2018 Ice Ultra winner Damian Hall says he ran as fast as he could through the Arctic wilderness – just to try and keep warm.
The 42-year-old inov-8 ambassador (photographed above by Mikkel Beisner) won the epic 230km race in a time of 27 hours and 45 minutes – more than 8 hours ahead of runner-up, German paratrooper Thomas Wittek.
Held over 5 days in Sweden, this year’s Beyond The Ultimate Ice Ultra was staged amidst record-high snowfall and temperatures as low as -36°C, the coldest in the race’s history.
Damian said: “Less than 30 of us started the race but by the end of the first day 8 had dropped out. Quite a few of those were because of frostbite.
“We all took the necessary precautions but the conditions were just so, so cold. Liquid in my water bottles froze. My food froze. My eyelashes turned to ice. My inov-8 wrag turned to corrugated iron around my face. I loved it.
“It was day 3 when it was -36°C on the start line. Having suffered from a little frostnip (on toes and more intimate areas) in the past, I was fearful of that happening again, so I decided to simply run as fast as I could.
“That day’s stage was 42km in length, but I just went for it right from the start. I wanted to get my body temperature up as high as I could – and keep it there. I also wanted to get out of those cold conditions as quickly as I could. So the name of the game was to get to the finish line, and the warmth of the cabin hut, as fast as possible.
“That’s not to say I didn’t suffer. I did, but just not as much as some others (15 runners finished the full course). My little fingers suffered the most. At times I ran with my hands under my armpits to try and warm them up. Then there was the time my energy bars froze. I ended up having to suck it because it was like a block of flavoured ice!
“So there I was, running along with my hands under my armpits and an energy bar sticking out of my mouth. No wonder none of the moose decided to mess with me. I must have looked idiotic.
“I was also really thankful for the prototype thick winter running tights which inov-8 gave me to test. They gave me vital protection in the you-know-where area.”
Damian ran the early miles of stage 1 side-by-side with Fabian Breitsamer, before the German obstacle racer suffered an injury that required medical intervention and put him out of the competitive race.
Fabian went on to complete a shorter version of the 230km route, over which all runners remain self-sufficient, carrying their kit, food, safety equipment and water (which can be refilled at checkpoints).
The two ran together again on day 2 over the mountain stage, which included a hike up and down Mt Kabla, before on day 3 Damian went solo, leaving the rest of the field in his wake.
The two-time Spine Race finisher, who placed 12th and first veteran over-40 at last year’s UTMB, said: “Day 3 was like something I’ve never experienced before. We had the -36°C temperature but we also had a section where we ran 20km over a frozen lake. It was fast going over the ice, but at the same time it was mental torture because it was exposed wilderness with no changes in terrain or surroundings for the full 20km.”
Asked if it was nerve-racking to run over frozen lakes, he added: “Not really. The first time I stepped on one I was little nervous I guess but you get used to it, and after a while you forget about the vast depths of water you are running over.”
Damian followed up his performance on day 3 by crushing days 4 and 5 too, reaching the finish line in Jokkmokk a convincing victor.
He said: “It was a fantastic experience and the area was more beautiful than I imagined. Running through some of the forests was incredible and given the record-levels of snow, it felt like something out of Narnia.
“I ran just about all of the course, except some of the sharp woodland climbs and the mountain on day 2, which I hiked. I wore snowshoes for about 30% of the time but was happier in just my inov-8 spiked running shoes. The snowshoes fit under your running shoes and help spread the load so you don’t sink into the snow.
“A lot of the time we ran on snow which had been compressed by the snowmobiles that had gone ahead to mark the trail. Step off that compressed trail and you ended up in deep snow, at time waist-deep.
“I went to the Arctic looking to experience an adventure and to challenge myself. I got all that. It was real back-to-basics fun – I got up when it was light, went to bed when it was dark and in between ran, ate and slept.
“The only downside was that while enjoying one of those sleeps (at about 8pm) I missed the spectacular Northern Lights that lit up the sky. It was the only night the lights shone on the trip. So although I won the race, I’m not sure I really won overall, if you get what I mean.”
Spiked running shoes
Damian wore the ARCTICTALON 275 spiked running shoes for the 2018 Ice Ultra. New for 2018 we have the OROC 280 V2. Each pair features 18 metal spikes and ICE-TEC technology, giving unbeatable grip when running over snow and ice.