Yukon River Trail Marathon 2018 Race Report

Yukon River Trail Marathon Aug 5th, 2018

Website: Yukon River Trail Marathon
Location: Whitehorse, Yukon

“For much of the course, you will be running along side or above the Yukon River or one of a few small pothole lakes. The trail, though well used, is worn so watch out for tree roots in many spots. There is significant elevation gain and loss all along the trail”

The above description was all the convincing I needed, and so on registration day I promptly signed up.  The race would sell out in 10 days.

Numbers (Finishers)
Marathon: 33 (I was the only Ontario finisher) Vast majority were local runners.
Relay: 35
Half: 105

Training
Thursdays and Sundays were spent in Gatineau Park, mostly solo. I ran a few times with Ronnie, twice with deer, turkeys, and once with a Black bear. I also joined the Bushtukah Trail Running group, which runs from various NCC Greenbelt locations on Saturdays. Tuesdays were mainly spent on city paths.

Race Eve
Race kit pick up was at a local sports store, just down the street from my hotel. Paula (one of the race organizers) gave me a complete walk-through of the race and answered all my questions.

I then went on a day trip south of Whitehorse, to Carcross.

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Driving south towards Carcross
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Carcross Desert

Once I got back to town, I had a late afternoon final big Italian meal, and then just laid low for the rest of the evening.

Race Day
Morning prep is pretty routine by now, and the 8:30am start time is one that I am very familiar with.

I left the hotel just after 8, and by 8:15 I had driven, parked the car, and registered myself at the sign-in table.
It was a warm summer morning in the North.

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I’ve worn this shirt in many races over the last 5 years. It’s reliable, and 100% guaranteed no chafing or anything over many hours.
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Nice and low key 🙂

And we’re off!

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The first 5k was mostly paved path and road.
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Now we’re into the trails.

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If you’re into documentaries about running, I highly recommend one called Finding Traction. It follows the story of Nikki Kimball who was trying to break a record for the fastest crossing of the Vermont Long Trail. At one point she cries out “Why does this keep happening to me?”

And that’s exactly what I found myself saying not even 10k into a 42k trail run.

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“Mikey don’t like steep drop offs”

So, so steep. Like one really bad stumble away from certain death. If some people’s brains act as a Central Governor, then mine acts like a child’s safety council sometimes. To be fair though, the description on the website does say “EXTREME CAUTION should be used as there are some steep drop offs to the river in this section. Keep your eyes on the terrain, not the scenery.” – guess they weren’t kidding.

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Crossing the river at Miles Canyon.
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The Basalt Columns of the Yukon River. Yes, there was a volanic eruption about 1200 years ago. Another fun fact is that this is North America’s third longest river.
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It was onwards to the Canyon City Trail

This was a long stretch of sandy running at the top of the canyon, with the river way down below. And I stress “way down” .

Boats and float planes looked tiny from high up above. It was during these edge runs that I dared not take a picture. I really kept it slow and safe and just thought “do not fall”. But when I wasn’t thinking that, I was reflecting on the beautiful wilderness that surrounded me.

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After the 15km point the route turned inward on the Log Trail. The trees were just tall enough to form a canopy.

The course was divided into 4 legs. I’d be doing all 4, while the half marathoners did 1 and 4, and then others participated in the relay. There was an aid station at every exchange point plus a few others along the way.

I had two 700ml bottles and basically had a minimum of one full one at all times (except for somehow I did run out around 30k…blew by a station – lesson learned).

Excitement on Leg 3
I had barely left the parking lot from Chadburn Lake, when a race marshal stopped us and yelled “Bears on course! Detour this way!”. But then she added “Either way, it’s up to you”. I took it to mean “Safety this way, danger over there”. Because clearly a 100 meter detour is sufficient for two bears, right ?

Side note: The next day I told someone that I ran the marathon, and they replied with “Oh, did you see the Grizzlies?” Me: “Wait, the what?” It had made the local and CBC news that the lead runners had encountered two Grizzlies and were forced to turn back.

After that little detour, I was soon mostly alone in a forest full of bears, and decided that singing was the best defence.

I started by identiyfing myself as a human (I read somewhere to let bears know that), and then followed up by singing Human League’s “I’m only human”. Decided Billy Joel’s song would have been asking for trouble. That lasted 10, maybe 15 seconds. After that I’d clap occasionally but by then there was typically a person or two in sight ahead, or just behind me.

Leg 3 continued on down by the shores of Chadden Lake. It was very undulating and sloping towards the lake, with lots of tree roots.

This section finished up back at the suspension bridge, where I stopped to take on more fluids, and ate a Fig Newton or two.

I had been going way slower than I anticipated, but it wasn’t bothering me anymore. Other than a sore hamstring, I was fine, and just focussed on finishing and enjoying the scenery.

Leg 4 was more of the same: windy and hilly, and more lakeside running. There are tonnes of trails in the area so you had to pay attention and look for the orange flags and ribbons.

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Kilometer 37 brought me to a new trail called “Heartbreak Hill”. I was secretly hoping I had taken a wrong turn .

Nope 😦

More like Leg Cramp Hill. WTF Hill. I made up a lot of alternate names. Stupid Hill is 1km long, with 60m of rise (so that’s an average grade of 6%)

So no leg cramps, but I was out of water and rather sore all over. Nothing injured.

Luckily there was a water station as the path crossed Chadburn Lake Road.

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This picture needs some explaining.

In the background, you can see a split in the path and there’s a person in the intersection (if you’re reading this on a phone then just trust me on this). The runner is about to turn left and run straight down a 25 meter (80 foot) very steep and rocky/sandy slope, do a quick jog across the road, and then straight back up a 30m hill (100 feet). And this is at the 38km point!

All Downhill
After this last peak, it was a pretty steep 80m descent (260 feet). It was a combination of sandy slopes, and a few switch backs, and just took a few minutes to get down to river level.

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Down the paved Millenium Trail, back into town, under a bridge and across the line!

They had a scout about 100 metres away that noted bib numbers and so they called out my name as I approached the finish (and said where I was from) everyone cheered (and I’d do the same for those that came after me)

Post race food: chocolate milk, Pepsi and Pizza Hut (because I hadn’t suffered enough already).

I hung out with the other runners and stayed for the awards ceremony too.

Then I hauled myself off the ground and off to the B&B.

Race and Event Notes
Well organized, plenty of aid stations (fig newtons!) surprisingly good crowd support for a trail race (mainly at relay exchanges).

The out and back section in Canyon City was great as you could encourage fellow runners with the seemingly universal “good job!” greeting .

I wish there were more flags, even if it’s dead obvious to those who’ve run it before.

Official Time: 5 hours, 48 minutes (5:31 of moving time)

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Elevation was 792m
Pretty choppy the whole time.

What’s Next?
I actually thought about that during the run. But I was thinking “Why does the race have to happen?”

There’s something special about the weekly build over months of training. Always looking forward to the next run, or the big race.

Like one never ending summer…

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