Tuesday, July 15, 1997

TR Nanisivik

Nanisivik, Canada
Jul 3-9/97

Race Results:
Sun, Jul 6/97
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!

 I had 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:

1) the race was organized and sponsored by the owner of a zinc mine in Nanisivik and rumors were that the mine was going to be sold and the race discontinued

2) although Nanisivik was currently part of the NWT of Canada the Territories were soon to be split into the NWT and a new territory of Nanavut and Nanisivik would be located in the new territory. Since there were no races in the soon-to-be territory and the likelihood of any races was slim the 50 States Club (that kept the records) decreed that anyone running Nanisivik could grandfather the race as the new territory of Nanavut. That sealed the decision since I would need to complete Nanavut to complete all the provinces and territories of Canada.

 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!

 I crossed 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”!

Post note:
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.

Thursday, February 27, 1997

TR Antarctica

By John M Wallace

In June 1995 I completed one of my major marathon goals –to complete a marathon in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. What could I do now to keep me motivated?
I decided like many members of the 50 + DC Club (an informal club whose members had run or were attempting to run all 50 states + DC) to run all twelve provinces and territories of Canada. I also set a ‘hidden agenda’ to run all seven continents, a goal that that I could work on while focusing on the main goal of Canada. Little did I realize that these two goals would lead me to the two greatest marathon challenges and adventures of my running career – running the South and North Poles!
A year later, in the summer of 1996 while I was planning my schedule to complete the Canada goal I learned that Marathon Tours of Boston was planning a second Antarctica Marathon in February 1997. Their advertisement stated that the second marathon could very well be the last due to logistical and environmental reasons. Fearing that it might be my only opportunity to run Antarctica and complete my hidden agenda, I decided to send in my deposit to reserve an entry. I asked me wife if she wanted to go also and was surprised by her answer “are you crazy”?
So I reserved a single slot and continued running marathons in Canada and every so often would ask me wife again about Antarctica and get the same response. In November it was time to make the final payment for Antarctica and a final sales pitch to my wife to accompany me. I also had more information by then. Marathon Tours had contracted two ships from Marine Expeditions to accommodate a total of 100 runners or passengers. They were offering two different 12-day packages. Both packages were all-inclusive from New York or Miami and routed through Buenos Aires, Argentina. Package # 1 included one day in Buenos Aires, one day in Ushuaia, Argentina and ten days on the ship. Package # 2 included three days in Buenos Aires, one day in Ushuaia, Argentina and eight days on the ship. Knowing that my wife would love to visit Buenos Aires I used Package # 2 as the incentive to convince her to join me. Her major concern or fear was the trip across the Drake Passage. This is where the three oceans; Pacific, Atlantic and Antarctic meet and is famous for the roughest seas in the world. But she was willing to accept that danger (and probable seasickness) for the reward of three days in Buenos Aires.

In February 97 the time to start the big adventure arrived! After an overnight flight we arrived in Buenos Aires. Marathon Tours had accommodated all runners in a first class hotel and arranged an introductory cocktail party so that we could meet each other. This would be our only opportunity to meet those runners on Package # 1 before the marathon because they were departing the next day. For those on package # 2 we had three days to explore Buenos Aires. It is a beautiful city with a European feeling and architecture (a nice change for those from America). There are many places to visit in the city itself but after a few days in a big noisy city my wife and I were happy to escape across the Rio del Plata River on a hydrofoil to visit the small town of Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay. But now it was time to continue our journey on to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. We spent one night in Ushuaia and were able to get in our last training run- up and down a glacier at the northern end of the town. The most notable feature of our day in Ushuaia was seeing all four seasons in microcosm: bright warm sunshine, dripping rain, followed by snow and a stiff wind that proved to be a harbinger of what we would encounter in Antarctica. The next day we boarded our ship or home for the next eight days. The Akademik Ioffe was a Russian ship that had been built and hardened for travel in Arctic waters. She and her sister ship that the other group had departed on, were built and used as ‘spy’ ships to track enemy submarines in the Arctic Ocean during the Cold War. But now that there was no Cold War they had no work and were leased out for tourist expeditions to Antarctica. Needless to say these were working ships and not luxury liners. But they were comfortable and the Russian crew was friendly and the food was basic but good. The expedition staff, those that actually took us to shore and escorted us around the continent were Canadians and very experienced and knowledgeable.

