Forumite Takes Pole Position

Apparently it's a bit chilly but Forumite Oxymoron can't wait to race at the North Pole Marathon


Posted: 17 March 2008
by Oxymoron

Oxy salutes the crowd at Ironman Zurich in 2005
Since I started running in 2003 I’ve been on a constant quest for races that sound interesting. So far I’ve completed three marathons and three Ironman triathlons, but that wasn’t enough. While sitting at my PC late at night looking for an event with a difference, I stumbled across a race website for The North Pole Marathon. It instantly seemed to tick all the boxes.

A race run entirely on ice, in temperatures as low as –30C, in the middle of the daylong light of the Arctic Ocean and more than 400 miles from the nearest land mass. It didn’t sound like an ideal race for spectators, but it definitely sounded like fun for me.

I exchanged a few emails with the race organiser, Richard Donovan, and suddenly, rather too easily, I was booked to go to the North Pole!

This meant two things; firstly, that I was going to have to buy a lot of new kit, and secondly that I was going to have to do some training.

The list of kit to buy is never ending. Obviously I will need to keep warm enough to cope with the chilly conditions, but equally I don’t want to get too hot and sweat or, so I’m told, my sweat may freeze - which doesn’t sound like much fun. I don’t really want to have any exposed skin for a significant amount of time otherwise there is a risk of frostnip. And that doesn’t sound much like fun either. So, for my feet I’ve got snow shoes. I’m hoping not to have to use them as I’ve never run with them before and they look ridiculously big and awkward – although they are Pirate yellow; a pair of oversized running shoes, large enough to cope with the extra socks required to keep my toes attached. Then for my legs and body, a three-stage layering system with a base of Merino wool and an outer windproof shell. My face doesn’t escape either, so to top it off I have a neoprene mask that makes me look like Hannibal Lecter and two pairs of ski goggles so I can rotate them, as they will frequently mist up and then freeze over. After laying out my kit I felt compelled to try it all on while standing in my lounge, reassuringly I was extremely hot, but I could hardly move, which was less reassuring.

The training... well it’s never really been a strong point of mine. I’ve never yet managed to train as well as I would have liked for a race and this one has been no exception. Ideally I would have spent some time running on snow at similar temperatures to those that I will experience at the Pole, but for obvious reasons this has not been possible. Instead I have had to make do with some long off-road runs where the ground has been uneven and some long runs on Rotten Row, which is a 1-mile long sand track in Hyde Park. I did get some odd ‘What’s that nutter doing?’ looks, running up and down it for three hours! I’ve also done a couple of Long Distance Walker Association events, the most memorable of which was a very hilly, muddy and slippery 20-miler which, I’m ashamed to say, took me over six hours. I can only hope that these uneven and tricky surfaces will have gone some way to preparing me for the snow and ice at the Pole.

As the day of departure nears, more information has been appearing on the North Pole marathon website. Recently a list of my fellow competitors and their accompanying race history profiles was added. It was while reading through these that I began to wish I’d done more training. In fact, quite a lot more training. There are only 26 of us competing in the race. The field includes several runners who have completed marathons on all seven continents, a man who has completed 296 marathons, a former Olympic rower, a former Special Forces soldier and a former winner of the Gobi March. I now have this recurring nightmare where 25 bored, irritated and very cold looking North Pole marathon finishers stand around slowly becoming hypothermic while I blunder clumsily round the course.

I will be meeting my fellow competitors at a hotel in the town of Longyearbyen on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is approximately half way between the northerly tip of Norway and the North Pole itself. Longyearbyen (I’ve no idea how it is pronounced) is the second most northerly town in the world and only has around 2,000 inhabitants. From here we will take our flight in a converted Russian cargo plane up to the polar ice cap where we will land at Camp Borneo. This is a temporary camp that consists of a few tents, which are set up around 60 miles from the pole itself. Unlike the South Pole there are no permanent structures as the North Pole is just a floating ice sheet on the Arctic Ocean. It’s here at Camp Borneo that the course will be marked out. For safety reasons the course is run in laps, presumably as this will lessen the risk of anyone falling through a break in the ice. The race will take place when the conditions are deemed most favourable during the 36 hours we will spend at Camp Borneo. The start/finish line, while marked at the same point on the ice, will be at different points geographically as the ice sheet drifts beneath us as we race.

I’ve had mixed reactions from people I’ve told about this race, and I have been given a lot of advice, some of it bad (“If you see a polar bear it’s best to hide up a tree”) and some of it good (“Don’t forget to do your flies up!”).

I am due to set off on Sunday, March 23 and will be armed with the handy advice I’ve been given, the knowledge that I have at least completed some relevant training and several bags that seem to contain my entire wardrobe. My aim will be to complete the race and return with all of my fingers and toes, and at least some of my dignity intact.

You can follow Oxy's progress right here on his very own thread.


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