Beth Sanden heads to the arctic for North Pole Marathon

By Steve Breazeale

Beth Sanden has traversed the globe on her custom-made hand-cycle.

From the brick fortifications of the Great Wall of China, to the cobblestone streets of Peru, the San Clemente native has pushed her body and mind to the brink in the most exotic of locations.

Sanden is a marathoner and has completed 68 26.2-mile races since a bike accident in 2002 left her as a partial paraplegic. Since that fateful day, Sanden has made it her mission to inspire other disabled athletes and raise awareness by completing one marathon at a time. She recently entered the Guinness Book of World records when she finished a years-long quest to complete a marathon on all seven continents on her hand-cycle.

Next week Sanden will embark on her toughest journey yet, and put her mark on one of the most remote and unforgiving spots on Earth.

Sanden is taking on the North Pole Marathon, which is scheduled to begin April 9.

Beth Sanden will take on the North Pole Marathon next week. Photo: Eric Heinz
Beth Sanden will take on the North Pole Marathon next week. Photo: Eric Heinz

While doing the Great Wall of China marathon, Sanden, who has no feeling in her left leg, had to walk over 10,000 steps. In Antarctica, she navigated her way through frozen gravel paths. She anticipates the North Pole experience to be much more grueling.

“This will be the hardest marathon I’ve done because of the elements,” Sanden said. “It’s going to be 40-below zero guaranteed, and there will be snowdrifts four- to five-feet high that runners can’t even get through.”

To get into shape, Sanden, 62, has been training for four months. She is a regular out on the bike trails of San Clemente and travels to Big Bear every weekend to train at high altitude and experience colder temperatures.

The marathon route will send the competitors around in a six-mile loop before returning to the starting point, where tents will be set up to provide shelter and a spot to refuel their bodies. Race instructors have advised the competitors to wear multiple layers, and Sanden is taking extra precaution on that front. Sanden does not have the benefit of pumping blood efficiently through the large muscles in her legs so she will wear at least three layers and wear heated hunting pants and battery-operated socks to keep her lower body warm.

Beth Sanden prepared for the North Pole Marathon by training in the hills of San Clemente. Photo: Eric Heinz
Beth Sanden prepared for the North Pole Marathon by training in the hills of San Clemente. Photo: Eric Heinz

It took Sanden 11 hours to finish the Antarctic Marathon in 2015, and she expects it will take her at least 15 to 18 hours at the North Pole.

It will be a formidable task, but it’s in those quiet moments, when her body and mind undergo the ultimate test, that she finds inner peace.

Before her accident, Sanden was an accomplished triathlete and marathoner. She and her husband had a close group of friends that trained and competed together. After the biking accident left her with shattered vertebrae in her back, she doubted if she could ever get back to the thrill of training and competition she loved so much.

That same group of friends pushed her to get out of bed and back into the game.

The same year she suffered her injury, Sanden was in a pool, swimming the 1.2-mile leg of a Challenged Athletes Foundation triathlon that featured other disabled athletes.

“I went through this transition of ‘Gosh, I’m done,’ which everyone goes through at a certain point,” Sanden said. “When I got to that race and saw people with disabilities worse than mine, I was in hook line and sinker. That gave me the ambition and the guts to go out and go.”

Sanden devotes her life to helping a wide range of disabled and able-bodied athletes. She trains marathon and triathlon hopefuls three times a week, and spends countless hours helping to train wounded warriors out of Camp Pendleton. Through her work with CAF, Sanden helps raise money for athletes who need equipment or help paying for entry fees into events. Her work helps give athletes that same motivation she relied on while recovering from her injury.

While racing in the frozen tundra of Antarctica or in the jungles of Vietnam, the images of her pupils crossing the finish line for the first time, or setting a new personal best in the swimming pool, is what keeps Sanden going.

Up in the North Pole, Sanden will face the cold. She’ll have to maneuver her way past unexpected obstacles, and her arms may start to get tired. But there will be a driving force inside that will keep her warm and help her focus on accomplishing the extraordinary.

“A lot of the reason why I do this is because, yes, I’m older and I’m not as fast as some of these Olympians and Paralympians, but I can set other goals,” Sanden said. “I want to encourage others that are in a disability life that they can do stuff even with a disability. They can still run for their dreams and make goals.”

 

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