How I survived the Polar Night Marathon

The scenery out there was absolutely stunning, with rolling hills and mountains, the only sound was the constant crunch, crunch, crunch of snow beneath our feet as we ran. And then, out of nowhere, the howling of the arctic wolves, letting us know they might see us. One more reason to keep moving!

Some of the little Norwegian cottages—bright red, covered in snow, and lit by winter lights—were out of this world to behold. Even in this far north, people survive and thrive, although no one ventures out to watch the race. Who could blame them?

Aware of the need to bring some food onboard at some point during the race, I grabbed the Norwegian equivalent of a Mars bar I bought from a store. It was in two pieces and both were frozen solid after 90 minutes. I managed to eat one and then a young runner came by and told me he was struggling. It turned out he was a Norwegian soldier stationed two hours north of here. I asked him what his biggest problem was and he said “the cold”! how we laughed

I gave him the other piece of chocolate and we fought on, this young military lad from Norway and I from Wexford in Ireland.

The magnificent landscape.

The magnificent landscape. Credit:Enda Brady

Of course, the strange thing about the Arctic at this time of year is the daylight. The sun could hardly show itself for a couple of hours, a bit weak, and then by 3pm it was pitch black.

So the headlamp I bought online came out and I prayed the battery would last until we were at least closer to civilization. Turns out the $40 was well spent because it actually guided my trail all the way to the point where we join the other runners. Then it was an icy drudgery to the end, but quite manageable. A large arctic rat even ran alongside me for a few seconds and how I envied his fur and insulation!

The finish line on the main street in Tromso was a wonderful experience with all the lights guiding you home. It was like something out of a (very cold) fairy tale.

The race volunteers handed out hot juice from large kegs at the end, along with the coveted Polar Night Marathon medal. It was just perfect.

I didn’t see any northern lights or reindeer while up there, but this trip had taken a year. I had the words of that Kelly Clarkson song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” in my head as I ran, and I suppose it’s true.

But I changed the lyrics – “What doesn’t make you cold makes you warmer” was my version!

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Callan Tansill

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