Ultra Running Above The Arctic Circle
“I don’t really class myself as a runner,” explains Holly Saunders, despite completing two of the most arduous ultra marathons on the planet. After leaving the Royal Artillery six years ago, Holly was searching for a challenge that would push her both mentally and physically in the same way the military did – she found it in long distance running.
Over the past three years Holly has gone from non-runner, to completing the six-day Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara dessert and the Arctic Circle’s Ice Run, experiencing brutal tests of endurance in some of the most fierce, but contrasting temperatures.
“What drew me to the Ice Run, was that it’s in a very untouched part of the world. With only 50 runners, it’s a much smaller event which takes you through landscapes that haven’t changed for hundreds of years,” continues Saunders.
Taking place in Sweden’s Lapland, the Ice Run is a 230km endurance race that takes place over five consecutive days. Situated above the Arctic Circle, this vast wilderness can see daytime temperatures dip as low as -40ºC.
In these harsh conditions, athletes have to carry more substantial kit to maintain warmth as well as emergency survival kit. “Every day I’d loose feeling in my right hand, even with thin thermal gloves and thick, heavy duty mittens on top.”
“Layering was something I had to take incredibly seriously. Running in these conditions you have to remember that you don’t want your sweat to leave clothes or your skin wet, as this can freeze incredibly quickly. To put it into perspective, our water bottles were filled with boiling water at 10km checkpoints. You had to start drinking them five or ten minutes later, otherwise they would be frozen solid within the hour.”
Runners set out each day at 9am, when the light is still very low. Visibility then begins to drop by around 3pm. “With so much snow, you were able to still see pretty good in the dark for a couple hours, but then it turns pitch black and you have to get the head torch out.”
We hooked Holly up with the FLŌA Backcountry Base Layer set for this Arctic ultra. “I just wore a thermal shell jacket on top of the base layer,” explains Holly.” Sometimes I didn’t even use the shell though and had just the base layer and a thin waterproof jacket.”
There’s no question that the Ice Run is the ultimate way to see how far your mind and body can go. Holly tells of the hardest part of her 230km journey,
“By day three I found myself in the top ten. I kind of put an additional layer of pressure on myself from this though and from the half way point started pushing myself more than I probably should. Although I was the first woman to finish, on the last day I found I’d just used up all my reserves and couldn’t push any harder, which made the last day so hard.”
Less than a year after completing the Ice Run, Holly already has her sights set on The Highland Ultra later this year. We can’t imagine a finer way of testing yourself against the elements, and plunging yourself into the wilds.