6633 Arctic Ultra: CP1 to CP2 (Arctic Circle to James Creek)

 

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We leave CP1 and now we get to the real nitty gritty of the 'race'. The first 23 miles were simply a warm up, now with the darkness arriving and some colder temperatures setting in, this is the start of the real test.

From this point on we decide to work on a 2 hour on/15min off schedule, so we'd hike at a steady pace for 2 hours, then stop for 15mins to eat, drink and do any admin that was required. This schedule worked well, we were making good ground and were staying topped up with nutrition and fluids, all-in-all everything was going well.....so far. 

From researching the route and chatting to previous competitors I knew we had a big task ahead of us on this leg, it's called Wrights Pass and it's 10 miles of climbing, anywhere between 6% and 16% gradient. 10 miles of climbing means quite a few hours of digging in and just keeping the momemtum going by placing one foot in front of the other. We weren't there yet, but most people said we should try to get it done in the dark, as you really don't want to see what's ahead of you (in the daylight) as it's such a long climb. 

As we approach Rock River we start to get tired and decide to bivvy out and get an hours sleep before we get to the base of Wrights Pass. This would be our first bivvy and I was keen to get one done, so we know what to improve on (getting our systems right) as we move through the event. We find a convenient place to stop off the main trail, get out our sleep systems and get set up in less than 5 minutes. This is a good start, as it's starting to get cold and we need to get into our sleeping bags as quickly as possible. I set my alarm for 1 hour and I'm asleep as my head hits the pillow. 

Read more: 6633 Arctic Ultra: CP1 to CP2 (Arctic Circle to James Creek)

6633 Arctic Ultra: Start to CP1 (Eagle Plains to Arctic Circle)

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The day has come! After many, many months of training, planning and researching, the 6633 Arctic Ultra is finally here!

We wake at Eagle Plains, grab a quick breakfast, finalise our drop bags, fill our flasks with boiling water and Camelbaks with warm water, tinker with our pulks for the final time and then its time to line up outside for the start. The mayoress of Eagle Plains starts the race and we’re off. We start quite leisurely with a 10K down hill and everyone settles into their own pace.  A few of the ‘fast’ guys shoot off the front (American David, Didier, Patrick, Avram and Vlad (120km)), whilst the rest of the group settle into their own pace. As we hit the Eagle River Bridge the race starts its first real climb (about 10km), now we start to know if our pulks, harnesses and clothing are correct. As we climb we all start to warm up and a few people seem to be overheating already (gone a bit too hard too soon) and start delayering, which is a common occurrence over the next few days. 

53496276 1706409169459687 4799225795471998976 nThe terrain undualtes for about 6 miles, where upon the landscape becomes more exposed but the wind wasn't too bad (in fact the weather was very good, but more on that later), so all in all everything was going smoothly so far. This leg is a shorter leg at 23 miles and one that's used to get you used to the environment, and the condtions, and get you used to using your systems; my plan at this point was to keep on snacking and hydrating whilst on the move as I'd planned to not stop during this leg for a dehydrated meal and wait until after CP1 to have some real food. Each Check Point is subtley different, some are warm community centre's or school halls, whilst some are simply a trailer (a bit like a large horse box) with 2 gas burners in them to boil water. CP1 was a trailer, so the plan was stop at the trailer, refill my flasks (I had x2 two litre Stanley flasks) and my 2 litre Camelbak, make up a dehydrated meal (in my Stanley food flask), head out the door as quickly as possible then stop 3 or 4 hours further down the route and stop for a good break and some real food. 

The hilly terrain continued until arrival at the check point (which is right on the Arctic Circle) and we arrived there just before it was getting dark (when I say 'we', I was with Hayley Robinson at this point). I had no time to admire the "Welcome to the Arctic Circle" sign, instead I had a quick chat to Chris (who was already in there) and then I ran through my mental check list, got my water sorted with the aid of the crew, got out my head torch and an extra layer of clothing ready for the first night section and got going.....CP1 done and dusted! 

Start to CP1 (Eagle Plains to Arctic Circle): 23 miles

6633 Arctic Ultra: pre-race news

 

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After many months of training, the time had arrived to fly out to Canada for the 6633 Arctic Ultra. The time had really flown by and after some last minute frantic packing, I was ready to head to Heathrow to start my journey to Whitehorse via Vancouver. To be honest I was a little worried about the weight of my luggage and the fact that I was carrying some pre-packaged foods, but it couldn’t have been easier at check in and we were away on our journey with no fuss. 

I met fellow 6633 racers Hayley Robinson (380 mile race) and James Mowbray (120 mile race) once through security and we took a few hours to get to know each other and chat through how nervous we all were about the race. 

Travel to Whitehorse was easy and all bags arrived safe and sound, thank you Air Canada. We were met by Martin Like (Race Director) and some of his race crew team, who took our bags and drove us 10 minutes to downtown Whitehorse.  

