The North Pole Marathon

April 2008

The North Pole marathon is held at a floating Russian air base called Barneo (previously known as Borneo but apparently Indonesia had words!!!). Barneo is a melting pot for adventurers, runners, and scientists.

Competitors would have to run a number of laps round the site. Each lap is about 7km. That means 6 laps around the site. An actual run to the North Pole would not be possible due to too many life threatening situations:

25th March 2008, I arrived in Longyearbyen, Svalbard to learn that a running marathon (as opposed to a skiing marathon) was to take place on the 26th March 2008. Eagerly I tried to find out how I could enter. I was told that it would not be possible, however logistics problems at Barneo meant delays to the start of the race and competitors could not be flown to 89 degrees. I again asked and was again declined the opportunity.

A Russian Antenov cargo plane

27 competitors had entered the marathon, one had to return home as the delays made the marathon 6 days late! The marathon runners had probably their worst physical starting conditions, sleep deprivation, little food and some were hung over from drinking only hours before leaving. The competitors were flown out at 23:00 on the 31st March on a Russian Antenov Cargo plane, given a tour around Barneo as well as a helicopter flight to the North Pole. On 1st April, at around 05:00 am the marathon was started. However, conditions were fantastic for a run at that longitude. Temperatures were warm at -30 degrees celcius. The day was sunny with only a light breeze.

The high Arctic landscape

Snow shoes used by runners

The marathon runners are watched throughout their run to monitor for polar bears and to check for changes in the physical structure of the terrain (ice shifting causing open water). The terrain itself, changes from hard packed snow to soft ankle twisting snow, to lumpy snow covered icy grounds. Competitors chose to run in either snow shoes or simply added crampons onto their running shoes.


The start of the Barneo metropolis. 2 tents had been erected by the
time the competitors had arrived.  Toilet facilities would be au naturale!

Drinks and snacks are held in a heated tent, a point that all marathon runners would have to pass on their run (this is the tent on the left in the picture)

We were flown over to Barneo on the 1st April and managed to catch the end of the marathon. I joined a competitor called Christer, a Swedish nurse with a music interest, to help him complete his last lap. He was thankful for the encouragement and the motivation to move faster as the plane was calling all competitors to quit their marathon and get onto the flight. I was thankful to be given an excuse to run one lap and helped him complete his final lap in about 30 minutes. He was struggling to move any faster and completed the marathon in a time of about 7 hours. Immediately he had to pick up his belongings and run to the waiting plane, sadly no time for him to take a photo finish.

As for me, I had foolishly removed some of my head gear, and even though I was sweating throughout the run, the small breeze that we had was enough to freeze my cheeks and ears. I suffered minor frost bite on the ears and frost nip on the cheeks. All are recovering well.

Note: Due to the time constraints a couple of marathon runners were not able to complete their run. However, organizers have given them the opportunity to return next year for free!

For more information about the North Pole marathon, see their website

Warning: Cold injuries are serious and if you join a marathon in extreme cold temperatures, it is important to keep everything covered no matter how hot you feel.