Dr. Thompson in ski mask
Photo of Dr. Thompson in ski mask

Blue Ridge Oncologist Goes to the Top of the World – Literally!

For his latest marathon, Doug Thompson, MD, ran past armed guards stationed along the route for protection. But he wasn’t worried about terrorists or bombs.

He was worried about frigid temperatures, hypothermia and frostbite.

And running on the frozen Arctic Sea. More specifically, a moving ice floe.

Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge’s intrepid oncology physician ran in the North Pole Marathon on April 9. The temperature was a bone-chilling -22 Fahrenheit and the armed guards were there to scare off any hungry polar bears.

Dr. Thompson was one of only 50 runners worldwide in what is called the “world’s coolest marathon” by Runner’s World magazine. Only seven Americans competed.

He said he was disappointed that he didn’t see a polar bear, but very pleased with his finish time, running in a snow so powdery that it felt like he was running in sand.

In what he calls his toughest marathon ever, Dr. Thompson finished in 8 hours and 12 minutes. He was the second American finisher and placed 15th overall. “I did pretty well. I finished in the top third,” he said.

Michael Wardian, winner of the North Pole Marathon, is a world-record marathoner who went on to compete in the Boston Marathon days later.

Dr. Thompson was told beforehand that this race would probably take twice as long to finish as a marathon run under normal conditions. “And that’s about what I did,” Dr. Thompson said. “I usually run one around 4 hours.”

Dr. Thompson at finish line
Photo of Dr. Thompson at finish line

This marathon presented many challenges. He had to have special running shoes with cleats to grip snow and ice and every inch of skin needed to be covered. “You don’t want to be too cold or too hot,” he said. “Too many layers will make you sweat and at these temperatures it is much more dangerous if you’re wet.”

Runners ran the 3.5 kilometer loop course 12 times. The race was kept close to the camp for safety reasons – both bears and frigid temperatures. Dr. Thompson battled the cold by going to the warming hut after each lap and having something warm to drink. Halfway through, he changed clothes and put on a heavier coat.

“That’s one reason it took so long,” he said. The precautions paid off for him, as one runner was pulled from the race for hypothermia.

Faced with many hours in his own company and a stark white landscape, Dr. Thompson had plenty of time for reflection and introspection. What did he find out about himself? “I know I’m still crazy,” he joked. 

Dr. Thompson said running this race gave him newfound confidence. He never let himself think he would fail. “I was determined to finish,” he said. “I knew I was never going to do it again.”

Running this race puts Dr. Thompson in elite company. Only 300 people have competed in the North Pole Marathon since its inception. After August, he will join an even more elite group – the Grand Slam Club – made up of only 81 people who have run marathons on all seven continents. In August, Dr. Thompson will face his final continental,  Asia, with a marathon set in hot and humid Cambodia. He also has a personal goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. He has 38 under his belt now.

Dr. Thompson doesn’t run marathons just for the love of running.  He ran his first one in 2002 in memory of a patient who died of leukemia and collected donations for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He is still using his extreme marathons as fundraisers for various projects to benefit cancer patients or cancer research.

He dedicated the North Pole Marathon to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.