An 18-year-old from Comox has won an event that’s billed as the toughest, windiest, coldest ultra foot race in the world.
Rio Crystal was first across the line early Thursday, March 3 at the Arctic Ultra Race from Dawson City to the Arctic Circle. Participants towed supplies by sled over the 250-mile distance.
Rio was the youngest competitor and the lone Canadian in the field. Ten people entered but only six finished. It took him four days, 15 hours and 11 minutes to complete the course — well ahead of second-place Crisan Vlad Pop of Romania.
Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, the race was a special edition of the annual 6633 Arctic Ultra, which is 380 miles.
“He (Crisan Vlad Pop) said this race was harder, a lot more challenging,” Rio said from Whitehorse. “The weather was better (than normal), but this one has a lot more elevation changes.”
There was a total of 11,946 feet of elevation changes in this edition of the race.
Since the snow/ice road was tough on the joints, Rio walked the entire distance. During the race, temperatures ranged from about minus-10 to minus-30. He was able to escape the wind in a cabin at the first checkpoint, and was treated to a bed in a lodge at the fifth checkpoint, but otherwise he was confined to a tent and sleeping bag in the elements. Other than a bit of frostbite on his pinky toe, he managed to stay relatively warm.
A 2021 graduate of Isfeld Secondary, Rio was inspired to enter the race after hearing about Anders Hofman of Denmark, who completed the first-ever long distance triathlon in Antarctica.
“I felt like I could do that, but I don’t have $200,000 (entry cost). But what I do have is at least $10,000 for the world’s toughest foot race.”
He prepared by completing six “practice ultra-marathons” on his own. He also maintains his fitness by playing on the Comox Valley United men’s soccer team.
Event organizers confirmed that Rio is the youngest competitor to ever win the Arctic Ultra.
“Rio put in a very mature and well thought-through race strategy,” said Stuart Thornhill, co-race director with Martin Like. “His decision-making on the course was as good as any we’ve seen, and for such a young man that is exceptional. His pace was very quick and his race management was excellent. Overall, we were super impressed as this kind of race doesn’t normally favour younger competitors.”
Rio said he might return in 10 years and try to beat the race record.