for those who love the outdoors

18 October, 2023


A shotgun, a polar cough and a race across a glacier!

Greenland is the coldest and strangest country I have ever been too. It is not green and it is more frozen ice than land, it’s what I imagine the end of the world to look like.

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When you picture Greenland you think of snow, icebergs, ships and explorers. No one ever pictures a runner and a half marathon course; although the event has been running for the last 18 years.

The Polar Circle Half Marathon, often referred to as "the coolest marathon on Earth" takes place in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The endless ice and arctic tundra of this vast country are the backdrop for this unusual race, in which runners race over and through the soundless arctic desert past glacier tongues and moraine landscapes. I never expected the race course to be so sandy or so sound-less!

When I signed up for the race, I knew this was totally out of my comfort zone, but I had over a year to get prepared. I made a plan, set up a spreadsheet, created a wish list of people I wanted to work with, contacted two local charities to start the fundraising and then off I went.

I knew crossing the start line was going to be challenging, but it’s getting to the start line that proved to be the hardest part!

When I got to the start line, I wanted to be mentally strong, physically strong and plan to have some gas in the tank for emergencies.

My Greenland training plan went something like this:

7 months of pre training from January to July 2022: from a standing start up to 8K's.

4 months of specific half marathon training programme July to October: race day was October 30th 2022

The 16 week half marathon training Included 70 running session which totalled 265 miles and 16 gym sessions.

Plus, training in The Environmental Extremes Laboratory at The University of Brighton. This was a giant room that acted like a freezer. Inside the room was a running machine and various items of scientific testing equipment. Here I had multiple training sessions running in temperatures of -10c and -20c. These sessions provided the opportunity to test kit, fine tune fuelling and most importantly understand how my body would react to these low temperatures. At first the sessions were scary and zapped my emotional and physically energy, but with practice they become bearable! At -20 breathing was hard and I developed a dry rasping cough, my teeth hurt and my nose hairs froze. I was expanding my comfort zone with every session.

It was ironic that I was training during a heat wave in the UK with temperatures hitting 40 degrees, to go to a place with temperatures down to -20. A 60-degree difference is hard to prepare for. I am not good in the heat and ended up running at 6am before the temperature began to rise.

I had a plan for the physical training, but I knew it was my mental preparation that needed addressing. My biggest barrier was keeping a lid on my fear monkeys! They were loud, negative and always at their most boisterous in the middle of the night.

I knew I needed help to power up my mindset. I knew I needed to manage my fear and not let it overwhelm me.

Why was Greenland so scary:

The course was very remote: literally at the top of the world – no crowds, no cheering, no people just you!

I was running on ice with spikes: the course was icy, rocky and unforgiving. I had never run with spikes before and you can’t practice that in Brighton.

The temperature can drop to -20: that’s definitely scary, energy sapping and makes it hard to breathe. Have you ever heard of the Polar cough!

You run most of the course on your own: the race has limited places and very quickly the runners spread out. This scared me the most but actually was what I loved the best!!

So, over the next year I worked with Zoe Carroll, a performance coach, to work on expanding my comfort zone, facing my fears and implementing a race strategy.

My strategy for the race was to run steady and LOVE every single moment, to be able to look about, embrace the enormity of the glacier, cherish every step I took and bank what I saw and how I felt. Now 6 months on, I can remember every mile of the course. This was not a race that you just run, this is a race that you slide on your bottom, skid, walk, leap, shuffle and clamber on all fours. At times it literally took my breath away and made my heart burst with the silence, beauty and remoteness of the race.

At the last mile marker, I stopped and took it all in, just me and a 360-degree monochrome vista of ice and rock. I was both sad the end was near and excited to cross the finish line. Over the last mile I was getting slower and slower as the cold was creeping in, I tapped into my race strategy, ate jelly babies and powered up my Inner Arctic Wonder Woman. For me it was never about racing to the finish line but enjoying all the miles and experiences along the way.

I remembered crossing the line, hugging my sister and looking back on the alien landscape feeling cold, elated and a little crazy. My finishers medal hangs in my kitchen and I see it every day, as a daily reminder of adventures done and to be had!

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Hello from The Greenland Ice Sheet from Nicky Chisholm on Vimeo.

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The unexpected surprises of my Greenland Adventure:

Random: As part of my PR campaign I had a photo shoot with a 9ft inflatable polar bear that caused a stir on Brighton beach and made the local papers and local radio. I created a polar flag for my sponsors, had an igloo cake made for me, had a song written for me and was given a bespoke gingerbread good luck charm.

Uncomfortable: Not to be repeated experience with a rectal thermometer, this was part of the safety protocol with the Laboratory team, no thermometer means no training in the Laboratory. The thermometer kept an eye on my core temperature and allowed us to track my body’s reaction to the extreme cold. It turns out my body likes the cold!

