With just 100 yards remaining in the 2023 Klondike Road Relay, I thought the hardest part of my 44-mile solo race was over.
Instead, the finish line announcer’s voice echoed up the home stretch: “Here comes the first solo finisher, Klas Stolpe, running as team No One Fights Alone. Klas is running for his brother, who is terminal with cancer…”
While all my pain and suffering ended, the emotional baggage I had carried burst forth, the tears more significant than any podium finish.
There is joy in running. Whether finishing first or last, the reason you run is what should never be lost on the journey.
This was the 40th anniversary of the Klondike, taking place this year Sept. 8-9. There were roughly 1,800 participants from over 200 teams. Ten-person teams ran 10 legs from Skagway to Whitehorse covering 175 km (109 miles); eight- and four-person relay and walking teams and solo runners raced 70.9 km (44 miles) from Carcross to Whitehorse. The route crosses the traditional territories of the Chilkoot Tlingit people, the Carcross Tagish First Nation, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.
Juneau, a city of top athletes and fun-loving adventurers, was well represented.
Team Lynn Canal Adventures (Derk Lyford, Beck Haywood, Arne Ellefson-Carnes, Clem Taylor-Roth, Christopher Brenk, Michael Finn, Elliot Kadrofske, Sean Lonergan, Tim McKenna) won the 10-leg Men’s Open relay course in 11:12:06, nearly besting the all-time mark of 10:16:28 set in 1990 by Juneau “B” Team (Steve Holl, Brad Missel, Steve Pringle, Pat Green, Kevin McCarey, Steve McCormack, Bill Randall, Bill McGrath, Dee Carey, Rory Trup).
“All of the members of our team ran in college,” Ellefson-Carnes said. “While we were based out of Juneau, the team was made up of people from all over the U.S., and some of them didn’t know each other until we gathered for the race. Something that all of us have taken with us from college is the desire to work hard, run fast and have an absolute blast. The Klondike seemed like a great opportunity to be immersed in this atmosphere in a team environment that is rarely felt after collegiate running. We couldn’t have had a better time.”
They also stayed to help clean up the event’s Party in the Park, where hundreds gathered at Whitehorse’s Rotary Park to cheer finishers, taste delicacies from food trucks and beer garden or try a mobile sauna, ice bath, massage or kids’ games.
“It’s a big, fun mess of a good time,” CC Striders runner Aaron Morrison said. “And we love the chaos.”
The CC Striders (A. Morrison, James Grammel, Zane Clark, Jim Ustasiewski, John Bursell, Tracy Morrison, Brandon Cullum, Dan Robinson, Jim Marcotte, Mark Neidhold) won the 10-leg Mixed Masters relay in 15:56:10.
“I have been lucky enough to be on a really great team that has been running the Klondike for many years,” Bursell said. “We are a tribute team named after Cameron Clark, a wonderful young runner lost too soon. And we were defending our division title.”
Juneau team Ambiguous Fantasy (Michael Justa, Blake Rider, Olga Slivka, Mary Aparezuk, Alana Bonilla, Davin Savikko, Jake Haas, Callahan Dillon, Brenton Savikko, Greg Smith) finished with a time of 15:39.16, and were among the top costumed teams after the event, wearing a Mad Max theme of “I’m Just Here For The Gasoline” for another strong showing.
“We run to reconnect,” Aparezuk said. “To remind ourselves to not take ourselves so seriously, give ourselves a challenge and have fun!”
Juneau team Slomo Sapiens (Ellen Carrlee, Heidi Brodersen, Carl Brodersen, Wesley Brooks, Alida Bus, Eliza Dorn, Claire Imamura, Justin Dorn, Bryce Mecum, Jesse Stringer) finished in 17:10:47.
“I love the Klondike because it’s the only time you’ll ever get ten busy adults to all get together and focus on doing one fun thing together for an entire weekend, like when we were kids,” Brodersen said. “Also, those golden trees in Yukon are the only non-brown-and-gray fall we ever get.”
My solo run was daunting but I never felt alone.
A red morning light as I stood at the Leg 7 start was added to by Juneau team Creature Comforts, and running buddy Quinn Tracy finishing his relay Leg 6 and wishing me well.
So many of you do not realize how important it was for me to hear “No One Fights Alone” along the route, or to see you on your leg. The other racers and their support, the race organizers and volunteers all played a part.
A support vehicle was a must. Tom Thompson – Petersburg High School 1981 grad, JDHS/PHS math teacher, Ironman triathlete, Boston Marathon finisher and good friend – drove for me. Every 2-3 miles we exchanged empty soft liquid flasks and wrappers for full ones, and brief conversations which became briefer as my demeanor fluctuated.
