Returning from my last minute trip to New York back in November I had an email from fellow Northern friend Alex which read …
“You like mad ideas. How about this? Midnight Sun Marathon : Polar Night Halfmarathon”
Running, in the Arctic circle, with 24 hours of darkness, snow and ice, below freezing temperatures … oh ok then!
Arriving into Tromsø you are greeted by the most beautiful main street lit up by rows and rows of red lights in the shape of hearts and in the background you can just make out the landscape filled with impressive snowy mountains, so far so good!
We were staying at the Clarion Aurora Hotel, just off the main street (I will write more on this in another post). Tromsø isn’t that big but it was an absolute treat to be a 3 minute walk away from where we had to collect our bibs. Similar to our journey to the building, collecting the packs themselves was the most relaxed “registration” I have ever experienced.
Bibs collected it was time to make some decisions about footwear and clothing. As well as packing every different kind of layer I could think of I had also brought two pairs of shoes, my trusty trail shoes as well as my marathon shoes with attachable “yaxtrax“. It is worth mentioning that every bit of ground is either covered in thick black ice or snow, slippery snow. It is rare to find a clear bit of path in Tromsø.
I will admit that to collect my bib I wore one of each shoe to test them out and this proved that the yaxtrax were going to be essential! With this decision made off Alex and I went for a short little jog around town just to make sure that we could actually run with these random spike things!?!
2:30pm came around really quickly and if I am honest I was actually quite nervous, this race was going to offer completely alien conditions that I just had not been able to train for – proper snow, THICK black ice and total darkness in the middle of the day! By 1pm, for someone who is used to seeing “day” and then “night”, you feel very confused about what time of day it is and whether you should be tired, or thinking going to bed?! Not the best feelings before a 13.1 mile race! Also kit wise it was tricky to know how many layers to add. I had proper winter tech stuff from Nike, a winter running jacket from Lululemon as well as leg warmers and glow sticks ;D. In the end I went for everything … EVERYTHING!
All kitted out we made our way to start line (also 2 minutes from our hotel) to join around 500 other runners taking part in a seriously high energy warm up to some pumping dance tracks!
As we crossed the start line it was clear that everyone had spikes on, everyone. They really are essential for this race which initially takes you up the one and only main street in the Tromsø along an extremely icy road. About a mile later you take a left and then you treated to a truly beautiful race backdrop. For the next 3 miles or so you meander around a residential area, guided by large candles. The buildings here look like gorgeous gingerbread houses, complete with snowy roofs and Christmas decorations, it’s just so pretty. Up and down (yes there were some pretty interesting hills in this race, more interesting than normal due to the icy paths) turning left and right you then are brought out to a road on the edge of the island, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, once again providing incredible views whilst running.
Along the route I was extremely surprised by how many people turned out to support the race. It was dark, it was cold and it was about to snow A LOT and yet there were people of all ages out along the route! Seriously this race was just amazing! Mile 5 -8 saw us come up towards the airport, traffic was actually stopped for us so we could cross main roads, planes took off right over our heads and supporters still kept appearing along the route!
Now due to the size of Tromsø this race actually does 6 miles one way, circles two large roundabouts and then you head back back following the same path. Usually I wouldn’t be thrilled by this but the whole experience was just so incredible you barely noticed.
Heading back towards my favourite section, the residential area, it started to snow A LOT. Another essential item – waterproof clothing. Alex and I were both absolutely covered in huge white flakes, sadly the photos don’t do any justice for this!
What was also a life saver at this point was a handwarmer. The actual day of the race was relatively mild compared to the -12 temperature we had been experiencing (which felt like -18 due to windchill). We had set off at around -1 / -2 but on our way back the wind picked up and the snow was relentless. Now for anyone who runs with me knows my fingers are extremely annoying, I often run with double gloves, and well they were starting to go just ever so slightly numb so having that hand warmer was HEAVEN!
Reading about this race it was mentioned that you should expect to finish 20-30 minutes slower than your normal pace. With a mile to go, and almost at exactly the same time, Alex and I looked at our watches and were quite shocked to see the numbers on our watches. Coming into the main street again we were greeted by those gorgeous lights and even larger crowds cheering us on.
Giving it our final push we crossed the line at 1.57 with stupidly big smiles! I can honestly say this race was the most beautiful race I have ever done. Not only was this race beautiful but it was just such good fun! I adored running with Alex who humoured me, saying that we were just taking it at “party pace” (Alex is an incredibly speedy runner so this will have been super slow for him) but we chatted the entire way round and had a great time interacting with all the supporters along the route.
Post race we were treated to a banana, water and the best hot juice I have ever tasted! We headed over to one of the fires to stay warm whilst we stretching. This was something to mention! Stretching was INCREDIBLY difficult, even trying to lunge was a huge effort! We found a post to elevate our legs and I can only imagine how ridiclous we must have looked just trying to get our legs up!
If you ever have the opportunity to do this race DO IT! Without wanting to keep repeating myself this was a truly amazing experience and I loved every single minute of it! Yes it’s dark, yes it’s cold and yes it is EXTREMELY slippy under foot but these are all things that can be easily combated with proper kit! Thank you Tromsø for a truly epic experience.