Friday, August 11, 2006

TR Greenland

Trip Report – Sweden and Greenland – Part 2

TR Greenland
Nuuk Marathon
Nuuk, Greenland
Sat, Aug 5/06
Marathon # 268 - Country # 77
3:34:06 10 OA - 3 AG

Now where did we leave off in Part 1? Oh Yes – I had finally departed Copenhagen, Denmark for Greenland – a 5 hour flight West to Kangerlussuaq. Why are most of the flight connections to Greenland from Denmark? Because Greenland, which is the largest island in the world, is an independent country with a home-rule government under Danish rule. The small population of 55,000 and economy dependent on fishing is not self- sufficient and must be subsidized by Denmark. Although many Europeans believe that Greenland is thus part of Europe it is considered to be geographically part of N. America! (thus not included in my list of European countries!)

As we crossed Greenland from East to West I was amazed at the size of the Polar Ice Cap. It is 2500 Km long (N to S) and 1000 Km wide (E to W) and 3500 m thick at its highest point! It covers 85% of the country and represents 10% of the world’s total fresh water supply! We flew into Kangerlussuaq (about 200 Km above the Arctic Circle) situated at the head of the Sondre Stromfjord which is Danish for Kangerlussuaq meaning ‘Big Fjord’. It is one of the longest fjords in the world. Kangerlussuaq is a former USAF Base called Bluie West Eight that was built in 1941 to ferry airplanes from the USA to Europe for WW II. After the Cold war the US turned the Base over to Denmark in 1992 and it serves as the international gateway to Greenland.

I arrived in Kangerlussuaq at 10 am on Wed morning. I had booked 2 days there because it is only 30 Km from the Polar Ice Cap and offers tours to the Ice Cap. I immediately booked a tour for that afternoon and then checked into my hotel. Because I was too cheap to pay $200 for a room in the new 3-star hotel attached to the airport terminal I was assigned a room on the former Base on the opposite side of the airport. That ‘hotel’ was a former barracks for enlisted men and had not been updated since it was built 60 years ago? However the room was clean, had a TV with 3 channels (one in Inuit, one in Danish and Discovery Channel with 50% of the programs in English so I ‘discovered’ a lot of information during my 2-day stay) and a common bathroom at the end of the hall. All of that luxury for a mere $130/night!

The tour to the Ice Cap started at 1 pm and lasted 5 hours. We drove in a huge all-terrain vehicle on a dirt 4X4 road that had been built by the US and is now used solely to take tourists to the Ice Cap. The road follows the Watson River that originates at the Polar Ice Cap and flows into the Fjord. Along the route we stopped to explore some of the terrain and wild flowers including the Niviarsiaq – the national flower of Greenland. The terrain reminded me of a mixture of the Canadian Arctic and the Faroe Islands. We also passed the only 18-hole golf course in Greenland that is built on a glacial/alluvial plain of silt /sand deposited by the Ice Cap and the Watson River. Words cannot do it justice so I took some pictures to explain.

The road ended about 30 Km south of Kangerlussuaq at the Polar Ice Cap where we walked about 1 mile out on the Ice Cap to explore. The ice is rough in the summer and easy to walk on without slipping and falling. It was quite cool with temps about –2 C!
I spent considerable time talking to our Inuit guide about the Polar Ice Cap and global warming. I also talked to several other Inuits and residents during my 5 days in Greenland to derive a conclusion about global warming? I mentioned that scientific research had concluded that there were 32 ‘Ice Quakes’ (caused by water melting and running under the ice resulting in the ice sliding/moving faster and causing quakes) in the 1st 10 months of 2005 vs. a total of 10 in 1995? The guide replied that there were some glaciers that were melting faster than normal but the Ice Cap was stable and in fact was increasing in size and depth each year! He acknowledged that the weather was warming but stated that there had been many such patterns or cycles in Greenland over the past generations as told by his elders. He did not believe in ‘global warming’ as warned by the scientists and believed that they were only raising an alarm to win more grants and salary. This same opinion was reiterated by many other Inuits and residents during my visit? So you draw your own conclusion. I have mine that I will share in person but not in my newsletter. The only conclusion I am willing to share is that I confirmed what I already knew “Al Gore is an IDIOT”!!!

