Usual suspects on top at trail marathon

The safe bets came through for wins at the Yukon River Trail Marathon on Sunday in Whitehorse.

The safe bets came through for wins at the Yukon River Trail Marathon on Sunday in Whitehorse.

Finishing times were harder to predict. With temperatures peaking into the mid 20s, times were slower across the board at the annual event that saw over 300 runners and walkers take part.

You know it’s hot out when the winner jumps into the Yukon River right after crossing the finish line.

“That felt amazing,” said Whitehorse’s David Eikelboom. “I’m starting to feel better now — the energy is coming back.”

Eikelboom took a dip in the river after winning the full-distance marathon division with a time of three hours, 21 minutes and eight seconds. The 29-year-old, who also won in 2013, finished 19 minutes slower than last year when he placed second. He was hoping to crack the three-hour mark but the heat got the better of him, he said.

“Leg one I felt good, had a nice spring to my step; leg two felt good, felt like I could open up a little bit on the downhills; and then it started to heat up out here. Leg three I started to feel the heat and leg four, man, that was just hard. Walking the hills wasn’t optional; it was the only way to get up them,” said Eikelboom, who ran a 2:42:23 in Hamilton last year.

“I had to dig deep, dig into all the hours of training and all the times I had to push through. I say, ‘I don’t feel like running anymore, I don’t want to run anymore. But no, I came here to run and that’s what I’m going to do.’”

Whitehorse’s David Greer took second at 3:37:57 and Whitehorse’s Brian Horton placed third for men — fourth overall — at 4:03:35.

Carcross’ Denise McHale won the women’s division a sixth time and finished third overall with a time of 3:52:36, about 11 minutes slower than last year.

“That’s definitely not a personal best. But it’s hot out here today and it takes a little more out of you than you think,” said McHale, 42. “I’m feeling OK. I could feel some cramping on that last big hill.” McHale said she had to “coast to the finish and hope no one is going to push to the end. It was a bit of a rough day out there.”

McHale took first with plenty of time to spare. Haines, Alaska’s Sierra Jimenez took second at 4:58:45 and Whitehorse’s Chrystelle Houdry third at 5:43:54.

McHale, a former Canadian 100-kilometre run champ, has been focused on another type of racing recently. She is a member of an adventure racing team that recently qualified for the Adventure Race World Championships this November in Australia.

“I’ve been training a lot for adventure racing and it’s different training,” she said. “You’re not running nearly as much as usual, but biking and paddling a lot. So I think the endurance is there, but not the speed so much.

“I didn’t focus too much on this, but I love running this race, the trails are so beautiful.”

Whitehorse’s Lindsay Carson was another favourite who lived up to expectations. The 26-year-old was the top female in the half-distance division a fourth year in a row.

She finished second overall, crossing the finish with the strain of exertion visible on her face.

“At the very end it seemed like the guy ahead of me was slowing down, so I thought I had a chance to beat him. So I was closing really hard the last two miles,” said Carson. “I’m happy with my closing pace, but I just didn’t have enough to beat him.

“I really had a hard surge at the end, but the rest of the race I felt really strong within my comfort zone of hurting.”

Carson, a two-time Team Canada member at the world cross-country running championships, finished with a time of 1:34:35. Whitehorse runners Brittany Pearson (1:47:22) and Shawna Smith (1:56:39) finished second and third for females, respectively.

Whitehorse’s Brendan Morphet was the guy Carson couldn’t catch. The 33-year-old produced his first race win in the half with a time of 1:34:18.

Morphet, who placed seventh (fifth for males) last year, wasn’t a favourite going into the race. But he will be next year.

“I’d do it again. (It’s a) beautiful course. The scenery takes your mind off any pain,” said Morphet.

“I wanted to pace myself the first eight K and I knew once we got to the single-track trails that’s where I’d have a good advantage. I tried to catch up to (Carson) on the trails and put as much distance as I could before we got to the hills, and I had to walk a few of the hills, save as much energy as I could for that last little stretch here.”

Defending half-distance champ Jonathan Zaugg of Whitehorse took second with a time of 1:38:49. Whitehorse’s Yanik Freeman claimed third at 1:50:15.

Skagway, Alaska’s Becky Jensen took the half marathon walking title with a time of 3:27:27. Whitehorse’s Liam Baltimore was the top male at 4:41:13.

“Just a huge thanks to everyone who helps out with the race: the marshals, the volunteers, people coming out to watch,” said Eikelboom. “This is hard and it just wouldn’t be the same without the people who are helping out with it.”

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