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Saturday 23 August 2014

Novice runner wins Arctic marathon

Published 11/04/2013 | 12:17

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Gary Thornton wins the UVU 2013 North Pole Marathon (Mike King/PA)

A novice marathon runner has battled minus 30C (minus 22F) temperatures to win what has become known as the coolest race on earth.

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Gary Thornton, a national school teacher from Galway, was running only his third competitive race over the 26-mile distance this week when he came first on a specially designed North Pole course.

"The course was brutal. It's like you're on the moon up there," he said.

"I'm only relatively new to marathon competition. I'd only raced in two before this, in cities, so this was totally different to what I've ever done. I had to wear a face mask and really needed that, it was brutally cold."

The 33-year-old's teacher wife, Elaine Barrett, 30, joined him on the floating Arctic ice after two days earlier deciding to take part in a half-marathon on the same 4.69km course.

"She might normally run 20 minutes once a week so this was a bit last minute. And she wouldn't be a woman who likes the cold, she likes being beside the stove," he said.

The race took place 20-30 miles below the geographic North Pole as the Arctic ice floats and shifts.Thornton ran the marathon in 3 hours 49 minutes 29 seconds, compared to the 2 hours 17 minutes he took to run a qualifier race in Rotterdam last April for the London Olympics.

The camp is set up by Russian paratroopers dropped on to the ice who also guard the route with rifles for fear of polar bear attacks.

Richard Donovan, North Pole Marathon organiser and the first man to complete the adventure 11 years ago, said Thornton's training regime on the west coast of Ireland stood him in good stead.

"Coming from the west of Ireland means you are kind of used to robust weather conditions," he said. "I know this is extreme but you go out running in the west of Ireland, wet and near constant windy conditions, it's going to toughen you up."

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