After freezing my butt off for an hour on the Ice Cap we returned to Kangerlussuaq and I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. However when I left the hotel to return to my luxury room I discovered that the bus quit running at 7 pm and I had to walk 2 km around the airport and back to my room. Actually it was a refreshing walk and there was lots of light since the sun only set for 2 hours and even then there was still light. When I woke at 3 am to make the long walk down the hall to the bathroom I looked out the window and was surprised to see the local kids riding their bikes up and down the street? I tried to sleep in on Thu to make the day shorter since there is nothing to do in Kangerlussuaq but the light and jet lag didn’t help! So I got up and went back to the hotel for breakfast and then I walked 2 miles on the 4X4 road to the golf course to take better photos. By then I was really bored and decided to do an easy 10-mile run using every road in town. That evening I joined a businessman from Nuuk for dinner and spent a lot of time learning about Greenland and Nuuk. I was happy to hear that his assessment of Kangerlussuaq agreed with mine “It is a shithole’!

On Fri morning I took an early 1–hr flight to Nuuk. Nuuk or Godthab (Good Hope) is located at the mouth of the Nuuk Fjord. It was founded in 1728 by the Danish missionary Hans Egede and is the capital and largest city in Greenland with a population of 15,000. After checking into my hotel (I had splurged and booked the best hotel in Nuuk) I picked up my race package at the Katuaq Cultural Center. Then I decided I should do my shopping for souvenirs, etc because I figured that I wouldn’t have time on Sat and the shops would be closed on Sun. It only took a few hours to find all four souvenir shops and buy the gifts I needed.

On Fri evening the local running club offered a ‘free’ pasta party at the Katuaq that I attended since it was cheaper than eating in a restaurant. The food was surprisingly good and plentiful and I got the opportunity to meet with the race director and some local runners. I learned that there were about 50 runners in the marathon and more than a dozen of them were in the M50 age group. I asked why there was no M60 group and found out that I was the only runner over 60 in the race! The race director offered to make a new age group but since there were no age group awards offered I declined the offer. Then he informed me that the club had two male runners in their early 50s that could run in the low 3 hrs! And after he described how difficult the course was I knew that I would be lucky to compete for 3rd place in the M50 age group. The course was a half marathon loop using every road in Nuuk and included several BAHs (Bad Ass Hills). The marathoners got to run it twice! One of the club members offered to drive me around the course but I had seen some of the course on the taxi ride to the hotel so didn’t think it was necessary. I figured a goal/target of 3:40 should be realistic and my strategy was to run the 1st half smart – slow and easy to gage the course and then push the 2nd half?

On Sat I woke and ate an early breakfast to assure that it would be digested before the 12 pm start and I wouldn’t suffer the same intestinal problems/cramps that I had in Sweden!
I kept checking the weather outside and the forecast. It was cool/nippy with a temp of 4 C and it wasn’t expected to warm up much during the day. I decided to wear running tights and a long sleeve T-shirt. I felt comfortable when I lined up with about 400 other runners at the 12 pm start. There were 3 races – a marathon, Half and a 3.4 Km Mini Marathon for the kids and families. The race was one of the biggest social events of the year in Nuuk! I took off with the Big Dogs and ran the 1st 5 Km (with 3 hills) in 24:45. At that point I realized that a) I had over dressed; b) I was over heated and c) I had started too fast! I couldn’t do much about a) & b) but I slowed down immediately. I let some Half Marathoners pass me who looked like they were running just a wee bit slower than 5 min/Km and dropped in behind them. I soon discovered that the nastiest BAHs were located at 9 Km and 14 Km (30 and 35 Km on the 2nd loop). By the time I crested the BAH at 14 Km I was engaged in a one-way duel with another old fart. I say ‘one-way’ because I had looked at his race number and guessed he was running the Half so it was not important to me how he ran. But he must have thought I was running the Half and kept passing me so I played a mean game with him. I let him lead until the final BAH at 20 Km and then I surged up the hill and passed him. Once I crested the hill I slowed down and let him catch me just before the finish line for the Half. He was pushing and hurting as he sprinted past me to win the M50 age group for the Half. As I went by him at the finish line (1:49:39) I slapped him on the back and congratulated him on a nice kick to the finish – and continued on the 2nd loop!

