Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

OFF THEY GO – Participants in the 17th Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra leave the start with pulks in tow Thursday morning at Shipyards Park. This year’s race has over 60 athletes from 16 countries.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

LEADING THE PACK – Athletes in the marathon distance of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra get ahead of the pack. Competitors in this distance race to Muktuk Adventures.

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Photo by John Tonin

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Photo by John Tonin

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Image title

Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Image title

Photo by Vince Fedoroff

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Image title

Photo by Vince Fedoroff

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Ultra athletes begin their frozen journey

Over 60 athletes from 16 countries put on their warmest gear to begin the 17th edition of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra (MYAU) at Shipyards Park on Thursday.

By John Tonin on January 31, 2020

Over 60 athletes from 16 countries put on their warmest gear to begin the 17th edition of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra (MYAU) at Shipyards Park on Thursday.

The MYAU is billed as the world’s coldest and toughest ultra races. The athletes, in three distances, follow the same trail as the Yukon Quest mushers.

Participants can travel via foot, mountain bike and cross-country skiing. Close to 90 per cent of the athletes who left the start line were on foot.

During the race, competitors are expected to be totally self-sufficient, towing food and shelter behind them in heavily laden sleds called ‘pulks’ and melting snow to provide water.

Night temperatures can reach as low as -50 C, which when coupled with windchill and sheer physical exhaustion can be not just challenging, but extremely dangerous.

The temperature at the start line was -9 C.

Fabian Imfeld, from Stansstad, Switzerland, got disqualified from last year’s 300-mile race just before reaching Braeburn. Imfeld was back in the mix looking to make it to the 300-mile finish line.

“Last year I got disqualified and I couldn’t finish it,” said Imfeld. “This is certainly the first point for why I am back here.”

Imfeld was inspired to take on the challenge of the MYAU after working at a checkpoint.

“I spent a lot of time at the Pelly River Ranch which is a checkpoint for the race,” said Imfeld. “I’ve seen the race there and I’ve seen the people coming in who could hardly walk anymore but they were so happy.”

Imfeld said doing the MYAU is a way to challenge himself mentally. He said he was excited about the race and the magnitude of the journey hit him after a race meeting with a doctor.

“I’m pretty excited now,” said Imfeld. Before the race, a doctor talked to us about frostbite. That’s the moment when you get a bit nervous when you see all those pictures, but on the other side it makes you aware of those things.”

Imfeld said he is aware of the possible dangers associated with the race but he isn’t dwelling on them.

“As soon as I have cold hands I will deal with it immediately,” said Imfeld.

“Once you get started you are just thinking about finishing it.”

The 300-mile racers will travel to Pelly Farm. There, they will leave the river to turn around and go back to Pelly Crossing on the farm road.

Lana Rogozinsky, from Calgary, departed for her first Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra. She will be doing the 100-mile distance to Braeburn.

It’s Rogozinsky’s first time in the Yukon, she arrived over the weekend. She decided to take on the MYAU to inspire her children.

“For me, I have two daughters 21 and 17 and I wanted to show them women don’t age out of adventures, we grow into them,” said Rogozinsky. “That’s why I wanted to do this race.”

Her daughters couldn’t join her in the territory but Rogozinsky said they will be diligently following on Facebook and through the tracker.

With her daughters cheering her on from home, Rogozinsky said it will give her extra motivation to power forward when she gets cold and tired.

“It absolutely will,” said Rogozinsky. “If you look at my sled, I have pictures of my girls on the top of my sled and I’m hoping just seeing them will keep me going and keep me warm when I’m freezing.”

Rogozinsky, being a rookie, said she had some idea of what she was getting herself into but some things did arise that she didn’t bank on.

“I was expecting cold weather for sure, but we are used to that, we’re Canadian,” said Rogozinsky. “There are some things I didn’t anticipate like open water and overflow. I didn’t anticipate having wet shoes. I anticipated a super cold race.

“Yesterday there was some mad scrambling to re-adjust.”

In her pulk, Rogozinsky is prepared. She has changes of clothes, different footwear and extra socks to go along with a “crap-load of food.”

Rogozinsky does have experience with long distances races, having completed a race in Iceland. However, she said that had completely different topography, and has never done anything like this in the cold.

“The appeal of this is that it brings together some really crazy, fun adventure spirits,” said Rogozinsky. “Yes it’s a competition, but it’s not really a competition. It’s way more camaraderie and bringing together some crazy people.”

Friends back home asked Rogozinsky why she wouldn’t challenge herself with a marathon, but that had no appeal to her.

“A marathon is about fast and race and competition,” said Rogozinsky.

“This is just about being out in a beautiful place. Experiencing the outdoors and finding your strength when you are at your lowest and being around people who feel the same.”

Rogzinsky said she believes doing this race will be 90 per cent mental.

“After you’re done the first marathon, it’s about can you push yourself that much further when you’re in pain and feeling cold and terrible,” said Rogozinsky. “It’s probably more of a mental game than it is physical.”

When she inevitably hits that wall, she said her plan is to stop, slow it down and be smart.

“I hear the ones who get into trouble are the ones that aren’t smart,” said Rogzinsky.

Andrew Miller, originally from Ontario but now living in the Yukon, set off for the Marathon distance which ends at Muktuk Adventures. For Miller, he will be running back to work.

It is Miller’s first time racing the MYAU, and second marathon. He was inspired to do the race because of dog sledding.

“I started dog sled guiding for the first time this year,” said Miller. “You have to run a lot with the dogs to help them and make sure they aren’t tangled.

“After that, I started running in my spare time and my boss was really into marathon running.”

Miller explained how he was feeling before taking his first step over the start line.

“I’m nervous but more in the cautious sense,” said Miller. “It’s almost a healthy nervous. I ran a bunch in the cold spurt we had a few weeks ago so I’m feeling pretty prepared.

“I actually think I wasn’t prepared for how warm it’s going to be. I feel pretty good.”

Miller said he will be using a different strategy during the MYAU as compared to the warmer marathon he has competed in.

“I’ll pace myself a lot more,” said Miller. “I’ll pace myself more in the beginning. I think a little bit for myself, I’ve been on the trails and packed some of it down, I have a little bit of an advantage of how far I have to go in the end.”

Miller said he isn’t going in intending to win. He just wants to run his own race and if he does win, that’s a bonus.

The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is a non-stop race and has had 41 nations represented in its 17-year history.

Every two years, there is also a 430-mile race to Dawson City.

The lowest recorded temperature for the race was close to -60 C.

Marathon Results:

After departing the start line at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Brian Stuart was the first to reach Muktuk Adventures at 2:21.

Only seven minutes behind was second-place finisher Josh Kramer. Miller came in third, reaching his work at 3:02 p.m.

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