It has been 100 years since Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen vied with Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott to be the first to make it to the bottom of the world. This month, 17 people from around the world recreated the journey in what is billed as the toughest endurance race on the planet.
The South Pole Race, orchestrated by British-based Extreme World Races, saw competitors cover 745 kilometres in one of the harshest environments on Earth.
Erlend Gray, 30, who was born in Canada but has spent most of his life in Norway, where he is a member of the armed forces, won the race. He and his Framdrift teammates, Havard Svidal and Mathias Seim, completed the race to the pole in 15 days, earlier this month.
Reached by satellite phone at the pole, where five of the six other teams are still making their way to the finish line, Mr. Gray spoke to The Globe about racing to the end of the Earth.
What made you want to compete in the race?
When I was young in Canada we would go on trips in the mountains, and back home in Norway going on trips in the outdoors has always been a big, big thing. But I never had any plans for something like this. Then two years ago a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go on the South Pole Race. I said yes, of course.
How did you train for the race?
Being active, being out on trips and doing a lot of different things like climbing and outdoor stuff, you maintain a good athletic body. But when it comes to the race you have to train more in detail and do longer trips with a backpack to get used to carrying the weight. We had almost two years to train. Whenever it got really cold you always had it in the back of your head, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do training now.’
Crevasse training was mandatory for teams participating in the race. Were you ever scared at the prospect of competing in the event?
No, but we have a lot of respect for the conditions down here. The one thing you have to really think about is the cold and the weather that can change. We were fortunate that we got quite beautiful weather. We were told that the average temperature was about -25 C.
What was it like to be in that environment?
The winter in Norway can be quite hard. It’s the same feeling, just a bit more extreme. It’s humbling.
What sort of food did you eat throughout the race?
We didn’t eat a lot of carbohydrates. We ate a lot of fat for energy at our meals and we would have small bags of nuts and cheese for snacks.
How much ground did you cover each day?
We did about 55 kilometres every 24 hours. We were skiing the whole time.
Do you know how much weight you lost?
I only went down about five or six kilograms.
What was the hardest part of the race?
It’s a long distance. Keeping up the pace of our plan was hard. The three of us had really strict rules. If we were up and not sleeping in the tent, we were supposed to ski. And every hour we were on our skis we were supposed to cover at least 75 metres a minute. Doing that for so many days was quite tough mentally.
It seems like a situation that could become very frustrating. Did you and your team ever fight?
We know each other from far back, so we didn’t have any problems. We didn’t have that much time to socialize. It was almost two weeks of not talking.
If you did get into trouble, were you able to contact help?
We had a satellite phone, so if we were in trouble we could give people a call. And every 24 hours we had to call in to give our location to the people who operate the race.
How did it feel to arrive at the South Pole.
There’s a big silver ball that marks it. It was incredible.
What do you learn from an experience like this?
When you do ski for so long for so many days it gives you a lot of time to think. Family and friends are important, and it’s important to spend time with them. That’s my next challenge, to tell people back in Norway that they mean a lot to me.
This interview has been condensed and edited.