Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra: Interview With The Race Organiser
Robert Pollhammer is the race organiser of the world’s coldest and toughest ultra trail, the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra.
Riding off the back of an extremely successful race for 2015, he takes time out to talk to us.
What is the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra and how would you describe it to a newcomer?
The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is the world’s coldest and toughest trail ultra. You can participate on foot, mountain bike or with cross country skis. It is a non-stop race with various distances from marathon to 100, 300 and 430 miles. It is also very special in that it possesses a family-like atmosphere. We have a maximum capacity of 90 athletes so we get to know our participants quite well and they get to know us, too.
How long has the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra been going for?
And where did the idea for the race come from? The first race took place in 2003. In 2002 I participated in a similar race in Alaska which then was not organised for a couple of years. And I thought why not try doing it in the Yukon…
What was the race like in its first year compared to now?
In our first year we had fewer participants of course. Finishing rates have always been roughly the same since 2003. Although when the weather makes it really difficult the number of finishers dips. Of course we have learned from experience and continuously work on improving the race, safety aspects, logistics, etc. I am very lucky that I have an awesome crew that has always helped me with this.
How many competitors did you welcome for this year’s race and what nationalities?
We originally expected around 80 athletes of 28 nationalities. New countries represented this year were Poland, Mexico, San Marino and Japan. England is the number 1 nation as far as number of participants is concerned, followed by Canada and Germany.
What is the most challenging aspect of the race for the competitors?
I would say it is a combination of things that makes it so difficult. It is cold, it is long, you are often out there at night. You are on ice and snow and if you are a runner you drag a sled behind you.
How experienced are competitors who enter the race? What are the criteria to enter the race?
Our 430 mile entrants need to have previous extreme cold weather experience. If you want to do the 100 and 300 miles and have no such experience we do offer a training course. All athletes who enter are of course physically very fit. But we find that the mental aspect is what usually makes the difference between suffering and actually enjoying it. Last but not least, you should like the cold. If you hate cold, I do not recommend signing up.
Who holds the current course records?
That’s actually a tough question to answer! We do of course have records for all disciplines and distances. But every year is different, so you can’t really make comparisons. One record that did however impress me a lot was by local Justin Wallace who had never done any running races and finished the 100 miles in 2012 in 21 hours and 41 minutes. On snow, in extreme cold, dragging a sled behind you. That’s pretty amazing.
How important is clothing and equipment and how do you ensure that competitors meet requirements to be safe?
Clothing and equipment are extremely important. That is also why I am very happy to have companies like Montane supporting the race. Montane is very experienced in making clothing for extreme cold weather. And if participants wear and use the right products it is one less thing to worry about. To ensure safety as much as possible we have a mandatory gear list. In addition we have crew on ski-doo checking on the athletes on the trail, we have numerous checkpoints and for some years we have now been using SPOT trackers.
How do you control/organise such a huge race when you live on the other side of the world in Germany?
Phone, email and skype go a long way. Also, my crew has not changed much. So we are a team where everybody knows what needs to be done. Our checkpoint hosts are usually the same. Therefore, it is not that difficult to organise things from over here.
What are the challenges of organising the MYAU?
The same as with any event really. You need to be well organised, communicate well with everyone involved and appreciate the help you get. Staying calm in difficult situations and enjoy what you are doing.
What are your aspirations for the MYAU in the future?
I want to improve the race each year. There is always some little aspect that can be done better. I want to try and keep the great crew I have and still in 10 years’ time make the MYAU a real ‘once in a life time’ experience for any athlete who participates.