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FURRY RELAY RACERS — A team poses at the end of the Klondike Road Relay Race in Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse in 2018.

‘Kinda’ Klondike Road Relay registration opens Wednesday

The “Kinda” Klondike Road Relay’s registration opens Wednesday.

By Morris Prokop on July 26, 2021

The “Kinda” Klondike Road Relay’s registration opens Wednesday.

The start date for the race this year is Sept. 11. The event usually takes place the first Friday after the Labour Day long weekend.

The race was originally run by the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon (TIAY). It started out in 1983 with 25 teams.

Sport Yukon Executive Director Tracey Bilsky explains the history behind the Road Relay.

“It started out … in order to bring visitors to the Yukon on the shoulder season. So the time of the season when the tourists disappear and they still wanted some economic development at a time when visitors and tourists don’t come here. So the race was born then. And then a few years after that - it’s a huge endeavour, this race.

The TIAY “wasn’t interested in doing it anymore, so proposed that Sport Yukon take it on as a fundraiser, and we’ve had it ever since.” relates Bilsky.

The relay now averages 170 to 180 teams a year.

This year’s race is “Kinda” different. There are many changes due to COVID-19 restrictions. It’s a one day race; runners are not running through the night like previous races. Another change is the starting date for the registration period – July 28.

“Normally our registration would have already been open, and in some cases we would have already had a large percentage of our racers signed up, but because we’re with COVID, we were just so unsure we could even hold this race. We have held off our registration date.”, says Bilsky.

There’s no official registration cutoff date so far. Organizers are asking team captains to have waivers signed and submitted by Aug 18. So if they have to, they would probably cut off registration around that date if necessary, but they are banking on the race to fill up.

Bilsky says, “We’re taking a chance and ordering all the swag for the racers … we’d like them to sign up as quickly as possible, because in this case we have to max it at 500 people. We usually have 2000 people in this race. That also of course includes our Alaskan friends, but still, we’ll only be permitting a smaller number of racers at this race.”

Normally the race starts in Skagway and ends in Shipyards Park in Whitehorse, and consists of 10 legs.

“A large majority of them are teams of 10, which are are either all women, all men, mixed corporate teams, there’s different categories of teams.”, relates Bilsky.

“Most of our teams are in it for the fun, but there’s some that are very competitive, and we have kind of a massive database of historical information and teams and people who have run all of the different legs. It’s usually a lot of high-energy along the highway, all these people running this distance.”

This year, however, there are teams of five people for the five legs this year – legs six to 10. Each runner runs one leg, unless someone gets injured, which fortunately rarely happens, according to Bilsky.

“On our website there’s a cool map you can see that shows how different each one of the legs are. As an example, Leg number 2 is short, but straight up. Like, straight up! And Leg 3, sometimes people call it the ‘Princess Leg’, because it is a bit shorter and downhill … when you get to Leg 5 and 6, they are extremely long and through the night but can be nice and flat, and you get to see the Northern Lights half the time … and then Leg 10, people call it the ‘hero’ leg, because that’s the leg that you get to cross the finish line, and your team’s waiting for you. And so every leg has its own personality – own distance and own elevation and own personality.”

“We then take all of the teams that have registered, and we assess what they think their total time will take for all their runners to run the race, and so that’s why we start our slowest teams early.”adds Bilsky.

The really competitive faster teams start later in the race.

There’s a checkpoint of volunteers at the start of each one of those legs.

At each checkpoint, there are volunteers, music, there’s the other teams, and the racer’s teammates who are running the next leg. Volunteers duties include ensuring safety, and taking care of parking, timing systems, and providing warmth, hydration, and bathrooms. Usually the volunteer groups have themes for their checkpoints, such as Hawaiian themes. According to Bilsky, “the volunteers have a lot of fun and we rely on them heavily.”

