Thursday 11 January 2018

Challenge Complete - 50 Half Marathons before my 50th Birthday with a full 5 days to spare

A long time ago, back on the 22nd June 2010 to be exact,  after a few too many glasses of wine I decided to enter a half marathon in the Arctic Circle. At the time I was not a runner at all. That was the start of an initial challenge to try and run 10 half marathons in 8 months in 10 different countries. That completed it proved not to be the end of it. Now 7½ years later it only seemed fitting to finish the challenge (for now) running the most northlery and probably toughest half marathon yet again. So it is back to Tromso in the very North of Norway, in the middle of winter to run 13.1 miles in the dark on a course of snow and ice.

Prior to 2010 I had managed a couple of Great North Runs, but since then I have completed numerous half marathons each year, making this run my 50th half marathon, on the week of my 50th birthday.

This has not by any means been an easy challenge, since I start training for the first challenge, back in 2010,  I have logged over 7000 miles of running, ran in 23 countries on 3 continents. I have ran a half marathon in every country in western Europe. I have ran in blistering heat, pouring rain, snow, hailstones, flooding and even lightning. Since 1st January 2011, I have never ran less than 10 miles in a week, which, by creating a challenge within a challenge, kept to the training program and kept me  motivated to run when I simply couldn’t be bothered. This has raised further challenges, I have had to run on boats, treadmills, beaches and even ski slopes, all to cover that minimum training requirement. Almost 30 pairs of trainers have been worn out and a small fortune spent on kit, entries and travel, but almost £30,000 has been raised for Willow Burn Hospice and amazingly I carried the Olympic Torch in the 2012.
So the 50th run (note I am not referring to it as the last), The Polar Nights Half Marathon, Tromso Norway, latitude 69 degrees north (The arctic circle starts at latitude 66 degrees north). Starting 3pm Saturday 6th January in the middle of the polar winter. The polar winter runs for 3 months from the start of November to the end of January, during that time the sun never rises above the horizon. For a few hours, late morning dawn and dusk quickly merge, by 3pm it is the UK equivalent of late evening, by the time I finish the race it will be pitch black.
It snowed heavily the morning of the race which made the route look very picturesque, but also challenging. I collected my number on the morning of the race and a nice little touch by the organisers in that they allocated me the race number 50.
Along with about 1000 other runners I set off along Tromso main street at 3pm in a nice -6 degree temperature. The first half of the race was fairly steady, running around the island towards the airport with a slight tail wind (given my complete lack of aerodynamics this does help). The course was a mixture of compacted snow and occasional sections of ice, but slow and steady pace meant no disasters. Runners from 55 different countries took part and this for many was the ultimate “bucket list” run, so the conversation was great with the wind on our backs.
At the half way point the course does a 180 degree turn and you pretty much retrace your steps back to Tromso City centre. It was about this time that the slight tail wind turned into a heavy head wind, which not only made running difficult, but also blew waves of snow from the fields across the track directly at me. In addition, due to wind chill, the temperature dropped dramatically. I began to notice that everything had to started to freeze, including my clothes, hat and every body extremity. At the drinks station at 8 miles the water in the drinking cups had frozen, the change in temperature had been so severe. I also managed to pick up an injury to my left knee, every time it hit the ground it was equally matched by a shot of pain. To make things even worse, given the amount of traffic on the route, more and more of it was now polished ice, which made the ground harder (more painful on the knee), and more treacherous.
However, I did make it, freezing cold and in a lot of pain, I have never been so glad to see the finishing straight. It took me a full 2 hours after the race, wrapped in blankets with the heating on full in the hotel room, to finally get my body to stop shivering and with the help of pain killers eventually get to the bar and have a well-earned celebratory beer.
So as I write this, I have finally warmed back up, but a day later I am still hobbling, so I may need to finally listen to my body (and Victoria) and have a (short) rest from running.
All of this, plus riding the coast to coast and climbing 50 Wainwright peaks this year with Victoria has been done to raise money for Willow Burn Hospice. For those that have already supported, thank you very much, if you haven’t the Justgiving link is below, every little helps. The madness now ends and I (currently) don’t have any other life changing challenges committed to, but life is short and there may be time for one or two more yet!
Thanks for reading the updates and all of the support I have received. (p.s. I am crap at selfies)