The Rick Janowicz Marathon Quest 2000

By Rob McWilliam and Larry Duguay

Yukon inspires a sense of adventure in its people, and that spirit is reflected in the approach that Yukoners have to running. We are attracted to challenges, and travel to all corners of the world to satisfy that passion. Given our small population it is truly impressive how many places Yukon runners have crossed the finish line. Are you interested in one of the major marathons, like Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin? There are Yukoners who have done them. Want to go to more remote locations, or to ‘off road’ events, chances are you will find a local runner who has been there and done that one too. From the Arctic to Antarctica, from the heat of the Tropics to the thin air above tree line Yukon trail runners have gone looking for challenges. This week we wanted to share with you some of those adventures.

The Nanisivik Midnight Sun Marathon (now renamed the Nunavut Midnight Sun by the new organizers) was recently voted the toughest marathon in North America by a panel of veteran runners from the 50 and D.C. Club (these runners had all run at least one marathon in every jurisdiction in North America). This event entails running in the high Arctic on a rough dirt road from Arctic Bay to the Nanisivik mine site and back. Coping with hills and Arctic weather conditions is certainly a challenge, but that isn’t what resulted in it being ranked as toughest. It was the logistical problems of getting there that really influenced the voting. Yet many Yukon runners have made the pilgrimage; some, like Gerry Podora have returned several times to struggle up hills with poetic names like ‘marathoner’s madness’ and ‘pain in the ass’. Gerry certainly recalls the monster hills as he called them, but felt the experience was so incredible that he came back and promptly started trying to recruit other Yukon runners to go back with him.

At the other end of the world, a few adventurous runners have even ventured to run a marathon in Antarctica. The brochure for this event says, ìthis is 26.2 miles of ice and brutal winds and freezing temperatures. This is like no other race you have ever run. This oneís called the race at the end of the world.î They donít bother to mention being dive bombed by skuas (scavenging sea birds), or coping with glacial crevasses but those thrills also await the handful of runners like Roger Hanberg from Dawson City who just had to experience it for himself. He certainly demonstrated the Klondike spirit was alive and well.

However, it isn’t necessary to go to the end of the world to find a tough challenge. Ask Sue Mckinnon-Dunn about the 30-mile Knee Knacker on Vancouver’s north shore. This event, which is acknowledged as the toughest ultra marathon in Canada follows the Baden Powell Trail which traverses the North Shore Mountains from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. It starts with a 4000 foot climb and then having gained all that altitude it is into a serious up and down route that would make more sense for a rollercoaster than a foot race. In all it climbs 8000 feet and descends 8300 feet. Despite dealing with sheer slopes, and picking her way through exposed roots and rocks along sections of trail that the organizers advise do not lean to the side it is a long way down, Sue could still comment on the beautiful views and offered to share her pictures. If sanity were ever an issue for those who participate in the Knee Knocker, I would seriously question why extra weight like a camera would ever get carried passed the 4000-foot mark at mile Five.

For some hardy souls one adventure at a time isn’t enough. One such pain threshold pioneer is Rick Janowicz. Having done the Canadian Ironman and several marathons in 1999 he was looking for a special way to commemorate the Millenium. His choice - 12 marathons in 12 months. From the First Marathon of the Millenium on New Year’s Day in New Zealand to a final one in Death Valley in December Rick completed his Quest the hard way. Most people who would take up a challenge like 12 in 12 would go looking for nice flat courses with lots of support. Rick went about the task in a very different way. His choices included a number of trail marathons in addition to urban marathons like Calgary, Victoria and Seattle. There were spectacular ones, like the Big Basin Marathon in California which was run through the redwood forests; or the Hogeye in Arkansas that provided a taste of Ozark history. After running the Yukon River Trail Marathon in August, which Marathon and Beyond Magazine ranks in the top 25 toughest marathons in North America, he chose to do his September run at the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks. This event is ranked as the Fourth toughest marathon in the United States by A Guide to Marathons, right up there with Pikes Peak Marathon! In the case of the Equinox there is inevitable mountain to climb; but what gets really exciting is the decent. The route off the mountain follows a power line straight down. The runners who enjoy this section of the course must have some Kamikaze blood. Mountains, redwood forests, deserts, and urban freeway traffic challenges. Rick took them all on to complete his millennium quest. Interestingly, it wasn’t fatigue or injuries that was a major concern. Logistical problems were the greatest obstacle. Imagine for a moment the stress of getting lost on the way to Death Valley and starting 18 minutes late. For Rick that just provided him with an opportunity to pass a lot of runners.