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NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP – Megan Sharp makes an ascent during the Golden Ultra Half Pint race which spans three days from September 20-22 in Golden, B.C. Photo by LAURA DAVIES

Yukoners test themselves at Golden Ultra

A contingent of Yukon athletes travelled to Golden, B.C. over the weekend to test themselves in the Golden Ultra - a three-day stage running race.

By John Tonin on September 27, 2019

A contingent of Yukon athletes travelled to Golden, B.C. over the weekend to test themselves in the Golden Ultra - a three-day stage running race.

The race has been held for at least five years and features different distances to choose from. The Golden Ultra is an 85-kilometre stage race and Yukoner Ben Yu Schott took on the daunting task.

Yu Schott has been doing the Golden Ultra since it’s inception.

“It’s an intense few days,” said Yu Schott. “It’s a unique event. It’s a whole mix of things and is a nice fall pilgrimage.”

The first stage of the Golden Ultra is called Blood - Vertical KM. The runners competing in this stage gain 1000 metres in less than five kilometres of running.

“It’s like running up a ski slope,” said Yu Schott. “It’s a serious grind.”

The second day of the Golden Ultra did not get any easier for the athletes. Called Sweat -55km, this was the most vertical stage with “the best single track.” In that 55 km distance, the runners had 3,600 metres of elevation gain to contend with.

The first 20 kilometres had lots of rolling hills, followed by a vertical kilometre climb before a descent and some more climbing.

Yu Schott said day two took him almost 11 hours to complete. All the athletes are allowed a small care package at the top of the climb so Yu Schott had a nice beverage waiting for him.

“It’s been an annual tradition to have a beer at the top of the peak,” said Yu Schott, who had a growler of Winterlong waiting for him. “Then I finish that last 25 kilometres. It helps me mentally.”

He leaves the rest of the growler at the top for the volunteers.

Day three, Tears - “Half Marathon” was a 20-kilometre loop in the CBT Mainline network in Golden.

“The hardest part is day three,” said Yu Schott. “It’s tough to get motivated and get moving.”

He said the trails are smoother than the first two days but it is still difficult. Yu Schott said as he approached the finish line there is a sense of relief.

“There is that sense of relief, joy, and happiness,” said Yu Schott.

“Then all you think of is that it’s over. It goes by so fast.”

For completing the race, Yu Schott and all the finishers are given a beer mug. As well, for completing his fifth Golden Ultra he was given another award.

He said he continues to sign up to push his boundaries and said he plans on doing it again.

“It’s been strange a few years back I said that’s it,” said Yu Schott. “I crossed the finish line and thought I want to do it again.”

It took Yu Schott 1:11:23.9 to complete the first day. He was the 46th runner to complete Blood. He completed Sweat in the 142 position finishing day two in 10:47:30.6. The final day, Tears, he did in 2:17:38.7.

Yu Schott gave appreciation to his wife for being supportive of him and watching the kids while he was racing. One day, he hopes to bring them to the race.

“I would love to one day take the kids,” he said.

He added that it is a great family atmosphere and the community of Golden comes out in droves to support the athletes.

Fellow Yukon athletes, Megan Sharp and Jo Lukawitski, who both raced the in the Half Pint, agreed with this sentiment.

“Everyone was really friendly and the community was so into it,” said Sharp. “I was surprised how many people came out to cheer us on.”

“The town of Golden comes out to support everyone,” said Lukawitski. “I remember part way through the longest day Saturday there was a woman standing there clapping at the summit.

“There are so many people cheering you on and you get a burst of energy from them.”

They also both agreed that there was great camaraderie amongst the runners.

“The trail was all single track and when you get that many runners on a single track everyone is talking and having a good time,” said Sharp. “It’s like the Skagway to Whitehorse race for camaraderie.”

“It’s a great way to connect with people,” said Lukawitski, “and there was some goofy stuff going on up there.”

People, said Lukawitski, would be running the race in costume and some were doing Hobbyhorse.

The first day of the Half Pint was a three-kilometre climb which gains 740 metres in elevation. The Conquer - 30km on the second day is considered the most challenging day of the Half Pint. Runners cover 32 kilometres and 1005 metres of elevation gain.

The final day, Cruise-12km loops through the CBT Mainline trail network and ascends 250 metres before bringing runners back down to town level.

It was both Sharp and Lukawitski’s first time doing the Half Pint. For Sharp, she said it met her expectations.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Sharp. “It was Haines Junction-esque. That’s what I was expecting. When I got there I thought this is totally daunting and I was questioning why I was doing this.”

She heard about the race from a friend who had done the full Golden Ultra. When she learned about the Half Pint she thought that seems doable.

Sharp said it was the second day she found the most difficult.

“It was physically and mentally tough,” said Sharp, “but I began to feel good about halfway through.”

She went into the Half Pint with no goals because she said she had no idea what the terrain would do to her. Although she averages two or three marathons a year she said she had never done anything over three days.

With her first Half Pint behind her, she was asked if she would give the Golden Ultra a try?

“Absolutely not,” she said with a laugh. “I would do the Half Pint again. It’s quite the way to spend the weekend.”

Sharp finished the first day, Climb, in 1:07:26.3. Conquer, on the second and most difficult day, took her 5:02:50.7 and the final day, Cruise, she did in 1:34:56.6.

Lukawitski, also a rookie, said events like the Golden Ultra are spectacular ways to see and experience a new place.

Before the September race start, she said she travelled to Golden to get some practices in.

“I wanted to prep ahead of time so I ran the trails in August,” said Lukawitski. “I was thrilled to discover a mountain town with lots of trails. It was like Whitehorse in that way.”

When it came time for race day, Lukawitski said she had the stomach flu.

“I did it anyway,” she said. “It is more mental training for me. I’m not result-oriented. I would like to do it again and redeem myself.

“I would actually like to run it and not walk. I did it on an empty tank with no reserves.”

Lukawitski said this was a good training exercise for potentially longer races in her future.

“It was great mental training for possible longer events,” she said.

“This was a good baseline, a good point of reference for training.”

She, like so many other, is drawn to events like the Golden Ultra or the Half Pint because it is a good test of self.

“It tested the limits of my body and mind,” said Lukawitski. “We live comfortably and aren’t tested in that way. It is why people are drawn to events like this. We want to experience our potential.”

Upon nearing the finish on the third day Lukawitski said it wasn’t relief she was feeling when the race was over but sadness.

“There is a sadness when it’s over,” she said. “I love being in nature and I always walk away from a run wishing they wouldn’t end.

“It’s addictive and it attracts people with addictive personalities. There is a beauty to the simplicity of just putting one foot in front of the other.”

While battling the stomach flu, Lukawitski completed Climb in 1:07:33.6. She needed 5:23:58.3 to defeat Conquer on the second day and Cruise took her 1:31:37.2.

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