Cool runnings

Cruise North scores with “Arctic marathon cruise”



Before last week, the furthest Elijah Ningiurvik of Kangiqsujuaq had run was six and a half kilometres — through the snow.

So Ningiurvik surprised everyone when he placed second in a marathon held outside his home community, organized by Cruise North Expeditions.

The cruise line company, owned by Makivik Corp., teamed up with the Toronto Marathon and the mining company, Canadian Royalties, to organize what they’re calling the first-ever Arctic marathon cruise.

Participants were brought up on Cruise North’s ship from Churchill to the race site, as part of an eight-day tour. Organizers hope the race will become an annual event, as Nanisivik’s Midnight Arctic Marathon was during its heyday.

In all, the race had 32 participants, including cruise passengers and staff, local people from Kangiqsujuaq, and the ship’s mainly Russian crew.

Seven racers completed a full marathon and three completed a half-marathon. The rest of the runners were divided up into four relay teams, with six persons on each team.

The race began with the blare of the cruise ship’s horn and the racers trotting down the road leading to Raglan Mine’s Deception Bay port, about 90 kilometres west of Kangiqsujuaq.

Employees from Canadian Royalties, which hopes to establish a new nickel and copper mine in the area, helped out with the race, carrying spectators and volunteers along the route in a company truck.

As the runners plodded along their 42.1 kilometres, they passed caribou grazing on the tundra, ATVs scooting up and down the path to bring water and food to rest stations, and Kangiqsujuaq residents fishing for char at nearby rivers.

Clearly, not your typical marathon.

But the unusual setting could be a big draw for runners around the world. At least, that’s the hope of Dugald Wells, president of Cruise North Expeditions.

Besides providing runners with a once-of-a-lifetime experience, Wells said the race could also give the economy of local communities a boost, with visitors spending money in Kangiqsujuaq.

“What we’d like to see is have the entire community benefit,” Wells said.

Before the marathon, Cruise North passengers spotted some 40 breaching beluga whales that were nearly close enough to touch, Dugald said, as well as hundreds of walrus basking in the sun, surrounded by thousands of thick-billed murres.

Meanwhile, business has picked up during Cruise North’s second season, with some cruises selling out, and interest growing overseas.

Business has picked up by at least 50 per cent over the last year, Dugald said, with several cruises selling out this season.

Wells said he’s recently had to turn down tour operators in Paris, France, who have curious Europeans lined up to experience the Canadian Arctic.

That’s a change from the first year of cruises offered by the company, which predominantly saw passages booked by Canadians and Americans.

This year about 10 per cent of sales are from overseas. Dugald expects that number to continue to climb.

Cruises may conjure up images of elderly folk playing shuffleboard and dancing the two-step for some, but Dugald says their aim is to appeal to a diverse, educated crowd interested in experiencing the Arctic.

“They’re not there to dance. They’re there to learn.”

The second date for the Arctic Marathon Cruise has already been set: July 26 to Aug. 4, 2007.

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