By Don McCormick
Huntsville chiropractor and ultrarunner Dr. Chad Barber is in the final stages of preparation for what is likely the greatest running challenge of his career, the Yukon Arctic Ultra (YAU).
“This is a 100-mile continuous footrace out of Whitehorse, Yukon starting January 30, 2020,” explains Chad. “It’s the middle of the winter—the coldest time of the year up there (-45ºC) and you tow all your gear, clothes, and food behind you. You have to be completely self-supporting for the 72 hours allotted to the race.”
For most people the question that occurs is, ‘Why?’
“I originally did the full Ironman Muskoka, and followed that up two weeks later with the Coureur des Bois [the 230 km distance at the Muskoka River X paddling race]and since then I have been seeking longer, tougher challenges,” explains Chad. He graduated to ultrarunning—distances of 50 km, 50 miles, 100 miles or further—and has been doing these for the past three years.
But why the YAU?
“I originally saw it on a TV show called Boundless and have been intrigued and interested ever since, and knew one day I wanted to try,” says Chad. “The natural, untouched beauty of Yukon and the complexity of the challenge—extreme cold, remoteness, being self-supported and the gear required—are what attracted me to this adventure.”
One does not take on an adventure of this magnitude without doing a lot of soul-searching and consulting with one’s family. There are significant risks inherent in an event like this.
“I was on the fence and continually debating about committing to the event, but one day my wife Laura sat me down and listed the reasons why I needed to do this race, and once I had realized 100 per cent of my family’s support I was fully committed,” he says.
“The kids are very excited and often talking about ‘Dad’s big race’,” says Laura. “We are all beyond proud of him not only for working towards this goal but by setting the example to our kids of how to work hard towards things that challenge you and make you happy as well as teach them about the importance of having a healthy and active lifestyle.”
How does one prepare for an adventure of this magnitude?
“I have been reading race reports, watching YouTube videos, studying on extreme cold weather expedition and survival tips,” says Chad. “I just finished reading a book about the race by Mark Hines, and I have three race veterans that have been mentors over the last four months, offering tips and advice for gear, training, and race strategy.
“I have had to research everything from details of the race course and possible conditions, cold weather gear and clothing, to expedition food, to foot care,” he adds. “There are so many different aspects to the race, and you have to be prepared and comfortable with each of them.”
Obtaining the right equipment is vital to assuring a successful race.
“I have had to rent a sleeping bag rated to -65ºC and a sled for transporting all my gear through the race,” says Chad. “The sled that I will be pulling will have my extra clothes, coats, shoes, food, stove, and sleeping kit. The total weight should be about 65 lbs.”
Huntsville’s Algonquin Outfitters “has been great.” according to Chad. “They have offered me great discounts on any gear or clothing that they sell and, above all else, they were able to get me a Pro Sponsorship Deal with Acrc’teryx, which allowed me to obtain some of the highest-quality cold weather gear on the market.”
And how does one prepare physically for an event such as this?
“Through the fall, it was primarily high-volume running, about 80 to 100 km per week to build fitness,” recounts Chad. “Then I decreased the volume and focused more on strength work and lots of hill workouts. Once we got enough snow, it’s been primarily fast paced hiking while towing a weight sleigh combined with lots of practice using my gear to prepare for the demands of the race.”
Looking after nutritional and hydration needs will be critically important.
“For food and water, the race requires us to carry a minimum of 3L of water in vacuum flasks/thermoses,” explains Chad. “I will be bringing enough for 5L. We can refill these at the two checkpoints along the way with hot water, tea and/or coffee. If required I can stop and melt snow with my stove along the trail as well.”
As for food, “I have to plan for foods that are high in calories, with a good combination of fat, carbs, and protein, but I have to pick foods that aren’t too heavy either, and that are still edible if frozen. The temperature at the finish line is currently -52°C with the windchill today!” says Chad. “I will look to average 225 to 325 calories per hour and that means lots of trail mix, almonds, chocolate, energy bars, soup mix to add to my hot water, and I will carry some freeze-dried meal packages just in case.
“I am feeling very excited and anxious to get to the Yukon and start the race,” he says. “I can’t wait to experience the Yukon and the natural beauty that it has to offer.”
Chad flies to Whitehorse on January 26, 2020 and the race starts at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 30. Athletes can be tracked online through a GPS SPOT Tracker through the race’s official website arcticultra.de.
The Town of Huntsville will be watching with great interest and probably a little anxiety as Chad takes on this unique challenge.
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