“At times I felt like my brain and eyes were freezing over,” says 2017 North Pole Marathon winner and inov-8 Poland ambassador Piotr Suchenia as he recalls one of the toughest races of his life. After battling temperatures that plummeted to -40C and dragging his exhausted legs through mile after mile of deep snow, the 37-year-old crossed the finish line in first place. His winning time of 4:06:34 was over an hour quicker than last year’s victor, Dorn Wenninger, of the United States.
But what’s it really like to race the North Pole Marathon across one of the most remote parts of the planet? We caught up with Piotr to find out.
He said: “This marathon was different in every sense. Stamina-wise, I felt better than during a normal road marathon, however, my muscles got a beating. The running surface was covered in powdery snow in which I was literally ‘sinking’ after each step. It wasn’t possible to run evenly apart from about 400m on a runway.
“I really had to put a lot of effort into the North Pole Marathon. I had extremely fatigued legs, as for almost the whole distance I was jumping rather than running! However, in truth, this one wasn’t my hardest. I felt much worse during the marathon in Bangkok where humidity and the high temperatures literally destroyed me and I needed two days to bounce back.
“In preparation I followed a normal marathon training plan. I didn’t train in an industrial refrigerator as some top runners did. I did a lot of running-specific strength exercises, including a lot of skipping. But it didn’t all go according to plan as in February I fell ill and lost over 150km of my training cycle.”
Tricking the brain to beat the freezing temperatures
A total of 53 runners from around the world took to this year’s North Pole Marathon start line. Many wore balaclavas, goggles, thick gloves and layer-upon-layer of thermal clothing while completing 12 laps of a 3.5km course.
Piotr added: “At the start it was -32C and later on the temperature dropped to -35C. By the time we got to the finish it was -40C. If you add the 5m/s wind, the wind chill was around -50C! It was so, so cold. At times I felt like my brain and eyes were freezing over.
“I kept telling myself that the weather was beautiful, that the sun was shining so it must be warm. I motivated myself by mentally going back to lovely moments in my life, remembering personal experiences and my training sessions. Doing this really helped me a lot.”
Running shoes and kit for the North Pole Marathon
Piotr ran the North Pole Marathon in our X-CLAW 275 running shoes and AT/C STORMSHELL running jacket. He said: “I ran in the light and fast X-CLAW 275. I wanted as light a shoe as possible with an aggressive outsole. I dropped the ARCTICCLAW 300 THERMO, which I’d trained in and initially planned to start in, due to the spikes – you could not enter the service tent, where the participants had all their supplements and clothes, in spikes.
“I was never worried about the shoes. I was worried about the upper part of my body though, especially in high winds. However, thanks to the AT/C STORMSHELL jacket I had no problems and felt good.”