A marathon across Greenland’s fjords

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When Troy first suggested an adventure trip to Greenland earlier this year, I didn’t need much convincing. Hiking, ice trekking and kayaking in the vast wilderness were right up my alley. Shortly after that, he told me the best part—a trip just opened up with all those activities plus a marathon! One of the many reasons I run races is that they give me a chance to explore an area, and in this case, see the countryside.  It would be my first attempt at an international marathon. 

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When we lost two days of our Greenland trip due to the flight cancellations, we came up with every possible strategy to try to make up the lost time. One option was to forgo the marathon to spend the day visiting sights we had missed. Our guide Ester convinced us to run the marathon and promised us that she would try to make up as much as possible during the rest of the trip. We trusted her judgement and were not disappointed. 

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The marathon started Saturday morning at 10 am with a short debriefing in many different languages at the schoolhouse of the small village of Qassiarsuk, South Greenland.  It was cloudy, cold and misty with sprinkling off and on. Troy and I were in the minority, surrounded by Greenlanders and Europeans from various countries including Spain, Germany, and Denmark. We were also told that we were the 3rd and 4th Americans to run in this race series since its inception 9 years ago!

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When we took off, we started down the main dirt road of the village. Runners were dressed in various colors that seemed to match the colorful homes and buildings of the town. 

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We began climbing a mountain within the first mile of the race. As we continued running over mountains and down valleys, we headed to the next fjord to the west 6 miles away.  I was able to run the flats and downhills but the steepness of the inclines slowed me down to a fast hike. 

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Some of the downslopes required me to hike as well but the views of the valleys were amazing and distracted from the physical challenge of the climbs. 

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Much of the countryside was scattered with white and black sheep grazing on the tundra. We heard the “baa” of the sheep all throughout the race. Some crossed our paths and looked up for a moment before scurrying off. 

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After climbing one of the hills, a kind Greenlandic lady runner offered to take my picture as I marveled at the scenery. I became known by the other runners during the race due to my frequent stops to capture photos of the scenery. 

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As I came up to each aid station, I tried speaking to the volunteers. I found out that each station was manned by volunteers from the neighboring village of Qaqortoq, the largest town in south Greenland. Some could speak a couple words of English but many could not. At one aid station, I tried expressing my appreciation of the beauty of the land to an elderly Greenlandic lady. She understood my gestures and smile and returned one as well. She took several photos of me with her phone and allowed me to take one of her and her husband. On my return through her aid station, I experienced one of my most memorable moments of the race—a big, long hug from this beautiful woman. 

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For the second half of the race, we ran 7 miles alongside the bay of the fjord before turning around to head back to Qassiarsuk. The icebergs floating in the water provided great distraction from the numerous long climbs.

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After each set of mountains, we descended to sea level and enjoyed the rocky shoreline. Streams from waterfalls and glacial melt entered into the sea in each of the valleys. 

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I passed through two small villages made up of a handful of houses during the second half of the marathon. As I approached the second village, I came across a valley of wildflowers where every color of the rainbow was represented. It was stunning!

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As I began the last 9 miles of the marathon to return to the start line, a fog descended on the fjord and mountains. It added texture to the scene as it hung over the mountains while I ran through the valleys. 

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It became more difficult in the last few miles as I climbed to the top of the mountains into the fog and rain. Those conditions and the cold didn’t stop me from pausing every kilometer or so to snap a photo. Lakes were plentiful throughout the mountains and the fog created an ominous atmosphere. 

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I could have run for hours more through this land, but I was very grateful to see the finish line.  My Strava app calculated almost 5000 ft of elevation gain over the 27 miles with only 265 photo stops!

The race was worth every minute and I highly recommend it to all my fellow runners.

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Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

30 thoughts on “A marathon across Greenland’s fjords”

  1. Your endurance in this terrain and these conditions amaze me! You are my hero 🙂 What beautiful scenery…not surprised AT ALL at your 265 photo stops…lol It’s breathtaking countryside 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol. Yes, I couldn’t help myself. Every time I thought I would just keep running, I stopped myself and thought about when I would be back and realized it might be awhile. Thanks so much for all your help and kindness.

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  2. I can tell how much you appreciated the beauty of this country, Amy. Your photos are beautiful with all the green, icebergs bobbing along the flow, sheep running across your running road and even those wildflowers. I would easily guess that this is a place you would love to return to, to visit again with much more time. Thank you for sharing and taking us along on your journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are awesome Amy, what an experience running a marathon in that area. You are living life to the fullest, so happy for you and for taking us along.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. hello Amy
    The pictures are amazingly beautiful. Can you please provide information on how you were able to make the trip from the States. I would definitely be interested in doing something similar if some opportunity opens up.

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    1. Hi Rajat! Thank you for your kind words! I would be happy to pass along any information to help you attend this race next year! You can go on the Facebook page of the race. It is in Danish but you could use google translate to get the info on the race particulars. The page is Leif den Lykkeliges Maraton. I took a flight from the US to Iceland, landing in Keflavík International Airport. I then took a flight from Reykjavík Domestic airport through Air Iceland Connect over to Narsarsuaq. From there, you have to find a ferry or fisherman to take you across the fjord to Qassiarsuk where the marathon is held. There is a hotel in Narsarsuaq or a hostel in Qassiarsuk that are great for these types of trips. Air Greenland also flies from Denmark or Keflavík International Airport to Narsarsuaq. I hope that helps!

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