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Train for the Poles

 

You are serious about your polar goals and want to take your ambitions to the next level. You are ready to commit to an exercise programme and want to build a good endurance and strength level to succeed on your expedition. You want the skills to be able to participate in your goal with a high level of performance.

Read the Introduction

Polar Expeditions – A guide’s perspective 

There is a lot of preparation involved with polar expeditions, especially for some of the big trips where we tried something new and difficult, but also for the smaller ones, determined by the environment you are in and have to operate in. The polar environment is unforgiving and you have to be prepared for everything.

We developed this training programme to prepare people for being out there in a way which really ties the training and preparation in with your daily life. This is why we don’t offer a one-off training course abroad, but do a minimum of a 6-week phase in the UK. For our part, we are in constant training for our expeditions and we’d like to share this approach to expedition preparation with individuals who are serious about their polar goals.

You have to be in really good physical condition for the tougher expeditions and in good shape for the easier ones as pulling a pulk in tough conditions is hard work. It is not like a high altitude expedition where you rest and acclimatise – you’re on the move the whole time. You are so much more focused and gain greater rewards when you are in good physical shape. This is why our programme has such a strong emphasis on fitness training. You will have a really solid plan for getting in shape, as you get the combined experience and knowledge of a Personal Trainer and Polar guide.

On a skill level, there is a lot to cover as well. Attention to detail and rehearsal of techniques have to be key in your preparation. Some expeditions have multi-skill demands – skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking.. 

Do you know how to set up and secure a tent in high winds? Which direction would you angle your tent in to cope with drifting snow and approaching polar bears? How would you pitch your tent on an icy surface? These are just a few basic skills we need to master to be self-sufficient in this environment.

You will need to know a lot about safety. You have to be a little bit ahead of yourself at all times, look for problems before they happen – and find escape routes before the problems arise. This way of looking at things becomes second nature after a few expeditions.

There are also powerful winds, whiteouts and extremely low temperatures – and you need to know how to handle this. There is no substitute for real experience in the field, so we are taking you to Scotland for a Cairngorm beasting.

Equipment is such a big area to cover and you really need to get it right. You’ll have to know how cold it is likely to be where you go at that time of year and consider weight and volume issues, remoteness and duration of the expedition. Choice of skis, boots and sleeping bags is a common difficulty. Our programme doesn’t just give you a shopping list, but provides insight into how different systems work and their appropriateness.

Programme Overview

Skills




Fitness





Choose your Intensity

Light

SKILLS
2 Skills days
Polar manual
Set up on training platform
 6 Monitoring days
Equipment advice

FITNESS
Training Consultation
Analytics (monthly)
Fitness Plan (S)
Portal access

Medium

SKILLS
4 Skills days
Polar manual
Set up on training platform
 12 Monitoring days
Equipment advice

FITNESS
Training Consultation
First week of close training support
Analytics (2 per month)
Fitness Plan (M)

High

SKILLS
8 Skills days
 Monitoring/adjusting of stepping stones (unlimited)
Polar manual
Set up on training platform
Equipment advice

FITNESS
Training Consultation
Access to weekly analytics
Fitness Plan (L)
1 Indoor and 1 Outdoor training session
Suunto coaching

Price: on request

Price: on request

Price: on request

Your Mentors

Your mentors have first hand experience in polar travel. Between them, they have undertaken several polar crossings including Svalbard, Greenland and the Patagonian Icecap. Your mentors hold relevant outdoor qualifications as IML, MIA, Guide and BASI, medical qualifications as Wilderness Medical Technician and training qualifications as Personal Training Active IQ.

Training Mode

A mixture of self-directed training, 1:1 remote support via the Training App and Portal, 1:1 face-to-face training days (gym and outdoor based).

Length: The minimum length of the programme is 6 weeks, equivalent to one training phase and available for all intensities. You can also sign up for a longer term option, up to 2 years.

Location: the training courses are located in the Lake District or Scotland, depending on conditions on the ground.

Reviews

Read Philippe’s Story

1. What attracted you to expeditions in the first place and why did you choose to make them such a great part of your life? How does our training programme and support fit around your life?

