It took place in the Arctic Circle, north of Kangerlussac in Greenland. The Great Bear Challenge was to run the Marathon on Saturday and the Half-Marathon on Sunday.
It was certainly challenging. The Ice Cap is just that, ice with deep crevasses and rutted layers. There was no snow so it was treacherous and most runners had a fall, myself included, though when I went it was a long swallow-dive downhill into an ice stream. That was cold.
After the Ice Cap the track was rutted and if you didn’t pay attention it was easy to trip. The route went by frozen lakes and ice shelves, up and down barren hills. The latter route was through the Arctic Desert which has 50% of the precipitation of a hot desert. Only here we had temperatures of -10c to -15c with a wind chill.
There were 135 runners so everyone had space and ran alone for most of the race with the only sounds being the wind and the crisp-crack of running shoes. This race played with your head more than your body but once you got going the sheer joy at knowing you were one of a very few to take part was exhilarating.
Running for The Eve Appeal made it very special. I carried a list of supporters with me and when I needed some help when breathing was tough and the gluts were screaming with lactate, I recited again and again a mantra of my supporter names. I told them beforehand they would be with me all the way, and they were.
I finished the Marathon and I got the t-shirt. Then next day I ran the Half-Marathon which was bonkers but it had to be done.
After the races I flew 400km north to Ilulissat, a fjord where the North Atlantic glaciers break away from the ice cap. I saw them up close from a boat, twenty-storey mountains of ice travelling slowly each day. I never felt so small.
The trip was like that – hiking in deep snow, dog-sledding, chatting to the Inuit, learning about their culture, eating seal, fish and musk ox, and every day the bitter cold like a messenger fore-warning that the sun won’t be seen for months. It’s a hard place where the locals say: You don’t live in Greenland, you survive there.
I was struck by the language, as you would expect of a poet. It only has the present tense and picture words attach like a jig-saw to make more words as if nothing should be wasted, a statement in itself about the Inuit. I found this poem by Uvavnuk, a shaman and oral poet, which encompasses their close relationship to nature:
The great sea
frees me, moves me,
as a strong river carries a weed.
Earth and her strong winds
move me, take me away,
and my soul is swept up in joy.
What did I bring back?
I brought back irritation at climate-change denial. I stood with a guide one day who showed me how far the Ice Cap has receded in seven years, over 100m and it is accelerating. I saw rain at the end of October which is unknown at that time of year. I saw the impact where the glaciers are calved, heard of seas that don’t freeze, of polar bears further south than normal, of walruses starving. Even the Inuit dogs have been reduced to 25% of the number ten years ago because the ice is not frozen long enough for hunting.
Statistically, if the Greenland Ice Cap goes the sea level will rise by 21m which will take out cities like New York and London, low-lying countries and most islands.
On a Happy Note
I achieved what I set out do do there, and I brought back stories that will develop into poems, and I brought back a huge respect for the Inuit in that unforgiving climate.
I also brought back a feeling of being loved by family and friends who contributed to The Eve Appeal because it is a worthy charity, and because I asked for their support and they willingly gave it. How special is that?