21 February 2020, 11am
Polar Circle Marathon
Sat 24 October 2020
The freezing temperatures urge me to keep moving but I do so slowly so this scenery doesn’t pass by too quickly.
A few hours earlier as we walked from the hotel to the special Arctic buses that took us 35km inland, the sky was lit up by the Northern Lights. As we approached the start of the Polar Circle Marathon, close to the Greenland Ice Sheet, I was shaking both from nerves and the –10ºC temperature but was eager to get started and run it off.
Dawn was breaking as we reached the start line, revealing this would be a beautiful, cold and cloud-free day. Along with 140 other runners from 28 different countries, I was keen to get moving and get warm. Normally an uphill start in a marathon would be unwelcome but here it served to warm us up more quickly. After 2km I was tiptoeing down the slippery, narrow trail of the moraine that would lead us onto the vast Greenlandic Ice Sheet.
Nothing can compare to the atmosphere of that Ice Sheet. With the sun rising it the ice took on every imaginable tint of blue while the sun’s first rays made both ice and snow sparkle like diamonds. What a start to a race – and how privileged I felt to be part of it.
I was thankful for the spikes that we’d been required to put under our shoes. Without them I would have been Bambi on ice. Leaving the ice sheet the route passes by glacier tongues and Arctic tundra which seems to stretch on forever. The field of runners had quickly spread and it felt like I was alone in this vast landscape. No manmade structures were in sight and the silence was so intense that you could hear a bird’s wings flapping high above your head.
The course drops 500m from the ice sheet to the finish line in the village of Kangerlussuaq but the constant rises along the way make it challenging. I took my time, enjoying the warm drinks served at the water stations while chatting with the hardy locals who manned them in the freezing weather. The last hill, 3km from the finish, forced me to dig deep but I was rewarded with a spectacular view over Kangerlussuaq.
At the finish line many faster runners had come back out after showering to cheer the rest of us. It demonstrated the special atmosphere and social bonds we had forged during our stay.
Next morning 133 runners ran the Polar Circle half-marathon – 101 of whom had completed the marathon alongside me – to complete the ‘Polar Bear Challenge’. Part of me was happy to stay in my warm hotel bed but another part longed to be back out on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet.