Why would anyone want to run 250km through face-freezing winds, knee-deep snow and -28°C temperatures, let alone a Spaniard, used to balmy evening runs on gravelly mountain tracks? But it’s this contrast that world-champion ultra-runner, Pau Capell, was looking for. He wanted to suffer. Because his cause was bigger than just a long run – and let’s face it, Pau is used to long runs.
Our climate is changing. The effects are global. No place will remain unchanged, but every change will be unique to each place. Some regions will get warmer while others will get cooler. The specifics of which we don’t fully know as they depend on a variety of potential outcomes and feedback loops. But we do know that the Arctic is getting warmer. Over the past two decades it’s warming rate has been twice that of the rest of the world. And if we don’t act now, temperatures in the Arctic will be 5-10ºC warmer by the end of the century.
“A couple of years ago I watched a documentary about polar bears,” explains Pau. “It said they have to travel as much as 250km extra to survive because Arctic ice is melting. I thought, ‘wow, this is crazy and this is our fault’. At that moment I wanted to do something and that’s how the idea for Run For The Arctic started.”
Two years later, standing in Alta, Norway, facing a particularly harsh northerly wind and a temperature reading of close to -30ºC, Pau wondered if he could make it.
“The first few days were a big surprise. I’m used to running long distances, so performance wise I wasn’t worried. But I wasn’t expecting my eyelashes to freeze and my face Buff to become solid with ice. I started to think that breathing really hard would be dangerous. I wasn’t sure I would finish. It felt so unhealthy to be running like this.”
But Pau is pretty good at dealing with pain and discomfort. He knows when to push and when to back off and soon he settled into a rhythm. Though he couldn’t slow his pace. In fact, he was forced to increase his pace slightly each day and chase the sun in order to cover the 50km or so daily distance before sunset.
“Day by day the daylight was getting less and on the fourth day the route was a bit longer, so I didn’t make it before sunset at 12pm. I had to use a headlight for the last two hours, which was strange because I finished at 2pm in the afternoon”
Over the course of 250 kilometres he met several locals, all of whom thought he was crazy. “People just kept asking me why,” explains Pau. But on discussing his project people began to understand. They had seen changes to their local climate first-hand and were worried about what might be in store.
Norway’s terrain is dramatic. Steep mountains abut deep fjords, rivers course through narrow valleys and flat land for farming and habitation is precious. Add a warming climate to this landscape and you’ve got a dangerous mix of landslide and avalanches as well as rising sea-levels eating into those precious flat areas.
And this is just one small part of the planet. In other places different dangers might manifest, each with their own unique set of local challenges.
“The effects of climate change aren’t uniform,” says glaciologist Heidi Sevestre, “But there is probably one place in the world where we feel the impacts of climate change even more than in other places, and that is the Arctic. Whatever happens there is felt everywhere. We may not think it, but we are tightly connected to the Arctic. Imagine what will happen to the rest of the world if the Arctic continues to warm so quickly.”
This is the reason behind Run For The Arctic. It’s to get us to imagine what outcomes might occur and how they can affect us. It’s to remind us that change must happen and it’s to inspire us to make changes to our daily lives to positively affect the planet.
“This is not a performance project,” says Pau. “It’s a social project. I want to start a movement around this. I want to encourage people to use their legs and not their cars so together we can help change this climate situation.”
“What's important to understand,” says Heidi, “is that we are the main cause of climate change. But this also means we are the main solution. Every action we do on a daily basis can have a positive or a negative impact on our climate. So let's make sure it's a positive one.”
What will you do?