| Aziz Idris |
AFTER years of training and battling with epilepsy, Asari Abdul Rashid aka “Arctic Asari’ tackled the Polar Bear Challenge.
He completed the half and full marathons in two consecutive days during the Polar Circle Marathon in Kangerlussuag, Greenland recently. Asari Abdul Rashid has become the first Bruneian to accomplish the Polar Bear Challenge.
The 2014 Polar Circle Marathon attracted a total of 167 runners from 27 nations, with 62 participating in the full marathon, 46 running the half and 59 who took in the Polar Bear Challenge (a marathon and a half).
For the first time, runners from Brunei, Serbia and the Faroe Islands were at the starting line.
Accomplishing the double full-length trail marathon across the ice cap and through Arctic Desert and frozen tundra is always challenging – so was this years Polar Circle Marathon.
However, ‘Arctic Asari’ says that the beauty of the journey made over harsh ice, past jagged blue glaciers and grey frozen lakes was worth the pain. He says that the unnerving silence of minimalist Greenlandic wilderness broke only by the sounds of his breath and when his shoes hit the track.
The flip side of the lack of snow, which looked as though it would make the journey easier, was that the ice cap had no covering to offer grip. This made the initial section of the race treacherous, like running up and down a steeply pitched 100m thick ice cube.
With the temperature at the start recorded at -10°C to -20°C and with a biting wind coming straight down from the north pole – the race surely lived up to its “coolest marathon on Earth” nickname.
“Many had asked me the same question, how do I train for this extreme condition? All I can say is that I never did! I never had the chance to train in the same weather condition the Greenland would probably offer, other than my training in the North East British Winter last January,” said ‘Arctic Asari’.
Fitting in hours of running into his hectic PhD schedule in Newcastle University was always hard.
Asari says he created time by watching less TV, getting up early for his research at 9am and working till 5.30pm, by indulging in night training with his running club “Tyne Bridge Harriers” and long Sunday runs with a group of friends.
“Most of my training continues to be on cross-country races, half marathons, marathons and ultra-marathon with cycling as part of my cross training on most Saturdays. With the extra weight (3kg maybe) for layers of clothing, I tried to train by carrying running back pack to simulate layers to be used in the Polar Circle Marathon.”
Fortunately for Asari, he had few races completed leading to Polar Circle Marathon which includes Belfast Marathon (42km), Greater Manchester Marathon (42km), Edinburgh Marathon (42km) and The Wall Ultra-Marathon from Carlisle to Newcastle Gateshead (110km).
Prior to each race, Asari used to take his medication pills because of previous incidents of two epileptic seizures in 2008 and three more in 2009.
“I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Missing out on eating my medication can be disastrous. In the past epilepsy was sometimes referred to as a disability. While some people find the term epilepsy as ‘disability’ negative or a ‘label’, somehow I feel blessed to have it because without it, I personally think that I would not be a stronger person and would not have had the chance to meet inspiring people with amazing stories in the Polar Circle Marathon,” beamed Asari.
Race organisers Albatros had prepared the runners for the worst and had recommended them to bring spikes that slipped over ordinary running shoes to provide grip – but Asari believes that the few millimetres of carbide steel provided scant purchase on the hard ice and that he might have been faster in mountain boots or crampons.
The half marathon finish line was located at Long Lake, just before Sanddrift Valley. With the -10°C temperature at the start and knee-depth snow on the ice cap, Asari completed the half marathon in 2:52:27 hours, 57th place out of 97 runners with the winner Angel Pavon Guerra from Spain clocking 1:54:53 hours.
Asari completed the full marathon in 5:39:10 hours, 89th place out of 120 runners with the winner Norbet Zeppitz from Austria clocking 3:30:28 hours.
The winner of the Polar Bear Challenge was Rengui Cai from China with a total time of 5:41:15 hours with Asari in 38th of total 8:30:37 hours.
“Coming from Brunei, a humid tropical country, with average daily temperature of around 30 to 31°C, who never experienced this kind of extreme weather, I am considering this as a successful adventure, more of a life time experience than winning a race,” he noted.
Arctic Asari thanked Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) who supported him through ALAF Programme (Advocating Life-Long Learning for An Aspiring Future).
The programme envisions quality education and career opportunities for the underprivileged communities through a systematic sponsorship scheme. It aims to improve the lives of children and young people by inspiring them to engage positively in their communities.
“As a lecturer in Institut Teknologi Brunei and a PhD student, I do believe that everyone needs education from their adolescence. You can teach a student a lesson for a day, but if you can teach them to learn by creating curiosity, they will continue the learning process as long as they live. Education for children is the movement from darkness to light, it is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” said Arctic Asari.