Four continents and 17 nations are represented in the “coldest and toughest” winter ultra this week.
A total of 71 racers left the start line in the 13th annual Yukon Arctic Ultra on Thursday in Whitehorse’s Shipyard’s Park.
In the field are 19 Whitehorse participants spread over the three race distances – marathon, 100-mile and the 300-mile all the way to Pelly Crossing.
“This is a record field of entrance for a year we don’t have the 400-mile (division to Dawson City),” said organizer Robert Pollhammer. “Every two years we have a race that goes all the way to Dawson, then we typically have 80 to 90 people. The other years we usually have less, so this is a really good turnout.”
Of the 19 Whitehorse racers, 14 entered the marathon, three the 100-mile, and just one – Jessie Thomson-Gladish – in the 300-mile division.
Thomson-Gladish completed the trek all the way to Dawson last year, placing fourth and was the top Canadian.
“There’s something special about the trail and to be honest, I got totally hooked on it last year,” she said. “Yukon is special to me. If it was somewhere else in the world, I might not do it twice, but since it’s here it’s an easy way to see a lot of terrain and meet some cool people.”
This year Thomson-Gladish, 30, is on a two-person team with England’s Julie Pritchard. They are The ‘J’ Team.
“We met last year on the trail and ended up finishing together,” said Thomson-Gladish. “We’ve been in contact together the whole year and decided to be a team for this year. So we’re going to be traveling together the whole way and camping together.”
Besides Canada and England, represented this year are Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Italy, U.S., France, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Australia, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Wales, and Guernsey, a small island nation located in the English Channel.
The field includes one cross-country skier, four on fat-tire mountain bikes and the rest – including all the Yukoners – on foot.
It was a warmer start than in recent years, with temperatures around minus-10 at the start line Thursday.
“It’s not so cold,” said Pollhammer. “Yes, we have problems with the trail maybe, a bit of overflow, but I’d rather have that than minus-40 when we start the race. It’s OK if we get that temperature later on, but if we get that right from the start it’s really hard on people.”
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