Stuff

Arctic Ultras Training Course

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This course is open to anyone, whether you are committed to participating in an Arctic Ultra, or just thinking about it for a future year.  In general, the intensity and pace of racing in the Arctic and sub-Arctic is much more comfortable than other single stage races, but nowhere else is it more important to be prepared for the environment.

Why Head North?

For many of us, racing in the Arctic and sub-Arctic has become our passion (and obsession).  There is nowhere in the world like it.  It is the most beautiful environment I have ever seen, and one of the world's last true wildernesses.  Racing here is different to racing anywhere else.  The clothing, equipment, food, strategy, trails, pace and the dangers are all unique.  The few of us who finish these events relish the opportunity to spend time with others who have done so to share stories (and often to make plans). 

The Experience

 

Being sniffed by wolves, charged by moose, inconvenienced by a wolverine, sharing trail with a huge wolf pack and with two mountain lions, falling through overflow, floundering in deep snow, succumbing to minor frostbite and broken ribs - these are just a few of my own stories from the Arctic and sub-Arctic, accummulated through thousands of miles of sled-hauling and fat biking.  Still, none of it means much when racing along as the northern lights dance directly overhead, like a waving curtain 100 miles tall.  The most common reason I hear that people are put off these events is the cold.  In all my time in that environment, the total time I have ever felt cold would be only a few hours out of those several months.  The right gear and forward progress are almost all you need.

 

The goal of the course is to ensure athletes are well-prepared for multi-day ultra races in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, such as the Rovaniemi300, Iditarod Trail Invitational, 6633 and Yukon Arctic Ultra.  For those who already have experience of such events, it will give a chance to test different equipment and perhaps to hear more about the science and strategy of racing in these environments.  For those without any particular plans to race in the cold, the course will hopefully shed light on the different races and help you decide if it is for you, and which ones in particular.

Course Overview:

Aims & Objectives

The course will be a blend of theory and practical sessions.  The overall goal is to give everyone the confidence and know-how to move safely and effectively in Arctic and sub-Arctic races.  These environments will be the most unfamiliar and unnerving to many competitors.  Whereas in other locations when you experience a problem you can take a break and reset, in the cold even resting requires planning.  The course will include all the background information needed to understand the risks and how to ensure safe and efficient progress along the trails.

What's Involved

We will be covering the basics of using liquid stoves and their maintenance in sub-zero temperatures.  You will be cooking meals with the stoves at least twice a day, and boiling water for hot drinks (and melting snow, if available).  Resting for breaks or to sleep requires some forethought, and you will go through these whilst out on the trails.  The basics of sled set-ups will be discussed, and some equipment will be available to test. 

Navigation

The different races have different levels of navigational knowledge required (you might go a day without seeing a trail marker or other competitor).  For most it is imperative that you are confident navigating via a handheld (and/or watch-based) GPS.  A map and compass is of little use over the distances of these races, and some trails are not well-marked at all. 

Sleeping Systems

 

There are a variety of sleeping systems that people use during the events, and during the course each will be tested so you can get a feel of what you're most confident with.  As well as the different sleeping systems, racers have very different approaches to how and where they sleep.  This will also feature during the evening sessions out on the trails.  The penultimate day will involve a night-hike with a camp on a mountainside, before continuing to the finish point of the course.

Requirements

It is expected that attendees will have sufficient fitness to manage repeated stints hiking out in the wintry forests and mountains.  Typical distances will vary between 10k and half-marathons, depending on the focus that particular day (whatever we do will be within the capabilites of all group members).  There should not be any issues with recovering from the course in time for your main race (if it is in the subsequent months).  The pace on the trail sessions will be determined by the individual, but as most of the races are for fast walking, this is where we will start (and experiment from, with the kit).

Theory discussions:

Adaptations to the cold | Cold injuries | Exercise in the extreme cold | Race strategies

Nutrition and Hydration | Sleeping systems | Overflow and open water | Risks and Emergency procedures | Training and Fitness

Practical sessions:

Progress along the trails | Navigation methods | Stove use and maintenance | Varying speed and efficiency | Melting snow and cooking food | Fire starting |Sleeping set-ups | Tracker use

During the first three days the course will begin at 10am and finish in the evening, with an hour's break during the day (please bring food and drink for this, although some snacks and drinks will be available.  The fourth day will begin at 1pm and lead into an overnight marathon (night hike).  The marathon stage is an opportunity to put into practice the skills developed during the course, including a meaningful camp, and is not intended to be any kind of race or endurance event.  We will test sleeping equipment each evening, whilst going through rehearsals of setting up camps and continuing along the trails after.  The course will finish in the morning of the fifth day, following a debrief of the overnight session and the course in general.  No component of the course is 'essential' unless using it as a qualifier for a race.

The course will accommodate foot racers, skiers and fat-bikers.  For those on foot we will discuss practicalities of overboots, snowshoes, and so on.  For fat-bikers and skiers the common issues are equipment and storage, footwear and hand protection.

Please contact me for more information.

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Stoves

I am very pleased to be working with Kovea in the UK, via their UK and European distributor MercatorGear.com. I have used a few of their stoves over the years, most notably the Spider in the image above, and their Booster +1, which I use on expeditions in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. The quality and reliability of their stoves is excellent, as is the support given. I have used them the world-over, and am extremely pleased with them.

Artwork

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I am now selling photographs on Etsy.  These are currently as canvas prints, and feature shots taken from my time spent in the Scottish Highlands, as well as on adventures around the world.  I will develop the page this year to include more photos and format options.  My Etsy shop can be found here.

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