The Polar Circle Polar Bear Challenge (1/2 & full marathon) in Greenland was the most difficult and challenging adventure runs I have ever undertaken. In early 2014 while scrolling through various ½ marathon travelling tours on the Traveling Fit website I came across trip information on the Polar Circle ½ Marathon. At the time (while living in sunny Cooktown, Far North Queensland) I thought this would be great fun, a real adventure. Little did I know!!!
I did my usual training preparation for a ½ marathon. While certainly not a top runner (in fact very average) I have always completed the ½ marathons I have entered in the past. Therefore, I had a confident attitude towards my training. I had yet to compete in a full marathon and I had no intention of entering one, however Greenland changed everything.
The big question for me at the time was (and I know it sounds girly) “what do I wear?” This question became vital! Gaiters, water proof woollen socks, snow glasses and heavy duty gloves are essential.
In Oct 2014 I packed up my running gear and began my very long journey (with many stop-overs) to Greenland. Stepping off the plane the -11c temperature was stingingly cold (although if you listened to the locals at the time, they would have told you it was warm, darn right tropical even!) It hurt to breath and any exposed skin was instantly painfully cold. Upon arrival in Greenland the 170 or so runners were divided up into groups. I was part of the Old Camp group. This international group of people were/are amazing, supportive and inspirational. I was so humbled and pleased to be a part of this team.
On the day after we arrived the Old Camp team had the opportunity to inspect the race route. We travelled in a nice warm bus along the route to the start. The ice cap, which was the first 6ks of both races. We were all like excited kids allowed out to play in the snow. I had a great time as we trudged through the snow, slipping and sliding on the ice. It was a lovely day.
The day of the ½ marathon dawned with the participants from Old Camp already up and eagerly pacing, ready to get started! The bus to take us to the start line arrived and we all piled in. A couple of navy seals bought loud speakers along and we all sang classic rock. Nothing like a little Queen (we will rock you) to help motivate!
As we get closer to the start line it becomes apparent that there was a heavy fall of snow overnight. It was almost a complete whiteout.
As the race participants of the ½ marathon climbed out of the bus and crowded together at the start line it began to snow in earnest. I was beginning to wish I had a pair of snow googles instead of sunglasses. As we all began to run the extra snow on the ground and the falling snow combined affected my depth perception, I felt off balance. Running through knee deep snow, slipping and sliding on the ice cap was no longer fun.
It was the hardest and longest 6k start I have ever undertaken in a ½ marathon. The cold air (-15c) hurt as my throat as I tried to regulate my breathing. The falling snow felt like needles spearing into my eyes. Once off the ice cap I tried to make up for lost time, however the “road” was an icy snow covered dirt and rocky track. I found that I could not run at my normal pace due to the icy and uneven path.
I finally crossed the finish line for the ½ marathon (sadly well below my personal best time). I had never been so physically and mentally exhausted. I struggled to breathe and I was cold to my bones.
However, after a very hot shower I was speaking with my fellow Old Camp mates who had done the most amazing and inspirational runs all around the world and their enthusiasm was contagious. I thought to myself “why not do the full marathon the next day as well?” So I signed up for my first ever full marathon. I honestly never expected to even finish, but it I did (I was the last female to finish the full marathon). However I was also the first Australian female to complete both races.
The full marathon seemed to be (dare I say) easier than the day before. The weather conditions seemed more tolerable and I knew what pace I could set to once I hit the “road”. I was really happy with my first ever marathon.
The Polar Circle half & full marathon was the most amazing experience I have ever embarked on and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the ‘Coolest Marathon on the Planet’.