Suzy Monds – Polar Circle Marathon
Suzy Monds is this months ‘Client of the Month’. At the end of October she headed off overseas with an ambition goal of running the Polar Circle Marathon and Half Marathon, then a week later the New York Marathon. This is the first part of her story.
Polar Ice marathon – Arctic Circle, Greenland
The first thing that comes to mind when you read this heading is COLD! The second thing would be SNOW and you would be right. I have never been so cold in all my life and who in their right mind would run a marathon in the snow and ice at -25 degrees. Well me of course and yes 80% of the people I know said you are bloody mad and the other 20% said WOW! How cool, what an adventure.
Yes it was an adventure.
I arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark to catch a flight to Kangerlussuarq Greenland (pronounced.., ganger –slu – su-arq). My first sign that it was going to be cold was the air hostess on Air Greenland wore seal skin boots, seal skin mittens and a very long puffer jacket, not the regular attire of any air hostess I have seen before. No high heels and pencil skirts for this airline.
Arriving in Kangerlussuarq was a vision of pure white snow on the runway, on the ground and on the mountains. This is an ex US Military Airforce base used extensively during the war. It has the longest runway in Greenland and is used for international flights. The town which the locals lovingly call the “city” is made up of barracks and lodges etc all ex military, one small supermarket and a hotel. The population is about 500 and includes a wee school, a bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool, all built by the Airforce which sold the land back to Greenland for the large sum of $1, when they exited back in 1992. It is very remote and is basically in the middle of nowhere and there are still relics of old planes half buried in the snow, a testament of what it once was.
After landing we were ushered onto UniMogs and driven out to the Ice Cap to do a reconnaissance of the path we were going to run in the marathon. it was the first time we actually felt the full force of the weather conditions and OMG was it cold, after 5 minutes on the Ice Cap I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet! And we were about to run in this!!!! Holy Moly….
It is such a pure and pristine environment, beautifully serene and eerily quiet.
There is sparkly white stuff everywhere the eye can see and if you look closely you can see the odd tracks in the snow from Arctic foxes, Arctic hares and if you are lucky and look hard enough you can see Reindeer and Muskox grazing or laying in the snow. It is hard to believe, but it still isn’t winter here yet. It is the end of autumn and winter is close. Things are starting to freeze as the days get shorter and colder.
Marathon day and I have gone over and over the clothes I am to wear and am still worried I haven’t got enough and I won’t be warm enough. My list goes like this….trail shoes with crampons, two pairs of thermal socks, two pairs of thermal merino Nordic racing tights, three long sleeve merino tops, one merino mid layer, one windchill windstopper jacket, two merino gloves, two merino beanies, one merino neck gaiter and one pair snow goggles.
Once again we were UniMogged out to the Ice Cap at 5.30am in the dark, which takes an hour and a half. It was minus 25 degrees and the wind was up which meant the windchill is the deadly factor that causes frostbite and what we have to be careful of. It was whipping up the top layer of snow and blowing it in your face. Loads of snow had fallen overnight so the depth was knee deep and very soft. With the wind being so strong they had to manually hold up the start gantry and they didn’t waste much time so with a local hunter firing his gun we were off.
The snow was deep and soft, it was so hard to run in and the track went straight up hill to start with, so we were down to a walk almost straight away until we could breath and the first runners could stamp down the snow.
Surprisingly I warmed up quite well. I ditched one pair of gloves at the halfway mark and took off the goggles as they kept fogging up, but unfortunately ice formed on my eyebrows and on my neck gaiter which was covering my nose and mouth, but it was easier to breathe warm air. We were checked every couple of kilometres for frostbite whilst on the Ice Cap by the marshals who were all dressed in seal skin boots, leggings and jackets. The aid stations served up warm water and warm electrolytes. Of course we couldn’t carry any water ourselves as it freezes.
The first 10km was on the Ice Cap itself and it was mostly soft knee deep snow and was a solid hard slog. I fell many times and was picked up a couple times and put back on my feet again. It was rocky in places and some climbing was involved. Solid ice formed on the rocks and the crampons were the bomb in these situations. As the sun rose and hit the snow it flooded the snow with light and everything just sparkled and looked like something from a fairytale. It made you stop and look. It was extremely beautiful.
At this point I had to pinch myself. I was running on the Ice Cap, in the Arctic Circle, in the wilderness, in remote Greenland – WOW!
When you came off the Ice Cap, you were then running on hard packed ice and once again the crampons did their job. So from here it was a pretty straight run all the way back into the “city” with a few hills chucked in of course and they were nice long grinds, every one of them. The scenery along the way was truly amazing – frozen lakes, majestic snow covered mountains and more.
After hitting the outskirts of the “city”, it was a finish run down the main drag and then a left under the finish gantry and a sea of friends and locals dressed in their seal skins welcoming me home. I had done it, I had run the Coolest Marathon on Earth and survived the coldest weather I had ever been in. A well earned medal I must say, but wait it’s not over. They have what they call the “Polar Bear Challenge” and that is the challenge of running the Polar Marathon on one day and the Polar Half Marathon the next day….and yes I did!
A big dump of snow had fallen overnight but the day was a fraction warmer than the previous one. However the Half turned out to be a bit more difficult with the whole 21.1kms in soft knee deep snow. It made it very hard to run, but run and slog we did. The finish line was at the top of a very long hill that had us all down to a slow grind and the finish gantry was a very welcome sight indeed.
I felt an amazing sense of achievement having completed 63.3kms in one of the coldest places in the world on the Ice Cap in the Arctic Circle in remote Greenland. Something I will never forget. I had gone into this adventure under prepared and carrying an injury and left utterly euphoric having done better than expected.
I left Greenland and four days later I also ran the New York Marathon, but that’s another story….
As client of the month Suzy received a bouquet of fl
owers delivered to her today.
To read about how Suzy got on in the New York Marathon click here.
To read more about Suzy’s story with Team Qwik Kiwi click here.