Pienaars ready for North Pole Marathon’s ice and bears

2018-02-13 14:01
Pietermaritzburg man Stephen Pienaar trains in temperatures of minus 28 degrees in a freezer room to prepare for the North Pole Marathon, which he will be running with his wife, Eleanor on April 9.

Pietermaritzburg man Stephen Pienaar trains in temperatures of minus 28 degrees in a freezer room to prepare for the North Pole Marathon, which he will be running with his wife, Eleanor on April 9. (Supplied)

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With seven marathons on seven continents in seven years already behind them, an adventurous Pietermaritzburg couple are ready to become the first South African couple to compete in the North Pole Marathon.

Eleanor and Stephen Pienaar were the first South African couple to become members of the prestigious Seven Continents Marathon Club in late 2016 after running the Antarctic Ice Marathon, which is considered one of the toughest marathons in the world.

The couple are now preparing for what may be their biggest challenge, the North Pole Marathon, which takes place on moving sea ice.

Speaking to The Witness on Monday, Eleanor said she and her husband were going for the “grand slam”, a title awarded to runners who are part of the Seven Continents Marathon Club and have completed the North Pole Marathon.

“When we finished the Antarctic Ice Marathon, I thought it was going to be the last and we would do something a little less stressful like holiday in Mauritius,” said Eleanor with a laugh.

“But when we were getting ready to run, there was big talk about the North Pole Marathon and it was like dangling a carrot in front of donkey. We had to do it.

“Fewer people have been to the North Pole than [have summited] Mount Everest,” she said.

She said the couple started training for the marathon, considered one of the toughest in the world, in September last year.

“We will be running on sea ice, which will be more extreme than the Antarctic Ice Marathon.

“Russian soldiers will parachute out of a plane and secure the perimeter to make sure no polar bears wander onto the course.”

Eleanor said in the days leading up to the marathon, graders and other items were also sent in to clear a path and set up a camp for the brave competitors.

“We will be running a four-kilometre lap 10 times. We have to be in a contained area because of the polar bears and the sea ice, that can crack underfoot.

“It will be completely different to the Antarctic Ice Marathon. We will be running in temperatures of minus 40 to 30 degrees.

“The Antarctic race was around minus 10 degrees but did reach minus 25 degrees on race day.”

The North Pole Marathon will be run on April 9 this year, with Stephen and Eleanor starting their trek to the North Pole on April 1.

“We are absolutely excited and nervous, but I am glad we ran the marathon in the Antarctic so we have a taste of what the North Pole Marathon will be like.”

Eleanor said they had been the first South African couple to run the Antarctic Ice Marathon and would also be the first to run the North Pole Marathon.

Eleanor added that she would be one of just 25 women to complete the grand slam.

“People think we are crazy. Our family think we are crazy too,” she said, laughing. “It has been a life-changing adventure full of priceless memories that cannot be replaced by anything. It has been a very special journey and we are very blessed,” she added.

Eleanor and Stephen have completed the Comrades Marathon, the London Marathon, the New York Marathon, the Sydney Marathon and the Great Wall Marathon.

In 2015 the two ran the Rio de Janeiro Marathon and with the Antarctic Ice Marathon have now completed marathons on all seven continents.


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