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Athletes to run North Pole marathon

Published 07/04/2015

Ultra runner Richard Donovan is the organiser of the North Pole marathon
Ultra runner Richard Donovan is the organiser of the North Pole marathon

A runner who trained in a giant fridge and another who ran around the world are among four Irish adventurers set to run a marathon at the North Pole this week.

The athletes are among 45 competitors waiting to be flown from Longyearbyen - the most northerly town in the world - on to the Arctic ice cap.

Gary Seery, 39, from Bayside in Dublin, started running several years ago as nature's way of fighting depression and found himself using a 20ft cold storage unit to prepare for this epic run.

"I put a treadmill in and only got two weeks out of it so when it broke then I just started running around inside the fridge," he said.

A 4.22km course at the Russian-operated Camp Barneo on the Arctic ice will be marked out by Irish race organiser Richard Donovan in the next day, with weather likely to determine the exact start time.

Among the runners is his niece Tanj, a former national swimming champion, and at 18 the youngest competitor in the race. She has never run a marathon before.

The other Irish competitors are Tony Mangan, who over the course of four years ran around the world covering 50,000km, and Galway publican Paul Grealish, who has completed the race three times.

Transport to Camp Barneo was disrupted when a Russian Antonov cargo plane due to fly the runners up damaged landing gear touching down on the frozen makeshift runway and a new plane was brought in.

The marathon will also coincide with a nearby under-ice freedive attempt at 90 degrees north, another first for the ice cap.

Chris Petrie, 47, from Northampton, has not run a marathon since he completed the London race in 2007.

"I would have had to race really hard over the last seven months to go from being a 10km runner to a marathon runner," he said.

"But I'm prepared - so much so my kids made me bring cakes they baked for me to keep the sugar levels up."

Among the other competitors will be Adrian Dodson-Shaw, the first aboriginal Australia to stand at the North Pole and a 73-year-old, Harry Botha from South Africa, who only took up serious distance running on his retirement.

The fastest athlete is expected to be Petr Vabrousek from the Czech Republic who won the 2013 Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100km race while some runners are expected to struggle over the course for anywhere up to 11 hours.

Race organiser Richard Donovan, the first man to run a marathon at both poles, said frostbite and cold weather injuries are the biggest danger, apart from polar bears.

"I've been organising the marathon since 2002, when I first ran myself. I didn't think I'd be still be organising it in 2015, not for global warming reasons, but because it's such a surreal concept to be running on an ocean at the North Pole. Who knows about 10 years time, I certainly don't," he said.

Mr Donovan, who gave up working as an economist to run and organise adventure races around the world, is planning to run across the US this year and is also aiming to complete a long-term ambition to run across Antarctica, which could happen late this year.

Forty-five competitors from 22 countries are taking part in the race.

The course will be a loop around the Camp Barneo but it will also move constantly and have armed guards on the perimeter to scare off advancing polar bears.

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