The Iditarod is for Wimps! Can You Handle the Yukon Arctic Ultra?

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With temperatures hitting minus-42, the Yukon Arctic Ultra may or may not the most challenging ultramarathon on earth, but it is certainly the chilliest Martin Hartley and Montane

The Yukon Arctic Ultra (YAU) sounds less like an ultramarathon than the premise for a Jack London novel. Beginning in the town of Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon province, participants have their choice of a standard marathon distance (26.2 miles) or extreme distances of 100, 300 or, in odd-numbered years, 430 miles. Temperatures are typically between zero and minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit, although it has been as cold as minus-42. Racers must tote their own gear on the point-to-point course, much of which is laid out atop the frozen Yukon River and frozen-over lakes.

There are no stages. The amount of hours a racer chooses to sleep as opposed to marking off mileage is up to them. “We’ve never had anybody quit because of a lack of physical fitness,” says YAU’s founder, Robert Pollhammer, who first staged the race in 2003. “The biggest part of it is mental--and of course we’ve had cases of frostbite.”

The Yukon Arctic Ultra: may or may not the most challenging ultramarathon on earth, but it is certainly the chilliest.

2.3_Arctic4_MartinHartleyandMontane Pollhammer, 40, created the event in 2003 after running a similar race, then called he Iditasport, in Alaska. The YAU trail follows the identical path of the Yukon Quest, an annual 1,000-mile dogsled race that runs between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. Martin Hartley and Montane

2.3_Arctic7_MartinHartleyandMontane This year’s series of races began last Thursday and ended on Wednesday. Last year, exactly half of those who entered the 430-mile foot race finished, with Casper Wakefield of Denmark winning in just under 8 days. Only two of the 16 entrantants finished the 300-mile race. Martin Hartley and Montane

2.3_Arctic6_MartinHartleyandMontane While ultramarathoning has never been more popular in the U.S., the YAU is virtually unknown to (or unloved by?) Yanks. Only three of the 38 competitors in this year’s 100- and 300-mile races are Americans, with all 16 entrants in the 300-mile race hailing from Europe. Martin Hartley and Montane

2.3_Arctic5_MartinHartleyandMontane In 2008 Keith Thaxter, a 47-year-old Whitehorse local who regularly finishes marathons in 3:05, crossed the line in 6:50, after enduring high winds and white-out conditions. “Did I win?” Thaxter asked an official. Yes, he was told, as the six other runners had already dropped out. Martin Hartley and Montane

2.3_Arctic2_MartinHartleyandMontane Besides mandatory gear, such as a compass, a whistle, a headlamp, batteries, a windproof lighter and a saw, those entering the 430-mile trek must tote a GPS, crampons and an avalanche shovel. A satellite phone is recommended. Everyone totes their own water as it's hard to melt ice. Martin Hartley and Montane

2.3_Arctic3_MartinHartleyandMontane No one has ever died. Moose and wolves have occasionally been spotted on the trails and there’s always the possibility of bears if the weather warms up. Hypothermia and frostbite are not uncommon. "The reason that anyone does this this is because they are looking for an adventure" says Pollhammer." Martin Hartley and Montane

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