Klondike Road Relay 2023

The Golddigger backstory

Here’s how it all started… our founder and captain, the indomitable Stephanie L. Johnson from Idaho Springs, CO (home of the OG Golddiggers) found herself as an ardent young professional in Anchorage, Alaska in the early 2000s. She was surrounded by fabulous people telling tales of amazing adventures and realized that she was missing out. She wanted stories to share. Work was taking up too much of her time and energy and she wanted to stake a claim outside of that world. Steph had heard of the Klondike Road Relay and, as a former cross country runner, thought it might fit the bill. She rounded up some friends and in 2009 the Golddiggers made their debut.

I’d known Steph for a while and she asked me to join the team. I’d been running a bit, equally inspired by amazing Alaskans. However, I’d recently had both knee and back surgeries and that distance (akin to a 1/2 marathon for each leg) just wasn’t in the cards for me, yet. Instead, I tracked the team.

There was a radiance that surrounded them when they returned. And, return they did, year after year. It was inspiring and I was motivated to join them. Truth be told, I didn’t really “like” running. There were very few people in my life who were runners and they were high school superstars who had since changed course. It seemed a little backwards to start running as a adult, after 2 orthopedic injuries, but… I did. Little by little I learned how much was too much, what was too fast, and how to keep going.

By 2016 I was ready but there were still (it seems there always are) obstacles. Mom was going through treatment and wasn’t doing well. I was going to to be out of cell range for a while and I didn’t like the idea of not being able to be in close contact. My commitment to the team helped me to make the decision to go.

She survived that scare. She was glad I went to the Klondike and so proud of me; I was glad I went and also proud of me. It turned out to be an essential piece of a puzzle that I’ve been working on in all of the years before and since. I took care of my parents and was beside them in their final hours on earth. I prioritized our relationships and made sacrifices to be with them. However, I did not do it at the expense of my own health, well-being, or fulfillment. I packed my running shoes and went out runs around the hospital grounds and treatment centers when others were visiting or they were napping. I was better for it. They are proud of me. I’m proud of me.

The event

There are 10 legs to this international road running relay, most Klondike teams have 10 members who each run one of them. The Klondike starts in Skagway, Alaska which is a tiny town in Southeast Alaska that is a popular port for cruise ships but just over a few thousand year-round residents. The course climbs from sea level to 3293′ and crosses the US-Canada border into British Columbia. It continues from there into the Yukon Territory and ends 109 miles later in Whitehorse, along the banks of the mighty Yukon River.

Start times for the Klondike are staggered to give slower teams more time to get to the finish. Our team started the 2023 race at 8:30 pm. The timing can be anywhere from a little to VERY confusing as the race also crosses a time zone and runs through the wee hours of the morning when everything becomes less clear.

Race day

We arrived in Skagway a few hours before the start. We’d driven from Anchorage to Whitehorse the day before (over 700 miles took us about 18 hours) and then on to Skagway in the morning (another 2.5 hours in the RV after a luxurious few hours at the hot springs.) The hours before the race starts are when we get ready… fill and dump the RV tanks, calculate and execute meal plans, decorate the RV and get gold!

Just how did we get so gold? Over the years, the team has acquired several large duffle bags worth of gold gear: shiny sneakers, beads, and ball caps, sequined mini skirts, headbands, jumpsuits, and leggings, lamé shirts, varsity jackets, and more leggings and jumpsuits… also, puffy coats, snowsuits, fake tattoos, evening gowns, scarves, nail polish, eyeshadow, and on and on…

My usual preference for the coziest and best fitting clothes is eclipsed by an overwhelming desire to be head-to-toe clad in gold! This year it was a sparkly shirt, a face tattoo, a rose gold headband, a pair of lamé pants and a shiny long gold vest (which I wear year-round, thanks @skhoop.) Like that, we 10 strut down the street and to the start line.

On the course of the 2023 Klondike Road Relay

The mayors of both Whitehorse and Skagway were there at the start (handing out fry bread!) Little kids, confused tourists, supportive moms and dads, and other teams in outlandish costumes, were all there for the countdown and train whistle that signified the start. We made a golden tunnel for the runners and then hightailed it back to the RV to find our gal on the course… and just like that we hopscotched our way through the night and into the next day.

I climbed into the top bunk after a roadside cheering session or two and a few minutes attempting to organize our course calculations. Knowing when your leg is likely to start is a big help when you’re napping and eating on the go!

While I didn’t really want to miss any of the fun, I knew that my prospects for the rest of the race, and the next day, and the one after that, were not very good if I didn’t sleep. Noise cancelling headphones, an eye mask, and a benevolent but insistent inner parent all helped. I must have slept for at least some of that time since I had no awareness of the border crossing or the blood curdling scream that I heard about later.

3 am and I heard voices. My alarm was set for 4. I expected to start running around 5:15 am. Kate, a shiny new Golddigger, participating in her first Klondike, was on the course and we were right on schedule. The driver and co-pilot were a little loopy but holding it together. This is typically when things can start to fall apart! I had a race-day muffin (thanks Run Fast, Eat Slow) and a cup of coffee, and completed some other morning rituals before gearing up for my leg.

Dressing for a long run is a challenge. The Klondike Road Relay, and in particular, leg 6 which spans the sunrise is no exception. I tend to run cold, very cold. I’ll be in fleece next to a buddy in a t-shirt. In this case though, I knew I’d really be exerting. Much of my 16 mile leg was uphill and I was going to be generating some heat! Still it was in the low 40s F in the wee hours before dawn and I’d be waiting at the checkpoint for at least a few minutes for Kate to arrive.

