Friday, March 9, 2012

Running and Polar Bears…

My running journey officially started while I was on a one year remote tour to Thule, Greenland while serving in the US Air Force.  Thule is a very unique place, the US military’s northernmost base, located on northwest side of the island of Greenland approximately 695 miles above the Arctic Circle and 947 miles south of the North Pole.  My first impression of Thule was established the second I stepped off the aircraft.  Being a bit jet lagged I looked off to the horizon and saw the ICE CAP… “Oh Brian, this is going to be a long year” I thought to myself.  Then I remembered that Thule spent nearly 6 months in total darkness during the long arctic winter.

I arrived at Thule, August 2000, and hit the gym on day one, determined to shed a few pounds.  With such a harsh environment and with me being so out of shape much of my training took place indoors on a treadmill.  I was making real progress at losing weight, gaining endurance, and falling in love with the run.  Then the dark season and the cold winter months of the arctic winter began.  Throughout the winter and into early spring I banged out approx 600 miles and saw my run progress from a pedestrian two miles up to a long run exceeding 20 miles, all on a treadmill.  During my many hours stuck inside, I dreamed about finally being able to run outside.  March gave way to April and the dark gave way to spring and the return of the sun.

Once the sun re-appeared the temperatures rose to a balmy 40 degrees, a desire to get outside and run was overwhelming.  Once outside, I mostly stayed around the base logging runs from 5 to 10 miles zig-zagging the roadways of main base.  Located north of main base is the remote radar station which Thule supports.  It was on a beautiful Saturday morning that I decided to try out my fitness and run to the radar station and back, round trip of 20+ miles.

Early in the morning I departed my dorm room and headed out on the road.  It was wonderful running outside after all the hours stuck inside.  The sun was bright, the air was crisp and cool and my legs were working near perfection.  All was going well. The first 10 miles prior to my turn around location were run at a good pace yet felt easy, it must have been the magic of being outside.  For the majority of this run I was alone running up the road that connects the main base with the radar site.  This road is very desolate and at portions you’re isolated by miles of empty arctic landscape.  At another section you run along the outcropping of the ice cap…truly a wonderful site where nature and the world come together.  The views I had that day were truly a once in a lifetime experience.  After making the turn for home the miles began to add up and this easy run turned into a bit of a struggle…determined but tired, I made it back to my dorm safe and sound.

The next morning I met with my boss, the base commander, and after reviewing the business of the day I was able to share with him my arctic adventure.  Energized by the run, I shared with him every detail, and he listened intently and questioned me how far I had gone.  “Sir, I ran up to the ice cap at the BMEWS site and turned around,” I proudly boosted.  The Col. got a concerned look, “Brian, you do know that polar bear have been spotted on base?”  “Ah no Sir, I did not know that, but I did not see any” I replied.  The Col. then replied, “I wasn’t worried about you seeing them, I am thankful they did not see you…cause polar bears at this time of the year, eat everything they see.” 

That was my first and last long run at Thule Air Base Greenland.

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