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By Steve Breazeale
As the 60 athletes who completed the North Pole Marathon huddled inside a heated tent on a massive floating block of ice on April 16, the race directors asked them to gather round for a quick awards ceremony.
Trophies were awarded to the first-place finishers in the men’s and women’s divisions, and a third trophy was reserved for San Clemente’s Beth Sanden.
Sanden is partially paralyzed from the waist down, and finished the 26.2-mile trek in temperatures that hovered around 40-degrees below zero in a time of 7 hours, 31 minutes, 40 seconds on a custom hand cycle. The race director acknowledged that Sanden was the first athlete to ever complete the marathon in a race chair, and the entire contingent of marathoners gave her a standing ovation.
Sanden had been planning and training for the North Pole Marathon for years, and was finally able to check off one of the last remaining boxes on her lofty list of goals. Sanden has also finished a marathon on all seven continents and is in the process of being verified by the Guinness Book of World Records for her latest feat.
Like many of the other marathoners, Sanden did not get through the race unscathed. With about three laps to go, the batteries in Sanden’s heated gloves gave out and her exposed hands fell victim to frostbite. Luckily for Sanden, it spread to just one spot on the tip of a finger and she does not anticipate any medical issues to follow.
Sanden described the elements at the North Pole as “surreal,” and felt like she was racing “in a whole other world.” Despite starting the race at 10 p.m., the marathoners were in complete, brilliant daylight the entire time, with the sun and moon both visible overhead.
Following the race, the participants were helicoptered to the exact position of the North Pole by Russian paratroopers, where they took photos and reveled in their accomplishments at the top of the world.