Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yukon Arctic Story!!! Great read


Yukon Arctic Ultra - race report


Thought this may be the best place to put my race report from the Yukon Arctic Ultra 2006.

After not managing to complete the 320 mile race in 2005 (due to stomach problems) there was only ever really one decision which had to be made when the race roster opened for the 2006 race. Sure enough, at the beginning of February I was on my way to the Yukon. Most of my concerns were around the condition of the trail as the Yukon had had a very mild winter and not a lot of snow.

The trail was passable all the way (and was quite good in some places) so the race got underway with most people in good spirirts. The first 26 miles is mainly down the river and I thoroughly enjoyed this section. the race reporter seemed a little peeved that I was enjoying myself so much!!

Theres a mandatory 4 hour stop and gear check at SIR North (the first CP) so I ate some food and did my kitcheck (including almost setting fire to my sled) and then headed down to get some sleep.

4 hours (to the minute) later I was back out on the trail. I love being out on the trail alone during the night when I'm feeling strong. Just after I came off the river and joined the Dawson Overland Trail I was feeling very tired (and was falling asleep on my feet). I hadn't planned to have a break this early on during the section but this race is a very long haul and therefore I did the sensible thing (for once) and bivvied down for an hour.

After that I went on (and on and on - this stage felt much longer than it should). When daylight came it did start to get very warm - to the point that I was wearing a t-shirt while moving (very odd when you've prepared for arctic conditions). The weather was very strange and one minute it was warm and sunny, the next it was cold and raining followed by the more normal weather of just cold! Just before halfway on this section I came across a skidoo with Diane (the medic) sitting on the back. She gave me 2 options, either swim across the thawed river or wait for them to find a diversion. I did query how deep the water was and was told it was at least chest height so I decided to wait for the diversion. Mike (one of the marshalls) sorted a new route very quickly and we were all back on our way.

The next CP was Dog Grave Lake and I arrived there feeling quite strong although I was getting a bit worried that I was finding it difficult to move quickly. I came to the conclusion a brief rest here, some food and some company would sort me out before I headed back onto the trail alone. While I was there the post arrived (emails from friends which had been printed out in Braeburn and sent back alongthe course by skidoo - guys who sent emails - you know who you are - thank you so much for these - it was really wonderful to receive your kind words and best wishes).

After an hour and 5 minutes I headed back out on the trail. At this point I feel I need to apologise to anyone else who was out on the course as I spent the night singing at the top of my voice whilst running along the trail. You can't beat a bit of "Here I go Again on my Own" when out on the trail. By the time morning came I had lost my voice (which was probably a good thing) and was just humming along. I started to have a bad spell at around 10am but I wasn't going to worry about this as it happens in long races - its just a time you need to get your head down and press through it. I didn't enjoy the last half of this course and was very relieved to cross Braeburn lake and then arrive at the 100 mile CP for an enormous burger (which I thought was well earned).

There are beds at Braeburn and rather than bivi down elsewhere I thought it best to get some proper sleep at the CP before heading out again. I did this but it meant I was now at the back of the field (or would be when the remaining athletes who were behind me on the 320 mile course scratched at Braeburn). Not to worry - I was feeling okay again (although my feet were a bit of a mess) and soon caught up other runners who had bivvied down on the trail. I arrived at the half way marker in what seemed like record time (I should have realised that it was in the wrong place) and plowed on. I started to get worried when it was getting dark and I still hadn't arrived at the Ken Lake CP but I knew that I couldn't be far away so pressed on even though I kept falling asleep on my feet.

BIG MISTAKE - if I hadn't been asleep on my feet I would have seen the barely covered hole in the ice on one of the chain lakes. As it was, I didn't recognise it for what it was and the next thing I knew I was in freezing water. The way I fell, one leg went through first and the other leg didn't follow until I had done the splits with my right leg up around my ears. I haven't done the splits for years and now was not an appropriate time to try. After a few attempts I managed to get myself out of the water and got changed into dry gear very quickly. I was told later it was minus 28 degrees C on the lakes at the time. I pressed on as quickly as I could to the end of the lake (not far) and stopped on the bank and tried to bivvi down. I wasn't thinking things through properly as I had no body heat to heat the sleeping bag so I was just getting colder and colder. Eventually I realised I had to get up and generate some heat by moving. When I got up I realised I had some bad cuts around the tops of my legs and every time I tried to walk I was in agony. I was 6 kilometres from the CP and it would take me 9 and a half hours to reach this CP. These have to be the grimest hours I can ever remember. I knew I was out of the race and at the time this really didn't bother me (which is not like me).

Finally I could see the CP and then Thomas on his Skidoo came out to meet me.

After eventually managing to get home, the cuts healed without getting any infection. I have injured my back quite badly and so have been out of training for a couple of months but I am sure that this will heal given time and that I will be running again sooner rather than later.

A few words of thanks to people who helped me - Thomas, for getting on his skidoo and coming to meet me with a big hug, Ken - for being an absolute star and helping me get all of my luggage home, Anna - for being great when I was in Vancouver on the way home, Shelley, for turning out after a full days work to get a few people (including me) back from Carmacks to Whitehorse and finally Lisa, my coach, without your support I wouldn't find it easy to get myself back on the horse!
Happy Feet!
Lisa Smith-Batchen

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