No One Could Finish the Coldest Marathon in the World

All frosted up: Sweating at -52C. Photo: The Siberian Times

They don’t call Oymyakon the Pole of the Cold for nothing: In February, 1933, this continental Siberian town recorded the coldest-ever temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -67.7C (-90F) . Even today, -60C is not uncommon. Local Siberians refer to the -40s as warm.

Tourists from all over the world — a few, anyway — come to Oymyakon in January to experience cold so profound that long tusks of ice form on faces from nasal drip. In the mind of one man, it was the perfect place to host the coldest marathon on the planet.

Alexander Krylov, the owner of the local Turuu Tour Agency, organized races of 5, 10, 20, 30 and 42 kilometres. It ran on January 5 for the first time, in -52C. Sixteen runners ages 21 to 71, including some serious competitors, came from all over Russia to participate. No one managed to complete the full 42km. Tellingly, even most Russians found the cold “unbearable”. The farthest anyone ran was 39km: a hardy local, Ilya Pesterev, head of the nearby village of Emissa, took that prize. Anastasia Stepanova, a mother of eight, made it to 25km.


Volosin trotting along. Photo:

Last week, nine days after the inaugural Oymyakon marathon, an even hardier figure showed up in town. Dmitry Voloshin from the eastern European country of Moldova was a veteran of the comparatively mild North Pole marathon. Now, in Oymyakon, he ran 50km by himself, in -60C. His six-hour sufferfest was literally breathtaking, as he said “there is very little oxygen in the air”. There’s actually more oxygen than usual in dense, cold air, but it’s hard to tap into when your face mask is clogged with ice.