The race team and runners gathered yesterday at Arrenjarka. They’d travelled here from all over the world. We have runners here from numerous European countries, from Canada and from Malaysia and Vietnam. All have made their way to a remote area of northern Sweden on the cold side of the arctic circle, and gathered at Arrenjarka, a beautiful set of cabins on a spit of land almost entirely surrounded by water or, at this time of year, ice.
Yesterday this place was a hive of activity as the runners underwent medical and safety briefings, went through stringent kit checks and signed the final paperwork ensuring entry into this uniquely special and challenging race. This morning at 7am local time, they headed out into the cold with over 60km of trail between them and the next camp at Aktse, a remote set of cabins used in winter by hunters operating out in the mountains.
And it certainly was cold. This is the coldest the race has been with day time temperatures dipping down to -18 at times dipping a few degrees lower each night. The snow out there is especially deep too after a record level of snowfall over the last few months. This race is different each year, depending on the moods of mother nature, and each brings it’s own unique set of challenges. This year’s runners look set to be saved the howling winds of stage one last year but will instead face truly bitter temperatures. Hyperthermia and frostbite are real and significant concerns in this environment and the medics have been thorough in briefing the runners about the risks.
There are advantages to the cold though. The suddenly Siberian temperatures have hardened the layer of snow sitting on top of the many lakes our runners will have to cross and this is very important. When snow falls on the lakes the weight of it pushes the ice down and forces water up over the top leaving a layer of freezing, semi frozen water hiding on top of the ice and under the snow. The sharp drop in temperatures means that the runners can cross without sinking through into the numbing waters below. As long as they stay on the narrow trails left by the snow mobiles.
There has been no wind to push the runners around today and, though there has been a steady fluttering of snow in the air throughout the day, the sun has shone for much of it. Conditions on the course were as near to friendly as this hostile and beautiful area musters. Still some runners have struggled with the conditions. The race team have been busy in the latter part of the day and a few runners have been swept up by the team. At the time of writing our team are at Aktse and comms are limited to sat phone messages. We’ll have more details tomorrow, but we can confirm that everyone is safe and well.
One runner we can confirm has pulled out of the race is Kurt Alderweireldt who was extremely unfortunate to aggravate an existing injury after stepping through the crust on one of the lakes and suddenly finding one leg submerged in the glacial waters before CP2. Kurt is fine and staying with ourselves, the media team, back at Arrenjarka tonight. He’s currently making the most of the facilities and enjoying the on-site sauna.
Inov8 athlete Damian Hall, who has podiumed at The Spine and came 12th in last year’s fiercely competitive UTMB, cruised to a stage win today completing the stretch in a little over 7 hours. He was pushed hard in the early stages by Germany’s Fabian Brietsamer, who came second in Jungle Ultra 2017, but opened up a commanding lead after Fabian, unfortunately, strained a muscle in his groin. Fabian was able to continue and still secured second, albeit at a slower pace than intended. Thomas Wittek came in third. British runner Katie Baker was first female over the line after an excellent day on the trails. At the time of writing the remaining female runners are among the seven athletes still in the field.
Tomorrow the runners will face a brand-new stage. They’ll return to Arrenjarka, but this time they’ll have to climb over Mount Kabla, the peak they effectively circumnavigated today. Though this will make for a shorter course it will mean much tougher terrain and a long period of time spent high on the exposed mountain slopes where the temperatures will be even sharper.
Keep watching our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates as and when we get them and don’t forget you can track the race live on our homepage.
[arve url=”https://youtu.be/CsfCg1sEYZw” title=”Ice Ultra Trailer” /]