Finnish Runner Seeks to Prove His Veins are Made of Ice – Attempts to Run Across Greenland

Jukka Viljanen is a born runner.  Not just any runner though, for some reason he loves long distances in extremely inhospitable terrain.  Sahara, North Pole, Antarctica, and now on his hit list – The Ice Cap of Greenland.  We reached out to Jukka to see what this was all about.

Jukka about to bike a marathon on the North Pole
Jukka about to bike a marathon at the North Pole

Hey Jukka!  We’ve heard you plan on going for a big cold run this coming spring.  Can you tell us a little bit about this?

A friend of mine, who’s also an adventurer visits often in Greenland to film polar bears. Back in 2012 he showed me pictures of Greenland and that´is the short history of how I became attracted to run across the ice sheet.

Back in 2013 I did my first attempt to run across the ice sheet, but due to the fact, that our Danish guide got really sick, we needed to evacuate (by ourselves) him away from the ice. Before the accident, we had covered approximately 125 kilometers.

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I was on the ice with my adventure partner Greg Maud, who is not coming this time.

Jukka and his Greenland team
Team Greenland 2019 left to right: Lars Poulsen (lead musher), Jukka Viljanen, & Antti Siltala (support team member FIN)

Why Greenland?  Why not running across the wine country of France?

Maybe I take something from France (wine) to Greenland 🙂

I have a passion for remote areas. I just love being on deserts, ice sheets or mountains with my team mates. It is also extremely exiting to set up new expeditions.

This time I have a very good reason to make a come back to Greenland.  I have teamed up with the Arctic Council as Finland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.  The Arctic Council addresses the very issues that are important for me personally.

Drawing on indigenous peoples traditional knowledge is also essential for surviving in the Arctic regions.  Another key issue is the way in which climate change is already impacting the living conditions in the Arctic area.  During the expedition I also work together with the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Since you’ve attempted this run before, do you feel more or less prepared than last time?  

I’m better prepared, but as always, very humble. We proceed each day only if it is safe. If the conditions are good I might be able to cover up to 40 kilometers by running. My goal is to run the whole distance, not walk!

Jukka on a laptop in the sand
Multitasking in the Sahara

We’ve got a friend here who was doing a xc-ski race in -20C conditions about 10 years ago and actually damaged her lungs, permanently losing a substantial amount of her lung capacity.  Do you worry about such things?  While you will hopefully not be experiencing these temperatures, do you have a temperature threshold that you would not run below?

Taking care of health is priority number one. It seems (knock on wood) that my lungs can cope with cold air quite well. I don’t know is it because I have lived quite close to the Arctic Circle with all my life.

Back in 2007 I did a double marathon at the North Pole.  First I ran a marathon with my snowshoes on and after that I did another one…with a mountain bike. It was -34C or so. Back then I used heat exchange face mask.

I also did a 100 km run at Patriot Hills (the interior of Antarctica) 2008, without the mask.

If Greenland is successful, do you have dreams of crossing Antarctica?  Or would you go for the much bigger Greenland crossing more north of your route?  Do you plan to keep bumping up the distances or do you think you’ll be satisfied without going any bigger?

I have visited Antarctica and would like to go back.

I’ve done quite a long distances before. I managed to run across the Sahara Desert (1628 kilometers, solo, supported) and across Kalahari Desert (over 1000 km).

My plan is to do some sort of an adventure in Siberia quite soon with Mr.Maud. Then I have plans to run across two big deserts in a coming years, so I will have plenty of exiting adventures ahead of me.


Jukka while crossing the Sahara Desert
Jukka while crossing the Sahara Desert

It’s been wonderful hearing all your thoughts and perspectives, thanks for your time Jukka!

Thanks for having me!

For more information on Jukka and his run across Greenland check out Finland’s write up about him.