The Polar Bear Challenge
On Saturday 29th October I ran a marathon.
On Sunday 30th October ran a half-marathon.
Not astounding news – until you look at this:
Yes! This is part of the route and the marathons were in Greenland at Kangerlussuaq above the arctic circle.
So what was it like? Well it was cold! Probably the coldest I’ve ever been before the start of the marathon. The sun wasn’t above the horizon, it’s pretty darned cold on the ice cap in any case, and there was a howling wind to add “wind-chill factor” into the equation. 3 minutes to the start felt like an eternity, feet frozen, hands worse with shooting needle pains, nose-end like ice.
Fact I didn’t know – Greenland is an arctic desert with virtually no rain. It is very dry so we were advised to drink lots of water and not to wash our faces before the race – so the natural skin oils remain and give protection.
The race starts with a climb straight onto the icecap – an alien world of hills and bumps of ice swept with snow, twisting and turning a navigable route marked by poles, sinking at times knee deep in snow, ice-studs gripping and clawing at sheer ice at others. And the orange glow of the rising sun lighting the grey blue glacier hues.
I was aware I was burning huge amounts of energy trying to charge through these hills and troughs of snow and ice – so I slowed down, trying to preserve energy for when I could run and make good time. Stopping to film, fumbling hands trying to work my camera, glasses misting, freezing quickly, must keep moving.
After what seems like an eternity to cover the ice cap 7k or so, we emerge onto snow and ice-hardened trail for the remaining 35k. Significantly undulating and underfoot conditions variable – who puts those longest hardest climbs at 20k - just before half way and the end of the half marathon; and 40k through to 41k in the marathon?
I’d taken the decision to start cold – knowing that running would warm me up. Good kit choices – no need to shed or change kit like many did. Good job really as I hadn’t left any kit at any drops for changes. I was committed. I started to run freely from around 10k and was surprised to be told I was in the top 30 as I went past a drinks station – warm elderflower and warm energy drink! Perfect – I hadn’t packed any of my own and only a couple of energy gels. Most run too burdened.
My lack of training started to tell after 30k – but I was still going and passing a few who weren’t. With nobody passing me I was inspired to run through a severe attack of cramp in my right leg. And at 40k, even with a long climb ahead, 5 hours was just about a possibility. I crest the climb at 41k and start to descend, pushing so hard, end in sight, cheering beginning, “Christopher Heaton – very close to 5 hours” I hear on the tannoy – one huge last desperate effort – “Christopher Heaton – 4 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds”!
An astonishing result placing me 25th out of 147 marathon starters. I always tell myself I excel relatively in tough conditions – perhaps I still can even at my advanced age!!
Much the same story for the half marathon – warmer on the icecap, but more snow made the road sections more difficult. And so I became 19th Polar Bear out of an eventual 80 completers of both full and half marathons.
Then the holiday begins – moving further north to Illulisat, the home of the world heritage site Icefjord. The only place where a glacier drops icebergs straight into the sea. I could rattle on but this picture really does say everything. One word often over-used but not here – WOW!
(check out my short videos - link on the right!)