But now I had a big problem/dilemma! I was all alone! There were no runners in front of me for the 2nd half! I hadn’t paid much attention to all the twists and turns in the 1st half because I had lots of runners to follow. I wasn’t sure if I knew the course? Fortunately when I reached the 1st turn near 22 Km I looked left and saw two runners about ½ mile ahead of me. I decided I needed to push my pace and follow them. I passed the closest runner around 25 Km but the other runner seemed to be picking up his pace and I had to push harder to stay close. We started passing runners around 30 Km but I had slipped into a comfortable and easy groove following the young runner and decided to stay with him as long as I could. I missed the markers at 25 and 30 Km and when I finally reached 35 Km in 2:57 I was surprised that we were averaging an 8-min pace on the 2nd loop?
I stayed with that young runner/course guide until the BAH at 41 Km where I passed him and another runner as I charged to the top. At the top I decided to cruise the last 1 Km to the finish line in 3:34:06. I was surprised that I had run a negative split through those BAHs on the 2nd loop so needless to say I was pleased with both my time and performance.

There were no results posted at the finish line or later at the post race party so I didn’t learn until I returned to Copenhagen that the two youngsters in the M 50 group had whipped my butt as expected but I had managed to place 3rd in the age group and 10th place overall. I am pleased with my results.

The running club held a great post-race party that evening at a local discothèque where they provided a nice buffet but no booze since beer cost $7/pint. Awards were presented to the top 3 winners but no awards were given for age groups?

On sun I had hoped to take a boat tour on the harbor/fjord to watch whales or see the coast from the water but the weather was miserable. It rained all day with a temp of 2 C and I wasn’t willing to pay $100 to freeze my butt off on the water. Instead I did a self-guided walking tour of Nuuk visiting the old city established in 1728 and the Harbor where the cruise ships docked. On sun evening I enjoyed a great dinner of musk ox. And No – it does not taste like chicken. It tastes like beef with a ‘wild’ taste.

On Mon morning I flew back to Copenhagen via Kangerlussuaq and arrived in time for another pleasant dinner at an outdoor café. On Tue morning I did a final 10-mile training run around the tourist sites of CPH and Christiania before taking a boat tour on the harbor and canals of CPH. I finished my last day in CPH with a gourmet dinner of braised rabbit and beer at an outdoor café while enjoying the magnificent scenery that passed by on foot and bike.

Finally – Wed – time to go home. But there was one last surprise for Maddog. After I checked in at the airport and my gate a Delta rep announced that today was a special day for Delta and the flight from CPH to Atlanta. It was the 100th flight for that new service and to celebrate Delta was going to present a special award to the 100th passenger who checked in at the gate! And that lucky passenger was seated in 26F – it was Maddog!
They gave me a bottle of good French champagne and a box of Belgian chocolates. I was wearing my Nuuk Marathon shirt and questions followed and soon I was asked to interview and pose for publicity photos for a local CPH trade journal. Somehow it seems difficult for Maddog to stay low-key and invisible??

In hindsight (after the news the next day about the terrorists) I was lucky that I had returned home on Wed. I am not looking forward to my next international marathon trip – to S. America in Oct.

Stay tuned!

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