The Polar Circle Marathon


It's quite common for us to have athletes racing all over the world but when one of my athletes, Jen came up with The Polar Circle Marathon on her event list this was something new and presented a number of challenges. I'm happy to say she overcame all of those and her race report is below.

"I saw this marathon advertised many years ago, and it became my dream. Never once did I think I would be fit or strong enough, physically or mentally to take it on. But one year into being coached by Neil Scholes, my strength and confidence grew to the point I saw it as possible.  2017 saw me on the start line.

The race presents many challenges, mainly due to the unpredictable conditions. For the first time this year, there had been little snow in the preceding week, so what little snow there was had become icy on the gravel road. The ice cap itself was just that, ice! No soft snow to give grip.  A recce out on the route the day before showed us all how difficult the ice cap was to stay upright on. Crampons were a necessity. The temperature was unseasonably mild, but the wind chill was unpredictable. The big questions all the runners asked each other and debated were: 'how many layers to wear?' 'Goggles or not?' 'Where to put on crampons?' and 'Will my gels freeze?' I quickly realised this was more than just running a marathon. It was going to be a mental game against the elements and adapting as the game changed.

The morning of the race came and still no snow. The big 4x4 truck buses were ready at 7.00am to transport us to the start. It was dark and cold. Most of us sat in silence for the hour and a half journey. At the start we left our drop bags with spare clothes/food etc to be transported to the various aid stations. They didn’t keep us hanging around for long. Dawn broke, and we were off.

The first few kilometres of the race were up a steep hill (not my favourite way to start a race! ) I had planned to wear three layers on my top: base/fleece/windproof and two on the bottom: base/windproof along with a buff and goggles. I struggled to breathe through my buff, but without it pulled up, my lips and nose became SO cold. The goggles protected my eyes completely from the wind thankfully.

Running on the ice was actually SUCH fun. The crunch of crampons in the otherwise beautiful silence was unique. I have never been anywhere so barren and exotic. I felt so happy and privileged to be there. My core strength kept me upright on the ice as others around me fell  (Thank you Motion Health! ) I was having a ball.

Coming off the ice cap and getting onto the gravel road was great, it was downhill! But very soon I realised how much I had sweated on the ice, and I was way too hot. At the 10k station I removed my soaking midlayer and just kept the base and windproof. Goggles came off, thin gloves went on. Unwanted items went in a labelled bag to be taken back to the finish line.

At this point I suddenly felt lightheaded and a bit nauseous, but an electrolyte gel soon righted that. Setting off again I was full of doubt as to if I’d made the right garment choices. I worried the weather would turn, or I’d get cold if for any reason I had to slow to a walk. Neil’s race advice rung in my ears, ‘Run the bit of race that you are in’.  Probably the best bit of race advice I have ever been given. This advice fits so well with the Inuit language and culture where there is only a present tense. What is past doesn’t matter now, what is in front you can't yet control. All you can do is live in the moment.  I switched my attention to the scenery, the amazing freedom and silence around me, and I did what I love. I ran. 

It was slow, or rather, I was slow, but every minute of that race I was running grateful. Occasionally I caught up with other runners, ran alongside for a while or walked up a hill together. The friendliness was above anything I’d experienced before. Runners from 26 countries were represented. The language of running was the same for us all.

Regulating temperature was the hardest part. I got way too hot in two top layers, but too cold in just one. I also didn’t get the fuelling quite right. I sweated a lot more than I expected, and I didn’t take on enough, so energy levels dipped a few times.  However, I was honestly sad to see the 41k marker as I realised my race was almost over. Many locals had come out to see the finish, and the cheering and flag waving was really appreciated. Crossing that finish line gave me the best feeling ever... a dream realised.

As an adventure marathon I’d recommend it. It was extremely well organised. The support from the marshals along the route was amazing. Warm drinks and snacks were available frequently. Standing out for those hours in zero temperatures can’t have been easy. Medics were available on the ice cap itself. I can’t fault the encouragement they gave. It was very welcome, as needless to say, there were no supporters along the route! From flights to accommodation, transport around, optional tours, Albatross Adventures had it all covered."

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