Over the next few days we met all the other racers (from 11 countries), had the race brief, shopped for last minute supplies, built up our pulks, arranged all of our drop bags and had a familiarisation session (where we did a practise bivvy & used our stoves). On Wednesday we took the 500 mile drive north from Whitehorse to Eagle Plains, which would be the start location the following morning (race was due to start at 10:30am). If you can imagine an old style trucker motel from the Hollywood movies, which is in the absolute middle of nowhere (with lots of very large stuffed animals which seemed to follow you round the room), this was that place! A quick meal and a beer and then off to bed, ready for the big day tomorrow! 

6633 Arctic Ultra: training update.....the final push!

 

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It's the end of February and I'm due to fly out to Canada to race the 6633 Arctic Ultra on Sunday! Where has the time gone? The last 2-3 months has absolutely flown by, the training for the 6633 Arctic Ultra has been very intense recently and the amount of planning, testing & checking of kit and equiment has been significant, to say the least! And with that in mind, here's the training update for February:    

February's training hours break down as:

  • Running: zero 
  • Hiking: 55hr 
  • Strength: 7hr30
  • Misc (research, testing equipment, planning food): 28hr 

From the training stats you can see that compared to last month the pure running was zero, the hiking specific training has decreased (due to the taper required before racing), the strength training has remained constant and amount of time I'm spent researching, planning and testing has almost doubled (yes, there's a LOT of planning and testing required in the final weeks for this kind of adventure!). 

Some of the key training sessions in February have been:

  • Bigger training days (testing kit & equipment)
  • Pulling the pulk (fully loaded with equipment)
  • Night hikes (then straight into the bivvy bag and sleeping for a couple of hours)
  • Testing, testing, testing!
  • Planning, planning, planning!

As you can see, I've spent quite a bit of time finalising my systems and strategies for the event, especially surrounding choices of food, hydration, clothing and equipment. This has meant changing a few strategies and lots of last minute panic buying from Amazon!  

Pre Race Training Session Tuesday evening 768x576As this is my final training blog post, I hope you've enjoyed tracking my 6633 Arctic Ultra training journey. I'll try to post up another blog post from Whitehorse or Eagle Plains in Canada, just before I start the event on the 7th March, just to give you one last update and my final thoughts going into the event.

Once I arrive in Vancouver, I get a connecting flight to Whitehorse (2.5 hour flight), where I spend 2 days buying food and any kit that I've forgotten, doing mandatory kit checks and an outdoor kit & sled testing session with the support crew (so the race director and safety team are happy that we know how to set up our bivvy, get into our sleeping bags quickly and set up our cooking system to boil snow), before driving almost 500 miles north from Whitehorse to the start point at Eagle Plains (I'm sure this'll be a long, but stunningly beautiful drive). We'll then overnight in Eagle Plains and start the event at 10:30am the following morning.   

 

Just as a quick reminder, here's a few bullet points highlighting the race and a few useless facts:

  • 383 miles on foot
  • 9 days
  • Approx 45 miles a day
  • Approx 800,000 total steps
  • Approx 85,000 total calories burnt
  • Expected temperatures of -40'C (went as low as -76'C during the 2007 race)
  • Athletes racing from 11 different countries

As I mentioned in my first blog post "6633 Arctic Ultra.....setting the scene" (you can check it out HERE) I'm going into this 'race' as a personal challenge and not as a true race. The extreme conditions and the very high DNF rate (some years there have been no finishers at all) mean that finishing the race will be an emormous achievement and one which I will desperately try to do. Sometimes you've got to step outside of your comfort zone and that's exactly what I'll be doing once I hit the Arctic Circle. To say I'm nervous is a massive understatement, but I'm excited in equal measure. The finish line is at the almost mythically named hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, this is where I hope to be on the 16th March......wish me luck!   

6633 Arctic Ultra: planning my food and hydration

 

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Much like my comments in one of my previous blog posts, 6633 Arctic Ultra: researching the route, prior planning is vital for my Arctic adventure and food and hydration is no different. Having spoken to previous competitors and after having done a fair amount of number crunching, I've come to the conclusion that I'll burning between 8,000 and 10,000 calories a day, depending on the amount of time on feet (which could be up to 18 hours a day), the terrain, the weather and where I am in the race (I mean whether it's day 2 or day 9). Unfortunatly it's not logistally possible to haul around this amonut of food, so I'll be aiming to eat between 5,000 and 6,000 calories per day; so it's fair to say that everyday I'll be in a severe calorie deficit. Managing this will be key, as the more cold and tired you get, the less likely you'll be to want to eat, hence the beginning of a dangerous downward spiral. Many very talented athletes have DNF'd this race due to this downward spiral, so this will be a huge factor for me to consider throughout the whole of the race. 