I went with shorts and knee socks, a thin long sleeved shirt and wind jacket, a fleece lined headband and gloves with wool pants and a puffy coat over it all while I waited. I got hot, I got cold. I was 100% pleased with the decision to wear shorts. A slightly thicker shirt might have been the ticket to the perfect outfit! If I only had a golden one… :)

There’s a phenomena that occurs around this part of the course of the Klondike Road Relay. The fastest teams are on the course and catching up to the rest of us. We call them “the gazelles.” You can hear them coming… it’s a whoooosshhh sound that comes up behind and swooshes past you if you’re on the course. It’s quite something to experience.

A lot of runners are motivated by competition. They “chase down” runners ahead of them and tally the number of the other runners that they pass. As I was passed by other runners that morning, some gazelles, some other animals… I was struck by the differences and the similarities between us. Many of those who passed me appeared to be men in their 20s. There I was a peri-menopausal woman, just past my 48th birthday, and we were out on the same course, seeing the same sunrise, aspiring to do the same thing (if not at the same pace.)

Being part of a team and participating in events like the Klondike has taught me to see similarities and appreciate differences in a whole new way. It’s the experience of being in the midst of it all that matters. Each time, motivation grows.

After I ran, I climbed into my wearable sleeping bag and was either behind the wheel or on the sidelines for the rest of the race. Does our runner need water, snacks, toilet paper, lipstick? Do they know that we love them and that we are so proud of them? These are the questions that we ask on the course. We run alongside them for a moment and then they set off again on their own.

Back home after the 2023 Klondike

My first official duty upon my return from The Klondike was to facilitate one of our Evolve Monthly Mindfulness groups here at Yoga for Mental Health. These small groups meet once a month online for a whole year. Participants learn and practice The 10 Paramis and The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (if you want a crash course on mindfulness, we have one on demand here: Foundations of Mindfulness Online Course. This course is included for new members, or you can purchase it directly.)

The Paramis are perfection practices, they tell us what to do to clear gunk from the mind/heart. It’s the stuff that keeps us from getting out there and doing what we “wish” we could do. It is these practices that pave the way towards the realization of a perfect life (you’ve got one too.)

Our course covers one of these practices each month and one leads beautifully on to the next… last month was truthfulness, this month is determination or resolve. Participants have preferences, some of these are apparent, easy even. Others are still unmanageable.

There is also generosity, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, and patience. And remaining this year: kindness and equanimity.

This is how I became a Golddigger. This is how I found myself, a relative introvert, not only on board, but thoroughly enjoying nearly 100 hours in VERY close quarters with 9 powerful women, 2 of them whom I was meeting for the first time. This is how I made it up that first big hill, and the 2nd one, and the 3rd one… there were so many hills. And, at the end, peace… and lots of hugs!

Lessons from the Klondike Road Relay

It is because of my practice that I finished, just ahead of when I expected I would, without injury or pain. I cheered and supported my teammates who ran after I did. I drove, and cooked, and cleaned up, and went to bed. I woke up the next morning before the sunrise, while most of the team slept, to get us back on the road. I wasn’t sore, I wasn’t tired. I was amazed. The monster that I thought Leg 6 was turned out to be just another cuddly buddy.

It is my awareness of the influence of this team and this event that fuels my resolve. Now, when I run, instead of doubt, fear, and disappointment, courage, pride, and confidence arise. I hear the voices of my teammates, and my own voice assuring me “You’re doing great!” I smile more easily. I say those words more easily… to myself and everyone else.

The pillars of practice

Our Klondike team prides itself on being among the most enthusiastic supporters out there. Being a Golddigger is not really about running, though, the renunciation, virtue, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolve, and equanimity revealed by a regular practice like this (or any other) are both challenged and nurtured by the physical act of doing it. It’s about being part of something that requires a balance between flexibility and discipline.

In the tradition of yoga, we call these two qualities “the pillars of yoga.” When they hold us up we can see more clearly. What I can see from here is a powerful presence, in me, in you, and in the connection between us. We’re doing great!


More photos and stories from the Klondike are on our Marco Polo Sharecast (our favorite way to connect, without ads or algorithms,) and, on our social media feeds. You can link to those from the bottom of this webpage.

Link to our Sharecast, it’s free and they don’t store or sell your info: https://app.marcopolo.me/sharecast/hHs36WBxKMN0

For more about mindfulness, paramis, and practice, become a Yoga for Mental Health Member and get access to online and in-person classes as well as our full video library, pre-registration and discounts for retreats, and special programs. Or, sign-up for our monthly newsletter to learn more about what we do.

If you’re in Anchorage, I’d love to see you at Tuesday Night Races this fall. They’re a great way to start participating in events like the Klondike! A “munchkin league” course is set for any and all… it’s 1-3k. There are also recreational and competitive distances and the courses are set at different parks around the city .

Whether it’s showing up for 1k, 1 minute, an ultra event like the Klondike or a long retreat… all that we do to demonstrate our courage and commitment matters. Even if you’re not yet in the actualization phase of a journey, if your curiosity and interest are sparked, you’re on your way!

Please remember how important the “team” aspect is to this process. My Klondike experience is all about my team. Yes, we have to pick up our own feet and put them one in front of the other but the motivation to do so is often sparked by others. Join us for practice anytime and/or let me know how I can support you. I’ve recently started offering a 3-pack of “coaching” sessions for folks who are looking for more targeted support… like readiness for a race or retreat. You can find information about “coaching” here: Services.

On behalf of all beings… thank you, till next year Klondike Road Relay!

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