Winter and Breakup Snapshots from North Pole, Alaska
Written by Femmebassador Kelly Rose Thomas
Living in the North Pole, Alaska for the past 2 years has redefined the lower temperature limit of what I consider “too cold” to train outdoors. My family moved here from San Antonio, Texas in January 2016. The temperature change was 80 degrees with only 4 hours 14 minutes between sunrise and sunset.
Our first Alaskan run was a few days after we arrived. We attended a weekly pub run at Hoodoo Brewery, led by Stacy from Goldstream Sports store. The temperature had warmed up to -11F, which was cold enough to break the plastic clasp of my husband’s reflective belt within 30 seconds of exposure to the air and quickly drained the battery of my headlamp. Ron and Mike from Team RWB Fairbanks ran with us to show us the route.
So many people participate in this weekly run, held year-round and in all weather conditions, the trail was snow packed enough to take the jogging stroller. I bundled our 2-yr old son in his snow gear, blankets, and put up the “weather shield” for extra protection. He was warm and toasty during our run, which was just shy of 3 miles.
First outdoor run in 2017 (Yes, it says -20!)
Fast forward to our second year in Alaska, I learned training during the winter months requires dedication, discipline, durability- and maybe a little extra push from family and friends! Goal events happen no matter what your personal circumstances or training weather are, you have to train if you want to perform well. There were multiple mornings when the temperatures were -47F and I would have preferred staying in my nice warm house in front of the toasty fireplace instead of driving in the dark to the pool, but my husband would ask, “are you ready for me to back the car out for you?” Those extra cold early morning drives to the swimming pool were usually rewarded by a Northern Lights show, with “Lady Aurora” dancing in the sky.
Winter solstice, the length of daylight is less than 4 hours. The hours of daylight then begin to increase, slowly at first with approximately 3-4 additional minutes per day, then building to nearly 7 minutes per day! By mid-March, there are 11.5 hours from sunrise to sunset (from 3.75 hours in December). The skies are the bluest I have ever seen. Snow covers the ground and trees and the outdoors looks so inviting!! The temperatures, however, can be very cold.
March 2017, after training indoors for nearly 5 months, I began to feel stir crazy. I bundled up, and while my husband and son went ice fishing on a nearby lack, I ran on the snowmobile trails surrounding the lake. Despite being -20F, running on fresh snow felt similar to running on sandy beaches. A few weeks after my first outdoor run of the season, I decided to run home from the lake, which is approximately 8.5 miles. I quickly learned to wear my running vest (carrying a cell phone, hydration bottles, extra warmth in case I needed it) beneath my puffy jacket so the contents wouldn’t freeze. On the streets protected from the light wind, I was able to remove my outer layer, but once I turned a corner and faced the wind, that layer went back on. The frozen ground felt so hard!
April 13th, 2017 - "Let's bundle up and ride bikes!"
April 15th, 2017 - Beat Beethoven 5k "Woohoo, We can wear shorts!"
“Break-up” is the name given to springtime in Alaska. The rivers “break up,” the snow begins to melt, and everything is a slushy, muddy mess! The weather warms, rabbits reappear and return to their brown color, and training outdoors becomes much more pleasant. The Arctic Triathlon Series race #1 holds their first race in early May, called the Break-Up Tri.
My husband serves in the military and we are quite fortunate to have the opportunity to explore new places every few years. Alaska is beautiful, but I am looking forward to our upcoming move to Pennsylvania.