So­cial Move­ment The run­ning club at the top of the world

It’s -16C, it’s dark and was that a po­lar bear I just heard? Time for a brisk run

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

NEXT TIME you’re strug­gling to get out the door for a run on a chilly morn­ing, spare a thought for mem­bers of the Longyear­byen run­ning club in the Nor­we­gian ar­chi­pel­ago of Svalbard. Win­ter tem­per­a­tures there range from -7C to -16C, and be­tween mid-Novem­ber and late Jan­uary, the area ex­pe­ri­ences ‘po­lar night’ – ab­so­lute dark­ness 24 hours a day. And then there’s the lo­cal po­lar bear pop­u­la­tion to con­tend with. Peo­ple are ad­vised to al­ways carry a ri­fle when trav­el­ling out­side ‘down­town’ Longyear­byen.

Despite all this, Trine Hakon­sen, a run leader with Svalbard Turn Jogge­gruppa, the lo­cal run­ning club, in­sists Longyear­byen is a great place for run­ning.

Twice a week, 52 weeks a year, Trine, 51, who heads the fi­nance de­part­ment of a lo­cal com­pany, leads run­ners on a five-mile loop in and around town. The runs start at 6.30pm on Tues­days and 4.30pm on Thurs­days. And if you ever hap­pen to be in town, she’d like you to come along. ‘The po­lar bears are sel­dom close to the city,’ she says.

Longyear­byen is the third-north­ern­most town in the world, perched on the edge of Spits­ber­gen, the ar­chi­pel­ago’s largest is­land. It is closer to the North Pole than it is to Oslo. With a pop­u­la­tion of lit­tle over 2,000 – and a tran­sient one at that (some re­searchers stay for a few months at a time) – it’s of­ten a small group that gath­ers for the run. But the hardy souls who do ven­ture out value it greatly. In a town where life re­volves around long, cold, dark win­ters, hav­ing a group ac­tiv­ity twice a week helps re­lieve cabin fever. ‘At one point I felt that one of my fel­low run­ners al­most acted as my pri­vate psy­chi­a­trist, and I hers, but we never met up out­side of run­ning,’ says Pernille Bronken Eidesen, 42, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in ter­res­trial bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity Cen­tre in Svalbard and a fre­quent Tues­day-night par­tic­i­pant.

Trine doesn’t know when Svalbard Turn Jogge­gruppa started, but she has been a mem­ber since 2001 and took a lead­er­ship role in 2007. The club is open to run­ners of all abil­i­ties. Af­ter all, she says, it’s the shared ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning through a bru­tal yet beau­ti­ful land­scape and em­brac­ing the el­e­ments together that makes run­ners com­pat­i­ble.

‘The run­ning group is par­tic­u­larly nice to have when the weather is bad and you would rather be in­side,’ says Pernille.‘it gives you that ex­tra push to get some fresh air.’

Come early sum­mer, group-run par­tic­i­pa­tion tends to in­crease, as the tem­per­a­ture rises to 6C and the an­nual Spits­ber­gen Marathon draws near. The June event, which at­tracts run­ners from main­land Nor­way as well as the wider world, is the most pop­u­lar run­ning event on the Svalbard cal­en­dar.

But it’s win­ter when Longyear­byen’s run­ners ex­pe­ri­ence the best re­wards of be­ing part of the run­ning club at the top of the world. ‘In the win­ter­time, light pol­lu­tion is at its least,’ says Pernille. ‘If it’s a clear sky, we run the road to­ward the Longyear Glacier and watch the North­ern Lights.’

SNOW MO­BILE Pernille Bronken Eidesen (in yel­low) and a fel­low run­ner , and (in­set, in pur­ple) Trine Hakon­sen and other mem­bers of the Svalbard run­ning club

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