Arctic ultra-marathoner prepares at University of Melbourne ice research facility

Sia Kindberg
Sia Kindberg will become the first Australian woman to compete in the Ice Ultra Arctic marathon when it begins in February 2024. Photo credit: Megan van Vegten

University of Melbourne engineers are using the University’s large research refrigerator to help prepare a Victorian ultra-marathon runner for the arduous 230-kilometre Ice Ultra Arctic marathon.

With temperatures expected to drop as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, the five-day ultra-marathon presents an incredible challenge for Sia Kindberg. Not only will she need to be self-sufficient, carrying her clothing and food, but will also have to switch between snowshoes and runners over difficult terrain.

Ms Kindberg, 42, is working with students Patrick Bradfield Smith, Jacqueline Coelho and Rohit Naidu, supervised by Professor in Ocean Engineering Alessandro Toffoli and mechanical engineer Liam McGregor, to test different clothing materials and her body’s reactions in extreme conditions, for optimal performance. PhD student Ippolita Tersigni is also assisting with project equipment.

Ms Kindberg will become the first Australian woman to compete in the event when it begins in February 2024.

“To succeed in such conditions, I need to see how my body performs,” Ms Kindberg said.

“This research will help me gauge what clothing to take, when to remove clothing, and how to minimise weight and avoid dangerous situations like sweating, which could pose a risk of hypothermia.”

Traditional Swedish Indigenous teepee tents and two reindeer hides will be provided by the event organisers for sleeping, as well as hot water stops every 10 kilometres.

The research sessions   at the University began on 26 October and will continue until mid-November. The team has installed a fan in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering’s refrigerator to achieve colder temperatures, with the aim of reaching below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Sia Kindberg

Students Jacqueline Coelho and Patrick Bradfield Smith with Sia Kindberg. Photo credit: Megan van Vegten.

Professor Toffoli said the fridge is usually used for research on wind, waves and sea ice in the polar environment. In the past, he has had students investigate how sea ice is broken up by waves in the facility.

The lab can also generate wind within a flume, which is an artificial channel normally used to move water. If the air flow is directed beyond the confined space of the flume, it can produce a harsh environment where the air circulation boosts the perception of cold temperature, creating a great setting for training in polar conditions.

“We are delighted to be working with Sia on this project. Not only is it a wonderful way to support a tenacious sportswoman, but it involves our students in research in a real and impactful way,” Professor Toffoli said.

Patrick Bradfield Smith said he was excited by the “fusion between science and human drive”.

“We are exploring the limits of human resilience and adaptability, extracting insights to give our athlete an unparalleled edge in the Arctic Ultra. This project sets us students on a trajectory of professional growth as we tackle the real challenges of hostile environments," Patrick said.

An interior design account manager, Ms Kindberg brings a remarkable personal experience to the Arctic, having discovered her passion for long-distance running at the age of 13. Her love for running in cooler climates was sparked during her formative years in Stockholm, beginning on a day when she went for a run, made a wrong turn, and ended up circling a large lake and returning home 11 hours later.

She believes that nature has an incredible power to heal, cleanse, strengthen and give peace.

“It’s not about how fast or how far you go and sometimes it’s not even about running. It’s about getting out there, moving and being outdoors,” she said.

Ms Kindberg is also fundraising to rebuild a school in Thailand through her Arctic ultra-marathon endeavour.

Historically, around 33 per cent of competitors complete the Ice Ultra Arctic marathon. Next year, there are 40 runners from around the world participating, but only around six of these are women.

Learn more about the Ice Ultra Arctic marathon here: