We are delighted to report that Paul Bowker returned from the Arctic Circle after five exceptionally cold and extremely tough days, clutching a rather large medal confirming that he has completed the 2017 Ice Ultra. The final distance for the race was about 220kms.
He was delighted to finish (only 16 out of the 28 starters completed the full course) and to end up in 10th position overall was incredible.
“It was an amazing event – this region of the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden, known as Europe’s last wilderness, was at the same time breathtakingly beautiful but also brutal, intimidating and at times threatening. The temperature was recorded as low as -27c, which combined with very strong cross-winds made the climate much harder to cope with than the heat of the desert. The most important thing was to keep moving at all times since the body simply seized up with cold as soon as you stopped. Removing gloves to make any kit adjustments was out of the question as you quickly lost the use of the hands!
Day One (52km) was particularly brutal – overcast weather all day, driving winds, and extreme cold. The low point of the day was reaching the final checkpoint at about 40kms, to be told that there was only another 12km to go, but that it was almost all up a very steep hill. These final 12kms were under head torch in the black of night making it very hard to see the route, with -25c and a 50mph cross wind! Everyone was extremely relieved to get to the overnight camp. We were rewarded by a spectacular star display and enough of the green tinge of the Northern Lights to make us forget the day.
Worth mentioning that I had an additional handicap following Day One. When I went to strap on my snow shoes at the start line on Day Two they were found to have fallen apart and were unwearable, meaning that I had to spend all of the second and third days, and half of Day Four without the help of the snowshoes.
Day Two and Three (both about 42kms) were completely different – stunning blue skies, sun and no wind. Day Two was very varied terrain, generally flat and with much of it through forests. All very beautiful. Day Three was called “The Lakes” and was the day that most competitors found the most psychologically difficult – about 90% of the day was spent crossing three enormous lakes (the largest, 20kms long, genuinely felt like it would never finish). At least two competitors arrived at the overnight camp, at the far end of the final lake, in a pretty bad state of mind.
Day Four (65kms) was always going to be long and tough. A combination of everything that we had seen in the previous days. Large lakes, big forests, significant hills, and surface water resulting in wet – and subsequently freezing – feet. Thankfully, one of my fellow competitors who had to drop out asked for her snow shoes to be sent out to me so I did at least have these to complete the long day – I am almost certain I would not have made it through this day without them (thank you Jane!).
The final Day Five was described as the “Sprint” – just 15kms. Everyone’s legs by this stage meant that it was taken fairly gently and indeed I managed to tear a tendon in my calf about 5kms in to this stretch, meaning that I had to nurse it gently for 10kms to ensure that I made it to the finish line. I have never been so glad to finish a race.
There is no doubt that this was a very tough event. We had people removed from the race or not finishing due to frostbite, hypothermia and simple exhaustion. I was fortunate to escape all of these. We had a fantastic group of competitors from around the world (UK, Canada, South Africa, Austria, Japan, Holland) and I must give full credit to the organizers for impeccable organization. Also to the wonderful volunteer medics from Exile Medics who kept a very close eye on all of us.
The one thing that I did have on this race was a lot of time on my own and I spent a lot of time thinking about Archie and the amazing potential which I know this lovely young man would have fulfilled. With your amazing, and incredibly generous support, for which I, and the Lloyd family could not be more grateful, we have so far raised over £26,000 including Gift Aid which will make a huge difference to the Charity. James and Claire are very keen that this sum is put to a specific project, to be decided, which I am thrilled about.
Quite apart from the extraordinary financial support, I have also been completely overwhelmed by the amazing messages – texts, emails, Facebook, Instagram etc. I was completely unaware of these until the end of the race when I was reunited with internet access and was totally taken aback, and quite emotional, by everything that I read. Thank you all so much for your support for me and teamArchie.”