Courses

Arctic Ultras Training Course

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This course is open to anyone, whether you are committed to participating in an Arctic expedition, Arctic Ultra race, or just thinking about these for a future year.  In general, the intensity and pace of fast and light travel in the Arctic and sub-Arctic can be 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 and adventuring in the sub-Arctic and Polar regions 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 requires a different mindset and respect for the environment than elsewhere.  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

 

The goal of the course is to ensure athletes are well-prepared for fast and light travel in the sub-Arctic and Polar regions, and multi-day ultra races in these environments, such as the Arctic Circle Winter Races, Iditarod Trail Invitational, 6633 Arctic Ultra, Montane Arctic Ultras and more.  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.

Being sniffed by wolves, charged by moose, inconvenienced by a wolverine, sharing trail with a huge wolf pack and 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 learning experiences from the Arctic and sub-Arctic.  Still, none of it means much when progressing 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 is perhaps a few hours out of several months.  The right gear and knowledge is almost all you need.

Why My Course?

I recommend people participate in all the training courses they can; read every blog post and web article, read every book, and get to the environment well ahead of the event, all to ensure they are as well-prepared as possible, and with the greatest chance of success.  My course is far enough ahead of the events to give people the best chance of practicing what is covered, and to finalise their kit choices before getting to the race location. 

 

My experience includes multiple podium finishes in Arctic ultras for the foot category, and two 'fastest rookie' finishes (first attempts).  I have accummulated thousands of miles of sled-hauling, in racing and independent expeditions, from the sub-Arctic to the Arctic sea ice.  I have also fat-biked thousands of miles in the Arctic and sub-Arctic.  Considering these and a variety of support roles, I have some useful practical experience to draw on in the sessions.  I am also an exercise physiologist and biomechanist, and give university lectures on exercise in the extreme cold.  Hence I have the right academic background to support presentations on cold adaptation, injury, training, nutrition, hydration, and all other aspects of completing these events.

I will be delivering this course together with Andy Heading, a race veteran many times over of the Yukon Arctic Ultra and Iditarod Trail Invitational.  He is a legend of the races and it is a privilege to have him working with me on this one.  As if two highly experienced race veterans is not enough, we also have Stuart Smith; a fantastic winter mountain leader and experienced Arctic veteran.

This course is a qualifier for the Arctic Circle Winter races in Rovaniemi, and I am working with the race director of the ITI for this to qualify for his race too.  The course is supported by some of the best brands for Polar expedition gear, with discounts available for participants.

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 the Arctic and sub-Arctic.  These environments will be the most unfamiliar and unnerving to many people.  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-fuel stoves and their maintenance in sub-zero temperatures.  You will be cooking meals with the stoves at least once 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.  Evening sessions will take place within the local area of the Cairngorms National Park. 

 

The trails will be mostly wide forest tracks and well-defined paths.  Although we are in the mountains, this is an Arctic Ultras training course and not a Winter Mountain Leader course (although those also take place out of Badaguish).  Hence, if you would like to spend time on top of the mountains - or on the mountain paths - you are encouraged to make time for that around the course.  The wider, flatter paths more closely resemble the Arctic trails, and are far safer and more appropriate for our purposes.

Navigation

The different races have different levels of navigational knowledge required (you might go a day without seeing a trail marker or other competitor in the ITI, for example).  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 multiple camp set-ups, before continuing to the finish point of the course.

Requirements

It is expected that attendees will have sufficient fitness to manage daily stints hiking out in the wintry forests and mountains.  Typical distances will vary between 5k and 10k, depending on the focus that particular day (whatever we do will be within the capabilites of all group members).  On the third evening we will have a longer session (up to a marathon), to test race processes over a more reasonable distance.  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

We will test stoves and 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 fourth day, following a late night / overnight session.  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.

Course Dates, Venue, Fees & Booking

The 2022/23 winter course will commence at 12 pm on Monday 19th December, and finish in the morning of Thursday 22nd December.  It will take place at the Badaguish Outdoor Centre in the Cairngorms.

Course Fees:

Course alone: £425

Course with shared accommodation for 3 nights (Monday to Wednesday): £525

Payments are requested via direct bank transfer, and pdf receipts emailed for your records.  Proforma invoices are available upon request.

Please contact me for more information and to reserve a place

Cancellation Policy:

If you cancel before September 1st 2022, your original payment will be refunded, less a £50 fee.

From 1st September until the 18th November 2022, 50% of payment will be refunded.

From 19th November 2022, payments cannot be refunded, but are transferable.

Anyone who thinks they've made a terrible mistake (such as not clearing it with their partner), and cancels within 14 days of booking will receive a full refund and 'some' sympathy.

Accommodation

The accommodation provided will be in the forest lodges at the Badaguish venue.  There will be up to 17 people sharing a lodge, in rooms with bunks for up to 4 people each.  For those wanting to make their own arrangements, there are options of 'eco pods' at Badaguish, glamping pods at the nearby Pine Martin, a hotel in Coylumbridge, and hotels in Aviemore.  Wild camping is legal in Scotland.  Many people choose to sleep in campervans and motorhomes in the area around Loch Morlich.  For those not wanting to opt for the shared accommodation, I recommend you get in touch to discuss the alternatives.

Full details for participants will be sent via email newsletters.  Some of this content will also be posted here and on the Facebook page in due course.

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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.