6633 Arctic Ultra: how a positive mindset can help you survive the toughest, coldest, windiest footrace on the planet!

 

One of the first questions people ask when enquiring about the 380-mile 6633 Arctic Ultra is:27616470 15181749490 r

  1. Did you see any bears?
  2. How do you go to the toilet?
  3. How do you manage to keep going in those temperatures for 9 days?

The answer to 1 and 2 is “No, I didn’t see any bears” and “you go to the toilet very quickly!”, whilst the answer to number 3 is the crux of this blogpost…….mindset. 

Mindset is a difficult thing to quantify, it’s not like training miles that you can log, but it is a skill and one that can be studied and learnt over time. For an extreme race like the 6633 Arctic Ultra you can break down the training and preparation into thirds, the first third is physical training, the second third is kit, equipment and systems choices and the final third being an endurance mindset and mental skills. Below are some of the strategies we’ve used here at WhittleFit for ourselves as athletes and with coached athletes who have tackled extreme endurance races and events:  

  1. It’s going to be tough! Simply acknowledging that the 6633 Arctic Ultra is one of the toughest races on the planet, with a DNF rate of 80% can be enough to push you on through the tough times in the race. There will be times when you want to stop and get into a nice warm crew vehicle, but this is where a strong mental mindset can keep you moving forwards, towards that finish line at Tuktoyaktuk.   
  2. Break the race down into bitesize chunks. Thinking about covering 380 miles in -30’C temperatures over 9 days is enough to scare anyone into submission. Breaking down the race into manageable pieces makes it easier to digest mentally, so it could be chunks of several miles, or the next food stop, the next checkpoint, the halfway point of the whole race, whatever it is you choose, breaking it down makes the race far more achievable. 
  3. Celebrate milestones. Celebrating your own personal milestones can be very powerful in this race. As above, breaking down the race into bitesize chunks is key, but making a little mental celebration of significant milestones can give you a massive boost. To reach the Arctic Ocean within the time limits, you have to cover approximately 50 miles a day, so for me I would have a mini mental celebration on reaching every checkpoint and on reaching each 50-mile point. Just a simple smile to myself, acknowledging the milestone, then quickly moving on to the next challenge for the day. 
  4. Eat, drink, and eat and drink some more. When you’re so cold and so tired it’s really difficult at times to stop to eat and drink. But being on top of your nutrition and hydration keeps you top of your game, both mentally and physically.
  5. Can I carry on? When things get really bad, and believe me they will at some point during the race, you should ask yourself “Can I just do 10 more minutes? Can I do just one more mile?” The answer is almost always “yes”. If so, crack on! 
  6. “Eat, Sleep, One more go”. If the answer is “No, I don’t think I can carry on” and you’re not medically injured, then a different strategy can be employed. Hopefully you won’t need this 3-stage technique, but when you’re on the verge of DNF’ing, this could save your race. We’ve coined it “Eat, Sleep, One more go”. 
    • Eat: If you feel you want to DNF, just stop, take 10-15 minutes to have some hot food, then decide. Quite often the mini-break and some hot food is enough to kick start you back into action. 
    • Sleep: If you still want to DNF, then we decide to have an hour sleep before pulling the pin on your race; so, grab your bivvy and sleeping bag, set your alarm for an hour and get some much-needed sleep. 
    • One more go: On waking if you still want to DNF we give it “One more go” before pulling the pin, so we set a time or mileage goal in our heads and go for that, then we can ‘allow’ ourselves to DNF. So, we set off; for example, we’ve said we’ll give it a go for another hour, so we push on down the trail for an hour and nine times out of ten we continue on well past the hour, and most times we manage to reach the next checkpoint. So rather than simply DNF’ing when we’re cold and tired, we give ourselves three opportunities to save our race.
  7. Visualising the race course. Due to extreme nature of this race and the distances to be covered, studying the course before hand is vital, so you know what’s coming up ahead of you and when. This then allows you to visualise the route and be cognisant of what challenges might arise, how these challenges might feel and how you could tackle them, in that moment. For example, on the “long stage” you can prepare yourself for the isolation of being on your own for 30 or 40 hours. With no checkpoint in sight, you can visualise the isolation, the boredom, the impending fatigue, etc and with this in mind you are able to mentally focus and be much more able to acknowledge that this is normal and expected, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of the next checkpoint. 
  8. Keep moving forwards. As a friend and former 6633 athlete once told me “If you’re not moving forwards, you’re not finishing.” And he is so right. Every step forward is a step closer to the next check point, which means a welcome break, which in turns means you’re a step closer to Tuktoyaktuk. Take it one step at a time but keep on trucking! 
  9. Be positive. It’s really, really easy to feel down in the dumps when you’re cold and tired, but it’s also very easy to be positive and decide you’re going to smile your way through this race. It’s scientifically proven that smiling, even a fake smile, releases endorphins and eases stress, so get that smile going and build on that positive mental attitude.

And please remember……..enjoy it! The Yukon and Northwest Territories is an amazing place and it’s a privilege for us to be able to race there, so when it gets really tough, think about why you entered the race and just stop for a moment, take a mini mental break, look around, take a deep breath and soak in the beautiful, peaceful environment. Then get moving! It’s a long way to Tuktoyaktuk!