Blown to and fro: Strong winds giveth and strong winds taketh away for runners in biggest-ever Spitsbergen Marathon; local teen, 14, achieves notable win as fastest woman in 10K race


While spectacular snow-covered mountains dominate the landscape for the world’s northernmost marathon, the vast majority of the course itself is basically flat. But for Isabel Aarnes it was very much an uphill and downhill effort thanks to persistent winds of nearly 30 kilometers an hour.


Runners begin the 42-kilometer Spitsbergen Marathon at Svalbardhallen on Saturday. All photos in this article courtesy of Svalbard Turn.

“It was really hard running against the headwinds and equally charming with a tail wind,” she told after completing the 42-kilometer Spitsbergen Marathon on Saturday.

The German was among a record-size field of 553 participants running full-marathon, half-marathon, ten-kilometer and (for kids) one-mile courses. Of those 162 ran the full marathon and there was a decidedly foreign element to the overall field as 360  participants came from other nations – 125 of them The Netherlands.

Clearly even the strongest in the extra-large field were likely to set any records given the wind, but sunny skies, temperatures a degree or two above freezing and the novel enchantments of merely running through the streets of Longyearbyen before taking an extended tour of the valley beyond the town limits were, as usual, the primary reasons most signed up.


Volunteers on all-terrain vehicles keep a lookout for polar bears while patrolling Adventdalen during the Spitsbergen Marathon.

“Amazingly great views throughout the race,” Aarnes said, noting the polar bear guards zipping back and forth on all-terrain vehicles added an exotic element to the course. “There was sun and blue sky, and one saw the mountains the entire time and the sea part of the course. It was just magical, even though it was really windy. There was a good atmosphere among the participants and organizers/volunteers.”

As for the competitive aspect, a notable winner of this year’s races was Ella Krystad, 14, of Longyearbyen, who was the top overall women’s finisher in the 10K race with a time of 49 minutes and 23 seconds.

“It was terribly hard from the airport and along Burmaveien into the city,” she told Svalbardposten, referring to running against the wind during the return trip of the looping course. “But I am happy.”

Norweigan mainlander Erlend Kjørsvik was the top overall men’s finisher in the 10K at 39:44, but another local teen, Martin Higraff, 15, finished second in 41:39.

Another perhaps unlikely victory occurred in the full marathon as Matthias Werner Aust of Germany won with a time of two hours, 59 minutes and 46 seconds. It was only his second marathon, the first being the same race in 2017.

“I came in second place then,” he told Svalbardposten. “It was nice to be able to take the win this year.”

Danielle Krijgsman was the top women’s finisher in the full marathon with a time of 3:17:27.

Alan Cherry of Norway won the half marathon in 1:22:24, with Delphine Poirot of Bulgaria tops among women in 1:29:57.