The goal of the Yukon Arctic Ultra is to be “the world’s best and toughest human-powered winter (ultra)-marathon race.” It’s hard to imagine a tougher one.
The Yukon Arctic Ultra began in 2003 with 27 racers. Every year it starts just after the Yukon Quest and follows that route, starting in Whitehorse.
Racers can choose from among four different distances — the marathon (26 miles), 100 miles, 300-miles or, for the toughest humans, 430-miles — all the way to Dawson City. While competitors can either travel by mountain bike, cross-country skis or foot, this year’s slate has only two mountain bikers and nine skiers in a 87-person field. The event begins this year on Feb. 3 and concludes two weeks later on the 16th.
Shelley Gellatly is a competitor and the Canadian liaison for the Yukon Arctic Ultra. She competed in the 100-mile event in the race’s first year. Since then she has entered the 100-mile category and the 300-mile category.
This year she is one of less than 20 women entered, and one of three registered for the full 430 miles.
What does Gellatly get from the race and why is she doing the full distance?
“I just love to see the trail,” she says. “The biggest challenge for me, and the scariest part, is how to look after yourself out there. It’s not going to be your fitness that takes you out of the race. It’s going to be your decision making. It’s a mental challenge.
“I’ve always wanted to do that trail. I thought at one time that I would mush the Yukon Quest (and see it that way), but I don’t want to be poor.”
As I hear her words over the telephone I can also hear her breathing and the crunch of snow underfoot. It’s lunch-time. “Where are you?” I ask.
“I’m on the Millennium Trail, but we might have to move…” Apparently there can be rough patches and lots of ice even on this urban trail.
There is only one woman who has ever gone all the way to Dawson City within the 13-day time limit. Gellatly was on the trail for five and a half days last year, when she arrived in Pelly Crossing after 300 miles.
She is philosophical about what she sees as the personal challenges she will face. “All the things that dog you your whole life come out on the trail,” she says. “I’ve tried to transfer to my life all the things I have learned (about myself) on the trail.”
One of the benefits that has transferred to Gellatly’s personal life is the connection with other racers.
“Most of the women around town that I consider my best friends, as well as some of the guys, I met on this race,” she says. “It really does seem to have a big effect on people.”
For now, she is training and checking out her gear by going out on Friday nights with some of those friends. Out on the trail that is — all night.
This year the race will start on Feb. 3rd at 10:30 a.m., downtown Whitehorse next to the Yukon River. For more information on the race check out the race website at http://www.arcticultra.de.