Sweet agony: Scenery, watching for bears, helps runners finish Spitsbergen Marathon’s tough course


After competing with 50,650 other runners in the New York City Marathon, Mattias Wahlstedt set out against just 58 rivals Saturday in Longyearbyen. But the latter was the bigger experience in more ways than one.

Wahlstedt, 45, of Farsta, Sweden, won the 21st annual Spitsbergen Marathon with a time of two hours, 59 minutes and 50 seconds, nearly 12 minutes ahead of Germany’s Steil Heiko who finished in 3:11:42. Crossing the finish line at Svalbardhallen with energy to spare, Wahlstedt declared “New York is nice, but Spitsbergen is nicer.”

He said the Spitsbergen course is challenging because it’s on a combination of paved and gravel roads, with lots of inclines. But the setting helps compensate.

“I loved the scenery,” he said. “It was beneficial. It gave me energy as I ran.”
Wahlstedt dashed out to an immediate lead and “I realized when I has 10 kilometers left I was eight minutes ahead and could slow down a little bit.”


Audun Domås Pedersen gets some emotional and physical support from Mattias Wahlstedt after winning Saturday’s half marathon in Longyearbyen. Wahlstedt, who crossed the finish line seconds later, won the full-length marathon. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Crossing the finish line seconds ahead of him was Audun Domås Pedersen of Tromsø, who won the half-marathon that started an hour after the marathon. He spent several minutes coughing and catching his breath, after taking antibiotics until the day before the race because he was suffering from the flu.

But Pedersen, a competitor in multiple Svalbard Skimaraton races, said the unique experience made the struggle worthwhile.

“It was just the polar bear that was missing,” he said. But “in the last two kilometers I was glad the polar bear didn’t come.”

Kasin Marit Beate, of Vinterdans, won the top marathon finisher among women with a time of 3:41:51. Klevan Pål, of Longyearbyen, was the winner of a 10K race, finishing in 45:20. Full race results are available at spitsbergenmarathon.no.