Ski Marathon north of the Arctic Circle

Diary from participant Zdenek Lycka, Photo Zdenek Lycka and ACR. Marsh 2011
The Arctic Circle Race which took place on 9 – 11 April in Sisimiut, is supposed to be one of the hardest, but also the most beautiful cross-country ski races in the world. The participants must run 160 km (100 miles) in a classical style over three days, overnight twice in extreme cold conditions in tents and eat the meal they have cooked themselves.
  I carefully prepared for the race in Greenland. In January in the Beskydy Mountains in the Czech Republic, the first Sunday of March Vasaloppet in Sweden (90 km) and at the end of March I ran on skis from north to south at Norwegian Hardangervidda National Park.
It all began on the plane
On the plane from Copenhagen to Kanger-lussuaq, I thought perhaps I would be the only Czech on the route, but then I saw a Czech passport at the side-seat and I heard someone calling a Standa. The Czech team was born: Stanislav Bartušek, a sports reporter of the Czech Television and the conqueror of the Channel, Jirí Cech from North Moravia and I from Copenhagen. Klaus Jeckel, who lives in Železná Ruda in the Czech Repbulic, but knows only a few Czech words (while being fluent in German), appeared at the start under the CZE label, too. On the contrary, my name was labeled DEN by the organizers, maybe because I work in Denmark, from where I also sent the application for ACR.
After a stopover at the international airport in Kangerlussuaq (Long Fjord) we continued by a local air link to the second largest town of Greenland, Sisimiut. The town of 5.500 inhabitants is situated about 40 km north of the Arctic Circle. It is characterized by an »Old Witch Cap« mountain and plenty of hauling dogs, making incredibly intense concerts.
  The official programme of this year’s 14th ACR was launched by a traditional worship in Sisimiut church, after which the procession went to the Technical College, where a mandatory lecture for all 101 registered participants was held.
All participants received basic tools for survival in the harsh Arctic winter: a thermal insulating blanket, an orange bag and a whistle. The security is one of the highest priorities of ACR, which had its consequences for this year, due to the uncertain ice on one of the surrounding fjords, we were forced to run all 160 km in an area not very far from Sisimiut. We enjoyed steep slopes, rising from zero to 600 meters above the sea level in a few kilometres, and subsequent wild downhill skiing, which for many participants meant guaranteed crashes and raw faces.
  At one point, there was even a sign saying »Skis Off!« The organizers checked its compliance, or else the skiers risked exclusion from the race. Many participants, however, managed to fall even with skis in their hands.
  Every day, a so-called »Point of No Return« was announced, i. e. the time limit by which all participants had to pass a given checkpoint, otherwise they were excluded from the race. Because if someone was frozen and exhausted, and there was a snow storm raging all around, he or she ceased to act rationally and therefore they had to implement strict rules.
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The tent camp
After more than 50 kilometres of continuous ascents and wild descents with a rucksack weighing at least five kilos, everybody is looking forward to a rest. At ACR, after the first and second laps, you have a right for a 15-minute massage in a tent camp, but then you have to take care of everything yourself. You pick up your sleeping bag, your groundsheet and your backpack with dry clothes and food that were brought to the camp by motor scooters or by dog sleds. In a large heated tent you get dressed and let dry your clothes and ski-shoes, in the second large tent you can cook your dinner. The tent camp was put up on a frozen lake, and this had to be done for two reasons: the first one was sufficient water for cooking, the second one was the safe anchorage of the tents.
Directions and Dining
During the second lap, the organizers made a well unprecedented thing: The first group of skiers was so fast, that they were at the first intersection before the local inspectors arrived, and Sergei Spirin from Yekaterinburg, heading the race, turned left instead of right. After less than two kilometres, the organizers on snow scooters managed to turn the leading group in the opposite direction and we – slower participants – turned too, saving a few kilometres. Apart from this little faux pas, the race was well organized, the entire route was marked with flags and at each ninth-tenth kilometres.
The 2010’s ACR was completed by 67 men and 17 women from 14 countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom, and the youngest competitor was 13 years old. Sergei Spirin from Yekaterinburg won in a total time of 10:08:26, I managed with the 52nd place . Besides the main event, 10 participants attended an abbreviated version of ACR for 100 km.
  Arctic Circle Race is the biggest event in Sisimiut, which sets high organizational demands. Everything is done on a voluntary unpaid basis and with the help of sponsors. The organizers consider their participation as prestigious national issue. The winner receives no financial reward, but a sponsored air ticket from Copenhagen to Sisimiut and back for the next year’s ACR.
About the writer
Zdenek Lycka is the Ambassador for the Czech Republic in Copenhagen.
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