6633 Arctic Ultra essential training sessions to get you through the race
To follow on from my previous blog post on my top-5 essential items that got me through the 6633 Arctic Ultra and with the race only being about 6 weeks away, I thought I’d put pen to paper again and highlight some of the key training sessions that helped prepare me for the toughest race of my life (so far!).
The sessions I talk about below are what worked for me, they might not be the answer for you, but hopefully they’ll give you a few ideas and you might be able to take a little something out of it.
- Back to back big training days: The back to back big training days were mainly about getting in some serious ‘time on feet’ whilst testing out your systems, specifically food & clothing options. These sessions started off as 3-4 hour sessions and eventually moved up towards 8-9 hours on your feet, followed by the same the following day. These sessions were physically quite tough but mentally they were very difficult too; and this is exactly why you should do them in training. Preparing yourself physically and mentally is absolutely key to achieving your goal, whatever that might be, in the 6633 Arctic Ultra.
- Strength & conditioning sessions: For me, strength and conditioning work was key to creating a robust body, such that I could pull my pulk efficiently and continue doing so for 9 days and over 380 miles. I started off in the gym 3 times a week for the first few months of my specific 6633 training, following a plan put together by an excellent local strength coach, Emma Cresswell. We did a lot of deadlifts, squats and lunges, supplemented with prowler/sled work, KB swings, lower back exercises and upper body strength work. As the hiking and running training increased, we decreased the specific S&C gym work to twice a week and progressed onto more core work and single leg movements. These sessions were vital and served me well on the hillier sections of the first 120 miles of the race and during the blizzard section when I was getting blasted by gale-force winds from all angles.
- Hike into bivvy session: I did a few sessions where I went out for 5-6 hours of hiking in the late afternoon and finished up the sessions in the early hours of the morning at my house. From there I’d go straight into the garden, bivvy up and sleep through the night. This allowed me to practice my sleep and bivvy systems whilst tired and let me work out what worked and what didn’t work. These systems were honed over the weeks until it became second nature and I could get into my bivvy and be asleep within minutes; this was so important for my time on the ice as any time lost whilst setting up your bivvy was eating into your overall race time, but more importantly it was time where you would be getting very, very cold. My advice would be.........practice this a lot!
- Tyre & pulk pulling sessions: Some former 6633 competitors recommend NOT doing any pulling before heading out to Canada, but from my experience I would say that’s sub-optimal. I set up a tyre and harness system and pulled that for about 10 sessions (up to 2 hours) and really felt the benefit during the race, especially in the first 120 miles of the race (the hillier part of the race). The pulling of the weighted pulk in the race can put a real strain on your lower back, neck and shoulders, so to practice that whilst in the UK seems like a no-brainer. I also loaded up the pulk and pulled that in training, only a few times, but again, that was beneficial to feel what the weight of the pulk was like when pulling it and to feel how the straps & harness felt across the waist and shoulders.
- 24-hour big day: I did this session twice before leaving for Canada. It was a really tough session but was an absolute key session that I would encourage potential competitors to do, at least once. The 24-hour training day started at 6am and consisted of hiking from the house for 2 hours (returning to the house), having a 1-hour break, and continuing that for 24 hours. Yes, you read that right! It essentially covered 56 miles of hiking over 8 distinct periods during the day, I then followed that up by bivvying out in the garden straight after the session, I slept for 2 hours, then I got up, packed my bivvy away and continued the rest of the day as normal. This is a tough one, but it replicates well the continuous nature of the race, especially with fatigue and the bivvy at the end of the 24 hour session just adds to the ‘beauty’ of this session.
Bonus session #1: Packing your pulk: Within the 5 sessions above you will have practiced with food, kit and setting up your bivvy systems, but one bonus area I would advise to work on is the packing of your pulk (your sled). You need to pack it and repack it, and know exactly where everything is (food, medical kit, cooking equipment, sleep system, spare clothes, emergency items, etc.). This isn’t something you should be doing for the first time whilst in the hotel in Canada prior to your departure for Eagle Plains. The placement of these items needs to be done before hand, it needs to be second nature, almost like you could find them in the dark. You can't be faffing around at -30'c trying to find something, you need to know where everything is and you need to be able to put your hand on that item straight away.
Bonus session #2: Route research: I thought it was vital to research the route as much as possible to ensure I was fully prepared for what the course might throw at me. So I did my research, I went through the official 6633 website with a fine tooth-comb, I read every race report I could find and spoke to many former competitors. Before I landed in Canada I knew the distances between each check point and what the terrain would be like between each of them, I knew what sort of shelter was available at each one and I’d also researched how long roughly it should take to get to each checkpoint (and how long you should stay there). This might sound like overkill to some people, but to have that knowledge at your fingertips when you’re out on the ice, and you’re tired, cold and hungry, makes it so much easier to keep on moving forward when all you want to do is stop.
The 6633 Arctic Ultra is like no other race out there. The amount of training and planning required is not to be underestimated, but if you’re willing to put in the work, you too can get through the race and be one of the few who gets to experience the incredible beauty of the Yukon and NW Territories.