When you become a serious runner, one thing becomes quickly clear: no matter how fast you are, no matter how far you run, no matter what challenges you endure, there is always someone who runs faster, runs farther and accomplishes more amazing feats than you. If you are Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human (and I don’t suspect he reads my blog), you must realize that somewhere in the world there is a child who someday will leave you in his (or perhaps her!) dust.
All that notwithstanding, I believe that Mark Hines represents an end point of a sort. Mark is a 34-year-old British academic, researcher, writer and ultra-endurance athlete. He has completed many of the world’s most grueling long-distance running events, including the Marathon des Sables (156 miles across the Sahara Desert), the Jungle Marathon (140 miles in the Amazon) and the Trans-Alpine Ultramarathon (140 miles across the highest mountains in Europe).
Mark is also the only person to have successfully twice completed the full Yukon Arctic Ultra, a 400-plus-mile, sub-zero jaunt from Whitehorse to Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada. I became interested in running an abbreviated (26.2 mile) portion of this event after watching a video Mark posted to YouTube. It shows him 100 miles or so into the race, tramping through the snow-covered wilderness while towing a pulky (a small sled). Despite the conditions and the ice that has encrusted his prodigiously wiry beard, he appears cheerful.
I look forward to meeting Mark mano-a-boyo in Whitehorse in February. A few days later, I will feel humbled to be standing at the starting line of the YAU with him and other runners attempting to complete the 100-, 300- and 430-mile courses.
As startling as it may sound, completing the full YAU course is not enough for Mark this year. He hopes to continue on from Dawson to Fairbanks, Alaska, following the course of the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, a journey of 1000 miles. And it doesn’t stop there. After resting in Fairbanks for a bit, Mark is planning to travel to Point Barrow, Alaska and from there attempt to set a world record for reaching the Geographic North Pole on foot. This entails an unsupported journey of approximately 2000 miles whose dangers include average temperatures of -40 Fahrenheit, the possibility of falling through the ice, and becoming the equivalent of a bowl of sashimi for the local polar bears. Should he succeed, Mark will set a record that, I suspect, will stand for a very long time.
One question that might have occurred to you is, after reaching the Pole, how does Mark plan to return home? The nearest Metro Station is, after all, more than 4000 miles away. Mark doesn’t explain on his website, but from what I know of the man, I have an idea. After bivying in his sleeping bag until June, he’ll slather his body in whale blubber, hop into the briny Artic Ocean and swim to Bristol. God’s speed, my friend.
P.S. Since posting this story, I received a note from Mark indicating he's made a change in plans. Naturally, the new plan is more ambitious. Here's what he writes:
I do, however, regret to inform you of a change in the plan since you read of my North Pole exploits on the website... I was planning to do the trip to Fairbanks and then the Pole with Jerym Brunton, another YAU 430 finisher. He's had to drop out and will instead be my UK headquarters. These are the changes:
- I'll be taking a flight up to Barrow, Alaska, shortly after finishing the YAU 430 (rather than going to Fairbanks - I'll postpone that route to 2015).
- My plans for the NP are now far more ambitious (although still require sponsorship to realise it). There is a Pole as yet unreached - The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility - the furthest point from land in the Arctic Ocean. I'll reach there on foot from Barrow, then go to the Magnetic North Pole, then the Geographic North Pole, then to the Russian ice base - Camp Barneo - for the flight off the ice.
This is 2000-2500 miles, so realistically it will only happen when the conditions are good enough. The plan is to show that with a few innovations there is scope for an ultra-runners' approach to Arctic travel that has some advantages over traditional methods. Hence, if conditions are bad (lots of pressure ridges / jumble ice) I won't make daily mileages good enough to make it, in which case I'll keep heading back until conditions and the approach are right. Reaching the Inaccessible Pole will be a world first, so the plan is to get there before the traditional lot (and they've been trying).