The day began as the first day of the Ice Ultra usually does, with a group of very bleary-eyed, slightly shell-shocked runners emerging from out of their teepees having passed a restless night out in the arctic snow. Traditionally our participants spend their first night of the race under canvas finding out what it means to survive out in the arctic. We’re not often thanked for it!
Then comes the hustle and bustle of the final hour before the start.
Our teams scatter to the wind at top speed, heading out onto the course in darkness to get the checkpoints ready for the runners’ arrival. Kit is moved from place to place in human chains. Trailers are packed. Snowmobile engines roar and whine all around. Inside Stora Sjofallet Mountain Centre the runners pack their race packs for the final time only to find they’ve left their spork on a table and have to repack all over again. Porridge is wolfed down and coffees consumed. Some runners chat together nervously. For others, the nerves manifest as laughter. For others still, it’s silence and long stares.
The conditions at the start of the day were near perfect. Cold, enough to feel like the arctic, but not the vicious cold of some previous years that hurts exposed skin almost immediately. Barely a breath of wind blew to lift the powder snow into the air and the runners were comfortable gathered around the small fires lit at the start line.
Kris King gave one last talk to the runners, a mix of encouragement and a reminder to respect the difficult conditions that may lay ahead. Then all of a sudden, a 230km adventure begins with a quick countdown and a cheer from all assembled.
Stage One begins with a gentle 10km stretch on easy terrain to ease the runners into the experience. This is a chance to get a feel for the temperature and to perfect the combination of layers they’ll need to keep their temperature balanced. Too hot out here means sweating and sweating leads to freezing. Too hot out here turns to too cold fast and the runners have to maintain a constant level of awareness to maintain equilibrium.
From CP1, they run out onto the first frozen lake of the race. For those who haven’t experienced this before it’s a sobering thought to suddenly realise there is nothing but creaking ice between you and the freezing deep below. Still, the ice around here at this time of year will hold far more than their weight and they soon find a rhythm.
It’s around here they first face a snowshoe-based dilemma. The snow on the lakes is quite firm, but still soft enough to make forward progress harder than they’re used to. Do they stop and risk getting cold in order to strap on their shoes or press on a risk working up a sweat. Across this lake, one by one, almost every runner chose to strap on their snowshoes. Immediately after stepping off the lake, this decision was justified as the climb up to the high plateau on which they spend much of the rest of the day was deep with soft, powdery snow. A single step one way or the other off the trail could easily mean being suddenly waist-deep.
The soft snow made progress hard today, and around the middle of the day, strong winds came to whip that powder up into a frenzy that brought visibility down to a point where they could barely make out the next trail marker from the one where they were standing.
Around this point in the day, the first of our retirees left the race. Matt Slatter pulled out in the early afternoon and over the next 3hrs, 3 more runners followed. They were Kevin Otto, John Pusey, and Guy Wolverson. All are safe, warm, and well and currently keeping our logistics team company back at Base Camp.
For those that were able to push on, conditions began to improve. As darkness fell, the wind seem to fall with it, and the stars brought with them our first sighting of the northern lights. We’ve never had a sighting so strong and so sustained and never at all this early in the event. After the rigours of the afternoon, it was just the reward they deserved.
The first runner over the line today was Lukasz Urbaniak who had led from very early on and managed to build himself a half-hour lead by the end. He came in ahead of Sergey Shcherbakov who was closely followed by Julen Urdaibai – who it is worth noting, only had a lead of a handful of minutes over a very strong Gareth Jandrell.
The first woman over the line was Sheila Sanei in 10th overall. 2nd and 3rd were Wendy Dale and Alison Little who ran together throughout in high spirits.
There is no signal at the finish line tonight at Aktse so we won’t be able to finalise the first day’s full results until tomorrow, and in any case, at the time of writing our final 3 runners are still on the course. Though it is pitch black now and they are tired, they are all on the final stretch and our team are out on the snowmobiles monitoring their every step.
Stage Two begins tomorrow morning at 0800 (0700 UK Time). It is possible that bad weather tomorrow might cause a delay to the start or even a last-minute change to the route, but we’ll give you all the information we can as soon as we get our team back in signal contact.
Until then, we wish you, and our runners, a good night.
STAGE ONE TIMES
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