After steaming through the Beagle Channel, the ship entered open waters and rounded Cape Horn to enter the dreaded Drake Passage. We were lucky on our trip. The waves were only about 15 to 18 feet whereas they often exceed 30 feet! Nevertheless some unfortunate people were not able to leave their cabin for the two days that it takes to cross the passage. Suddenly the seas calmed as we approached the continent of Antarctica.
During our trip across the Passage and in fact every day except marathon day the expedition staff offered lectures on Antarctica. These lectures included history on early explorers such as Shackelton, geography and the nature and wildlife of the continent. These lessons not only kept us busy but also prepared us well for what we were to see and experience.

After we left the Drake Passage and approached the South Shetland Islands, we began to see small ice floes. And finally on the third day at sea we were to experience our initial landing on Antarctica! It is important to note that Antarctica is a large landmass that is continuously covered by an ice cap that can reach a thickness of over 10,000 feet. The ocean ice surrounding Antarctica varies in size throughout the seasons and expands at the rate of 1 mile per day in the winter. There aren’t any piers or docks in Antarctica; all landings are wet. In order to step onto land in Antarctica, we had to scamper down a gangway off the side of the ship and jump into a Zodiac, which is an inflatable boat with an outboard motor. The Zodiacs transport up to 10 passengers at a time; they land on the beaches, and we swing our legs over the side, and step out into the ice-cold surf.
Once on land we visited penguins (hundreds of thousands at some sites) and seals and marveled at the enormous ice caps and glaciers. The expedition staff took us on tours in the Zodiac along the coast and around huge icebergs to explore glaciers calving into the ocean and to see seals and whales. The scenery is so amazing and awe-inspiring that is very difficult to describe in words.
The expedition staff picked a number of landing sites based on weather and ocean conditions. Each site offered something different, from wildlife to hot springs in a cove off Deception Island. Yes, we donned bathing suits and sat in Antarctica surf heated up by water boiling up from a volcano.

On our 3rd evening at sea we were steaming up the coast of Antarctica towards King George Island, the site of the marathon. That night as were sleeping we were awakened by a violent shudder of the ship and then our personal items such as hair dryers, etc. that we had foolishly left out of drawers were flying around our cabin. We had run into very bad weather and seas! The next morning we had arrived at the marathon site. King George Island as well as the mainland of Antarctica, is governed by the Antarctica Treaty system, which establishes that while no country may claim sovereignty over any part of the White Continent, countries may establish scientific bases there. This was especially true on King George Island, where seven nations maintain bases. And one of them, Russia was to host the marathon that year.
However we had a major problem! The weather was so bad and the seas so rough that the expedition staff declared it too dangerous to attempt a landing. To make matters worse, our sister ship had arrived earlier and managed to disembark her runners and they were going to start the marathon without us. There was almost a mutiny. We had all spent several thousand dollars to come here to run a marathon –and we couldn’t get off the ship! But wisely, cooler heads finally prevailed when confronted with the fact that someone could easily die if we attempted to land. So we watched with frustration from the ship as our fellow runners on land started the marathon. We were then advised to have some lunch while the expedition staff monitored the seas and tried to reposition the ship to see if they could find a safer position to attempt a landing. Half way into our lunch the ship’s horn blew and the expedition staff announced that we had five minutes to get ready to attempt a landing! Thirty hectic and dangerous minutes later they had all the runners from our ship safely on shore. What a state of confusion and turmoil existed. Our fellow runners were almost two hours into the marathon and we hadn’t started!