In January 2015, I lost my wife to cancer after a 15 months battle. Sheila was 45 and we were together since we were 20.

Nothing could have prepared me for this tragic event; the grieving process and how to deal with it. I read about everything I could find on the internet; the 7 stages of grieving, blogs, philosophy books, I also joined a support group called WAY (Widow And Young). All these were ok but finding a purpose to my new life was really the main objective otherwise there was little point living really.

One day, I came across an article which finally gave me a very simple approach for finding that purpose. It was called “the ball and the jar”. Essentially, if you consider your life fitting into a jar and the ball representing your grief; the ball now fills up the whole jar and every thought, every action reminds you of your loss. What you also learn is that grief doesn’t shrink, it doesn’t go away, it is today exactly what it was then, however you learn to live with it. Now, this is the clever part for me – what makes sense is to have a bigger jar so that your ball remains the same size but appears smaller in the jar and doesn’t take over everything anymore. So, I now had to expand my world by meeting new people, trying new things, and give myself more space to make a new life.

Sport had been such a saviour to me, especially running. It helped me tremendously during Sheila’s battle as I could go out for a run and clear my head. I joined my local running club and started with 5K, then 10K, then ½ marathons, then marathons and finally ultras. Since November 2013, I have completed countless trail marathons (20+), six 50 mile and four 100 mile races. This was all good but I needed more.

I always enjoyed the outdoors but never got a chance to experience the challenges you get to see on TV or in specialist magazines. I stumbled across an Exped Adventure tweet and checked out their website. I liked what I saw and decided that I really ought to do something amazing for Sheila, and my 50th birthday in 2019. It would give me 3 years to get there, being a tall mountain or something else; the actual destination didn’t matter that much.

In April 2016, I remember giving Jamie a call from the car park of a garden centre back home in France, explaining very little of my personal situation but, essentially asking how I should go about my goal. I wanted someone to work closely with me over the next 3 years to reach my goal. Exped looked like a smaller and more specialised company than others, so that definitely struck a note. Jamie suggested a Lake District 1:1 weekend to see if this was really for me and proposed Toubkal as a first expedition in February 2017.

The weekend went really well and Jamie & I connected straight away. I was able to get an answer to all my questions and, more importantly, I was reassured that we would have a plan in place to get me up Toubkal and gradually build up to my ultimate goal at the end of the three years.

Fast forward to November 2017 and this year I completed not only Toubkal, but also crossed the Hardangervidda plateau on snowshoes and climbed Elbrus – the tallest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits. Jamie has inspired me to look beyond the mountains and push out of my comfort zone in the polar regions as well. I am now also working towards a big polar goal.

The support provided by Exped Adventure has been second to none to complete these expeditions. I felt in control not only from a fitness standpoint but also with the kit required. Jamie brings tons of experience you can rely on and learn from. Our regular meetings in Staveley have not only enhanced my skills but also provide opportunities to go through anything we have to discuss with regards to the plan. He also managed to connect with me on a psychological level – it is good to train and share your journey with someone who understands your coping mechanisms and knows how you tick.

In July this year, I also decided to take a sabbatical from work and concentrate on my ultimate goal in 2019. Jamie and I have put together an extraordinary plan to ensure I am ready and also have a lot of fun too! Getting together regularly to have conversations, look at maps and pictures together and picking key things that excited both of us about new expeditions has been one of the perks of the programme and what you don’t really get with other companies. I was able to make a decision which direction I’d like to go in and develop expeditions together which fit into my programme. Jamie’s knowledge helped me to know what is achievable, fits into my timescale and into the year.

2. Which expedition has proven the most challenging mentally as well as physically? Did the preparation help to cope with the challenges in these instances?

Without any hesitation, I would say Elbrus. The acclimatisation had gone well, I didn’t have any altitude sickness, I was eating like a horse and sleeping well. We were staying in containers turned into accommodation/dining room/storage and although it was cold, I felt fine. On the summit day, I didn’t follow my plan and almost gave up at the Saddle with only 300m left to the summit.

