A man from Steinbach is off to Churchill, to organize the 11th running of the Polar Bear Marathon, while that northern Manitoba town sits under a blizzard warning.
Albert Martens says this year's event has 15 runners flying in from around the globe, including Italy. However, most of the competitors come from Canada, including Steinbach and Blumenort.
Though blizzard conditions are hitting Churchill today, Environment Canada is calling for a forecast on race day Saturday to be mainly sunny with a high of -21 degrees. Martens says that temperature seems reasonable, though you must also factor in the wind. He notes there is no doubt that runners will be running into a cold wind for at least a portion of the race.
And, though this event is named after polar bears, Martens says there is a chance that none of the competitors will see one this year. Martens says the reason for that is that it has been a colder start to the winter season in Churchill this year than last year. That means that Hudson Bay is already starting to freeze over, which is the polar bear's ticket to get out of town for the winter. He notes that was not the case last year.
"Last year Hudson Bay was not frozen, it was just water and there were several bears right along the course, along the road, actually on the road," he recalls. "We had to stop running and chase them off."
The 2022 edition of the Polar Bear Marathon offers four distances. Martens explains they have a 10 kilometre event this year, noting a few participants plan to walk that distance. Then, there is the half marathon distance of 21 kilometres, the full marathon of 42 kilometres as well as a 50 kilometre run. Martens says there are three runners registered in the 50 km event.
The Polar Bear Marathon is run through Athletes in Action. Martens says it is used to help athletes mentally, physically and spiritually.
"Our objective is to share our faith in God with other people, especially with athletes around the world," says Martens.
Martens, who has laced up his runners for this event in the past, says his role this year will be to make sure that the participants are safe and that they enjoy the event.
Meanwhile, with the help of Print Studio One in Steinbach, Martens says a brand new book has just been printed, which shares the stories of about 40 runners who have participated in this event in years past. Martens says the runners are quite open about what the event means to them, noting some compete in order to help people, while others do it out of a deep determination as they cope with a tragedy in their life.
The book can be purchased through Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach or by contacting Albert Martens.