Racers carry sleds of supplies through Shipyards Park at the beginning of the Arctic Ultra in Whitehorse on Feb. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon Arctic Ultra runners continue trek to finish line

‘They, in a strange way, enjoy it’

The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 300-mile has been underway for nearly a week and only three athletes remain in the mix.

As of 8:30 a.m. Feb. 7, South African Jethro de Decker continues to lead as he closes in on Pelly Crossing. He reached the McCabe Creek checkpoint just after 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 and an update from organizers said he does not have frostbite and is running well.

Approximately 15 miles behind de Decker, Canadian skier Ilona Gyapay is running in second. Gyapay reached McCabe Creek in the early hours of Feb. 7.

The only other remaining racer is Roberto Zanada of Italy in third, running 13 miles south of McCabe Creek.

Temperatures along the trail remain near -40 C.

Denmark’s Asbjørn Bruun and Norway’s Frode Lein scratched from the race after failing to reach the Carmacks checkpoint before the cut-off time.

The race — comprised of marathon, 100-mile and 300-mile categories — started at 10:35 a.m. the morning of Feb. 1 with start-line temperatures at a chilly -30 C.

Crossing the finish line at 3:45 p.m. that day, Kristen Daniel won the marathon distance with Benjamin Harper and Katie Moon finishing second and third respectively.

Temperatures dropped to -45 C overnight and racers began to drop out in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, leading race officials to put a hold on the race at Dog Grave Lake.

Organizer Robert Pollhammer said it came down to safety.

“During the period the race was held, we could not have guaranteed a rescue,” said Pollhammer. “That moment I cannot get my crew out there to pick somebody up [is] the moment I have to stop the race. That’s when it becomes unsafe.”

After nearly a day of holding racers at Dog Grave Lake, the race got back underway.

Italian Emanuele Gallo won the 100-mile race, reaching the finish line in Braeburn at 10:22 p.m. on Feb. 3.

Sweden’s Peter Mild finished just over two hours later at 16 minutes past midnight early Feb. 4.

At 2:19 a.m. on Feb. 4, German Tomas Jelinek finished the race in third.

Michelle Smith was the fourth athlete across the finish line and the first woman.

The other four athletes registered in the 100-mile race withdrew from the race.

For the remaining racers, the deadline to reach Pelly Crossing is eight days from the start — Feb. 9 this year — but will be extended by however long the athletes were delayed at Dog Grave Lake.

Delays ranged from four hours to 12 hours.

One of the most extreme races of its kind, athletes are required to take a basic training course or have prior experience from similar events before competing in the race.

Pollhammer explained that all athletes are assessed when they reach checkpoints.

“We look at the athletes,” said Pollhammer. “So if somebody comes to a checkpoint and is totally hypothermic, then there are consequences which could be anything from withdrawing from the race to making [the athlete] stop to show us he can cope and recover because obviously we won’t let anybody go when we feel unsafe to begin with.”

With just half of 100-mile racers this year finishing, and only three 300-mile racers still in the race, Pollhammer said part of the appeal is the attrition racers have to deal with.

“They’re here to participate in the world’s coldest race and as long as we can guarantee transport off the trails, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Pollhammer. “They, in a strange way, enjoy it.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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