Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

RALLYING THE TROOPS – Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra organizer Robert Polhammer pumps up the athletes before the rugged race started at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse Sunday

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

O CANADA – Shelley Kyle, right, shows off her patriotism at the start of the Ultra. Kim Gradwell was walking with her.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

LEADING THE PACK – Scott Herron rolls out ahead of the walkers at the start of the Ultra.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

LONELY LIFE – A shopping cart sits by itself by the Yukon River as Greg Newby approaches. Newby is entered in the 100 mile Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, which began from Shipyards Park in Whitehorse Sunday. See story and photos p. 18.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

MORAL SUPPORT – Oswaldo Moreno Terrazas, left and his father Tonatiuh before the start of the Montane Yukon Arc­tic Ultra at Shipyards Park Sunday.

Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra off and running, biking and skiing again

The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is off and running, biking and skiing again.

By Morris Prokop on February 7, 2024

The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is off and running, biking and skiing again.

The 20th edition of the rugged race started Sunday at 10:30 a.m. from Shipyards Park in Whitehorse.

Forty six athletes, including the marathon runners, are participating this year.

The Star spoke with race organizer Robert Pollhammer about 20 minutes before the race.

“Things are looking really good,” he said. “It’s a bit chilly this morning. It’s always challenging to put up a start chute when it’s these temperatures. Cable ties break. Everything’s cold.

“Our trail check crew came from Takhini bridge. We wanted to make sure the trail’s fine this morning and they said, “yeah, it’s all good.’ The ice is thick enough. Everything’s fine. It’s hard, slippery. But all our athletes on foot have traction devices.”

“We’re super-early. That’s exciting. There’s no stress now. Everyone’s just anxious to get going.”

When asked about the trail ahead, he replied, “All this day we’re going to be on the Takhini and Yukon rivers. It’s going to be kilometres of ice. So I don’t expect that to be any different further down the trail until we hit land From Overland (Trail) parking, that will be better.

“For us, the ice, it’s a hard trail and that’s actually better than a soft trail for speed.

“As far as speed is concerned, bikers will love it if they’ve got spikes in their tires. It’s the skiers that will struggle the most. They may have to take their skis off and walk for quite a few kilometres.”

Regarding coping with the cold Polhammer said, “We always brief our athletes and tell them that in any kind of temperature, you can get frostbite and hypothermia. So you can get that at -5 degrees. Now we have about -25, -30, and they usually cope well with that. Certainly when they’re moving. And on Day 1. Everybody’s still super-fit and all motivated. It’s that first night when it then gets colder again. We will see. Even if it’s less cold, we have people – some problems comes up and they have to call it a day. I don’t expect major problems. They’re all experienced, they’ve done a training course, they all have the gear that need. Now it’s a matter of making the right decisions at the right time and they’ll be fine.”

Without two-time defending champ Jessie Gladish competing this time, it could be a wide-open race.

“We have Jessie on the crew, so we’re all super-excited to have her now on the other side.”

Gladish taught a pre-race workshop this year.

“We have some strong athletes who will try to win it,” said Polhammer.

“Also a large group of people who are just here to finish it.”

Polhammer said they have people from North America and Europe participating in this year’s event.

“It’s a good group of athletes.”

Polhammer added, “It’s great to be back.”

Jeff Bond, from near Brandon, Manitoba, was walking his initial Ultra in the 100 mile distance.

“This is a part of the country I’ve wanted to see. The best views are from your shoes, so get out their on the trails and you really get a piece of it. You just remember it really well when you’ve physically experienced it.”

Bond had a simple goal: “Finish with all my digits,” he laughed.

“It should be fine. Even today it’s supposed to swing around a bit. The wind from the south and gently warm up the next couple days. At least, that’s what they’re telling me. We’ll see if that holds true. But other than that, I’m fairly prepared for just about everything, I think.”

Bond figured about 50 hours of moving time would get him to Braeburn.

He was planning on a couple of naps in-between.

“Looking at probably 60 hours in total,” he figured.

There are no mandatory rest stops in the Ultra.

“I have a plan mapped out in my head. So as long as I don’t do anything silly, like not stick to my plan, then everything should be fine.”

Bond listed the cold and long hours of darkness as his main challenges.

“You just want to sleep. You really go into baby mode and it’s like, “The sun went down. It’s kind of nappy time.’ It’s all struggling through that a bit. Those are the challenges.”

As one can tell by the way he talks, Bond has done some other ultras in Minnesota and Manitoba. One of them that he’s attempted twice is the Arrowhead 135, an annual ultra marathon event that takes place in International Falls, Minnesota.

“The timeline is much shorter, so there’s really no time for sleep,” related Bond. “I do better with a little bit of rest.”

Bond added, “Great area. I appreciate all the hospitality. It’s been really fun that way.”

Arrowhead 135 is a yearly ultra-marathon event which takes place in International Falls, Minnesota,

Oswaldo Moreno Terrazas came all the way from Mexico City to participate in the marathon.

“A friend of mine told me about this race. He used to live here. He told me, ‘Why don’t you run that race?’ So now I’m here. Let’s have some fun and enjoy.”

This was Moreno Terrazas’s first time doing a race like the Ultra. He said next year, he might do the 100, depending on how the marathon went.

He has also ran in the cold in Chicago and Bariloche, Argentina.

“I wasn’t expecting -30. I was expecting -15, -10, not this cold. But I thought, ‘It’s OK.’”

Moreno Terrazas said he’s more familiar in cold weather with longer distances.

He figured it would take between four and six hours to complete the marathon.

“I just want to finish it and enjoy it. It’s an amazing place and amazing race. I just want to finish safe.”

Moreno Terrazas’s father Tonatiuh came along on the journey to support his son.

“Very exciting,” is how he described the experience. “This is my first time. I’ve never stayed in a place like this. We are expecting a big race.

“It’s a very crazy race, but it’s exciting.

Tonatiuh said they will come back next year if they enjoy the experience.

When asked how he feels about his son racing in the Ultra, Tonatiuh replied, “I feel nervous.”

He added he was here for moral support.

As of 9:50 this morning, Serbia’s Jovica Spajic was leading the pack on foot at the 174 mile mark on the way to McCabe Creek, 41.3 miles away.

Polhammer posted on Facebook this morning that cold and injuries have been a challenge. They have already received three SOS messages but everyone is fine. Polhammer said they are also dealing with open water before McCabe, so they are now shuttling athletes to McCabe to restart there.

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