Running to hell and back


Local marathon duo complete mad dash at North Pole.

Queenstown adventurers Willy Roberts and Mike Davies got frostbite and numb toes competing in a marathon at the North Pole – but you’d expect a bit of discomfort running in one of the harshest places on the planet.

The Kiwi duo ran the North Pole Marathon last Tuesday on Arctic sea ice about 30km from the geographic pole. Thirty-six other individuals and two teams from 14 countries joined them in the event, which costs €11,900 ($NZ27,116) to enter.

Roberts, 44, finished third and Davies, 41, placed 
10th despite battling minus-37degC temperatures 
and even colder winds.

Roberts got scorched around his eyes – despite wearing 
two layers on his legs, three on his upper body, two sets 
of gloves, a balaclava and a mouth guard.

“At the start line my skiing goggles froze up instantly, so everyone had to race without goggles on,” says Roberts, who arrived home on Tuesday after a nine-day trip – in time to celebrate wife Wendy’s birthday.

“Your eyes just get completely frozen. You have to keep trying to bang the ice off.

“[Later that week my skin] was all just peeling off and black.”

Despite stopping part-way to ditch the snowshoes strapped to his running shoes, Roberts finished the world’s northern-most marathon in 4hr 44min 59sec – less than 18 minutes behind winner Evgeniy Gorkov of Russia (4:27.5sec).

It was a mammoth effort from Roberts, who led for part of the way and trailed just 46 seconds behind second-placed Renaud Michel from France.

Davies clocked 6:35.12sec.

The last runner posted 16:07.20sec.

Both Queenstown men are experienced athletes. Roberts has done two Coast to Coasts, three Southern Traverses, a Kepler Challenge and the Routeburn, while Davies has run the Kepler twice and the New York and Great Wall of China marathons.

But running nine laps of a loop course at a Russian ice base – stopping at a tent after each lap for a medical check-up and drink – tested them both.

“There are a lot of hillocks and cracks and pressure ridges and stuff which really broke any revenue I had, scrambling over this soft, crumbly snow,” Roberts says.

“Instead of, as you’d expect here running over the same patch of snow, that it would compact, there it just got more and more crumbly.

“It was very hard mentally and after about two-thirds of the race you just want to finish, more so than any normal race because it’s just miserable up there.”

Davies says he scored a couple of “numb toes” in a race that was “tougher than I thought”. He has taken a 70degC temperature jump to holiday in Fiji to recuperate.