms was where the race was going to begin and where it was going to be more of a survival effort, given the snow storm that was coming in. At this point, he had approx a 16 hour lead over the next competitor behind him, but you just never know with these type of events, so always have to keep in race mode. He left Pelly Farms that evening around 9:30 with a much heavier sled containing snoshoes, a heavier sleeping bag, and much more food and clothing. A storm had come in, and they were calling for heavy snow for the next 2 days. As I walked out with him and eventually turned around and ran back on my own, I was again struck by how lonely and quiet it is out there. This was the last time I would see Greg until the finish line in Dawson, another 240km or so to go.
Pelly Farms to Dawson proved to be brutal. Greg ended up breaking trail for over 100km, because there was no race staff out on the course. The CP at Indian River was not set up when he got there, and he ended up bivying out for a few hours, before carrying on. I can just imagine how difficult that must have been when you`ve been walking and breaking trail for over 24 hours and are expecting hot food and a warm place to rest....He carried on to Scroggie Creek, where he would stay for a 6 or 7 hr rest. He carried on after Scroggie as temps dropped to -45C. A friend of our from dawson went out and met him on the trail and set up a fire for him to have a place to rest midway and get warm. I expected him back the next day as figured he would carry on to the finish, but he ended up bivying out again for 9 hours, as he knew he was on the verge of having frostbite and needed to get some rest and melt some more water and get some more food in him in order to carry on and safely finish. It was nerve wracking sitting in Dawson watching his spot tracker not moving and I have to say I have new respect and consideration for what we`ve been doing to our families all these years! I ended up sleeping with the computer that night, waking up every so often to hit refresh and have to say I was pretty relieved to see him moving finally early that morning!
I met him out on the trail the next day and walked the last 15 km into Dawson with him, where he would finish in just over 8 days and with a new course record! (and even more importantly, was home safe and sound with all digits accounted for!)
After Dawson, he followed this up with one more CP...we carried onto San Diego the end of the week for some much needed and deserved R&R!