Racing through the Arctic snow presents a brand new set of challenges that most runners never need to think about. In simple terms: It’s a harsh, unforgiving environment. But it’s more than that. It’s an experience that challenges what you think you know and it asks questions of your body and mind that rarely crop up in day to day life.
By day, if the weather is favourable, it is commonly around minus 10-15 degrees centigrade and it’s actually a pleasant set of conditions in which to run. Get your layers right and you can manage your core temperature, limit your sweating and still stay warm enough that your extremities don’t complain.
At night (or any time of day if the weather is not playing ball) it can easily dip to minus 40 degrees. For want of a better phrase, that is PROPER cold. At this temperature exposed skin will be immediately sore and frost-nipped within seconds and if not addressed will quickly develop into extremity-threatening and (more importantly..!) race–stopping frostbite. When racing in conditions like this, athletes need to carry sleep and bivvy systems that allow them to survive for a couple of days should they be isolated by changes in weather or injury, food to support this type of isolation and fire starting / water boiling equipment to allow you to melt snow and sustain your fluids. Add this to medical supplies, GPS trackers, Sat Phones, snow shoes and a multitude of clothing and layering options and you can see how the racers pack needs to have a capacity that would put Mary Poppins’ carpet bag to shame!
As the younger brother of a type-1 diabetic, I have watched Roddy’s increasingly regular forays into the extreme with great interest.
I have been lucky enough to travel half way round the world to take part in ultramarathons to add to the incredibly challenging races we have right here in the UK; I’ve run up and down mountains, across frozen lakes and through night and day (and night again) to finish races, I’ve even raced on a 4 mile trail loop for 24hrs straight (don’t ask..) and have enjoyed almost every minute. It’s been tough, exhausting, emotional and physically damaging but I’ve done it unburdened by an insulin pump, I could eat what I felt like when I felt like it and I knew that the ramifications of balancing calorific intake and insulin to offset it was silently and comfortably managed by my own pancreas. As such, I have nothing but admiration for Roddy in what he’s doing and I think it will be a fantastic test of his resolute determination, his diabetic control and the equipment and technology that will support him.
My brother was diagnosed as an 11 month old baby in 1976 and my parents were provided with a glass syringe and an orange to practise on. Dietary control, incredible parental and subsequently individual dedication were the staples that ensure he survived and in fact flourished sufficiently to be heading for his 40th birthday next March. I am in absolute awe of his stoic determination to deal with this chronic illness, the support my folks gave him to learn to manage this himself and I equally admire every person affected by diabetes to just simply deal with it and fulfil their dreams and ambitions. I am also incredibly grateful to the researchers, developers, medical professionals and scientists that have worked tirelessly to ensure the experiences of newly diagnosed diabetics are a quantum leap from those faced by no-doubt terrified parents in 1976.
Garry is co-founder of extreme event organisers Breaking Strain