If Shelley Gellatly wanted her Yukon Gold Ultra associated with Robert Pollhammer’s Yukon Arctic Ultra, it would have to be tough, he told her in February.
Early Saturday morning Gellatly launched a “small but committed group” in the Gold’s debut, which was “sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy, sometimes stumpy and almost always hilly,” she said.
The Gold connects a cloverleaf of multi-use trails where short- and long-distance competitors often converge. It includes parts of the Magnusson trail, Mad to the Max and Fat Tire Fever circuit.
The staggered start began at 7 a.m. with two 100-mile runners.
A New Yorker had withdrawn at the last minute, so Mary Beck, hoping to repeat her Arctic Ultra win, and returning running mate Frank Janssens left Rotary Park with little fanfare.
Their goal was a 30-hour finish.
Seven 50-milers got underway at 9 a.m., and Ed Hopkins mounted his bike at 10 a.m.. By noon, the racers closed in on the first checkpoint, and each other.
Unaccounted for was Lang Evans, a BC 100-mile cyclist with an hour’s head start on Hopkins.
With him overdue, friends from the Lower Mainland volunteered to wait at the train tracks on Robert Service Way.
Bicycle sweep Joyce Kashman caught up to Evans near Miles Canyon and, together, they negotiated a skinny footpath.
At the same time, Hopkins arrived at the Whitehorse Ski Club wax room with a frightening story.
Near Evans’ current location, Hopkins had veered off course onto an undercut precipice. A good tumble below was the trail and beneath that the Yukon River.
When the overdue cyclists finally arrived, Kashman’s “That was hard!” seemed understated to relieved volunteers Margaret Mundell and Paula Pasquali.
Generally, ultras are tests of endurance rather than speed, unless the contestants are fast and clever.
Bill Matiation considered his ability and the risks, and revised his race strategy.
At Mt. McIntyre he dropped his gear, stripped to his shorts and took off.
On the corner of the Sima and Coal Lake Roads, Paula Webber and Mardy Derby staffed checkpoint two.
Matiation breezed in, grabbed a few Bold Rush protein drinks, supplied by sponsor Lawrie Crawford, and charged up the eroded mine road.
“Bold Rush saved my life,” he proclaimed, after finishing in 11 hours, 55 minutes.
But, the only scratch was also registered here.
Shin splints felled Whitehorse’s Erin Spiewak, who arrived in the company of women’s finisher Nancy Thomson.
Spiewak, satisfied with her performance and the wisdom to withdraw, is looking towards the winter marathon.
“It’s great to have a race that’s a challenge for the locals,” she said
What counts is that Gold athletes are “trying their best, pushing their personal limits on their own quest,” said Gellatly.
So, Sue MacKinnon-Dunn, who opted for a marathon distance from the ski chalet, was relatively fresh for the hike into the backcountry.
Not far behind was Keith Thaxter, who found the race to be an exhausting mental exercise.
“I know coming up the Coal Lake Road, I must have turned around five times to go back and give in,” he said. “But, no, I just couldn’t do it, and kept on going.”
Above treeline, the grueling trek took its toll and cramped his legs.
The strain was as plain on James Smith’s salt-crusted face. After four miles of weather-beaten track, he turned into the wind and trudged on. As the day darkened, the final 50s straggled past Canadian Tire’s blue water jugs in the buckbrush.
A lag developed when Beck and Janssens took a two-hour break before climbing into the high country at night. Ahead lay the stem of the cloverleaf, out and back. Tailing Evans, who was again in the race, they marched down the spur.
Ten miles and four creek crossings later, at a tiny camp in an abandoned coal pit, David Milne gave them soup and warm jackets for their half-hour break.
Their socks were wet, and their toes were stubbed, but otherwise they were fit to backtrack to the next aid station, where, along with hot food and a blister bank, they’d find checkers trained in wilderness first aid.
Janssens rolled his ankles often on the return leg, and Beck lost her footing twice. Then, near the junction, the pair found Evans hunkered down at the side of the road.
He’d overrun the turnoff and become disoriented looking for it.
When Beck and Janssens met him, Evans was wrapped in the only insulation he had, his mandatory space blanket.
The trio banded together to crest the mountain where Mike Simon and Claude Chabot, dressed in heavy fall fashions, greeted them with noodles and hot chocolate.
Although the welcome at the pick-up truck shelter was warm, the wind threatened to blow the checkpoint off the mountaintop.
The racers hurried down the rocky barren ground, while the last 50-milers were crossing the finish line.
“When we started this evening I had no idea how it would go back here,” said Milne, who organized the trail support.
At 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Evans, who had scratched in the Arctic Ultra, reached the finish, overjoyed to complete the quest he’d started this winter.
And, at 12:18 p.m. hand-in-hand, the runners beat their projected times across the finish line, making Beck the premier women’s 100-mile title holder of both the Yukon’s ultra races.
2006 Yukon Gold Ultra final results
Discipline Start Time Final Times
57 Mile Mountain bike
Ed Hopkins 10 a.m. 9 hours 52 minutes
57 Mile Run
Bill Matiation 9 a.m. 11 hours 55 minutes
James Smith 13 hours
Keith Thaxter 15 hours 12 minutes
Nancy Thomson 16 hours 17 minutes
Erin Spiewak Did Not Finish
100 Mile Mountain bike
Lang Evans 9 a.m. 24 hours, 34 minutes
100 Mile Run
Mary Beck 7 a.m. 29 hours, 18 minutes
Frank Janssens 29 hours, 18 minutes
Alfatah Kader Did Not Start