In this age of extreme running events, it's tough to top this marathon held at the top of the world. The temperature at the starting line of the Polar Bear Marathon this year — 20 degrees below zero.
Tack on the wind chill and that felt closer to -42 degrees for the fourteen runners that showed up at dawn on Nov. 22 to compete in the second annual running of the event.
"Balaclavas froze onto beards, frostbite, water in the mitts froze up, outer pants had ice inside the pants due to the moisture created inside which ran down in the pants to the shoes and then froze," said race organizer and competitor Albert Martens.
In comparison, the start of the inaugural running of the race last year was a relatively balmy 19 degrees.
The Polar Bear Marathon is held in Churchill, Canada on the edge of the Arctic Circle. A small community on Hudson Bay at the northern edge of the province of Manitoba. Sponsored by Athletes in Action the event supports work done in the Sayisi Dene First Nations community of Tadoule Lake.
As concerning as the cold was for the competitors the possibility of encountering a polar bear was also a serious worry. The Churchill marathon may be the only competitive event in the world where volunteers scout for polar bears in order to ensure the safety of the runners.
The winner, Sven Henkes of Berlin, ran the course in 4:14. Only one of the fourteen runners who started the race did not finish and he decided to run the race the night before, according to Martens.
"It was the sixteenth marathon I've done, but absolutely the hardest one," Henkes said.