North Pole Marathon - Race Report
A report of the race is below. Photos are at North_pole_pictures_1.htm and North_pole_pictures_2.htm
A track of the course ... which drifts during the race .... is at .... GPS Tracks.htm
Saturday 7th April ....... RACE COMPLETE !!
We landed on the ice runway at 00:30am, and I had my first sight of the Arctic landscape at the aircraft door. The bright landscape is completely flat 360 degrees all round, with lumps of windswept, snow covered ice everywhere as far as the eye can see. The second impression was the cold ...... it felt much colder than Longyearbyen and a breeze took the temperature down further. After picking up our bags, first stop was the mess tent for some soup, and then we had until 03:30am to prepare for the race and get a lie down. Patrick and I found some beds in the sleeping quarters - these felt warm on entering, but in fact were pretty cold at about -5 deg C with the blown air heating on. After a kit sort and lie down, I got up about 40 min before the race to prepare ... and the time flew by. I put energy drinks, some food, spare balaclava, goggles & hat into a grab bag to go in the mess tent during the race - and the camera. I also planted the Union Jack outside the mess tent with the other flags.
We started gathering at the start shortly after 3:30am, everyone feeling just as rushed as me, and after some photos we started running at 3:45am. The temperature was -20 deg C, and with the breeze was -25 deg C. People charged out of the blocks, running at an amazing place in their snow shoes, snow flying everywhere. I began steadily and soon hit my "snow shoe rhythm". The first part of the course was hard packed ice with a light snow covering and headed to the end of the ice runway, and then along it. This gave us a chance to run with William the paralympian athlete attempting the first wheelchair marathon at the North Pole. After looping by the camp - enabling us to scoop up nourishment during the race - we headed out into a jumbled snowfield with lots of loose snow, small pressure ridges and uneven ice lumps. It was difficult to see at first which snow covered hard ice, and which soft snow, so we stumbled about quite a bit. The course was cleverly laid in a series of bends, giving a sense of isolation without spreading the group over miles, and you could often glimpse other runners in the distance.
After the first of the ten laps, the race settled down. I kept my running steady, not wanting to burn too much energy, heat up and perspire excessively. I was running with 3 pairs of socks, with neoprene toe liners, trainers, neoprene outers on the feet. Thermal leggings plus lycra urunning shorts and insulated windproof walking trousers covered the legs. On my torso I had a thermal base layer, thin wicking running top, a merino wool layer, my lightweight cagule and CARE singlet with number over the top. And for the head, I had a balaclava, neoprene face mask, insulated hat and goggles, and on my hands liner gloves plus mittens. The system worked very well.
After 6 miles, I started to refuel each time I went by the camp with water, energy drinks and things like nuts or chocolate. These gave a great pick up just before heading into the difficult section of the course. The route gradually became a trampled line through the snow, but it remained very uneven and we all slid about a lot, and there were a number of steeper ice lumps to get over. Concentration was needed continually, but I still took time to look round and absorb the stunning, surreal landscape. I pulled the goggles over my face when going into wind - but soon found it was like pulling a lump of ice onto the face as they froze whilst on the head ... but this was still better than the wind !
After 4 laps of the 10, I took on a banana and decided to take the offered porridge the next time round, ie just over half way. But feeling good, I continued until 6 laps were done before taking a brief stop inside (I had been stopping each lap to take on some drinks and light food like nuts). The sky was now slightly overcast and it felt colder, and I wondered if the weather was going to close in a bit. To get into the mess tent you had to take your snowshoes off, and I wolfed down a small bowl of porridge, some coffee, an energy gel and some water before heading out again.
The sun came out and the wind fell for the final laps, and this was a big lift for all. My pace slowed, but I was able to keep running in the snowshoes reasonably comfortably. This is where the training in Oslo and Sweden really helped. Many people who did not have the opportunity to train in snowshoes found them very tiring, and a number took them off. In retrospect, running in trainers alone (with grips) was the faster option as the extra speed over hard ground outweighed the snowshoe benefits on soft ground. But I was not aware of this, and was quite happy !! The looping, snowy / ice field part of the lap (which covered about 2/3 of the course) seemed to get longer, but by keeping moving the laps slipped away. As I tired, I fell three times during laps 8 and 9 after catching the snowshes on the ice, and stumbled heavy fairly often as well. This both sapped energy and meant more concentration was needed to avoid an injury. Many of the others fell too. My drinks had by this stage largely frozen up - despite being in the mess tent. I had put my bag near the entrance to be able to reach inside and grab it, but this was a cool spot. Taking on freezing enegy drinks when cold is not the best thing, but choices were limited.
For the last lap, I picked up the Union Jack my father had given me, and stuffed my camera into a pocket. I had attached the flag to a walking pole brought for the purpose, and running throught the ice fields with it over my shoulder was quite an experience. The last couple of miles were quite emotional - it has been a real journey into the unknown on many levels over many months. The amount of support has been simply staggering, both to me personally and through the phenominal level of sponsorship. On crossing the line, I was barely able to speak to Orlando who was filming ... so that cut won't appear ! Mike King, the photographer was there, and he kindly took some shots on my camera for me.
Wonderful wonderful wonderful !!