Finn Mårten Hellman has run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica. The initial stages proved the hardest with the misty weather causing his sunglasses to steam up. The visibility was hardly a metre.
The ground was covered with soft snow, making running difficult. The cold wind bit into his face and he had to slow down his pace to avoid drawing too much icy air into his lungs. Hellman had reckoned in advance that the temperate would not plunge anywhere as low as -20C. “I hadn’t expected I’d have to wear a face mask all the time,” Hellman reminisces. He is talking about his latest marathon, which he ran in Antarctica in November.
The scenery on the continental glacier is far removed from the view opening from the window of the café in Sipoo at the end of December. There is no snow to be seen anywhere. “Antarctica is so untouched by humans. I thought it would be an experience to run there,” says Hellman, spooning some cream cake into his mouth. He also had other reasons for his venture. The marathon elevated him to the rarefied status of being only the third Finn to run a marathon in Antarctica and the first Finn ever to have completed a marathon on all the seven continents. This exclusive club only has slightly over a hundred members worldwide. It took Hellman eight years to achieve the feat. Last year’s event was the ninth Antarctic Ice Marathon ever, with the race usually attracting runners with very diverse backgrounds. This time the participants included a reporter for the Al-Jazeera television channel who ran his first marathon and turned his experience into a documentary.
A Brazilian athlete suffered serious injuries because he only wore fleece gloves that failed to protect his fingers from the biting wind. “I think he lost three or four fingers. That was unfortunate but everyone finished the race.” The runners were supposed to stay in Antarctica for four days but the blizzards the swept over the continent forced them to remain there for a further five days. “There were also some really stressed businessmen there, who were in a hurry to get out. They were prepared to pay extra for the pilots to put their lives at risk and to risk losing the only vehicle we had, just in order to get home straightaway.”
While waiting for the weather conditions to ease, they passed the time by playing board games, football and table tennis. British and Australian runners taught others to play cricket.”We spend a lot of time outdoors, even building an igloo.” The marathon trip set Hellman back 10,500 euros, which included flights from Chile to the Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica, entry fee, meals and camp services. On the race location, the runners slept in tents. “The food was delicious, puddings too, cake and everything.” The runner from Sipoo has definitely got a sweet tooth, which serves as another incentive for running marathons. Usually halfway through a race, Hellman starts planning what he will eat and drink after crossing the finish line.
“I can enjoy treats with a clear conscience after all that hard work.” Cheering crowds and hordes of other runners usually make running a marathon that little bit easier but in Antarctica runners could not fall back on this additional source of strength. Hellman was lucky to see someone’s back ahead of him throughout most of the race. “I had to keep reminding myself why I was there and why to carry on because there were times when it was hard-going,” says Hellman, who finished 17th in the race. He believes sheer guts to be his strong point. “I really don’t want to give up. I’m determined, sometimes even risking my health.” Not only has running taught Hellman patience but it also helps blow away the cobwebs. “After a marathon, it at least feels like I’ve got rid of a lot of rubbish from my brain.” Hellman, who works as a partner in an accounting firm, is not craving for more extreme experiences, at least not for anything that involves higher levels of risk than the marathon in Antarctica. “I’m not thinking of running any races in a desert or a jungle. I don’t mind taking some risks but there are limits,” he says.
Hellman looks thoughtful for a while before adding: “There’s still the North Pole, then I would have the Grand Slam.”
original article: http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/finland/finland-news/domestic/9020-cool-runnings.html