North Pole Marathon - Race Diary
The itenerary and trip diary are below.
A report of the race is at Race_report.htm
Photos of the race :- North_pole_pictures_1.htm and a GPS track of the drifting route :- GPS Tracks.htm
Other North Pole photos North_pole_pictures_2.htm and a sound recording of walking on ice :- Ice_sounds.htm
Pre race photos from Spitzbergen :- Spitzbergen_pictures.htm
Tuesday 3rd April
|Afternoon flight to Oslo. Rica Hotel, Gardermoen|
|Wednesday 4th April||
Morning flight to Spitsbergen. Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, Longyearbyen
|Thursday 5th April||
Pre departure briefings. Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, Longyearbyen
|Friday 6th April||
Fly to Geographic North Pole by Mi-8 helicopter
|Saturday 7th April||
|Sunday 8th April||
Return to Spitsbergen. Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, Longyearbyen
|Monday 9th April||
Free day / excurstions. Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, Longyearbyen
|Tuesday 10th April||Afternoon flight to London via Oslo|
Sunday 10th April. After a quiet morning of souvenir shopping, we finally leave the Arctic Circle for home. It is going to take some time for life to return to normal. Many people doing the North Pole Marathon had already achieved the most amazing things from climbing the highest summits on every continent, rowing the atlantic to completing the Marathon de Sables and other incredible long distance ventures on foot and bicycle. It was a totally new world to me, and shows what is possible when you put your mind to it. For me personally, it reinforced my faith in preparation and training, and also taught me that while I may think of myself as being adventurous, I only really take steps into the unknown in a controlled way.
Monday 9th April. It feels strange to be back in civilisation, and the breakfast buffet comes under a sustained attack. Patrick and I go on a fascinating trip inside a glacier in the morning before taking a pleasant walk round town and catching up on log books. In the evening there is a ceremony to present prizes to the winners, and medals, certificates etc to everyone. It is a wonderful way to close out an incredible experience with some of the most inspirational people I have ever met. The celebrations go late into the night.
Sunday 8th April. The fresh water ran out at the camp yesterday, and the salty water from melted ice is an acquired taste with coffee .... and makes dehyrated food (which tends to be salty anyway) very unpalatable. A crack has opened up 200 meters from the camp, quite narrow but it runs a long way and you can dip your fingers into the Arctic ocean. Neat ! I have some time to get passports and postcards stamped, and buy a couple of momentos (the Russians never miss a trick!) before it is our time to fly to the exact North Pole in a Mi-8 helicopter. We squeeze about 20 people into the cabin, and when the seating is full, a bench is pulled out and put in the centre of the cabin for the others to sit on .... not what I am used to. Flying is difficult as there is limited contrast between ice and sky, and the windows ice up. Before landing a tyre is thrown out of the door to give a visual reference, and they bounce the helicopter on the ice to make sure it is secure before closing the engines down. Although the exact geographical North Pole is only about 25 miles from Camp Barneo, it feels more isolated and colder in the thin light. The ice is pristine, and makes the most amazing sounds as you walk round. Once back at Camp Barneo, it is time to fly back to Longyearbyen. It feels very strange to be leaving this amazing environment behind when we leave at 20:40, just over 44 hours after landing.
Saturday 7th April. We land at 00:30am to bright sunlight on the ice at Camp Barneo. After some soup and a brief rest, it is time for the race which gets underway at 03:45am (race report). I finish in 5hr 29 min and after a short period savouring the experience, spend the next hour changing, getting warm and having some food. Once warm again I was fine, and went for a walk through the most scenic part of the course taking lots of photos and encouraging the back markers. The scenery was simply amazing in clear sunshine ... but still very cold at -20 deg C. After a short lie down and cat nap, Patrick and I go out so support William the wheelchair athlete complete his marathon. It has taken him 21 hours in the most amazing piece of perseverence I have ever seen. There is also the first North Pole mountain bike race underway - tough as most participants have run the marathon already, and the bikes don't freewheel in the snow and ice. A number of people get frostnip, and I pass on my dry back up running clothing and chemical warmers to help them. I fall into a deep sleep shortly after 10pm after two days "on the go".
Friday 6th April - waiting to go. The first flight has been delayed due to low visibility at the North Pole. The status is being updated every hour, and the delay is four hours and counting. I am on the second flight, so it looks like being a late evening at the North Pole. Patrick and I took a gentle hour's walk this morning before resting up in the hotel. We eventually left the hotel at 9pm (5 hr delay), and were airborne at 10:15 pm in the Antonov AN-74. The jet has two engines high on the wing, and a rear ramp for loading cargo. It is one cabin with 30 seats at the front, and no windows for most people - a strange experience !
Thursday 5th April - the briefing. At 7pm, we had the pre race briefing from Richard Donovan, the Irish organiser of the event who also ran the very first North Pole Marathon in 2002. Patrick and I are on the second flight up which takes off at 4pm, and takes 2-1/2 hours. If conditions are good, and so far they look reasonable, the race will start late on Friday evening. I am number 18, and Patrick is number 19. Richard is aiming to lay a course just over 5km long to give 8 laps for the 42km. The exact route will depend on the nature of the ice, if there are any leads (gaps in the ice), and if there are any Polar Bears about .... last year there were some, so the course was laid in the opposite direction. Seeing bears during the race is a bit of excitement we do not need as they move a lot faster than we can, but the Russians who look after the camp have guns if needed. There is a heated tent to act as a watering and feeding station during the race, we both shall pop in regularly. There are two medical Doctors .... and one of the competitors is an Undertaker, so all eventualities are covered ! The exact schedule depends on the weather which changes quickly.
Thursday 5th April, waiting & resting. I did a final check run this morning at 7am. It was -15.7 deg C, and blowing fairly strongly at 10m/s (about 20 knots), so a good final test of the gear as the windchill equivalent temperature is -38 degC. It all worked very well with warm hands and feet, and the wind kept the goggles nice and clear. My stomach still got a little chilled, so another layer may be needed. The rest of the day is planned to be quiet - relaxing, reading etc ahead of a briefing this evening.
Wednesday 4th April ..... a big relief, I have arrived at Spitzbergen, and all my bags are here too - although not everyone else has been quite so lucky, but at least he local shops are well stocked. I wore key things on the plane like my running shoes and windproof, thermally lined leggings, and carried some other hard to find items "just in case". It is -12 deg C here, and breezy, so warmer than a couple of days ago when it dipped below -20 deg C. We had a mad dash to the supermarket before it closed for Easter to buy bottled water to take to the North Pole (the water available there is salty), fresh fruit and other last minute items. Some of the runners also tried out their snowshoes for the first time - they are a cheery group and many have achieved amazing feats (see competitor profiles). Photos from Spitzbergen can be seen at Spitzbergen_pictures.htm.
Monday 2nd April .... the packing is done ! The range of items to take is substantial, and I have resorted to a long list organised by which bit of my body I am trying to keep warm before, during and after the event. And then there is food for 2 days, water containers, marathon gels etc. What is also quite staggering is the level of sponsorship, with a massive surge from BP colleagues in the last couple of days taking donations received over £7,000. The expected total is now approaching £13,000 after remaining pledges and BP matching fund donations. Amazing and THANK YOU.