Updated: Apr 18, 2022
This is a guest post courtesy of Lizzie.
For a couple of years now, I’ve wanted to see if I could drag myself round a full marathon course. With 5 half marathons under my belt, it seemed like the next obvious challenge to tackle. After trying for a spot in London through the ballot (along with 386,050 others..) and unsurprisingly being unsuccessful, a friend and I decided to look for a marathon a little out of the ordinary.
After a bit of research, we stumbled upon the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø, Norway (which also happens to be ‘the world’s northernmost race’). An AIMS certified marathon up in the Arctic Circle, you start at 20:30 in order to run overnight during the time of the year where the sun never actually sets. Despite the dramatic mountainous backdrop the course itself is pretty flat, so that was all the persuading I needed.
Training over the months leading up went weirdly well and going to the LCR sessions 3 times a week (almost every week) was a fixed item in my diary. Picking up advice, motivation and support from other members proved invaluable along the training journey and during the race itself.
After a great few days of holiday enjoying some of Norway’s finest scenery, waking up on marathon day was pretty strange…what do you do with your day when the race itself doesn’t actually start until 20:30? We visited the expo to collect our race packs and the rest of the time was spent almost equal parts eating and refreshing the weather forecast app hoping for some miraculous improvement in the predictions (gale force winds and >60% likelihood of rain was not what I was hoping for).
Most of the running events I have done previously have been serious mass participation events, with tens of thousands of runners, starting pens, pacers, running trackers, the lot. The Midnight Sun Marathon was on a much smaller, albeit still very international scale (around 980 runners). This made it one of the friendliest events I have done with a lovely atmosphere and runners from all over the world. This year there were added options of a children’s mini marathon, 10km and half marathon distances, so everyone was catered for; the whole series attracted some 6,000 runners.
At last the time had come and we were off, beginning in the centre of town and winding our way around to cross the Arctic bridge (~40m incline) for the first time. The wind was ferocious and I tried to tuck in behind a group of French runners for a bit of shelter (though it did not feel successful at the time). This was followed by an out and back section along the coast line with views of the mountains and intermittent support from the locals with shouts of ‘HeYo HeYo’ to spur everyone on. I had a great cheering trio of my mum and two friends whom I saw multiple times (always providing a big boost of energy). I also made a new friend en route who was a well practised marathon runner and a great pacemaker for around the first 27km. Big shout out to Liverpudlian Drew!
The second crossing of the Arctic bridge was at around the 20km mark (which felt a little easier this time starting at a higher point) and we went back through town only to be joined by the half marathon runners with frustratingly fresh legs! The next section up to the airport along the other side of the coast provided some more dramatic landscapes as well as a double rainbow, and initially felt a little more sheltered. Unfortunately this was not to last as a serious head wind took over making every step feel like a bit of a battle.
Having done all my training in miles, it was strange to have the distance markers measuring how many km left to run rather than mileage covered. Reaching the final 5km (and only a park run remaining..) the 6 months of training felt like it was definitely worth it and completing the challenge was within reach. However those last 5km seemed to take forever – I was absolutely freezing (thank you arctic wind and rain) and so desperate to be at the finish.
Luckily by keeping the legs going I made it (even managing to beat my set target of sub 4 hours with a time of 3hr52) crossing the line in cloudy daylight at about 00:20. I picked up my medal and much needed foil blanket; it took me about 15 minutes to thaw out and forget quite how hard those last few kilometers had been. It was great spending some time cheering on the other runners (including my amazing friend Phoebe who did incredibly well) to the finish and watching the looks of joy, relief (and also some pain) as they crossed the line.
If you are looking for a marathon a bit out of the ordinary and love running in beautiful scenery this would be a pretty great choice. I don’t think I could have chosen a more interesting challenge for my first full marathon and I’m not sure how I’ll be able to top it for my next!
Tips if you want to run in the midnight sun:
Book accommodation early – Tromsø is pretty small and it gets booked up quickly!
Be prepared for hugely variable weather conditions and pack multiple race day options (the weather forecast changes every 5 minutes – anything could happen!)
Work out your eating plan for race day – an evening marathon is a strange one to plan for.
If you’re a morning lark, acclimatise with some late nights in the run up to race day.
Not too expensive to enter
Very little chance of it being too hot (unlike London)
Things to consider:
Hard work to actually get there.. (2 flights, full day of travel)
Norway is quite expensive to visit (but makes for an excellent holiday)
Entry price doesn’t include the T-shirt
Quite sporadic support en route (though this may have something to do with the weather)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After years of attempting to ‘opt out’ of forced cross country running through school, Lizzie can now be found pacing round the streets of London most days and attempting to find some trails on the weekends. Joining London City Runners has taken her from half marathons PBs to her first ever marathon and provided fresh ears for endless run chat.