Race Tips

How This Triathlete Trains in the Arctic Circle

Meteorologist and triathlete Joanna Perchaulk gets it done with no warmth, no sunlight, and no fresh produce.

When Joanna Perchaluk decides to eschew the treadmill for a run outdoors, she recruits a training buddy—not to pace her, but for protection: “The presence of polar bears makes it necessary for someone to stand by with a gun and oversee me,” Perchaluk says matter-of-factly, as if polar bear threats were no different than, say, needing to plan a long-run route with a water stop. In a way, it isn’t that much different—in the remote Arctic reaches of the Polish Polar Station in Hornsund, Spitsbergen, Norway, you’ve simply gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get your training in for the day. (See photos from her training here.)

As the expedition leader and meteorologist for the Institute of Geophysics of the Polish Academy of Science, Perchaluk is surrounded 24/7 by her career. Even when she’s off-duty, she can’t really leave her work—the Polish Polar Station is where she lives for up to a year at a time. It’s also where she trains for triathlon, a sport she picked up spontaneously after a chat with her sister in which they both admired the challenge. She completed her first event, an Olympic distance tri in Poland in May 2017, three months before she left for Spitsbergen. After that first race, she was hooked, but her new home meant she’d have to make some training modifications. She now logs miles on her trainer and on a tiny treadmill in a cramped gym room. It’s understandable that she’d get cabin fever once in a while; when that happens, she takes the trainer outside, polar bears be damned.

The cramped quarters aren’t the only challenge Perchaluk faces when training in the Arctic Circle. A lack of a pool means all of her swim training is done on dry land with resistance bands. Also, quality sleep is elusive from November to February, as the perpetual polar night messes with circadian rhythms. Nutrition is also a major challenge: “The last shipment of supplies was in August, so we won’t have any fresh fruits or vegetables until June 2020.”

Yet she makes it work and is proud of her streak of setting personal bests at the Olympic- and half-Iron distances every time she returns to civilization. She dreams of one day doing an Ironman, though she hasn’t yet figured out how to scale her current training during expeditions to adequately prepare for the distance. For now, she’s more than content with her current situation—her dream job, in one of the most unique places in the world. “And I get to collect money for a new bike!” Perchaluk laughs. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

A Day in the Life of Joanna Perchaluk

“My schedule differs from day to day,” says Perchaulk. “On the days of my meteorological duty, I’m required to send data every three hours, around the clock, so I need to fit my training in between.”

6 A.M.
Alarm goes off, breakfast
7:30 A.M. – 11 A.M.
11 A.M. – 1 P.M.
Training, usually a brick workout
1 P.M. – 1:30 P.M.
2 P.M. – 8 P.M.
8 P.M. – 9 P.M.
Dry-land swim training
9 P.M. – 11 P.M.
Work, e-mails, reading, relaxation
11 P.M.