After a delayed start last week due to weather and a damaged aircraft at the Barneo Ice Camp, the 2015 North Pole Marathon finally took place over the weekend. This year there were 22 countries represented in the race with, with 45 total competitors, traveling to the top of the world to run in some of the most grueling conditions imaginable.
At the start of the race, temperatures hovered around -29ºC/-20ºF. Setting off across the pack ice, the runners knew they had quite a challenge in front of them, but not everyone knew exactly how difficult it would be. Apparently several athletes had to be treated for hypothermia after prolonged exposure to the cold, as the final competitors didn’t reach the finish line until after they spent 15 hours running the route. That is an awfully long time to be out in those conditions.
The winner of the race was Petr Vabrousek of the Czech Republic. He finished in 4 hours, 22 minutes, 24 seconds, which is an impressive time all things considered. Second place went to Doug Wilson of Australia with a time of 5 hours, 1 minute, 38 seconds. Daniel Palko rounded out the podium with a time of 5 hours, 8 minutes, 56 seconds.
For the ladies it was Heather Hawkins of Australia taking the top honors with a time of 6 hours, 57 minutes, 39 seconds. She was followed by Alice Burch of the U.K. at 7 hours, 4 minutes, 42 seconds, and Jennifer Cheung of China/Hong Kong, who finished with a time of 7 hours, 6 minutes, 6 seconds.
According to race officials, the competitors were all rounded up and flown back Longyearbyen in Norway yesterday. The race is over for another year, and the competitors are now making their way back home.
Meanwhile, in the Sahara Desert another group of runners faced completely different conditions while competing in the Marathon des Sables over the weekend. The 256 km (159 mile), 6-day ultramarathon wrapped up on Saturday with runners struggling with temperatures that soared up to 48.8ºC/120ºF. Amongst them was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who struggled to reach the finish line in an event that he called “more hellish than hell.”
The 71-year old, who has been called the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer,” suffered alarming heart palpitations last Thursday when he completed the most grueling leg of the race. For a time, it looked like he would have to pull out altogether, but he managed to rally through his pain and complete the race. Fiennes, who has had two heart attacks in the past, as well as double bypass surgery, spent 30 hours out on the course at one point, as he covered a 90 km (56 mile) stage on just one hour of sleep.
The famed British explorer wasn’t the only one making headlines at the Marathon des Sables. Fellow countryman Davey Heeley became the first blindman to complete the race as well. The 57-year old father of three is an incredibly fit runner who competes in marathons regularly, but had never done anything like the MdS before. He reached the finish line on Saturday as well, completing the final stage of the race in Morocco with the other competitors.
Some pretty inspiring stories of runners pushing themselves to the limits in extreme conditions. I’ll think about these athletes when I go out for my run today in more modest temperatures.