The whole story started during a meeting on 14th January this year (2008). I got bored - well, really bored. In fact so bored that I ended up browsing my own homepage on the internet. While this may sound a bit odd, it had a purpose, every now and then I do indeed check whether all the external links there still work. So I ended up clicking on www.svalbard.com.
Fast Rewind to 1992:
On a mad trip after finishing my university degree I was cycling from Helsinki to Oslo - the long way around (about 9000km) and stopped in Tromsø (Norway) to visit Spitsbergen, roughly about half way between the Norwegian mainland and the north pole. This is a very special place and I wanted to return ever since.
Fast Forward to 14th January 2008:
Something caught my eye on the above webpage, a small icon reading "Spitsbergen Marathon", 14th June 2008. I felt both excited and terrified at the same time. It must have shown as other people in the meeting were staring at me...
There is a challenge. Two days later I had a ticket and two days leave booked. Finding accommodation in Longyearbyen proved to be more complicated, not because they didn't have any but because it was fully booked five months in advance. So I had to settle for the camp site.
I won't bore you with the details on how I got myself to the point where I could actually run a marathon. It already was a long term plan before, but now it suddenly got a deadline - I wanted to do it in style.
Fast Forward 12th June 2008:
The flight to Longyearbyen in 1992 was by far the best flight experience I ever had (and I've spent a lot of time on planes since...). Forget Farnborough, approaching Svalbard on a sunny day is the ultimate Airshow. I was lucky in 1992 to have caught a sunny day and was hoping for another strike of luck now. So I ended up annoying the SAS check-in staff with my determination to get an F-seat in front of the wing. Initially all I got were plenty of clouds but the first sign of good fortune was that they suddenly disappeared and revealed a nice view of the Lofoten islands in northern Norway. The clouds returned soon afterwards but retreated again when we reached the southern tip of Spitsbergen. There are only few words to describe the views and right now I can't think of any. You have to see for yourself.
13th June 2008:
I'm trying to acclimatise. It is relatively hot (around +8°C). The place has changed quite a bit in 16 years. All the local mines are closed and activities shifted elsewhere (Svea). Tourism is now the big thing. And that means cruise-ships of the x-large variety.
14th June 2008:
Sunny, blue skies, +10°C, light breeze. Absolutely perfect. 41 men and 3 women show up at the local sports centre to run a marathon. Results can be found here (Don't ask why it says 2009 in the file name...) . This must be the only race where marshals carry rifles - not to shoot at the runners but to keep the polar bears at bay. Four hours sixteen minutes and fifty-seven seconds later I had reached the finishing line. I was still walking upright and looking in considerably better shape than some of the other participants ;-)
15th June 2008:
The weather couldn't get any better - consequently it got worse ;-)
I wouldn't have liked to run a marathon in that wind... Due to the clouds the views on the flight home were also much less spectacular. We were an hour late into Heathrow due to the traffic chaos there (no surprise here...). The ticket machine wasn't very cooperative, so I ended up missing my bus and had to wait another hour but just about made it to the last train home.
Now let's roll the tape...