Another Year of Bad News for the North Pole Marathon

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COURTESY OF JONATHAN PANG

When the race was canceled in 2019, Pang had already arrived in Svalbard and experienced training in conditions similar to what can be expected in the race.

By LENA WEIDENBRUCH, Sports & Health Editor

In preparation for the North Pole Marathon, competitors are constantly told to expect that anything can happen when traveling so far north.

Last year, the race was canceled due to political conflict after competitors had already arrived in Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago from which they would have flown to the sheet of ice where the race would be held. Competitors were refunded and promised entry to the 2020 race. However, even expecting the unexpected could not have prepared anyone for what caused the cancellation of the 2020 race. 

On March 17, it was announced that, due to the coronavirus pandemic and decisions made by the Norwegian government and Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority, the race, set to take place on April 13, would have to be deferred to 2021. 

The announcement stated that Svalbard, and more specifically Longyearbyen, where the group resides and trains before departing for the ice, would be shut down in April. The statement also noted that because of the parameters for safe ice conditions, events such as the North Pole Marathon can only be scheduled to take place above the Arctic Circle in April. 

Fordham University student Jonathan Pang, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’20, was one of those competitors with guaranteed entry to the 2020 race. He was made aware of the cancellation of this year’s race on WeChat from the Chinese race coordinator. 

Pang said that he had been rethinking whether he should participate in the race or not as early as January. At that time, he was in China with his family and was already witnessing the magnitude of the coronavirus situation. 

“However,” he said, “I didn’t expect the virus to spread out so quickly and expansively insofar that both Europe and the U.S. have been significantly impacted. Therefore, I understand the cancellation.”

Pang is determined to make his third attempt to participate in the race next year. His father, also set to race in 2019 and 2020, will look to finally participate as well.

Pang and his fellow competitors fall into a unique situation to have witnessed the cancellation of two North Pole Marathons in a row. Since the first unofficial North Pole Marathon was run in 2002, the race has otherwise only not been held once, in 2005.

The cancellations of the 2019 and 2020 races have not stopped Pang, an avid runner since 2009. Last October, he raced across 26.2 miles for the first time at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. 

Despite the cancellation of this year’s race, “I’d say that the preparation never stops,” Pang said.

He has continued to keep up with his usual six to eight miles a day in training for the race even amid the increasingly restrictive social distancing mandates in New York City. 

“Honestly, running helps me to positively cope with the quarantine because it allows me to stay outside for an hour which seems simple, but really has so many positive effects on the wellbeing of both my body and mind,” he said. “It especially helps to mitigate the slight depression that most of us are suffering from isolation.”

Pang has stuck to the East and Hudson River Parks in Manhattan for his runs. Although he said the crowd by the Hudson is typically larger, there is plenty of space to keep a safe distance from others. He even mentioned wearing a mask and gloves at times. 

Looking to the future, Pang will once again have guaranteed entry for the 2021 North Pole Marathon. 

“The third time should be a charm I hope,” he said.