Simply put, I decided to extend the time between refuelling although the weather became really warm with full sunshine reflecting on the snow straight after sunrise. I extended it to the point that I forgot to stop completely and obviously became dehydrated. Arriving at the saddle, quite a few people decided to stop here but I wanted to carry on – one foot in front of the other would eventually get me there. And it did but I had to ask our guide to rope me in back as the path kept changing of direction every time I blinked. That summit certainly taught me a lot: you cannot deviate from your plan, you must respect the mountains, manage your time and effort properly.

The preparation definitely helped me ahead of the summit but there are still things you’ll discover on the day. For me, the fitness was good, I had already tried and tested the kit with Toubkal and had already a first experience of what a summit day looks like. The next step from here is Aconcagua, which I will climb in January. With these high mountain goals, it is really all about slow progression, continuous training and learning to walk before you run.

3. What does the fitness training consist of– are you constantly in training for these expeditions? What difference does the training make for the expedition?

I think it’s worth investing into a good level of fitness before the expedition so that you can enjoy it as much as possible. There wouldn’t be much fun slaving it for 5-7 days otherwise.

I spent a lot of time running marathons and beyond in 2016 and I was hoping to go for the Centurion 100 mile races Grand Slam in 2017 (that’s 4 races over a year) – unfortunately I only completed 2. However, it gave me a good level of fitness throughout the year. Jamie assessed my transferable skills from my running and identified a definite weakness with my core strength; having done the Scott Killer Core set of exercise, I was in serious need of attention at that level. So, I decided to join a class of crossfit near home and it made a huge difference as I really noticed it with my running. I try to diversify as much as i can with some swimming or just walking.

I have also shredded quite a lot of weight in the last few months. That made a great difference too. Exped’s programme is really useful in terms of benchmarking, seeing how my fitness is working, asking the right questions and providing activities in the mountains to test how my methods work.

4. What place does preparation and planning have in doing an expedition? How long do you prepare and train for an expedition?

Ahead of an expedition, there are really 3 components to consider: the fitness, the kit and the logistics.

I am now on my 3rd expedition, 2 mountains and a polar, so I have acquired some experience I can rely on for the next expeditions.

My fitness training is prety much consistent throughout the year but I think I will need to tweak this given the number of days spent on skis in 2018. The great thing is to meet with ExpedAdventure and assess where we are. We will usually go out for a day or two and I’m sure that if my level of fitness wasn’t great, Jamie would have a quiet word with me.

I think that from a fitness standpoint, it is also worth considering your lifestyle. I hardly drink nowadays and I am also very careful with my meals. As a result I have lost some weight which has also helped greatly.

Kit preparation is also very important. That’s where ExpedAdventure input has been invaluable as you can’t just buy a set of each clothing and fly out to a remote place to test them. You have to rely on other people’s experience and recommendations. This is crucial as they’re unfortunately not cheap so you want to make sure you make a sound investment. The Svalbard and Patagonian Icefield expedition in particular require very specialist kit, so it’s a great thing that I am able to get more exposure and test different kinds of kit. We had an hour-long phone conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of the three pin binding, which is more of a Telemark set up and allows more technical skiing but requires a stiffer boot, and the single pin binding which means less can go wrong, it’s less faff, lighter and recommended by the Norwegians. Jamie knows a lot about kit in this sense!

Finally logistics. Apart from sorting out flights, insurance and the cattery you also have to check, double check everything in your kit bag. I have developped a spreadsheet where I have categorised everything I could take and simply tick through each items I will need. I just pack my bag following the list and be 100% thorough.

5. What have you learned during your time with us? – How have you developed your mountaineering and polar skills?

Well, simply put I have learnt everything! It’s only been 18 months since the first call with Jamie but I certainly got myself a few medals already.

More importantly, it has kept me sane and focused most of the time and made a huge difference building this new life of mine.

With each expedition comes a whole range of new experience you can build on and take with you onto the next one. It has given me the knowledge and experience to have more control of my own decisions, expedition-wise. This is invaluable and as much as I have found mountaineering and polar very different, both provides skills that are interchangeable.

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