Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, is one of the most remote places on the planet and yet it hosts an extraordinary marathon every year, with competitors running across a huge sheet of ice, battling all the chilling elements that the Arctic tundra throws at them. The Polar Circle Marathon sees runners follow a snow covered road that connects Kangerlussuaq (a small township in the west of Greenland and just north of the Arctic Circle) to the ice sheet.
Run over the course of a weekend, for any participants who find the marathon not challenging enough on the Saturday, there is a half marathon the following day that they are allowed to enter. Those that complete both receive the ‘Polar Bear medal’.
The part of the race run on the ice sheet is only determined and marked out a matter of days before the race actually takes place as the sheet can retract over time, so if the course is marked out earlier there’s every chance that the ice is no longer there come race day. Racers are informed beforehand that it is strictly forbidden to to leave the marked course because the danger of falling down hidden crevasses is too great.
The Polar Circle Marathon is actually part of the Albatros Adventure Marathons, a series of marathons in some of the world’s toughest conditions. As well as the Polar Circle Marathon, the four other marathons are:
Big Five Marathon: Held in the African savannah, this race is run among the most famous African game; buffalo, elephant, lion, rhino and leopard, with nothing separating runners from the wildlife.
Great Wall Marathon: Run since 1999, this race takes on China’s historic monument, racing through the lower valley and into the local villages.
Petra Desert Marathon: Starting in Jordan’s ancient city Petra, the race goes through tombs, mountainside carvings and caves before the incredible Wadi Rum desert.
Bagan Temple Marathon: Genuinely one of the most beautiful races to run in the world, this marathon takes in some of Myanmar’s 2,000 historic temples and pagodas.
While the weather in Greenland can be unpredictable, running at the end of October means that entrants can expect temperatures of roughly 10 to 15 degrees Celsius below zero. The real issue, however, is if gusts begin to blow and the wind chill factor forces the temperature to plummet further, meaning frostbite becomes a genuine concern.
Last year’s race was won by Brit Benedict John Osborne, who completed the course in 3 hours 38 minutes 43 seconds, something that most runners would be happy with in a regular marathon, let alone one in the Arctic Circle.