Nanisivik, Nanavut, Canada
Midnight Sun Marathon
Marathon # 117
This report is being written 17 years after the fact at the request of my friend Malcolm who is writing a book on Maddog’s marathon adventures. I advised him that this race was one of my most challenging and memorable races but sadly there was no race report.
Regrettably this race was completed during a time period before I started writing race reports and up to now I never had the motivation or incentive to go back and write a report. Now I have that motivation!
Ihad run the Antarctica Marathon in Feb 97 and I figured that since I had run the ‘South Pole” I should run a marathon close to the ‘North pole’. This race is in the mining town of Nanisivik that is located on Baffin Island about 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There were additional incentives:
As usual I had difficulty convincing my SM (Sports Manager) into going? My task wasn’t made easier by the condition that only runners were allowed to register for the 120 seats available on the charter flight from Ottawa to Nanisivik. She had to register for the 10K race. The price was very good - $1000 for a 5-day package including air fare. The bonus and incentive for the SM was the charter flight left from our native home town so we could visit family before and after the race.
After a few days of visits with family in Ottawa we boarded the charter flight for Nanisivik. I was a wee bit surprised/concerned as the plane descended for a landing to see that there was no paved runway – only a long gravel landing strip? And we were on a 727! After landing safely we were greeted by representatives of the race and mine and escorted to our lodgings for our 5-day stay. Runners were lodged in empty houses that were normally occupied by mining families. Many of the houses had no furniture other than beds and maybe a table. We were provided with sheets/blankets or a sleeping bag. Somehow the race organization had not noticed that ‘we’ were a couple and had assigned the SM and me to separate houses for male and female runners. When I pointed out the error we were reassigned to a dorm or hotel that was used to house guests and miners for a short term. These lodgings were much nicer. The hotel had guest rooms with a common room with a small kitchen and satellite TV so we had access to entertainment and news. The downside was the bathrooms were also common and located at the end of the hall! All runners ate in the ‘Dome’ a large common building that housed a cafeteria, a small shop, pool/gym and library. Single miners and some families ate in the dome so we got to meet many of the miners.
We arrived two days before the marathon and thus had time to explore the area. It didn’t take long! The region is barren of any vegetation other than some small lichen that grows for the few summer months when the temps average in the high 30s/low 40s and there is constant sunlight. On our first walk we noticed the lack of vegetation- the abundance of hills – and the bitter cold that bit through our light jackets with the constant winds. We were provided a bus tour to Arctic Bay, an Inuit village located on Admiralty Inlet about 20 miles west of Nanisivik. Arctic Bay is the only village or civilization located on Baffin Island other than the mine (the mine is now closed and all the buildings have been demolished!). The population is around 750 and the Inlet was still frozen.
The race committee had requested that runners bring T-shirts and running shoes for the Inuit. I brought two garbage bags of running T-shirts (more than 200) that I gave to the nurse at the health center. She was so pleased. She explained that she used them as bribes for the Inuit children (and parents) to visit the health center for checkups and vaccinations. The road between Arctic Bay and Nanisivik is the only road on Baffin Island and is thus the marathon route. The gravel road starts at sea level and climbs over three BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) to an altitude of 1750 ft!
On Sat we were given a guided tour of the zinc mine. It was interesting and provided insight into the tough life of the miners. Miners worked for six months (7 days/week) and then were given one month vacation (expenses paid) anywhere in the world! The 10K race started at 9 pm on Sat night (remember daylight for 24 hrs). It was a tough hilly course that started in the center of Nanisivik and ran 5 K uphill before turning around to finish back in the town. I figured the SM would find it hard so I accompanied her as we walked/ran the 5 K course. It was tough but she did finish. I was a wee bit worried about what I was doing to my legs because I had to run the marathon on Sun morning – less than 12 hrs later!
On Sun morning they bussed the marathoners and ultra runners (a double marathon or 84 K) to the start line in Arctic Bay. Most of the town along with the RCMP in full red dress-color and bagpipers greeted us at the start. The temp was 28F with light snow at the 8 am start (this is July!) I wore running tights, a long-sleeve T-shirt and a throw-away sweat shirt and gloves – and I was cold! A friend of mine, Gordon Hartshorn, from Fort Worth, TX was also running the race. It was his favorite race? It would be his final race of a record 74 marathons in 74 consecutive weeks. It would also be his final race since he was dying of prostate cancer! Gordon had shared this sad and tragic news with me before the race. His son Mike was running the race with his Dad to support him on his final challenge/race! Gordon was wearing only his TX race shorts and singlet! I offered him my sweat shirt but he declined.
The race was tough as we climbed 284m/940 ft to the top of the first BAH called ‘Pain in the Ass’ and continued up to the top of the 2nd BAH called ‘Marathoner’s Madness’ at 498 m/1650 ft. After a short downhill we continued to climb to the top of the 3rd BAH called “Terry Fox Pass’ at 530m/1750 ft. Then the course dropped 108m/360 ft to Nanisivik at the 20 mile mark. Unfortunately I knew what was next. The course dropped 422m/1400 ft over the next 5 Km from Nanisivik to the MOT docks on Admiralty Inlet. Then we had to turn around and run the same 422 m/1400 ft back up to finish line in the center of Nanisivik! As I neared the top of that final BAH I passed Gordon coming down. He was wearing a mukluk – a fur coat- that an Inuit had given him on the course because he was suffering from hypothermia. He was in really bad shape but refused to quit!
Icrossed the finish line in 3:59:38 – the 2nd slowest time (up to that race) I ever ran a marathon (20 secs faster than Antarctica) and I was happy and proud of it! The footing was much better/easier than Antarctica but the course with all the BAHs was much more difficult! After crossing the finish line and putting on a warm-up jacket (it was still cold) I walked back on the course (down that miserable BAH) to meet my friend Gordon. I met him about half-way down the hill and walked with him and Mike to the finish line. As we approached the finish line Gordon removed the mukluk and asked me if I would take it since he wanted to cross the finish line in his traditional race gear – TX race shorts and singlet. After he crossed the finish line he came to me and thanked me for my support and friendship (we had run many states together in our quest to finish the 50 States). Choking back tears I told him that I was proud and honored to be his friend! One month later Mike called me to tell me the sad news that his dad had passed away. If you want to hear a story of a real runner and courage then just look up Gordon Hartshorn!
After the race the mine sponsored a gala celebration dinner in the ‘Dome’ with steak and beer to celebrate the race and Canada Day. Many miners/volunteers were invited and this was considered one of the biggest/best celebrations and social events of the year. We enjoyed talking to the miners and learning how they coped with the desolation and remoteness of the mine and job?
We were scheduled to depart on Mon but the weather was too bad with snow and high winds for the charter plane to return. We were forced to spend two extra days in this Arctic Paradise before the plane could land and return us to Ottawa. After our return to civilization we spent a few more days visiting family. The local newspaper in my home town had learned of Maddog’s exploits and requested an interview. They wrote a nice article about a “local native running a marathon at the North Pole”.
My decision to run Nanisivik while I had the chance was the correct one. The race was held the following year and then cancelled when the mine was sold and closed down. Some diehard runners resurrected a race in Arctic Bay a few years later but I never saw the need to go back after the Territory became Nanavut. My feeling was “Been there – Done that- Ain’t ever going back”!
I am surprised that I remembered as much as I did. If any of my friends that ran this race with me in 97 or other years have any other important facts or information to make the story more interesting or accurate please send me the details and I will update my report.