Battling frostbite, sub zero temperatures and winds of 40 miles an hour failed to dampen the character and spirit of one ambitious SkillForce fundraiser.
Andrea Stevenson, 34, Head of Business Development at Neuron Advisers LLP in London, has raised £2,100 for the charity by completing this year’s Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland.
Donations are still being accepted. For more information on how you can support SkillForce, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andrea-Stevenson7
The 26.2-mile race – described as the coolest marathon on earth – involves running on the polar ice cap and through ice and snow in remote valleys battling fierce winds in wind chill temperatures of up to minus 35 degrees.
“It was my first marathon and the experience was wonderful – tough and challenging without a doubt – but rewarding and magical in equal measure,” said Andrea, who wore balaclavas, ice spikes and snow gaiters to cope with the extreme conditions.
She adds, “The ice cap was one of the most magical scenes I have laid eyes on with boulders of shiny, glass-like ice dotted around the landscape interspersed with powdery snow blowing like desert sand across the top, white as far as the eye could see and all set against a pink sky sunrise.”
Memorable highlights for Andrea include running past frozen lakes and seeing the Russell Glacier, passing an Arctic hare and reindeer on route as well as receiving an unexpected phone call from her parents at the 33km mark to find out how she was getting on.
She decided to race for SkillForce after hearing about the difference the charity makes to both to the young people who benefit from mentoring and education programmes, and the ex-Services personnel who deliver them.
Ben Slade, Chief Executive of SkillForce, says, “I want to congratulate Andrea for her amazing achievement and thank her, on behalf of everyone at SkillForce, for such a wonderful act of kindness. We are humbled and honoured that Andrea has thought of our charity and put herself through a brutal course for the benefit of the young people and veterans with whom we work.”
Andrea is a member of 100 Women in Hedge Funds, a global non-profit organization that has fundraised for SkillForce after launching a partnership with the charity for 2016 based on the theme of mentoring.
Andrea was also inspired by her family connections to adventure. Having grown up on the Hebridean island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, and in Saudi Arabia, she developed an early fascination with remote landscapes and harsh environments as well as tales of exploration, endurance and survival.
This was furthered by the adventures of her great uncle, John ‘Jock’ Matheson who was considered one of the most experienced polar explorers of the early 20th century. “His stories have provided me with inspiration for this unique race,” commented Andrea, who completed the race in six hours, 36 minutes and eight seconds.
Andrea explains, “The main challenge was the fact there were so many unknowns with it being my first marathon and the conditions being so unusual. This required calling on various physical and mental reserves, including willpower, resilience, calmness and a sense of humour – all qualities SkillForce tries to empower young people with.”
She adds, “The race organisers planned for us to be running on the ice cap as the sun rose and they timed it perfectly. The initial part of the course involved an exposed uphill climb in single file to get us onto the crest of the ice cap. We struggled to build some pace while slipping and sliding around. The snow was knee-high in places. The wind was strong with the wind chill said to be around – 35C and we had no shelter.”
The runners had to have safety checks before they were allowed to step onto the ice, and during the race. Andrea explains, “With the low temperatures and strong winds, the risk of frostbite was high and the race team had set up stations where they checked us all individually for any signs and to provide warm drinks.
“The Arctic conditions there are amongst the driest on earth and it’s easy to get dehydrated without noticing, because of the cold, so it was a race obligation that we all stopped and drank at each station. It was an amazing feeling crossing the finishing line. I loved every minute of the race and spent the whole day with a smile on my face, which remained with me throughout the rest of the trip in that beautiful country.”