Wednesday 13 December 2017

Irish runners battle -41C elements and set records in North Pole marathon

Ed Carty

Two Irish runners have set records at the North Pole for their marathon endeavours.

In -41C they were among 44 athletes who endured 12 laps of a debilitating 3.5km course of ice and snow around the Russian operated Camp Barneo yesterday.

The youngest competitor in the UVU North Pole Marathon - 18-year-old Tanj Donovan - was challenging for a top three spot in the women's race when she was forced to withdraw on medical grounds.

But the daughter of former Irish Olympian Paul Donovan was credited with becoming the youngest person to complete a half marathon on the Arctic ice cap.

"I'm delighted with it. Maybe I'll come back and do it another time," she said.

The teenager looked at ease on the treacherous track up until her body temperature began to fall - as low as 34.3C at one point - bringing on mild hypothermia.

Gary Seery, with his family, (L toR) Ella, 9, Mollie-Rose 3, Lisa, and Paul, 11
Gary Seery, with his family, (L toR) Ella, 9, Mollie-Rose 3, Lisa, and Paul, 11

Race organiser and the teenager's uncle Richard Donovan toasted the young athlete's achievements.

"She was very graceful in her running," the ultra-running pioneer said.

Gary Seery as he trains for the UVU North Pole Marathon. Photo: PA
Gary Seery as he trains for the UVU North Pole Marathon. Photo: PA

"But it's a learning experience. The medics took the decision and at least she has a record of her own."

Paul Grealish, owner of the King's Head pub in Galway city, set a new record in his own endeavours - he has now run four marathons at the pole, more than anyone.

"There's a sense of familiarity but that does not mean that you'd be getting in anyway complacent about being at the pole," he said.

"I mean as soon as you do, you're screwed."

The publican and veteran marathon runner said the record will probably mean more to his parents, PJ, aged 87, and Maura, 80.

"They took little notice of the first three I did and when they heard if I did it a fourth time it would be a record they got very excited," he said.

"They made a big deal of it. So I thought I better get my act together and make it a reality."

The race got under way at about 12.15pm GMT on Saturday afternoon with a deceptive glaring sun circling a clear blue sky.

Other Irish competitors included Gary Seery, 36, from Bayside, Dublin who went round in 7.59.17.

The IT worker, who is raising money for Habitat For Humanity to build a house building project in Inchicore, dismissed talk of a re-run.

"There's no way I'm coming back here. I've done it, that's it," he said.

Dubliner Tony Mangan, 57, who ran around the world over four years, was one of the longest on the course clocking a time of 11.23.03.

The route was a 3.5km marked loop around Camp Barneo, the Russian operated science and expedition base, with competitors enduring 12 laps to hit marathon standard.

Besides the piercing Arctic weather, runners faced a series of other extremes from the threat of polar bears to snow one foot deep and ice sheets which had split and refroze to form huge ridges.

The camp itself sits on an ice floe moving up to 14km a day and ranging from three to 12 feet thick.

Race organisers said several athletes suffered frostbite to the cheeks and nose while an Australian runner's sky mask was so tightly frozen to his face that he defrosted at a heater rather than risk ripping his skin off.

After just the first circuit many athletes were crossing the start line with frozen eyebrows and eyelashes.

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