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Whitehorse racers show speed, grit in arctic ultra

The Yukon Arctic Ultra is called the "coldest and toughest." Sometimes the same can be said about Yukoners.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra is called the “coldest and toughest.” Sometimes the same can be said about Yukoners.

Whitehorse racers fought the cold and set the pace to win a few divisions and finish the longest one - which cannot be said about a third of the field - at the 13th annual event that began on Feb. 4 and ended Friday.

David Eikelboom’s ninth marathon was his slowest to date, but it was enough for a win on the first day.

The 29-year-old from Whitehorse was the top finisher (on foot) in the marathon distance in what was his first time in the event.

“It was a chance to do a race that was totally different,” said Eikelboom. “Road marathons you can do anywhere, there’s a trail marathon in the summer every year, but the arctic ultra is a bit of a one-of-a-kind race.

“There were some soft patches, but generally the course was in good shape. It’s the only time of year you get to run along the river there.”

Eikelboom ran the course from Shipyards Park to Rivendell Farm on the banks of Takhini River in three hours and 25 minutes. (He ran the Hamilton Marathon almost an hour quicker in the fall.) He was just six minutes behind Switzerland’s Joel Hegner on a fat-tire mountain bike.

Whitehorse’s Matt Hosford was the second runner in at 3:41 followed by Whitehorse’s Kristin Daniel as the top female with a time of 3:57.

Whitehorse runners Maren Bradley and Maki Nagahama placed second and third, respectively, for females.

“I’m thinking about doing the 100-miler next year,” added Eikelboom. “Thinking about it. We’ll see.”

Yukon also had winners in the 100-mile event from Whitehorse to Braeburn.

Whitehorse’s Jennifer King and Gillian Smith tied for first for females and were seventh overall. They completed the course in one day and 16 hours.

Italy’s Michele Graglia was first overall with the second fastest time on record - 21 hours and 56 minutes.

Only one Yukoner took up the 300-mile challenge in this year’s ultra.

Whitehorse’s Jessie Thomson-Gladish and teammate Julie Pritchard of England reached the finish at the back of the pack, but just finishing was an achievement. Twelve of the 34 starters scratched during the race.

Having to complete a 100-kilometre out-and-back trek from Pelly Crossing was a grind, said Thomson-Gladish.

“It was fun. It was definitely different from last year,” said Thomson-Gladish. “I did the 400 last year and the 300 is different. It’s shorter, obviously, but the out-and-back to Pelly Farm was a huge mental challenge I didn’t encounter last year.

“It was pretty much all in the dark and it was mentally tough to go out 50 kilometres and then back. I would have rather continued on to Dawson, to be honest.”

Thomson-Gladish and Pritchard completed the 300-mile journey on Friday with a time of seven days, 19 hours and 35 minutes, just four hours and 25 minutes under the cutoff.

They placed second for females and tied for 19th overall with Pritchard’s boyfriend Oliver Lutte.

“There are plans to come back. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, but I’d really like to volunteer for it, but I also don’t want to miss out on the trails,” said Thomson-Gladish. “Next year I’ll like to figure out a way to do the 100-mile race and then hop on with the volunteer team for the rest of the race.

“I’ll definitely do it again, but I won’t do the 300 again.”

Germany’s Florian Reiterberger rode a fat bike to finish first in the 300 with a time of four days, 10 hours and 13 minutes.

American Jan Kriska of North Carolina was first on foot with a record time of four days, 21 hours and 24 minutes.

Australia’s Bernadette Benson was the top female, and sixth overall, in five days, 10 hours and 55 minutes - the new women’s record.

A total of 71 racers representing 17 nations took part in this year’s ultra.

“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.”

Contact Tom Patrick at