2023 Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra – race recap – short version
I think most people thought I was truly crazy when learning that I was attempting the full distance 430 mile event of the Yukon Arctic Ultra after having not finished the 300 mile distance three previous times.
I didn’t care what they thought. This was my year.
I had prepared perfectly. I really couldn’t have been more physically fit or stronger. Mentally, I felt as ready as I could be. Kit wise and logistically, I had zero concerns. The cold didn’t scare me.
I told myself to stay in the moment. Break the race down into small segments. Don’t think about the magnitude of 430 miles.
A six mile test on the Yukon River with some other racers of my new sled and gear a few days before the rest reinforced my confidence.
At the start, I could barely contain my energy. I settled into a brisk walking pace, feeling effortless, despite dragging my 65 lbsled, packed with spare clothes, hot water, a shovel, hatchet, spare batteries and power banks, headlamps, emergency satellite phone, stove, -60 degree sleeping bag, bivy sack, foot care kitand enough food to feed a small village.
I arrived at the first checkpoint earlier than expected but feeling perfect. No sweating/overheating or foot issues.
After a quick meal and required frostbite check from the medics, I headed out towards Dog Grave Lake, CP #2.
Now on the Takhini River, I returned to my brisk pace. I made it to Dog Grave Lake without any problems unlike last year when I had all kind of stupid issues. I shared some nice miles with my Spanish friend Kike Maravilla, himself a multi time non finisher who like me would make it to Dawson this year.
I changed socks, attended to some minor foot blisters, filled my thermoses, devoured some beef stew, a roll and a cookie then went on my way towards Braeburn, CP #3.
I tried to take a couple hour nap half way there but couldn’t fall asleep. So, I decided to just get up and get going.
At Braeburn, I again couldn’t get enough or good quality sleep. I noted my heart was pounding and racing with a HR in the low 100’s at rest. I hadn’t had any caffeine yet so I was perplexed and frustrated by this.
I left Braeburn with John Nakel, an engineer from Ohio and we ended up working together the entire next 52 mile segment to Mandana Lake CP #4.
We both still had trouble sleeping there. The brilliant sunshine made it hard to sleep plus neither of us wanted to sleep during the coveted daytime hours so we decided to just carry on.
We trudged to Carmacks CP #5 where I was able to get about four hours of decent sleep. Robert the Race Director mentioned that he was 100% positive I would finish the race this year. I appreciated his confidence but I must admit it did put some extra pressure on me.
I left Carmacks with two Danish studs, Henrik and Michael. I couldn’t keep up with them, telling myself to run my own race. We leapfrogged often when they would stop for feeds. I shared some miles as well with a Canadian, Brian James.
I fought off the torturous sleep monster and finally made it to CP #6, McCabe. I was exhausted.
I got a few hours of sleep. Here I met my new best friend, Joel Rennie from Sydney, Australia, who I would end up doing rest of the race with.
He saw me attending to my blisters and offered to provide his ER nursing skills. I jumped on the offer. He then said, “Russ, I think I’ll head out with you.”
Joel got sick the night before the race. Despite a warrior mentality, he had to stop after the first CP to recover. With the race director’s approval he reentered the race at Carmacks, hoping to salvage his experience now as an “unranked” participant. He had come all the way from Australia, trained very hard, paid a ton of money and brought his girlfriend and Mom and Dad with him.
We got along great and worked super well together. I am so grateful for being helped by him and to have shared so many miles together.
I continued to feel stronger with each passing day as I started to get improved sleep. Other than periods of severe back and thoracic wall pain, my body gave me no issues. I attributed those to wearing my fairly heavy three liter hydration bladder.
We made it into CP #7, Pelly Crossing, where I felt great physically. Though the CP was a little cramped and “busy” I was able to rest in preparation for the 32 mile section down the Pelly River to Pelly Farm.
On the river, we were treated to a glorious Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights show. We slept a few hours on the river in minus 25 degree temps.
In the morning, I finally felt as if I would for sure finish the race. This empowered me.
At Pelly Farm-CP #8, the Bradley’s treated us like family. I devoured as many calories as possible and got my first deep, high-quality sleep.
We headed out for a dreaded 65 mile unsupported section into CP #9, Indian River. I had told myself that this was my “race within the race.” If I could survive this, I had the race in the bag.
At Pelly, we learned that the Scroggie Creek CP was moved 19 miles further meaning we would have another 69 mile(!!) section awaiting us. This crushed me. Time for me to up my game. This is what I had prepared for. I told myself to just attack it in two hour sections, hoping to take off 5-7 mile chunks at a time. I knew when we got there we would then “only” have a 31 mile mostly downhill jaunt into the finish.
With dogged patience and persistence, we made it to both checkpoints.
Joel’s and my spirits were sky high leaving the last CP, knowing we had one last climb up the famed “King Solomon’s Dome” then a steady downhill into Dawson City.
On this section, I felt like I could run ten minute miles easily. I encountered some “GI distress” along the way that forced me to stop frequently but I soldiered on, appreciating Joel’s patience with me.
My euphoria building with each step closer, I felt as if I was running without my sled. I had been pulling away from Joel without even trying.
Earlier, I asked him about how we should handle the finish line. He told me to go ahead and cross by myself. Not at peace with his answer, considering how much he had helped me and based on how we had bonded over so many miles, I pushed the last miles.
I met Jessie Howland on the river outside town and she told me I had four Km left. I thought the finish was just a few hundred meters away so I was disappointed to hear that. I told myself to savor the last few miles, which I most assuredly did.
A little later, Jessie’s Mom, Kristy, met up with me and escorted me to the finish on Front St. in Dawson. Could it be? Was I truly finishing this thing? It didn’t seem real.
I have trouble describing the sheer satisfaction and unadulteratedeuphoria in finishing. I had achieved a huge goal after having DNF’ed three times previously the shorter 300 mile distance. I hadn’t tried to prove anything to anyone. It wasn’t about revenge or vindication. I had challenged myself and myself only. I accomplished my goal after making lots of sacrifice, enduring tremendous amounts of “unpleasantness” and delayedgratification. To be blunt, I was super Fu$%ing proud of myself.
I will post a longer, more detailed version soon. It will contain lots of dramatic, funny and inspiring anecdotes. I think you’ll enjoy it. My goal is to share the experience with the reader as if they were with me every step of the way.
Thanks for reading.