Well marathon number 6 certainly lived up to it’s name as the World’s coldest and toughest! As I sit here and write this I find it difficult to imagine just how cold it actually was, but I do remember the true feeling of accomplishment when we crossed the finish line.
Up until this point Rhys had managed to stay clear of the running and has done a fantastic job as support crew, from the safety of the sidelines. However when we started reading more about the Yukon race, it sounded more serious than my previous races and with sub zero conditions I thought it would be a good idea to do it as a team. So with a little persuasion, much to his reluctance, I managed to grind him down enough to enter the race with me. Which he was thrilled about.
The marathon started in the frozen town of Whitehorse, way up in the Yukon Territories. The ground is white and frozen, the landscape looks like a winter wonderland, and the wind is so cold it cuts through every thread of clothing.
We decided to go for a little practice jog before the race, and unlike anywhere else, we just didn’t warm up. Thanks to Salomon we had their specialist SnowCross running shoes which meant our feet were warm and dry. After a couple of days of trying (and failing) to acclimatise to the temperatures, we hit the gear shop in town for last minute essentials and packed our race bags.
The weather on race day was bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. The start line was about 2 miles from the hotel, so we took a taxi to the start line. A lot of the other competitors walked, but we figured we’d be using our legs quite enough later in the day!
And so we set off, at a cracking pace along the frozen river, mostly on snow, with a short section of windblown sheet ice, it was extremely beautiful.
It took some discipline when we were feeling super fresh not to go out too quickly. In these conditions sweating is a real problem as it freezes rapidly, so this made planning how many layers to wear and what pace to go very difficult. There was a fine line between going fast enough to make it to the finish in a quick time to warm up or going slower, being out in the cold for longer but not sweating as much. And even at our pace we froze pretty quickly, after about 45 minutes, we looked like this.
It was nearly -40c, but still 75% humidity, which is slightly mind blowing and also means that moisture from your breath just collects around your face. Obviously it makes things uncomfortable, and the last thing you want to do is stop to eat and drink. It takes a lot of discipline to keep fuelling your body.
After just over 3hrs we hit the halfway point, feeling good and eager to crack on. We turned up a fork in the river and headed in to the shade, and the temperature began to drop. That's when everything got a bit tougher.
We saw the finish line, but knew we had to go past it to finish a loop upriver to make the distance. Mentally, it was horrible, going past the warm cabin where we’d be finishing.
At this point the sun started to set too, and the cold hit a new level. I’d never felt anything like it before. All you want to do is curl up and try to get warm, keeping going is so difficult, and this was when I was most glad not to be doing it alone. I remember trying to sing but Rhys said I wasn’t making any sense. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably and it felt like my body was just trying to conserve as much energy as possible by shutting down. My hands were completely numb by this point, and if it wasn’t for Rhys I’d probably still be an icicle somewhere on the Yukon River!
We turned to the finish line and tried to quicken our pace, but really didn't have enough left in the tank to achieve remarkable speeds. It was time to dig deep.
Eventually, we could see a dim glow of lights in the distance. The last bit of trail left the river and went through the woodland to the husky station. It was only slightly uphill but our legs were stiff with cold and low on energy. Just before 7pm, we crossed the finish line together.
We were greeted by a very warm welcome and inside the husky cabin they were serving hot stew and had a roaring fire. It was literally 60 degrees warmer than outside! At this point I was feeling very thankful that I was “only" doing the marathon distance. We had so much respect for those participants taking on the Ultra who had to go back out into the cold and spend the night in those conditions. How they did it I couldn’t imagine.
I was also so thankful to complete this marathon with Rhys, it was wonderful on so many levels. He’s supported me since day 1, always believed in me and pushed me to take on this challenge. It was magical to finally share a marathon with him, and cross the finish line hand in hand, an experience we will never forget.
Thank you to everyone who has followed the journey and donated along the way. Your kindness & support has been hugely appreciated. If you would still like to donate then it would really help top this challenge off with a bang if I could reach £10,000 raised for my 2 charities, The Scouts & The Jonny Wilkinson Foundation: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/icanrun7 Thank you :)
Special thanks to Laings the Jewellers and Skytime for sponsoring this marathon.