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ON THE TRAIL – 100 Mile Yukon Ultra athlete Greg Newby starts the long trek to Braeburn from Whitehorse on Feb. 4

Yukoner Greg Newby finishes fourth in Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra

Whitehorse area athlete Greg Newby completed the 100 miler in the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra recently.

By Whitehorse Star on February 12, 2024

Whitehorse area athlete Greg Newby completed the 100 miler in the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra recently.

The Star reached him Friday.

“It went really well,” he recalled. “My plan paid off. I think the main thing is weather and trail conditions were pretty good for what I was doing. That hard river ice was great for running on. It was almost like running on pavement.

“In the past. It’s a slog, going through deep snow or soft snow or something like slush. Any of those make life a lot harder for running. So the hard fast conditions with cold but not terribly cold temperatures was just right for the Yukon Ultra race.”

Due to the icy conditions, Newby had to wear spikes on his shoes.

“We did until we got to the start of the Overland Trail. It was really just so slippery.”

Once they got to the Overland Trail, the spikes came off.

“The spikes are not pleasant.” related Newby. “They’re very hard on the feet. Because they’re rubberized, they pull your toes back and over a period of five or six hours you end up getting quite poor circulation in your toes due to the spikes. So yeah, wore them for about six hours and they were definitely necessary.”

Newby said the rest of the trail was “decent.

“The hard-packed conditions persisted, occasional icy sections, but it was ice – not like the river where it was ridged and quite hard. Almost like washboard from where the snowmobile goes over and makes these ridges. On the trail, it was mostly just like when the snow melts partially and gets sort of a streak of ice or maybe a puddle of ice and mostly you could run around those, so it was not too bad. You could more or less avoid the ice or even if I was on the ice without my spikes, it wasn’t that slippery because it was cold out. So the trail was not bad. it was hard-packed, icy sections.”

Newby figured he could finish in between 30 and 40 hours.

“It mostly depended on whether I was going to take a nap or not. And so I finished in a little over 33 hours. So it was within what I estimated. I did not nap but I did take a fairly long couple of breaks at Muktuk (Checkpoint 1). Checkpoint 2 is Dog Grave Lake. I was able to spend a little bit of time refreshing my clothing, changing shirts and tops and socks and stuff like that and just continue on.”

Newby’s original plan was to take a nap.

“I was pretty tired after 24 hours in or so. But by the time I changed all my clothing and sat around for a little bit and had something to eat and something to drink I felt ready enough to go.

So he decided not to nap.

“I might be a little bit more refreshed but also be heading down the trail that much later. And when you take a nap after a big exertion like that muscles tend to stiffen up and I wasn’t confident that I would feel a lot better. I might end up going more slowly.”

Newby said instead of napping, he took a lot of little rests.

He had a thermos system, so he was stopping frequently to get some hot water or occasionally change his gloves.

“By the end occasionally I would just stand there and count to 60 or something like that just to to get a little rest. So I was doing a whole lot of micro rests but I wasn’t doing any kind of napping.”

Newby reached the end of his race in Braeburn at 8:09 p.m to finish fourth in the 100.

“I was the fifth person into Braeburn, which I was pretty surprised. I’m not a leader of the pack, usually.

“The thing about the Yukon Ultra is a lot of people treat it as an expedition, like they’re taking two or three days to do that 100 mile distance because they’re walking and they’re camping and stuff like that. And being rested and not getting sweaty and tired like I was. My intention was to treat it more like a running race, just keep moving the whole race.”

“There was a biker in the 100 miler that was quite a bit faster. This was a really good year for biking. It was a fast trail, so the bikers were just screaming along. They had few impediments. You didn’t have to hop off and push your bike very often.

“Adam Luciano, who’s one of the guys that run the DPSAY races, he tied the record for the marathon on Sunday.”

“There was a biker and there was someone in the 300 miler ahead of me and there was a woman who won the 100 miler who was ahead of me.”

The biker was Scott Herron, who won the 100 miler.

Elise Zender of Germany came in on foot about three hours ahead of Newby to finish third in the 100 miler.

“She passed me in the evening of Sunday night, so not too far after Muktuk. I saw her again at Dog Grave Lake. So she was ahead of me for most of the race and did a great job, kept up a really steady pace.”

Other than the athletes that passed him, Newby didn’t see many people on the trail.

“It’s just amazing. You’re out there all this time … and you see almost nobody, other than at the checkpoints.”

Newby was asked how the cold was to deal with.

“It was really doable,” he replied. “The night before when the Quest was out was wicked cold. It was colder than 40 below. When I was out Sunday morning, it was chilly but it wasn’t that bad. I think it was -22 or so when we started. It wasn’t too windy either. The river is a little windy but it wasn’t bad.” Sunday night, it was at least -30º C.

“That did get chilly and there was a little bit of wind, but it wasn’t too bad. It was what I was prepared for. So I just bundled up, had the chemical hand warmers and foot warmers and you know face mask and extra hat and stuff like that. And it was fine. I just kept going.

“And one thing that’s nice about these races in the wintertime is you stay warm by keeping going. If you stop to rest or you stop to just to get some water or change your gloves, that’s when you start getting cold. So as long as you can keep going you tend to generate enough body heat to stay warm.”

Newby had some required equipment for emergency situations, including a heavy parka, sleeping pad, and stove.

“I had all this stuff, but I didn’t actually need it. I just had a fleece that I put on over my regular winter running stuff.

“I put on an extra pair of fleece pants over my running pants.

“As time goes on, I’m running less quickly. And also the body sort of does weird things sometimes after exertion at night so I started to get a little bit more cold in the later hours of the race so I added a layer or two and it was fine.”

In the 2022 Ultra, Newby suffered frostbite and had to withdraw from the race. He said this race was now here near as bad.

“I was better prepared for the cold, better prepared with my feet. I wasn’t gonna get frostbite. I had extra socks, extra layers.”

Newby pointed out that in the Ultra, if you have any sign of frostbite, you’re automatically withdrawn.

He also mentioned that he had to pull about 40 kilograms worth of gear in his pulk (sled).

“That makes it much, much harder. So even though it was ‘only’ a hundred miles, it was physically more challenging than running a regular 100 miler on the same type of trail.”

Newby spoke more about one of the key concepts of the Ultra.

“The Montane Ultra, they purposely make it more of a self maintained or self sustaining race where you have to be self sufficient, carry all your stuff. That makes a really big difference.”

“They want you to be safe. They don’t want you to end up with frostbite or end up without enough gear, end up without enough stuff to eat and that sort of thing and so they make you carry it.”

When asked about highlights of the race for him, Newby said, “The crowd is very nice. It’s really an international race.

The race attracts a lot of Europeans. A few Americans.

“It’s really a friendly group. The thing about a race like this is almost nobody is in it to win it. Almost everybody is in it just to finish, just to have a good run. It’s not like a highly competitive environment. But you’re out there with some some pretty fit elite people that are ready to do something that’s really tough and to thrive in that environment.”

Newby said the race was very well organized.

“They’re on the ball with communication, they have tons of volunteers, they have really good medical support and people on snow machines making sure the trail is in but also going and checking on you. They have safety plans, evacuation plans. It’s a well organized race and a very friendly race.”

Newby added he didn’t know if he would do the race again, mainly due to the expenses involved.

“I don’t know whether I’ll do it again or not. But I’m thinking about it.

“This is a really well supported winter Ultra. This is one that I would recommend.”

Meanwhile, Alan Purdue of Brigend, Wales crossed the finish line at Pelly Crossing on foot on Sunday at 5:06 p.m. to finish fourth of four finishers in the 300 miler. All the athletes are now safely in.

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