It’s been called one of the hardest marathons in North America by iRun magazine and one of the top 10 trail races in Canada by Canadian Running magazine. And it’s in our backyard.
The Yukon River Trail Marathon takes place annually in Whitehorse at the beginning of August, attracting runners from across the continent. This year’s event happens on August 7.
The race, which can be tackled as a full marathon, half marathon, or relay event, starts and ends in Shipyards Park.
The course snakes along the Yukon River for the majority of its route and features extensive elevation change and a challenging trail surface with its fair share of roots, drop-offs and narrow sections.
The course design could be considered akin to the maniacal plans of an evil mad scientist, as each subsequent leg is harder than the last, culminating with the climbs up Pee Wee and Heartbreak hills near the course’s conclusion.
Luckily, the scenery is beautiful – assuming you manage to admire it as your lungs and legs scream at you, that is.
I sat down with both a race rookie and a veteran, to learn about their feelings about hitting the trail and get an idea of how they’re preparing.
Brianne Meister is running the race for the first time, taking on the half marathon.
Meister tells me that she has always run for general exercise, but has only started training for different events such as the Klondike Trail of 98 International Road Relay in the last two years.
“This year I decided that I should try out the trail marathon as I’ve heard great things about it from others who have participated,” she says, adding, “I thought it would be a great challenge for me.”
Dan MacDonald has taken on the course before, both on a relay team and as a marathon runner.
“The first time I ran, I did not get the long runs in I should have in training. I was running it with my father, who has been running marathons for years. We ran the first part together, but when we got to the Yukon River portion, I got ahead of him,” MacDonald recalls.
“As the race wore on, he started closing the gap. As runners passed me, they’d say ‘Your dad is behind you.’ So at about the 35km mark, around the climb to Heartbreak Hill, he caught me. I was in pretty bad shape by then, so he basically dragged me through the rest of the course and we finished the race together. I likely wouldn’t have finished if he didn’t pace to drag me the rest of the way.”
When asked about how she is feeling about the race, Meister replies, “I’m feeling good about it, actually. I’m at a point now in my training that I feel like I’ll be prepared for the race when it comes.
“I am nervous about the hills, though, because no matter how many I do it’s just not my strength. I’d prefer a much longer, flat distance to a short steep uphill any day!”
Then she adds, jokingly, “If anyone reading this wants to piggy-back me up Heartbreak Hill on race day, give me a call.”
Meister says she’s been following a training program that a friend helped her build; it sees her taking on one to two long runs a week with a few shorter, speed- and strength-based runs in between and some cross-training on her mountain bike.
MacDonald admits he hasn’t been training as much as he’d like, adding that he was derailed by the Canucks’ Stanley Cup run.
“Generally, if I’m training properly for a marathon, I’m aiming for five times a week at various distances, one of which is a long run (1.5-2 hours),” he says.
“I’ve probably been averaging three times a week and sporadic long runs, so I will be picking it up here over the next month.”
Both Meister and MacDonald stress that their goals for this year’s race are simply to finish.
Meister says the reason she loves running is that, “It’s challenging and pushes me to my limits, even though I’m only competing against myself.
“If you had asked me two years ago if I’d ever do a half marathon or train for a full, I’d be saying, ‘I sure hope so, but it’s not looking good.’ Now I can say that I am … and that’s enough for me!”
Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].