After last months semi successful training, I wanted to keep the momentum going into April. To do this correctly I had to properly plan rest breaks, if I wanted to maintain the intensity so me and my Alaskan Malamute Hank are now subject to very long walks. It’s great for him being outdoors and on the trails, and also great for me to stretch out and loosen up taught muscles.
The first major event of the month, and very much the year, was the UVU North Pole Marathon. It’s run exactly where it says! Well, I lie, it’s run at 89degrees north, at the make shift Russian camp of Barneo. Surprisingly it’s not so difficult to get there, providing the weather allows passage, and I was fortunate: we landed in Svalbard, a northern archipelago of Norway up in the Arctic Ocean and a beautiful mountainous place, mostly used for mining the ground’s rich mineral deposits. Another interesting but chilling fact is that Polar Bears out-number the residents 2-1 on the island, so all manner of requirements are in place if you plan to go out wandering those icy landscapes!
Svalbard was only a short stop of a few days though, enough to get all the required safety briefs and race plans in place, then we were off to the ice. Just that same week, the Russians had parachuted onto the ice with all their gear, and made enough of an established camp for the likes of marathon runners and other adventurers, scientists and researchers for the short period that the ice is cold enough to stay strong.
The thought of camp was both amazing and worrying: a previously parachuted tractor had carved out a runway, and here we were about to land on the frozen ocean of the Arctic. We were assured that the ice was at least two metres deep, but as we touched down with the aircraft, two metres didn’t feel enough to separate us from the icy waters.
The instant thoughts I had when I stepped out onto the ice was that of great wonder. The place felt unnatural, like the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, like there was a giant green screen in front of me displaying a beautiful but intimidating landscape. The second thought was the extreme cold, it bit into any exposed skin and seeped through the many layers of clothing and into the bones.
The race course was soon marked out and ready to run. With the 24 hour daylight there was no restrictions on when we could start, but with the wind low and the clouds lifted, the start was well underway. It was 12 laps around Barneo camp, clearly marked out and well protected by roving Polar Bear Guards. On the very rare chance of a polar bear coming this close to a camp of well over 60 people, the guards were armed. Opening fire was an extreme last resort.
With this in mind, the whole operation was done and planned in the most ecological way possible – leave everything as we found it. With the wonders of our world, we don’t do ANYBODY any favours by destroying what is there for all of us. These were the thoughts that filled my head as I was working my way around the 12 laps, stopping each loop and warming up in the camps kitchen and mess tent. The lack of sensation in my fingers meant a blatant check every time I stopped – in this sort of cold I wanted to take no chances, the thermometers were reading -32c.
The ground was harsh to work through, the snow seemed so fine that over the many footprints it didn’t compact as expected, but churned and mushed up into every runner’s nightmare. It felt like forever, those loops, as with almost any hard physical activity, but there was an end with just over 7:40ish hours on the course. That was me trying to run 4:30 hour pace, so you can see how the terrain made the times scale!
The euphoria lasted long after getting home from completing marathon number 121, but preparations were already underway for the next race. I planned to use this as a ‘cool down’ race which was a marathon in Northampton called ‘Easter Run around the Reservoir’. A marathon distance race covering seven loops around a surprisingly stunning reservoir.
Quite opposite ends of the scale compared to the North Pole, but what was made great about this race was what made me love long distance running – the people. Throughout the two years in 2011-12 where I ran 100 marathons, I got to know the community heavily dominated by the 100 Marathon Club. As the club name suggests, it’s what you need to complete before gaining entry. With these runners having completed so many races all over the world, and the amount of achievements between them all, I never expected them to be as down to earth and as humble as they all were. This sort of community made me love running all the more.
So marathon number 122 was completed, albeit a little leisurely! During a quick conversation with the 100 Marathon Club chairman and good friend Traviss, I was invited to his marathon ‘St Georges Day Marathon’ last minute, just three days on. Of course I agreed.
So marathon number 123 was held in historic Deal, quite the drive away from home but as I was soon to discover, well worth it! Again it was just a simple course of seven ‘out and backs’ along the coast line of Deal. The weather was uplifting, and so were the local spectators cheering us on. I was again accompanied by some of the friendliest runners about, and again used this race as a gentle day out on my feet. It was just over five hours on completion of this one, but listening to my body and knowing what I have planned for training in the upcoming months, I was glad not to push myself too hard.