Polar marathons are on the rise | Polarjournal
A group of runners on the Greenland Ice Sheet during the 2023 edition of the Polar Circle Marathon. Photo: Albatros Adventure Marathons™
A group of runners on the Greenland Ice Sheet during the 2023 edition of the Polar Circle Marathon. Photo: Albatros Adventure Marathons™

The mindset of the Arctic and Antarctic marathon runners seems to be: “If I have to run 42 kilometers, it may as well be in beautiful surroundings,” a marathon organizer tells Polar Journal.

Run a marathon at midnight under the eternal summer sun of Ilulissat, Greenland. Be “on top of the world” as you run a marathon on the North Pole. Or run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, including one on an icy runway in Antarctica.

If you like both marathons and the polar regions, the possibility of combining the two has never been greater. More and more marathons are being organized in the world’s polar regions, and many of them are truly unique.

Below you can read an extensive but not exhaustive list of the many Arctic and Antarctic marathons that will take place in the coming year.

But first, if you are not a polar marathon runner yourself, you might wonder what would make anyone take on such a challenge. The British Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who ran the North Pole Marathon, explained it like this:

“I’ve been at the Pole before but this was pleasantly different in that I didn’t have to haul a sled there! The race is a unique combination of two things I enjoy: polar challenges and marathon running. It’s a great test of fitness and stamina. Well done,” he stated on the marathon website.

A different type of challenge

Not all Polar runners are renowned explorers with a knighthood, but according to marathon organizer Albatros Adventure Marathons, the majority have at least some experience running marathons.

“The runners we serve are for the most part ‘experienced’ runners. Most of them have reached an age where personal records are no longer possible or desired, so they want other challenges to their marathons and half-marathons. Running in unfamiliar natural surroundings and in unfamiliar weather can provide such a challenge,” Lars Fyhr, Race and Event Director, at Albatros Adventure Marathons told Polar Journal.

However, a few of their customers do run their first marathon when they come to the Arctic.

“They come with the attitude ‘If I have to run 42 kilometers it should damn well be in cool surroundings and not just through a city,’” Lars Fyhr said.

Interest on the rise

Since 2001, Albatros Adventure Marathons have arranged the Polar Circle Marathon, a marathon that takes place in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, lets participants run on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

It was after an increased interest in that marathon that they decided to add a second marathon to their list of marathons: the Icefjord Midnight Marathon.

“Yes, we are seeing an increased interest; not only in our own races but we can also see that more and more races are popping up in the Arctic regions. Even after we added the Icefjord Midnight Marathon we saw a great demand for both of our Arctic races,” Lars Fyhr said.

And what draws them? In short: climate change curiosity and a wish to see the world.

“We have many talks about climate change during our races in Greenland, and I assume that many want to see the ice ‘before it’s too late’ and want to see with their own eyes how dramatically global warming is changing the Arctic region,” he said.

“Moreover, many of our runners are well-traveled and obviously have a curiosity about remote parts of the Earth; the parts that are in the ‘explorer’ category, where comfort is not expected and where their limits in terms of convenience will be pushed,” Lars Fyhr said. If you, too, would like to run a polar marathon, take a look at the list below for inspiration.

On December 13th, 2023, the Antarctic Ice Marathon was won by Michael Higgins in a time of 4:01:45. The women’s race was won by Stephanie Estridge in 5:04:13. Video: Antarctic Ice Marathon

Upcoming polar marathons:

The North Pole Marathon:

The North Pole Marathon lets runners run on the ice around the geographic north pole. The race takes place twice a year. In the spring, runners will be flown as far north as north gets, while in the summer an icebreaker will take them there.

The men’s record for this race is 3 hours, 36 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2007 by Thomas Maguire of Ireland. The next race, the summer edition, will take place on August 2nd, 2024.

The Antarctic Ice Marathon:

This marathon describes itself as the World’s Southernmost Marathon. It takes place by the Union Glacier Camp on the 80th southern parallel, just a few hundred kilometers from the South Pole.

The price is 20.500 US Dollars, which includes food, accommodation, and travel. The next race will take place on December 13th, 2024.

The Polar Circle Marathon:

The Polar Circle Marathon styles itself as “the coolest marathon on Earth”. It takes place the area around Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and parts of the marathon takes runners across the Greenland Ice Sheet. Possibilities of seeing musk oxen and arctic foxes are high.

The next edition will take place on October 26th, 2024.

7 Marathons, 7 Continents, 7 Days:

This series of marathons is not only a physical challenge but also a logistical one. As the name suggests, it takes runners from continent to continent in 7 days with a marathon arranged on each. The first of these marathons takes place on the runway of the Russian Novolazarevskaya Station in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica.

The next race is set to take place on January 25th 2025.

The Icefjord Midnight Marathon:

This marathon takes place around the beautiful icefjord of Ilulissat, Greenland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the unique surroundings, it has the unusual selling point of taking place at midnight while still being lit by sunlight.

The next edition will take place on June 1st, 2024.

PolarNight Marathon:

In the PolarNight Marathon the concept is the opposite of the one above. In this race that takes place in the middle of the day, runners will be engulfed in darkness and, if circumstances allow it, lit up by the aurora.

The race takes place in Tromsø, northern Norway, and also has a summer edition that promises midnight sun. The next winter edition will take place on January 4th, 2025.

The Aasiaat Midnight Sun Marathon:

The Aasiaat Midnight Sun Marathon is 30 years old, and takes place in Aasiaat, Greenland’s fifth largest city. The town does not contain the required 42 kilometers of road but instead lets runners do four laps of around 12,5.

The next race takes place on June 21st, 2024, Greenland’s national day and the longest day of the year on which the sun never sets. 

Ice Marathon Uummannaq:

This marathon takes place on the ice around the picturesque town of Uummannaq, Northwest Greenland. More affordable than some of the other races on this list, its price is around 80 euros.

The next race takes place on March 15th, 2025.

Ole Ellekrog, Polar Journal AG

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