I finished in 7 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. Fourth overall on foot and first place for women. I won a mug and a headlamp for coming in first in my category.
How crickets fuelled my -40c Alaska Iditarod race.
Jessie, can you tell us about how you started competing in ultramarathon races?
I was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and grew up outdoors. My history with racing started young with cross-country skiing. My first running race was a 10k. I enjoyed it so much I began half marathons, marathons, and trail races of all distances. I've completed a couple 50ks and a 120 mile race.
Since 2015, I've completed the Yukon Arctic Ultra (YUA) 430-mile distance twice and the 300-mile once. In 2018, I tried a different race in Alaska: The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) and was successful in finishing the 300-mile distance.
What is the Iditarod Trail Invitational?
The ITI starts in Knik, Alaska and finishes in McGrath, Alaska. This year the distance was 300 miles. It can be different each year depending on conditions and which passes are open. The famous dog sled race travels the same route and finishes in Nome, 1000 miles total.
There were about 40 people registered in the 350-mile, but only four women on foot. I finished in 7 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. I I was fourth overall and first place for women. I won a mug and a headlamp for coming in first in my category!
What are the challenges of competing in this particular ultramarathon?
Frostbite and hypothermia are my biggest fears and the most dangerous aspect of winter as temperatures can drop to -40C. Preventing both requires meticulous self-care. Most important are: managing sweat, changing clothes, and taking very good care of my extremities. Sweat is a challenge to manage. I’ve learned over the years what pace I can do without sweating. If I push myself harder and to sweat, I'll have a plan for drying out or changing before night.
Camp set up and tear down is when body heat is difficult to maintain. An efficient, practiced routine goes a long way. Not letting my hands get too cold is a constant battle. Some strategies to stay warm: hand warmers, swinging my arms, and balling my hands into my mitts until they are warm.
Proper nutrition is so important. All racers drink lots of water, replace electrolytes, and generally eat a lot to fight fatigue. Fatigue leads to poor decisions which can mean frostbite or hypothermia. Getting enough rest while maintaining pace and efficiency is key for success.
The environment itself can be very dangerous. Overflow, or sections of slushy water on top of snow and ice, can be deep and hidden. The risk of breaking through overflow or thin river- and lake-ice can result in wet feet or worse. Preventing these real dangers requires awareness and the ability to slow down and assess the environment.
We are out there on our own and have to practice the ability to survive and be responsible for any situation we find ourselves in. The race makes it possible to do the trail safer than during a solo attempt, but by no means is it without risk.
How much of running an ultra-marathon is physical ability and how much of it is mental toughness?
90% mental ....I’d like to say it’s all mental but a certain level of physical fitness is required. I strengthen my mental by adapting to situations, and learning from mistakes. A run can take far longer than planned and unplanned obstacles always happen; you have to be ok with that.
If I am frustrated, angry, and confused; this is when I have to practice mental strength. Sometimes, I’ll wake up to fresh snow and it feels like I’m tugging a tire through sand. I'll get mad at the ground for being so soft and difficult. Being in the moment and being thankful to be moving forward reminds me to suck it up. I’ve cried on the trail many times, I’ve arrived at checkpoints tired and hurting. I’ve wondered what I’m doing out there all alone.
What keeps you going when you do wonder what you’re doing out there alone?
The full moon on the mountains and my shadow at 1 am. Volunteers who don’t sleep and are waiting for me with hot food and drinks. -40C on my face and fresh air in my lungs, the northern lights. Arriving at the finish line in good shape is success to me. This success gives me permission to stop, relax, recover, and then do it all over again.h
Can you share some of your mental tricks?
I don’t look at my watch often and I definitely daydream... hard. I ignore the pain and discomfort unless it requires attention.
Always sleep before scratching. Rest heals.
I also set mini goals ( ex. finish 5km then take a break, or run two hours then take a break.) I’m usually thinking yet sometimes not listening to myself. I get sad when nearing the finish because I get attached to the routine. But, nothing feels as good as the first shower and sleep after 12 days of long days and cold nights.
Why did you take Coast Protein Energy Bars on the race with you?
I discovered Coast Protein a year ago and immediately donated to the Kickstarter page. I also contacted Dylan to see if he’d sponsor my races. He enthusiastically agreed and gave me a few peanut butter tester bars. I thought they tasted great, simple whole ingredients, low sugar, and a unique source of protein. I love the company philosophy and try to live environmentally conscious myself.
Dylan then sent vanilla protein powder and another package of bars. The protein powder tastes so good, I was hooked on smoothies (Jessie's Winter power smoothie recipe) for the whole month leading up to the race. I started every day with one. During the race I ate all three flavours of the bars, they were awesome even when frozen. I like the high calorie, all-natural and compact bar. I am the kind of eater who saves the best for last and this year it was supplied by a cranberry bar.
Great to hear! What’s planned for 2019?
My next race is coming up in February 2019. I’m registered for the Yukon arctic ultra again, but this time attempting the 430 miles on cross country skis. If I finish this year I will be the first woman to finish on skis.
I’m super excited to be back on the Yukon quest trail, and to be trying something new and uncertain. My nutrition plan will include my own energy balls made with Coast Protein powder and other healthy, calorie dense ingredients, and Coast Protein bars to supplement the high calorie needs in the extreme cold and long distances each day.
My instagram is @jessiegladish and I will update along the race when I can although cell service is limited and focusing on the race is my main priority.
Thank you Coast Protein for the support! I will keep you updated on future race plans, the Moab 240 mile race is in my sights for fall 2019.
Interview by Chris Baird
Edited by Dylan Jones