A few weeks ago I signed on to do this race to keep Nicole company. The Polar Bear run is a 19 mile race across lake Winnipeg but that does not really give you an idea to the kind of race it is. To me it is total adventure because of the changing weather conditions and also that you may be left to fend for yourself (this is an informal race so you best be prepared). I learned this at the ice ridge last year. In the words of a fellow runner the Tin Man, "on great day you see clear across to the finish, on a bad day you could die".
We arrived with about 20 other racers at the chip and fish place in Gimli. About 10 minutes after our scheduled start time, Jeff the organizer announces that there is very bad fog on the lake and we would not be able to see past the dock. This would leave us running in all directions and getting ourselves lost. He seemed apologetic as he was announcing this news and then said suddenly as though he just thought of a great idea, if we all had GPS then we might be ok. Nicole replies that she has a GPS but it only tells her where she has been not where she is going. I will say this did not leave me with a great degree of confidence. He then suggested that we can wait 1/2 hour until the fog lifts or start out by running through town and by the time we enter the ice from this new location the fog will have lifted. Thankfully we took the last suggestion. He also mentioned something about the snowmobilers just going out now to put out the orange marking poles. Oh yes, and there was one other bit of advice. Something about staying to the left, the left again and then staying close to the right. Or something like that. It was very important because there was thin ice in one particular area. I wish I could remember directions better. And with that thought we are off.
We were told to expect packed snow. The thing about this race is that it doesn't matter what you are told in regards to conditions because there is a good chance it will turn out just the opposite. Mother nature is in charge out here and she has her own agenda. That is how I found myself running through soft deep snow. After 5 miles my quads were sore and I had a side cramp. Eventually we make it past the reeds and are on the lake. There are snowmobile tracks everywhere. I get a sense of security that we will not get lost as we are sticking closer to land this year. We later learn that a skiier in our group had to be correlled back as she went quite far out without realizing it. A fellow runner later confided to us that he found himself following another snowmobile track and had wandered away from the right trail for a bit. Always stay alert on the frozen dessert!
To avoid a hypoglycemic disaster of last year, I broke this race down into 5 mile bits. Every 5 miles we would stop to eat and drink something. This way we would stay evenly fueled. This worked beautifully and by the time we got to the 10 mile mark we were sharing Nicole's chocolate covered cherries with the volunteers and having a grand old time.
Around 13 miles we lost sight of the last runner in front of us. On these small races you get ditched pretty quickly by the race horses and so we were not surprised to find ourselves alone. For awhile Mark ran with us and we enjoyed talking with him. He already passed the 1/2 way mark but ran it with us again to get in some extra mileage. It is always amazing to be in the company of gifted runners. He eventually speeds up and goes back to his fast pace. Later on Al catches us at a snack break. We sense that Al may be struggling a bit and we are happy to share our supplies with him. These moments end up being the ones I remember in the long term... the times where we could help and other times where we received help. Runners helping runners. Pretty awesome.
With less that 10 miles back to safety and no other runners in sight I begin to search for those orange poles that are to be our guide. Those poles are spread so far apart that at times you can barely make them out. I was aware that we would be screwed if the fog returned but said nothing. At one point as we got closer to a pole I mentioned to Nicole that this one did not look like the rest. Yet past that one I could see another orange one barely visible. We must be on the right track, no? As we get closer we are stunned to see we have managed, on this huge lake, to find the "Danger Thin Ice" sign. Nicole goes around to the side of the writing to take a picture. I yell at her. She yells back, "who do you think is on the more dangerous side". well, I guess that would be me and Al. Poor Al. He realizes that Nicole and I really do not have great navigational skills. We trudge on. Eventually we see the big ship in the ice that was our starting point and we position ourselves at the angle we came out on and of course we are not on the right trail. We are in deep snow again and decide to walk in the rest until we reach the last bit that is plowed.
It turned out to be a great day and I was glad to finish alive! A big thank you to Jeff for taking time out of his life to provide us with an incredible experience year after year.
I know you are all wondering what we were wearing on our feet. I wore my old shoes with gortex socks due to the wet snow conditions. My feet still got wet but not much. Nicole wore her Minimus. Her feet were soaked but not cold.
Some pics of the day....
Ice fishing huts.
Saw this in the parking lot. A nice message before the race. "they shall run, and not be weary: and they shall walk, and not faint".