For hydration, I'll be carrying with me two 2 litre Stanley flasks which will hold my hot water (mainly for food, but also for hot drinks), one 500ml flask (for coffee and hot chocolate), 2 litres of water (either in a Camelbak or two 1 litre Nalgene bottles) and on one or two of the bigger stages (where we'll have no access to check points for well over 24 hours) I'll also be carrying two 600ml soft flasks with water in. If I run out of water at any stage, then I'll be forced to boil snow with my JetBoil cooking system (pictured above & right); this will be far from ideal, but I have to be prepared for that scenario. 

My food prepartion is 99% done and the back bone of my food will be:

  • FirePot meals: I've been testing FirePot meals for many months now and these dehydrated meals (made in Dorset) are extremely tasty. If you've ever used freeze dried expedition meals (any brand), the FirePot meals are on another level. I'll be taking their vegan range with me as taking meat through Canadian customs can be an issue. I plan to use 3 meals every 24 hours (approx 2,210 calories). 
  • Primal Pantry bars: I'll be using the Primal bars and the Primal high-protein bars in the Arctic. As I'll be eating a fair amount of processed foods (sweets, cheese, salami, etc) I need a bar that's as natural as possible (these use only raw natural ingredients) and with a decent amount of calories (approx 200 calories per bar), so these bars are perfect. I plan to eat 2 bars every 24 hours (approx 400 calories).
  • Huel: I'll be using Huel almost as a meal replacement drink. Huel (mixed with water) will be perfect for an on-the-go drink and a good way to get in 400 calories quickly (one serving) and stay hydrated at the same time. I plan to use 3 servings every 24 hours (approx 1,200 calories). 
  • Nuts and chocolate: I'll be mixing mixed nuts with chocolate M&M's and placing them in a drinks bottle which will be in my bumbag (worn to the front, rather the rear), each bottle will hold approximately 900 calories and I plan on using 2 bottles every 24 hours (approx 1,800 calories).
  • Jelly sweets (Haribo, Jelly Babies, etc): I'll be using a selection of jelly sweets (what I can buy in Canada), these will be used throughout the day as snacks but I'll also have some in my drop bags as treats for when I arrive at certain check points (you get 2 drop bags during the whole race). 
  • Beef Jerky/Biltong/Salami: like the jelly sweets, I'll buy whatever I can in Canada, but I would like a selection of dry meats, to use as snacks during each day of the race (approx 300 calories per day). 
  • Pringles: Pringles will act as a treat and as an easy way to get in some calories, I plan to eat approx 60g of Pringles per day which equates to roughly 300 calories. 
  • Cheese: I will buy cheese in Canada, but I hope to get hold of Babybel as it's easy to work out calories for each portion eaten. If I budget for 2 Babybel's each day, that'll equate to approx 120 calories. 

 For my hydration I will be using:

  • Water (carrying hot & cold water)
  • Electrolyte tablets (SIS tablets and some Precision Hydration powder as required)
  • Energy powder (Tailwind as required)
  • Coffee (sachets)
  • Hot chocolate (sachets)

image2You can see from the information above, a lot of research has gone into choosing the right products for me. I need a lot of calorie dense foods and foods that not only I like and are tasty, but foods that will be easily absorbed by the body. Another consideration when choosing food is whether the food will freeze when stored in the pulk (sled), as most foods will invariably freeze solid. This will certainly happen with some of my choices, however the plan will be to pre-place some of the food next to the body to thaw it out before planning to eat it (otherwise I might loose some teeth!).   

The photo on the left shows what a full days amount of food will look like and it works out to be approximately 6,330 calories. I'm pretty sure I will miss some planned food stops and not quite hit the full 6,330 calories during each 24-hour period, but if I get anywhere near this amount I should be OK. As the race is 9 days long, I'll have 9 times the amount shown in the photo, but I can split that up into three 3-day supply bags and leave two of those three bags with the race support team (to drop of at two of the check points), so I only have to carry 3 days worth of rations at any one point (plus some extras for emergencies).

And that's about it for the food and hydration required for the race. The only other items I may consider adding is some shortbread (full of calories and doesn't freeze) and a few more treats for the drop bags, which of course will mean some full-fat Coke and more tubes of Pringles!!!  

If you missed the first few blog posts in this 6633 Arctic Ultra series, check out the blog post "6633 Arctic Ultra.....setting the scene" (you can check it out HERE) this post lets you know what I'm doing and why.

My next 6633 Arctic Ultra blog update will be my last training blog update (detailing the training done in February), then I might be able to squeeze in one more post before heading out to Canada on the 3rd March. In the meantime,  if you have any questions about the 6633 Arctic Ultra, the training required for such an epic event or the specialist equipment required, please send them over to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.