Scary: I learnt about the 3 degrees of frostbite and was scared at how my lungs reacted to -20 in my first training session in the Lab. I came out of that training session and had a meltdown in the car on the way home. The whole experience was totally outside my comfort zone, I had no point of reference to hold onto. Thankfully I enjoyed the other sessions as I knew what was coming.

I have also never been on a race start line before when the race official had a shotgun - to scare off any polar bears!!

Managing the calls of nature on the ice cap: Bottom line is always leave nothing behind. Be prepared with environmentally friendly wipes, nappy bags and hand sanitizer. Be prepared to have a chilly bottom and leave your modesty at home.

Fundraising was a big part of the journey. Through donations and sponsorship, I raised over £2500 money for two local charities Safe in Sussex and Chestnut Tree House. The support from friends, family and the kindness of strangers was a powerful driver throughout my training.

Meeting extraordinary people: One of the things I loved the most was connecting with the race entrants that had travelled to Greenland from across the world. Meeting everyone for the first time was seriously nerve wracking. I had to walk back out, give myself a strong talking to, take lots of deep breaths and remind myself I had a much right to be in that room as everyone else. I was a novice but had done all the training and was super prepared. 

I spent the next week listening and learning from an eclectic, interesting and humble bunch of runners. These included a Doctor from Delhi, an Everest Marathon runner, 2 accountants that had just done the Antarctica Marathon, helicopter pilots, runners in the 5 marathons on 5 continents challenge and 2 Mexican ultra runners. These all led to some very odd conversations over breakfast. These were not your average bunch of people and it slowly dawned on me that I was part of this bunch too!

A few facts about Greenland:

Greenland: Is a strange place and you would need a strong constitution to live here - you need to love its extremes otherwise its cold, remote, challenging and simple life would be very tough in the dark winter months. The interior of Greenland’s vast landmass is covered with a permanent ice cap. Even with rapid climate change, all human life lives close to the coastline. 57,000 people live here, the population is so small and the terrain so mountainous and wild that there are no roads connecting the towns and tiny settlements. Only a handful of places actually have tarmacked roads. 

Climate Projects: The government has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are investing in renewable energy and developing sustainable transportation. They are also working on projects to reduce single use plastic, recycling and composting programs.

Renewable energy: Greenland has abundant renewable energy resources, including hydroelectric, wind, and solar power. By 2030 the government has set a goal to become 100% powered by renewable energy, and is working on a large-scale hydroelectric plant and several wind farms. In 2021 Greenland halted all new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

Protected areas: new reserves and national parks have been identified to protect the shrinking natural environments. Greenland already has the world's largest National Park.

WLF 7621 Woman on a misson Inspection day

What have I learnt:

It was a big race and far beyond my capabilities when I first read about it. But by making a plan and breaking it down, coupled with a daily dose of determination and a training plan stuck to the fridge I made it to the start line.

When I needed to, I can unleash a powerful attitude and as it turns out making things happen is one of my super powers!

What’s next for me:

I have my eye on the North Pole Half Marathon! and that is a whole new level of cold and scary!

Over and Out

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Nicky Chisholm

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My very first adventure was on a Tall Ship called The Sir Winston Churchill when I had just turned 18.

I have loved adventures ever since. Although I still get seasick 30 years on!

I would describe myself as an everyday adventurer. I try and squeeze adventure into my every day from walks, swims and runs to film, podcasts and books. I am always on the look out for communities to connect with and adventures to be found.

I have just hit 50 and my adventure journey has changed so many times over the years, from a 20-year-old canoeing and sailing instructor, to a Mum with young children teaching them to embrace the outdoors through camping, building dens and cooking on open fires, to a mum of young teens when we surfed, coast steered, climbed Ben Nevis and swam in the North Sea!

My boys are in their late teens now and are slowly flying the nest, it is here I find myself now, ready to embrace the next stage of my adventure journey.

Embracing my new found freedom and loving being outside, I am ready to do some exploring!

My adventure journey has included Moonwalks, marathon walks along Hadrians Wall and the South Coast, firewalks, abseiling down castles, coast steering, a cross country ski marathon in the Arctic Circle, a wing walk and training in an Environmental Cold Chamber at the University of Sussex at minus 20!

I have just come back from running a 1/2 marathon in Greenland - the biggest and most extreme event I have ever taken part in. This Arctic adventure has definitely left me with a fire in soul for more adventures.

This year I am off trekking in Peru, visiting the Amazon Rainforest, hiking around the Isle of Wight and organising a mega sea swim for over 500 "mermaids" to celebrate International Women's Day.

When I am not on an adventure I am working with my beautiful VW Camper Van called Daisy on photo shoots - if you want you or your business to stand out from the crowd then its time to book a branding shoot with Daisy.

See what DaisyVW has been up to

Photo Shoot Dates: Private shoots also available on request

Check out The Big Mermaid Dip for International Women's Day in Brighton - March 11th - Watch out for March 2024 Dates

Happy Adventuring

Nicky Chisholm aka #PinkNicky

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