Arctic Ultra Training Course
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).
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.
This winter I will be offering 5-day, Arctic-ultra race training courses in the Cairngorms. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
Sessions will mostly take place from 10:00 until 14:00, and from 18:00 until 22:00, freeing attendees up to spend their afternoons checking through equipment and going back on the trails (at their preference, and I will be available to give support, answer questions, and share out equipment to try). We will test sleeping equipment each evening, whilst going through rehearsals of setting up camps and continuing along the trails after.
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.
October - Fully booked
November 26th - 30th
December 13th - 17th (nearly full)
January 8th - 12th
February 14th - 18th
Numbers are limited on each so please book soon to ensure a place. Please contact me directly for booking and payment confirmation.
Location & Accommodation
The course will take place in the heart of the Cairngorms (Glenmore). Glenmore, Rothiemurchus, Coylumbridge and Aviemore are closest to where we set out from each day (you will likely need to drive or take a bus if staying further-afield). Aviemore has hotels and campsites, and there are B&Bs scattered around the area. Options for accommodation include hotels, apartments, chalets, static caravans and campsites. Dalraddy Holiday park, near Aviemore, has chalets, cottages and static caravans for rent. There are also campsites open year-round, and areas where motorhomes and campervans can be situated (whether on a campsite or not). Please note that accommodation is not included in the price of the course.
For those to whom this appeals more, wild camping is legal in the area, so you can just bring yourself and your camping equipment (last winter I experienced one week here with temperatures approaching -20C, so be prepared). Average winter temperatures are likely to be around -5C.
I appreciate that attending races and courses can present difficulties at home (the time away and the expense, to name but two). This course will typically involve 4 hours in the middle of the day and 4 hours in the evening, with the final night being the only one spent completely away from your accommodation. You are therefore welcome to bring your partner / family along, and there is a range of activities available in the area that might appeal whilst you are on the course (such as visiting the Cairngorm sled dog centre and the Cairngorm reindeer herd, quad-bike treks, hiking trails of various lengths and difficulties, and the local towns and villages to explore. Once the snow has had a chance to settle there will be downhill and cross-country skiing on offer).
I might have liked to have the theory components of the course open to family members too, however experience has taught me not to do so. Partners do not always feel comfortable hearing about the bits of their nearest and dearest most likely to fall off due to frostbite, or the general peril of the race and environment.
£250 per person. Private group courses are also available on other dates (£1250 for up to 5 people - please contact me if you would like to arrange a course for a larger group).
One of the goals of these courses is to make recommendations about clothing and equipment, with the expectation of saving people some money ahead of their races. I have secured deals with some equipment providers which will also help to off-set the cost of the course. Ideally the course will pay for itself through savings on clothing and equipment. The price is for the course itself, and does not include food, transport, accommodation or equipment.
Please contact me to guarantee a place on a course and make the payment.
Cancellations within 30 days of payment will receive full refunds, after which it will be 50% of the amount paid.
It is often the case that attending a course such as this pays for itself through equipment recommendations that help people save money. Whilst some equipment should absolutely not be economised on, there is a lot that can be. I will also be securing deals with some equipment suppliers to offer discounts to participants.
Information for Participants:
There is now a Facebook Page for the courses, where information can be shared quickly and conveniently. I will send out newsletters with any particularly relevant and important information.
For anyone who already has some equipment for their Arctic race(s), you can bring this along to test in the Cairngorms. Part of the plan is that people will see the different clothing and equipment available, and decide for themselves what will likely work best for them. Hence, I would not want people buying a lot of expensive equipment purely for the course (although, it is around Christmas, so...). I am currently working with sponsors to arrange discounts on select clothing and equipment for attendees (whether for the course or the races). I will email attendees in advance with specific details and discount codes. So far we have sunglasses, stoves and sleds taken care of. Hopefully the down jackets, mitts, other clothing and sleeping bags will follow.
The course is open to foot racers, bikers and skiers. The following is mandatory for all attendees:
Warm jacket (preferably down)
Sleeping bag rated to at least -15C (can be worked around if bringing two sleeping bags, or wearing down jacket inside it)
Shelter (overbag, bivi bag, tarp, tent - your preference)
Stove and cooking pot for water (plus mug and spork/whatever)
Rucksack (you can bring a sled if you have one, but still bring a rucksack)
Waterproofs! (we'll hope for snow and sunshine, but be prepared for storms and gales)
Consider bringing the following:
Satellite Tracker (mandatory for 2022 Rovaniemi competitors)
Trail running shoes (rather than boots)
Down or synthetic fill mitts
Midlayer top (any, but a jacket or smock works well)
Down or synthetic vest
Fleece neck gaiter
Buffs (always handy)
Hat / balaclava
Water bladder (such as Camelbak)
Toilet paper / biodegradable wet wipes
Pee bottle (i.e. Nalgene)
What will leave you feeling most satisfied during a race can be difficult to gauge in advance. This is especially so in the cold, for reasons I will discuss during the course. I recommend you bring a range of 'trail foods' to try out, but do consider how they might be if they are in your sled for days below -20C. Also think about accessibility with cold hands (I often unwrap foods in advance and put them into single bags for each day). One potential disaster is a stove failing in the cold, and you not being able to get it working. Hence, you will be preparing two meals a day using your stove. This is purely for the experience of doing so, and it does not have to be a 1000-calorie, gourmet, freeze-dried meal if you don't want one - it can just be a dehydrated soup or whatever you feel like (ideally at least experiment with what you think you'll eat during a race). Kudos to whoever turns up with 8 Bombay Bad Boys.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any queries about any of the above.
See you there!
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.
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.