The key difference in the race is the staring point. Bilsky explains. “This year what’s different is that we’re starting at Leg 6, which is the BC-Yukon border. As of the announcement by the Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau) the other day, if U.S. residents are tested and fully vaccinated, they can enter Canada. Skagway has organized it so that Alaskans or US citizens … we’re going to meet them in the middle, at checkpoint 6, and they’re going to run backwards to Skagway, and the Canadians will run forwards to Whitehorse.”

As for the age of the racers, as one would expect, it runs the gamut.

“We have runners who are in their 80’s. And we have youth runners who are 12. The age range is wide open, and we hope to get … all of those age ranges back again.” says Bilsky.

“If there is a 10 year old runner who is strong enough to run that distance, we haven’t dissuaded them from doing so.

“It is ‘a race’, so teams do have to show that their team can make it through that race before … it’s actually before Checkpoint 10 closes. And we do that so that we’re not on the highway for 35 hours – our permitting and such, we need to get off that highway by a certain time. Teams have to prove that they can run that distance within the total team time allotted.”

Bilsky says the Senators Cup, a unique aspect of the race, is a big deal for runners. “The Senator’s Cup is to recognize those people who have run every single leg. So as an example, I have a couple of legs to go before I get my name on the Senator’s Cup. I know that is a question we’ve been asked. Will these legs this year count toward the Senator’s Cup? We’re trying to figure out if that’s going to work or not, because we’re not using our regular registration and database system this year. The system is so strict that we need to basically start at Checkpoint 1 and finish at Checkpoint 10.

“Similar to last year’s virtual race, we’re using a different registration system, which doesn’t feed into the database. We’re hoping to record in some official way that people have run their leg this year. That’s the one outstanding question we haven’t figured out yet.”

When asked if they have a contingency plan in case the US border opens again, Bilsky replied that “it’s too late now to entertain that, and we also don’t want to sabotage the work that Skagway’s done.”

According to Bilsky, there are other changes this year due to COVID restrictions.

“We normally have a significant amount of people hanging out at Rotary park, celebrating for the day, and then we host a huge dance at night. And those things are obviously not happening. We’re not gathering this year.

“We want to make sure people know that although we have the number 500, that is split amongst all those five checkpoints, and it’s also split among different start times. So at any one time, there’s only really going to be about 15 people starting at one time … and who knows whether we’ll have to physically distance at that time, but we still want to be really careful. That’s why we kept our number low, and you’ll just see people sparsely interspersed along the highway.”

And what if a worst-case scenario occurs?

“If there is another outbreak, then we will follow the advice of the CMO (Chief Medical Officer), and if we have to cancel, we’d have to cancel.”, advises Bilsky. “What we try to do is the people who registered for this year, we would just transfer their registration to the following race the next year.”

Bilsky says it’s very important that the relay runs this year.

It’s our biggest fundraiser, and we are a non-profit, and so last year, not being able to host the race and just having a small virtual race, did hit us financially for sure. So to not be able to run … organize the full race again this year was a concern. Spending the money on the infrastructure of the race and only being able to have a quarter of the participants we normally have this year, we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it to maintain the legacy of this race, to offer something to our loyal participants, and offer an opportunity for Skagway and Alaska to also do something, and to promote wellness. Because this race, the amount of people you see on the roads and in the trails training for the Klondike Road Relay, is significant. And the amount of t-shirts that you see, the old Road Relay t-shirts out, people plugging along the road, it really does contribute to the overall health and wellness of our territory. So we just felt it was important to put the effort in and take the risk. To make sure we’re organizing this race in a COVID-friendly and safe manner, so people don’t feel they’re at risk, and so I’m really glad with where we’re sitting right now.

“We thank our loyal runners. We thank them for the encouragement to run this event. We hope it does still bring some joy to people, and some training, and some health and wellness, and if we can do that, then it’s a win for us.”

To find out more about the “Kinda” Klondike Road Relay, please visit the website at https://klondikeroadrelay.com/about-the-race/

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