Arctic marathon over ice road ‘spectacular’: runner

You’ve heard of ice road truckers — long-haul drivers who pilot supply-laden big rigs over frozen rivers and oceans in Canada’s Arctic.

INUVIK, N.W.T. — You’ve heard of ice road truckers — long-haul drivers who pilot supply-laden big rigs over frozen rivers and oceans in Canada’s Arctic.

Now a 57-year-old woman has become what may be Canada’s first ice road marathoner.

Alicja Barahona was resting somewhere comfortable and warm Monday after spending the weekend running the entire length of the ice road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories. And she ran it not just once, but twice.

That’s 370 kilometres and more than 76 hours of running in temperatures so cold that at one point she almost fainted while trying to warm up.

“The wind in the Arctic from the ocean picks up so quickly,” she said from Inuvik. “It was at least – 40 C.”

Already wearing two jackets, she stopped to pull her third, down-filled coat from the sled she pulled behind her.

“When I pulled the jacket from my bag I lost feeling in my fingers. I couldn’t use the zipper because I couldn’t use my hands. That was in a matter of minutes.

“I couldn’t stop shivering.”

Fortunately, it was still daylight, and Barahona was close enough to Tuktoyaktuk for a passing car to spot her.

“I got a hot drink, but I couldn’t drink,” she said. “A few minutes later, I almost fainted inside the car.

“Then everything returned to normal and I regained myself.”

But Barahona prefers to remembers the good moments from a run she describes as “spectacular.”

“I just looked left and right and admired the emptiness. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the ice was on the (Mackenzie) river and on the Arctic Ocean.

“This blue ice — at some times I was stopping and I was looking if I could see any fish. It was so clear.

“That was the pleasure of this run.”

Barahona, a naturalized Canadian who now lives in New York, is an experienced ultramarathoner who has run in the Sahara Desert and along the route of Alaska’s Iditarod sled dog race. But she has always wanted to run above the Arctic Circle and so got in touch with last fall with members of the Inuvik Running Club, who helped set it up.

In gratitude, she made her run a fundraiser for the Inuvik Homeless Shelter and raised more than $20,000.

Her equipment was simple: running shoes, heavy socks, warm long underwear and wind-stopper pants, several layers on her torso and gloves inside thick mittens.

The adventure was worth the suffering, she said.

“I’m very, very happy with my dream coming true.”

Although the cold was eyelash-freezing, her jackets still iced up on the inside from perspiration.

Support from Inuvik’s runners and traffic on the road kept her safe. To Barahona’s relief, there were no polar bears.

The Inuvik Running Club joined her for the last 30 kilometres and she was given a police escort as she finally returned to Inuvik on Sunday afternoon.

The adventure was worth the suffering, she said.

“I’m very, very happy with my dream coming true.”