The third annual Polar Bear Marathon needed to have one of its distances rerouted because the bears got a little too close.
The Churchill, Man., event hosts a half-marathon, a marathon and an ultramarathon, the draw being often extreme temperatures and a chance to see the bears in an area they frequent during fall and winter months. The town, located in northern Manitoba on the coast of Hudson Bay, has been deemed the polar bear capital of the world. The animals move towards the coast — sometimes into town — from areas farther inland to hunt seals from the sea ice during the fall when temperatures drop.
The unique destination race saw -26C temperatures and five polar bears outside of town which forced the ultramarathon runners to change their route and run extra laps of the town to stay a safe distance from the animals. The course of all three distances roughly follows the Hudson Bay shoreline. Because of the danger from the cold and bears, each runner is assigned a support vehicle which carries food, extra clothing and a bear watcher equipped with a rifle in case of emergency.
This was the first year the 50K ultramarathon and half-marathon were held and the first year the bears actually caused any problems. Last year, none of the runners saw any polar bears, many of which have left town by the end of November. Two years ago, when the event was first held, there was only one polar bear sighted. The cold can be more of a concern for most. Four of the five ultramarathon runners this year went home with mild frostbite.
Race organizer Albert Martens is a resident of Steinbach, Man., a town southeast of Winnipeg, but comes north to host the race each year.