Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Running marathons / half marathons in Tromso

Things to consider if you're doing either the Polar Night Half Marathon, or the full Midnight Sun Marathon:

Night Half Marathon:

It’s really cold – it was -6 when I ran it. Had a pair of waterproof running shoes (it probably won’t snow, but you don’t want anything that’s vented to let the heat out), thick running socks, a thick pair of tights, two technical tops, a showerproof top, a waterproof top, a hat, and thin polyester gloves, and I was comfortable – not hot, mind. I did consider running with a balaclava, but you might find that’s too hot; what you probably want is a scarf that you can pull up over your face and breathe through it, but have some ventilation. (It can be cold enough that your chest hurts a bit in the first few miles). Probably worth having things you can zip and unzip depending on how warm you get.

One of the first streets you'll run down

What kind of shoes to wear – difficult to say, and probably not worth getting too hung up on. The first part of the race goes through the backstreets of Tromso and that was pretty icy, so rather slippery. The rest of it is either on snow (which is tiring) or on compacted snow (which is just like running on tarmac); some of the locals have Asic Arctics, which are like shoes for running on road (lots of cushioning) but with metal spikes to grip on the ice. I got away with a pair of offroad shoes, which weren’t particularly grippy on the icy part, and then weren’t very comfortable for the run up to the airport and back.

Sleeping:If you’ve booked yourself into the Radisson SAS hotel in Tromso, be aware that the bar plays really loud music until 1am every night, so if you want a good night’s sleep, make sure your room isn’t on that side of the hotel. Grumble over.

Don’t expect to go as fast as you would in UK temperatures. The winning time is something like 1:25 or 1:30, and I thought ‘oh, that sounds easy’ and then came in about 20 minutes off my expected pace.

Have fun! It’s really beautiful up there that time of year. You’ll get about 2 hours of daylight around midday, and then it’s properly dark by the time the race starts. The whole thing is well lit, so there’s no need to carry a torch with you. There should still be all the Christmas decorations up, so it’s really pretty in the town, and outside the town it’s like running on top of a giant Christmas cake… If you have any time spare up there, the Polaria museum is really good (if you like seals and other big aquatic mammals) and possibly (if you can get out of town) you can see the Northern Lights...

Statue of Amundsen

On the way back, there is very little at Tromso airport, and you’d be advised to get a good book to read at Oslo, because every single time I’ve come back, SAS have had a delay on the flight to London of an hour. Fine going out (although don’t forget to pick up your bag at Oslo and take it back through customs again – something which isn’t abundantly clear...)

Midnight Sun Marathon

The summer marathon is a slightly different kettle of fish.

(a) it’s usually quite a bit warmer (I got caught out by cold showers this year) and it’s mostly very flat, apart from running over the bridge.

(b) There’s a nasty sting in the tail – you run the first half and it’s around a beautiful fjord, and then you run back over the bridge, through the town, and up towards the airport, and THERE IS NOTHING THERE. Well, a load of industrial containers and some warehouses, the odd concrete bridge and nothing to look at. (at night this makes no odds, because it’s all covered in snow and therefore even metal boxes look quite pretty) After how nice the first half looks, the second half can be quite miserable. Plus the half marathon is running the same course as you now, which means people will start storming past you at some point and inflicting terrible psychological damage.

(c) It’s very, very flat for the most part, which means your legs really get punished because there’s no variation to it – expect a few days to get over it afterwards.


Ieuan Counsell said...

My partner Fi and I have entered the Tromsco Polar Night Half Marathon. However we are not big runners having done only a few half's in UK at about 2hrs 20mins. Also I tend to sweat an incredible amount a running top not vest will be saturated in 30mins max of jogging in cool UK weather. Im starting to get worried that with this running in temperatures of-6 and lower the sweat will freeze on me and become dangerous. Also what to wear, the warmer i dress the more I will sweat but if i don't dress properly it would be risky also. Could anyone out there give me some advise on running these conditions and how to manage my sweating out there. Also will the organisers wait for 2 middle aged slow coaches.

Mr Cushtie said...

Well, you have about a month and a bit to get ready...

Not sure about the sweating. Bear in mind that it's *really* cold up there, so the conditions in which you'd sweat are not the same as what Tromso provides. I was running in Colotado this weekend at around 10 degrees; usually I'm in Singapore and I'm soaked in sweat after 10 minutes, but that's in 30 degree heat; weather makes more of a difference than you might think.

Also, the course is very, very flat. That helps too. I can't say anything for sure, but I'd think that if you wore tights and some zippered and vented layers, you'd struggle to sweat that much.

Timing: I don't know what the cut off is. Probably best to email the organizers to check. If you can do a 2:20 half normally, Tromso may not be much different: my time was similar to every other half marathon I'd ever run, in snow or out of it. However, if you're out there for 2+ hours, I'd be thinking about more clothes (gloves and warm socks in particular). Also, download the results from last year and see how long it takes people to get round - that may give you some guide to how fast people go in general.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

ieuan Counsell said...

Thank you everyone comments all very useful. I did the Polar Night Half Marathon on Saturday Its a great race which i highly recommend it is well organised and really exhilarating running in the snow and ice looking over Tromso the estuary and snowy mountains. It was only -5 with windchill I sweated a lot and had 2 layers on which were saturated at least half way. However although i could feel the energy draining it also spurred me on to finish. My time was a meagre 2hrs 26 mins and i was last but 10 I was well pleased as its only 5mins slower than my last UK bit. My partner went for the 10k she finished and enjoyed it too She's quite nervous of ice so changed race. Thank you again and to all the organisers for our continual questioning and anxiety

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