Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay in blogging, but I’ve been pretty busy the last week prepping, running, and recovering from the craziest race on earth – the Klondike Road Relay!
There’s a lot you need to understand about this race before I can even do this recap. It’s a 109 mile/175 km road relay that runs from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, YT in Canada. 10 people run legs that vary in distance from an incredibly steep 5 miler through White Pass at night to a 16 miler over rolling hills at dawn. It can take an entire day to finish the race, and you have to cross over an international border in the middle of it! And if all of that doesn’t sound difficult, here’s the hardest part – Skagway is in a pretty remote area of Alaska. If you want to get there you’ve only got a few options: fly or take the ferry from Juneau, or drive there. Coming from Anchorage, the easiest and cheapest way for us to get there and have an RV to use during the race was to drive there using the Alcan highway. Yes, this is the same highway that we drove last year to move up here (you may remember my stories about crashing into a snowbank and blowing out a tire).
A few months ago my coworker casually asked me if I wanted to run this race with her team, and I said “Of course!” not knowing anything about it. The planning period got a little crazy at times, but when we finalized everything I ended up with leg #7, an 8.8 mile portion that starts around daylight on Saturday morning.
I was a little worried about running on little sleep, but figured that Ragnar had prepared me for it, right? So last Thursday night I showed up in a parking lot in Anchorage to meet the rest of my team and the RV that would be my home for 72 hours! Our team name was “The Fanny Pack” and we had a fanny pack that played music out loud that we could wear while running!
The first thing I realized about this race is that the initial excitement wore off pretty quickly. Driving in the dark through remote areas of Alaska was terrifying because of all the moose we almost hit on the road, and it was pretty much impossible to sleep the first night due to crazy bumpy road conditions and a super early morning border crossing that required all of us to be awake and coherent when talking to the border agent. The excitement started to pick up again once we were in Canada, especially because we saw a bear right on the side of the road!
By the time we got to Skagway we’d been driving for 20 hours nonstop. I’d never been there before and was so excited to check the town out. We had just enough time to do some sight seeing and get dinner before our first runner started the relay at 7:00 pm!
Since we were so pumped up about actually running the race and it was still pretty early in the night, we had way too much fun cheering runner #1 on. She had to go up a giant hill that lasted for a few miles and we made sure to blast music out of our RV and give out lots of high fives to her and the other runners around her to keep them from getting too discouraged. Runner #2 got similar cheers, but it eventually started to rain and I became too tired and cold to leave the RV. By the time runner #3 was finished, I was so deliriously tired that I have no idea how I held an actual conversation as I spoke to the border agent at the crossing into Canada. I decided to go to bed so that I’d be able to get a few hours of sleep for my early morning leg.
I woke up around 6:00 and had an hour to try to drink water and eat a little bit of food before my leg started. The runner for leg #6 was super fast, and before I knew it I was out in the chilly dawn starting my very first international race in Carcross, YT! The good news was that my leg was gorgeous and I had some really great weather. The bad news is that within 2 miles I realized that not sleeping, eating, or drinking enough water in the last 24 hours was going to make this a really tough run. It was one of the hardest races of my life, especially because of the very last hill (which let’s be honest, was more like a mountain) where I totally lost all desire to keep going. But at the top I got a great view from the scenic overlook and it was just enough to keep me going for one more mile.
As soon as I passed off the lanyard to runner #8 I had to rush over to the side of the road because I honestly thought I was going to puke. I ended up keeping it together, but I couldn’t stop shaking and couldn’t really stomach eating food for a while (chocolate milk luckily saved the day!). Once I changed into warm and dry clothes I felt much better, and I was able to refuel properly just in time to be able to cheer on our final runners. Around 4:00 pm we met our last runner in Whitehorse and cheered her on to the finish in 20:25:21!
I was so excited to be done, but just because the race was finished didn’t mean things got any easier! We spent the next few hours showering at an athletic center in town, eating crazy amounts of pasta at Boston Pizza, and taking a nap before hitting up the after party at a hotel in downtown Whitehorse. I didn’t stay too late, but it was really cool seeing everyone who had finished such a crazy hard race together in one room. After another mostly sleepless night, me and my two coworkers woke up early and hit up a Tim Horton’s for tons of coffee and donuts before driving 14 hours back home to Anchorage. We got in at midnight on Sunday and I literally had to take a sick day on Monday to recover.
If I had to sum this race experience up in one word, it would be: hard. While the running part of the race was extremely difficult because of my lack of proper self care due to living on an RV for 30 hours before I ran, it was honestly the best part because I got the opportunity to run alone through the mountains in the Yukon. It’s an experience that few people will ever get, and I’m really glad I got the chance to do it. But it’s extremely hard living in a tiny space with mostly strangers for such a long period of time, and next time I think I’ll try to do it with people that I know instead. I thought this race would be like Ragnar but it was so different – and sooooo much harder. There’s no way to train for the physical and mental exhaustion that happens before running your leg, and it’s hard to have to keep living in an RV for so long after the race is over. But if you’re looking for an incredibly beautiful, challenging, and unique relay and can get up to Skagway at the end of the tourist season I recommend signing up! I might sound crazy, but I think I’ll be there next year…
Have you ever run an international race? What is the longest amount of time you’ve traveled to get to a race? Will I see you here next year? 🙂