Tougher Than Tough – Yukon Arctic Ultra Race Preview

You may or may not remember our feature some time ago where we ran through what we felt were, the toughest ultras on the planet. Well, this little 430 mile jaunt was on the shortlist, and only just failed to make the cut, but if truth be told, it’s right up there as one of the toughest races you can do.

The fun and games kick off on February 8th and one of its competitors, Jan Francke has very kindly pulled together a preview of the race for us.

Jan lived in Australia for a number of years and this year, he attempts the big daddy of the distances, the 430 miler having done the 100 miler last year. We love this type of stuff, so it’s only right we give it a bit of airtime and allow our readers an insight into what goes on and what it takes to have a crack at this beauty. Take it away Jan…

The start of the YAU
The start of the YAU

It is the middle of summer down in Australia, and running on trails gets pretty hot so lets cool down a bit – welcome to the Yukon Arctic Ultra (YAU). Quite simply, one of the world’s coldest and toughest ultras. 430 miles of snow, ice, temperatures as low as -40°C ( in 2007 temperatures dropped to -61°C and race was canceled) and relentless wilderness, the YAU is an incredible undertaking.

It sounds less like an ultramarathon and more like the premise for a Jack London novel. The Yukon Arctic Ultra follows the Yukon Quest trail, the trail of the world’s toughest Sled Dog Race. Where dog teams once slid and scrambled, now human power chases up the trail.

Having done the 100 miler last year, Jan's moving up to the full distance of 430 miles this year
Having done the 100 miler last year, Jan’s moving up to the full distance of 430 miles this year

You can choose to race the 430 mile (odd-numbered years), 300 mile, 100 mile or marathon distance. The race begins in Whitehorse, Yukon, finishing (for those that make it) 13 nights later in Dawson city, Yukon. The marathon finishes just off the Takhini River.

The 100 mile competitors race from Whitehorse to Braeburn. The 300 mile racers continue relentlessly onwards going all the way to Pelly Farm. The 430 mile athletes continue on up the Quest trail to Dawson City. Racers must pull their own gear in a sled. There are no stages. The amount of hours a racer chooses to sleep as opposed to marking off mileage is up to them.

Besides mandatory gear, such as a sleeping bag, a bivouac, a sleeping pad, a headlamp, a stove, 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.

The race trail is marked, however, fresh snow or a lot of wind can obliterate the route leaving it difficult to find the way. The threat of frostbite hangs over you like the sword of Damocles. The hours of darkness are brutally long clouding your judgement and playing with your mind.

You struggle to eat enough to provide the fuel your body craves. Sleep is limited and you’re alone, solo in a vast empty cold wilderness. The YAU differs from the Marathon Des Sables and the Jungle Marathon in that there are no crews waiting at checkpoints to deal with aches and pains. You get food, encouragement and are told – if you have enough psyche – to get back out into the snow and race to the finish.


No one has ever died – yet. 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. This year 430 miles is on. Start is February 8th and you can follow the race on official website

We wish Jan all the best with his maiden 430 mile attempt and look forward to receiving his race report after he’s finished!

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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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