Last Saturday's Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill featured a -23 degree start time, polar bears just off the course, icy conditions and four runners packing it in before the finish line. Yet, organizer Albert Martens of Steinbach refers to it as a beautiful day, ideal for a nice winter run.
Martens says in the days leading up to the race it was stormy and cold, leaving him to question whether or not they would even make it to Churchill for the race. But the sky cleared and the sun rose and the 24 runners took their marks.
Before heading up to Churchill, Martens says he knew the polar bears were an added threat this year. With the mild fall, Martens says they knew the dangers with the polar bears still possibly being out and about.
"We did not see any polar bears while running but they saw us," says Martens. "They were actually very close to us and we did not realize it."
In fact, he says there were two bears that were probably no more than twenty metres off the road, while all 24 runners ran past. But he notes as race organizers they do come prepared. As part of the race, runners are paired up with vans and these vans are equipped with guns.
"We as runners, are aware of it but we really don't look for bears and we're concentrating on running," says Martens. "The biggest danger is when runners don't cooperate and don't stay close to the vehicle and that happens."
Martens notes those who aren't from Churchill don't realize the potential danger with polar bears nearby. And so he says they depend on the advice from locals.
Martens says 20 runners finished the race. The quickest time was run by Simon Cutlip from Tadoule Lake who ran in a time of about four hours and thirty minutes. The last runners crossed the finish line about ninety minutes later. Martens ran the half marathon and says aside from some muscle cramps and dehydration, all went well.
With the winner coming from Tadoule Lake, Martens says that will certainly be talked about there. He notes the Chief of Tadoule Lake and several council members came out to support their eight runners.
"They were flying their flag, it's so beautiful to see their excitement and they're really proud of their runners," he says.
Martens says he already has runners inquiring about the 2016 marathon.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening a fundraising dessert night was held in Winnipeg for Athletes In Action. Martens says they had about 130 people attend with proceeds going towards their First Nations work. Eric Alexander from Colorado, who ran the Polar Bear Marathon was the evening's guest speaker. Alexander is a renowned speaker and author and has led handicapped and blind climbers up mountains.
*Photos by Albert Martens, Keith McDougall, Stephanie Thorasile and others