My leg times were:
Leg 7 (14km / 8.7miles) in 1:03:00 (7:14 per mile), the fifth fastest overall for that leg; Leg 8 (19.8km / 12.3miles) in 1:44:00 (8:27 per mile) the 27th fastest; Leg 9 (17.8km / 11.06 miles) in 1:38:00 (8:52 per mile) the 33rd fastest (LOL, seeing a pattern here?); and finishing Leg 10 (19.3km / 12 miles) in 1:51:00 (9:15 per mile, yikes, darn old Miles Canyon road) the 71st fastest.
Tom had me averaging 8:31 per mile for the 44.06-mile course.
He clocked me at a 3:25 marathon for the first 26.2 miles and I selfishly thought of my own run instead of why I was out there – my brother.
It was interesting how easily it was to let go of thinking of myself during the run and think of him. It was so amazing that when I struggled late I thought of his struggle and my run became more obtainable.
At certain points when my body ached, I repeated his name over and over to sync my cadence and stride. In reality my pain was nothing compared to his daily routine.
The Klondike was first run in 1983, created to bring visitors to the territory and attracted 25 teams.
My experience began in 1997 on Skagway’s Hoover’s Sherpas. We finished in 14:46:07. I ran Leg 8 (19.8 km) in 1:21:53. In 2009 I found myself on team To P Or Not To P. We finished in 14:27:24. I ran Leg 3 (12.6 km) in 49:47.
I had no race experience at that time. I ran to stay in shape for another sport, to counter past drug use and sooth genetic depression.
In 2014, I petitioned the Klondike to run the entire route from Skagway to Whitehorse in honor of departed friend Glenn Frick, a founding runner of the race and an influential outdoorsman to all who knew him. I finished the roughly 110 miles in 23 hours with running support Houston Laws. I ran that ultra again in 2015 but did not heed the advice of my support team and failed miserably. I had started the first 26.2 miles under three hours and wound up crawling into my support vehicle at Carcross with an all-body cramp roughly 67 miles in.
Trophies, medals and ribbons make an event a sport and that should be honored, but just because no one hands you those items at the finish does not mean you have not accomplished a goal.
One can win by not crossing in first place or even not finishing at all. Winning can mean different things to different athletes.
So did I win the 2023 Klondike solo?
I ran for my brother who cannot. So I won before I started. All else in between was just extra accolades. No one fights alone.
2023 KRR CATEGORY WINNERS (complete results at klondikeroadrelay.com)
ADULT RUNNING (Skagway to Whitehorse):
Men’s Open – Lynn cAnal Adventures (11:12:06)
Mixed Open – Not Fast But Furious (14:28:48)
Women’s Open – Super SHEroes (13:25:47)
Mixed Masters – CC Striders (15:56:10)
Women’s Masters – Winter Loooong (16:23:41)
Corporate – Horny Goats 2 (15:52:59)
ADULT RUNNING (Carcross to Whitehorse):
Mixed Open – Full Double Rainbow All Way (8:02:25)
Women’s Open – HCG Ya You Know Me (8:04:31)
Mixed Masters – Over 50 With Pre–Existing Medical Conditions (7:58:51)
Women’s Masters – Aged to Perfection 2023 (7:53:47)
Corporate – Against All Cods (7:19:57)
Men’s Solo – No One Fights Alone (6:16:46)
Women’s Solo – Maren Bradley (7:33:01)
YOUTH RUNNING (Carcross to Whitehorse):
Youth Boys – Excel–erators (4:53:05)
Youth Mixed – Drop A Gear or Disappear (4:53:03)
Youth Girls – Medicine Chest Swiftys (6:26:24)
WALKING (Carcross to Whitehorse):
4-Person Walking – Bytown Walks North (9:12:21)
8-Person Walking – TARFU (9:50:56)
FASTEST LEG TIME:
Leg 1 (14.1 km) – Derek Lyford (Lynn cAnal Adventures) 0:54:29.
Leg 2 (10.2 km) – David Eikelboom (Achilles Heal) 0:42:13.
Leg 3 (11.2 km) – Arne Ellefson-Carnes (LCA) 0:42:59.
Leg 4 (21 km) – Clem Taylor-Roth (LCA) 1:23:04.
Leg 5 (22.2 km) – Christopher Brenk (LCA) 1:16:15.
Leg 6 (25.3 km) – Michael Finn (LCA) 1:33:58.
Leg 7 (14 km) – Elliot Kadrofske (LCA) 0:51:00.
Leg 8 (19.8 km) – Kadrofske (LCA) 1:10:42.
Leg 9 (17.8 km) – Sean Lonergan (LCA) 1:03:15.
Leg 10 (19.3 km) – Graham Nishikawa (We’ve Got The Runs) 1:15:07.