The marathon course started at the Russian base and consisted of a double figure-8 loop.
The first loop ran out from the Russian base towards the Uruguayan base through shoe-sucking mud that had been made worse by our fellow runners, across an ice-cold glacial stream and then up the Collins Glacier. It ascended 1100 feet to the top before returning back down the glacier and through the same stream and mud to the Russian base. The next loop headed in the opposite direction on muddy and very hilly trails out past the Chilean base to the Chinese base and back. That represented a half marathon –for the full marathon you did each loop twice.
There was no race support, no water stations, etc. We had to take four water bottles with us which the expedition staff dropped off at specific points along the course.
The weather was horrible as mentioned, about minus 2 degrees Celsius, snowing and blowing gale winds. Nobody was sure how to dress for the race. I unfortunately overdressed. I had polypro tights and top on plus a Gore-Tex suit over that to stop the wind.
By the time I made it to the glacier (about 4 miles) I was cooking. But I had to wait until I got back to the Russian base to strip off the Gore-Tex suit and replace it with a simple nylon jacket to stop the wind. The mud was a terrible problem for me. I had never run in mud before and was afraid that I was going to lose a shoe with each step. The glacier was probably the most difficult challenge, the footing going up was slippery but coming back down was worse. It was so steep and slippery that I lost control a few times and had to resort to an old ski trick of turning back up into the hill to regain control.
But nature had some other surprises and obstacles to throw at us also. The staff had warned us to stay clear of all wildlife on the course because they might regard it as their territory. Boy, were they right! Several of us were chased off the course by Sea Lions and were constantly dive-bombed by Skuas, a seagull-like scavenger bird. But everyone persevered and all 100 runners finished their races.

I had determined instantly at the start that time was not important in this marathon –survival was. I didn’t even rush when taking off my Gore-Tex suit after the first loop, an act that took more than five minutes. But as I neared the end of the race and realized that I was close to four hours then it did become paramount that I beat that four-hour target! This self-imposed target probably helped me become a better ‘mudder’ as I abandoned my concern and caution about the mud and just ran through the damn stuff. I think that I actually crossed the line in 4:00:03 but a gracious timer gave me an official time of 3:59:59! This was without a doubt the most difficult marathon to get to and then to run in my entire life!

Many runners were out on the course for several more hours and the captain of the ship and the expedition staff allowed everyone to finish in spite of worsening weather and their concern about getting everyone back to the ship safely. The euphoria on the ship that evening was amazing in spite of the tiredness and pain felt by all. Even the non-runners such as my wife were celebrating. She and several others had volunteered to help with the race and had stood outside in the cold for over five hours! Talk about troopers!

The following two days we visited many more sites on the islands and mainland of Antarctica. With the calmness of having the marathon behind us, the glaciers and icebergs seem to get bigger and more awesome as we traveled further south. On our last day in Antarctica we met up with our sister ship for a celebration and award party. Unfortunately this led to some strife and turmoil because of the staggered start (essentially two separate races). Then it was time to head back across the Drake Passage, round Cape Horn and return to Ushuaia. Again luck blessed us, as the seas were not too bad.

Upon arriving in Ushuaia and departing our ship, my wife and I took one last look at the ship as it was being prepared for another expedition; then each other; smiled and said jointly “ I enjoyed it, I’m glad I did it –but I wouldn’t get back on that ship if they give me the tour for free”!

So that is our story. But there were 100 runners/passengers on that marathon trip and they all had stories and I feel that I must share at least two of those with you. One is a story of courage and the other of romance and humor. First the courage. There were a group of ‘World Team’ members on our tour. World Team is a group of physically challenged athletes. They were all heroes in my mind but one story in particular comes to mind. This individual, a gentleman had one prosthetic leg. On his first loop down the glacier he caught his good leg in a crevasse and sprained it severely. But he continued on and finished the marathon seven hours later!

The story of romance? A couple from our hometown, Dallas, TX had just got married the weekend before the trip and thus the marathon trip was their honeymoon. Unfortunately the groom was prone to seasickness and became afflicted the moment that we left Beagle Channel. We only saw the bride for the first three days as she left their cabin to get medicine, crackers, etc. for her new groom. He was the runner and planned to run the marathon. She was not a runner but had faithfully (true love?) trained to run her first-ever half. He was very weak on race day due to dehydration, no food, etc and ran very slowly -but finished. The bride on the other hand felt good and after completing her half marathon decided to continue on and accompany her new husband – and she finished with him! But---- the next day she was so sore that she could not get out of bed and for the rest of the journey all we saw was him as he came out to get her food and medicine? At least that was their story? (I always wonder if they are still married?)

A final side note: I did complete my hidden agenda or goal to run all seven continents on August 22, 1998 at Noosa, Australia.