Midnight Sun Run, Arctic Circle: Race Report by Richard Keep

This was a run that has been on my bucket list for many years. A run in the Arctic Circle, in the middle of summer, in the very North of Norway, now that is something that was just mad enough to get my interest.

And so it was that on a Friday in June I found myself climbing up 1200 steps to get my first glimpse of the midnight sun from a mountain side above Tromsø. The sky was perfectly clear and the view across the Fjords just kept getting better as I climbed higher. I took in the view and couldn’t quite believe where I was, not least because I was in a t shirt enjoying the warm sun at 23:00. Race day was tomorrow but I couldn’t turn down the chance to see the midnight sun on a clear night and so I kept climbing higher up the mountain, not perfect pre race activities.

I’d entered the Midnight Sun Run, a festival of running encompassing 10k, marathon and half marathon, all running in the light of the night sun. When I’d mentioned the run to colleagues they had commented “that’s a long way to go for a 10k”, but as I looked across the Fjords with Tromsø far below me, I knew that I’d made the correct decision. I walked back to my flat at 01:30 with the sun shining above me as if it was 15:00 back home.

Come race day I was feeling the effects of having been awake for 22 hours straight the day before. I spent the afternoon resting, this was a once in a life time run, so had convinced myself that I was here to enjoy it rather than race it. The whole day is taken up by different running events, an early morning run to the fjord for a swim, the walking of the flags of competing nations through the town, plus family fun runs, all before the main races get started. When I got to the start line there was a real feel of the community coming together to celebrate running, in a town that for 3 months doesn’t see the sun at all and is covered in ice. 

I did my last few strides and lined up behind a gaggle of Tromsø Running Club runners in Nike vapourflys, looking very lean. What followed was the most enthusiastic pre race warm up that I have ever seen, all set to stirring Viking tunes. On the dot of 19:00 we were off, the sun still shining brightly, but today with a stronger wind. We set out through the streets of Tromsø, with crowds cheering us on, including marathon runners who had come out to watch the start before their race later. Elbows were out and I got bumped around as others came past. We took a sharp left then right and headed out towards the South of the island. This part of the course was a long straight section, fairly flat, and I settled in behind one of the Tromso running club runners, who gradually eeked out a gap. The front runners were already a dot in the distance. We rounded a corner to the right and the undulations began, uphill followed by downhill, all set to a cacophony of “Heia, heia, heia” from the crowds. At this point the hills felt ok. We eventually got to the turn point at 5k, a glimpse at my watch showed 17:40 something, I’d done that far too fast! 

The way back became increasingly never ending, the miles just wouldn’t go by and the undulations started to take their toll. At 5 miles  I finally managed to overtake a child who was running incredibly well. The final mile was back along the long straight road into town. I’d set a number of markers to tick off: the polar museum, the oldest pub in the Arctic circle, the wooden cathedral, then through the pain and the exhaustion, the end came into site. 

As I neared, my eyes tried to focus on the time next to the finish, 34:15. Surely not, I glimpsed at my watch, 34:20. It suddenly dawned on me that I was on for a PB; 35:12 was my PB before the race. The course gradually eased into a slight downhill and the crowds began to get louder as I neared the end. By this point I was sprinting, chasing that realisation of the PB. I crossed the line, gasped for air, tried to move out the way of those finishing around me, looked at my watch and saw a time starting with 34! Still thinking there must have been a mistake I went and recovered with a banana in hand and my medal around my neck.

The rest of the evening was spent drinking incredibly expensive beer outside in the midnight sun cheering on the marathon and half marathon runners as they finished long into the bright, sunny, but Arctic small hours.

Once again, I couldn’t quite believe where I was, but this time i was also perplexed about how I’d managed to run that time as well.

Final result: 34:49, 28th place, first non-Norwegian.