Well what a day!
After the snow and white out of yesterday, I rose sharply at 6am and looked out of the window. A handful of stars were sparkling above and hopes rose for a clear day.
After a hearty breakfast (which strangely included baked beans), I boarded on of the trucks and we set off in convoy towards the icecap. As day broke, a cloudless sky revealed itself and for the first time we were able to see the Arctic desert and the icecap in all its glory. Truly a wonder of the World. I was relaxed and any pre-race nerves were dispelled by distraction of this glorious landscape.
Stepping out of the truck we were instantly hit by the Northerly arctic wind that bit hard into any exposed skin. We zipped up everything we could and huddled together like excited penguins, stamping, flapping and jogging on the spot. Two wooden poles were placed either side of the start line and a banner was stretched out displaying 'Polar Circle Marathon START'. The excitement was palpable. Lars, the race organiser, and his team were wearing sealskin Inuit suits providing more protection to the elements than our Lycra and Gore-tex jackets. He lifted his megaphone and we all joined him in the countdown. 10, 9, 8...
We were off.
My race strategy had been carefully planned. I would aim to run at a steady pace that I know I can sustain. I would walk or jog up the steep slopes and sprint down, using gravity as much as possible. I had calculated my calorific intake and was laden with five gels, one muesli bar and a handful of jelly sweets.
The first part of the race was a 2km climb onto the icecap. We quickly warmed up and I stuck to the plan and let several people overtake me. As we approached the ice, I could not resist stopping to take some photographs with my phone. The scenery was breathtaking and I had a permanent smile from ear to ear. More runners passed the tourist with his camera. Up on the ice I found a rhythm and my training on mud and trails in the Chilterns was paying off. I was confident bounding over the lumps of snow and ice and my spikes provided excellent traction. Confidence was rising. I stopped again to take more photos. This time, I dropped a glove and had to run back 300m to retrieve this vital piece of kit.
I had decided to wear kit in twos. Two pairs of socks, two pairs of running tights (one Wind stopper), two tops, two pairs of gloves, my OMM race jacket, hat and sunglasses. Despite the cold, I was heating up and coming off the ice, I dropped off my spikes and jacket at the checkpoint. For the rest of the race I used my hat to regulate my body temperature. My legs were warm and I was relaxed.
The second 10k was very hilly with short sharp hills. Sticking to plan, I eased up and sprinted down. The interval nature of this phase was great fun and I loved overtaking all those who had heaved past me on the way up. I took my first gel and felt its effect fast. Blood was pumping and energy levels were high. I stopped again to take more photos and a short video of the ice face.
As we approached the half way mark along a big frozen lake, a handful of runners stopped as they had reached the end of their half marathon. The checkpoint was manned by Bjorn, one of the organisers and some locals who handed out hot elderflower cordial which went down a treat. I completed the first half of the race in 2h18m.
I kept moving. I guessed some 30 people were ahead of me and seeing some people reach the end of their race I was spurred on and picked up the pace. My stride lengthened. I was not tired and no muscles ached. We entered the first of three valleys and I could see further ahead and I started to pick off the runners one by one. I had been playing cat and mouse with a Pole and a Dutchman for several kilometres but managed to get ahead during one of my downhill sprints.
I reached 30km and was moving well having overtaken perhaps six people since the half way point. More elderflower cordial was served. The sugar rush was almost instant as my legs began to suck out any reserves of energy. I was inspired by Chrissie Wellington, world ironman champion who breaks down each marathon into 4x 10km runs. I had done three and was going strong. I began to think I could complete the race, my first marathon. I also remembered Chrissie's motto, 'never give up... And smile'. I was certainly smiling. The expression had not changed since the start. I reached 36km, the furthest I had ever run. I felt better than on my training runs in September. Just 6km to go. I feared the dreaded 'wall' and pulled out another gel. I was almost frozen and I managed to squeeze out a thick syrup that tasted like orange sorbet! Strange though.
I had run the last 3km of the course two days earlier and in the distance, I spotted the derelict shack that passes for the clubhouse of the world's most Northerly golf course. As I approached, I could see the final hill. A final gel. I had not though of it as tough the other day, but at 39km the 1km rise was hard on the legs. My hip flexors and quads started to hurt. I could see three people ahead and committed to realing them in and I dug in. 'Never give up... and smile'. This was the one point that the smile turned into a grimace. I reached the top. It was downhill from there. I looked back. No one had overtaken me since the 21km mark and I was not going to let that change. I pushed on, trying to lengthen my stride. I could see a lone runner 400m ahead at the bottom of the slope. I would not catch him and resigned to keeping my current position. Almost there. Down into the airbase. Past the Lego-like apartment block. 400m. Past the diesel generators. 200m. Past the airport terminal. 100m. Turned left to the polar lodge. I could see the finish. Two bright red airplane stairways faced each other with the 'FINISH' banner stretched between them. I sprinted across the line.
Lars announced my time on his megaphone. 4h14m42s. 'David Mott from the UK takes 8th place'.
8th! I could not believe it. A top 10 place was beyond all my expectations. Elation!
I had run the second half in 1h55m, more than 20 minutes faster than the first half.
I had run over the Polar Icecap, on top of the world. That is just how I felt!