School of Sport and Health Sciences

Nicky on the treadmill with the reserachers

Brighton lab preparing local runner for sub-zero Greenland endurance test

University of Brighton’s Environment Extremes Laboratory is giving Sussex runner Nicky Chisholm a taste of temperatures down to -20C to prepare her for The Coolest Half Marathon On Earth.

Nicky is taking part in the Greenland half marathon on Sunday October 30, for which she is readying herself to face deep freeze conditions throughout the race, which follows the running of the annual Polar Circle Marathon the previous day.

The Greenland half marathon, which has a field of only 60 to 80 runners from across the world, will take Nicky across glaciers and arctic tundra in average temperatures likely to be around -16C. Runners race in special spiked shoes to help with the terrain – and have to complete the course in under four hours.

Taking temperature readingsNicky, a 50-year-old Brighton-based mother of two, said that her training sessions inside the university’s renowned laboratory had been particularly important for testing the kit that she will use for the run at the end of October. “I have loved my training session with the team at EEL – what an amazing facility. I have felt the cold first hand and understood how my body will react. More important I have come away with knowledge, kit combos and a positive mindset that I will take to Greenland to power me over the finish line!

As well as icy cold, University of Brighton’s Environment Extremes Laboratory can provide athletes with experience of performing in a huge variety of challenging conditions such as altitude or extreme heat in preparing for events like the Marathon des Sables – a gruelling 250km race across the Sahara often described as the toughest footrace on Earth.

For her Greenland preparation, Nicky has been working with students Chanel Coppard and Rebecca Relf, who are gaining valuable real-life experience for their PhD research in thermal physiology at the University’s highly regarded School of Sport and Health Sciences.

Chanel and Rebecca carried out tests at normal 22°C conditions to find out key details about Nicky’s heart rate and lactate threshold in her blood, before testing Nicky’s running economy and sweat rate in the cold by getting her to run at 7.5km/hr on the treadmill at temperatures of 0°C, -10°C and -20°C for 15 minutes at a time.

Nicky Chisholm undergoing testsOur focus is usually on heat, as few are brave enough to choose the cold temps Nicky has been training in!,” said Chanel. “Nicky came to us not quite sure how her body would cope with the cold or what clothing options she should consider to stay warm throughout the half marathon, but also to ensure it didn’t impede her running.

In more general terms, when planning on running in sub-zero temperatures, it’s important to know that you don’t acclimate for cold like you do for the heat. Instead your focus needs to be on staying fuelled and hydrated, staying warm throughout and being aware of cold injuries and how to mitigate them.

Chanel offers some tips for anyone planning to run in icy conditions:

  • Wear a hat, as you lose a lot of heat through your head;
  • Wrap up, especially with gloves to decrease the risk of frostbite injuries;
  • Stay hydrated and fuelled – you might not want to eat/drink anything because it’s so cold, but you need the energy!;
  • Be aware of whose around you and your own signs/symptoms so you can stay safe in the cold.

Nicky spoke to BBC Sussex and you can hear to the interview on their website – scroll to 3:10:08 to listen.

Nicky is running the Greenland half marathon to raise funds for two charities: domestic abuse charity Safe in Sussex and Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice near Angmering. Find out how you can support Nicky’s fundraising efforts.

Kerry Burnett • 17/10/2022

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