WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory - One of the many joys of spending time on the Klondike Road Relay course is seeing familiar faces at every checkpoint along the way.
And familiarity reigned at the finish line of the 21st annual Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay on the banks of the Yukon River, as six of the race's eight divisions had repeat champions on Saturday.
Under some of the best weather conditions in race history, Take No Prisoners of Anchorage won the overall title in the 10-stage, 110-mile race that started Friday evening in Skagway, Alaska, and ended at midday Saturday in Whitehorse. The all-men's team - largely the same group that won the past three relays - covered the course in 11 hours, 12 minutes.
Darwin's Tribe of Juneau was second in the open division and second overall in 11:43:33, while the Vestigial Appendages of Juneau were third overall and were among the two new division winners. The Appendages won the mixed title in 12:34:22.
Darwin's Tribe competed with only eight runners this year - team members Mike Haney and Shawn Miller ran two legs apiece - but still shaved more than 10 minutes off last year's finish.
"It was a good team effort," Miller said after completing the 10th and final leg. "The weather cooperated, everyone was prepared to give their best, and we all did."
"We were doing more with less," Darwin's Tribe captain George Johnson said. "That was our theme."
In addition to Take No Prisoners, repeat team winners included Juneau's Smokin' Ole Geezers (masters open), Skinny Raven of Anchorage (corporate) and Walk Don't Run (walkers, first four legs) of Whitehorse. Peak Performers 1 of Anchorage was a first-time winner in the masters mixed division.
And in a race where every team can boast impressive accomplishments, Juneau's Lady GUDivas masters (age 40-over) women's team turned a particularly noteworthy achievement.
In repeating as division champs in 14:09:24, the GUDivas were the top women's team overall, edging out younger open division champs Sportees Timed Travellers of Whitehorse by 27 seconds.
"We had (other women's teams) close to us to run with, so that made a big difference" in pace compared to running alone, said the GUDivas' Lisa Kirsch, who turned in the top women's time on Leg 8. Debbie Groves had the top time on Leg 5 for the GUDivas.
"It makes all those hard workouts worthwhile, all those nights I didn't want to go out in the rain," Kirsch said.
Erin Mitchell of Juneau's Xtratuffs team, running the first leg, was the other Southeast woman to win a segment.
Miller was the lone Southeast man to win a leg, with his time on the 10th leg. Frank Sprtel of Washington, D.C., who ran with Darwin's Tribe, won Leg 8.
One-hundred twenty-one teams completed this year's race. There were 1,246 runners - 586 men and 660 women - supported by more than 300 volunteers along the way.
Judy Ormond of Milwaukee was a first-time participant. She made her first-ever trip to Alaska to run for Team Survivor Perseverance of Juneau, a squad of cancer survivors and their supporters. There was also an associated walking team of four cancer survivors from Juneau.
Ormond ran Leg 4, a 21.4-kilometer nighttime segment from the Canadian Customs station at Fraser, British Columbia, to a checkpoint at Tutshi Lake.
"It was phenomenal," she said of her experience on the course. "I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, the event itself and the team support."
"We've all had to meet a challenge," Ormond said of herself and the team's other cancer survivors. "With cancer you feel you've lost control of your body, and with something like this you feel you regain it."
The Juneau Empire took photos and spoke with runners on the race course through the night, but space, time and technology limited what could be included in today's paper. Look for more race photos, interviews and results in an upcoming edition of the Empire.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.