The Toughest Races on Earth
Equipped with 35 days worth of rations, a shotgun and a healthy dose of stupidity, Paul’s first challenge was in March 2013 and described as ‘probably the world’s toughest race’ - a 600km race to the Magnetic North Pole. Paul dragged a 60kg sled for up to 14 hours a day, whilst trying to avoid polar bears, thin ice and frostbite in temperatures that dropped as low as -68c (-90f) with windchill. Following Paul’s return in May 2013, he immediately started training for the infamous (other) ‘toughest footrace race on earth’ the Marathon Des Sables… a 260km multi-day ultramarathon in the 50c+ heat of the Saharan desert – once again carrying all his kit. On this page you can learn a lot more about the two challenges that make up The Fire and Ice Challenge and see how they compare.
About the Fire and Ice Challenge
Paul formally set up the Fire and Ice Challenge in 2012. In this section, you can see his responses to some of the most frequently asked qusetions about the challenge
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you mad?!: I would like to think not but I guess I am further along the continuum than most
Why are you doing this? I find this an extremely hard question to answer. I can rationalise it in terms of visiting a part of the world only a tiny percentage of the population will ever see and raising money for a charity I strongly believe in, but ultimately this is about challenging perceptions, inspiring others and doing something where the outcome is far from guaranteed. I am hugely proud to be supporting VSO in this challenge who do an incredible job in genuinely changing people's lives.
What gave you the idea for the 'Fire and Ice Challenge'?: I was looking at doing a major challenge in 2013 (back in 2011!) and I identified a few 'extreme' challenges that were logistically feasible. Two commercially available options both advertised themselves as the 'toughest races on earth'. I was curious... Clearly, one had to be harder... but which one? I figured it could be fun to find out! The Fire and Ice Challenge was created once I had successfully registered for the MDS in May 2012.
- Why VSO and why skill building projects? I genuinely believe VSO's model of capacity building and skills sharing is the only way to fundamentally support countries and communities in the long term. The work many other charities do in terms of point interventions (e.g. food aid, medical supplies, disaster relief etc) is all essential, but ultimately not sustainable. Focusing on truly building the skills of people in developing countries reduces the reliance on aid and support and provides the opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
- Why focus on areas impacted by climate change? From what the science suggests, and from what I have personally seen in the arctic (and elsewhere), there is little doubt that climates are changing. The huge ice reductions in the arctic have become so extreme now, it was even possible to row a boat to the Magnetic North Pole last year (www.rowtothepole.com). In as little as 20 years time, it may not even be possible to do the Polar Race (at least not in April). Regardless of the causes of climate change, what is clear is that changing climates impact people's livelihoods through drought, flooding and temperature variability. Given the role of temperature in my two races, I wanted to focus the money raised on skill building in areas that are significantly impacted by climate change. See the VSO page on this site for more info.
- I assume you are offsetting then? Yes - I am. I am offsetting the emissions from both challenges ~2.7tCO2e. I only see this as a last resort and otherwise try to reduce my impact wherever possible. I can very much justify the (comparatively small) environmental impact with the huge social benefit I am trying to deliver. Paying for offsets is one way to try and minimise the environmental impact as much as possible.
The Polar Race
Described as 'probably the toughest race in the world', the biennial race to the Magnetic North starts from the innuit outpost of Resolute, Nunavut in Northern Canada. Paul will be part of a team of 3 racers who will each drag 130kgs of food and equpiment the 600km to the Pole in temperatures that could go to as low as -80c with windchill. The race will take approximately 25 days and will undoubtedly test Paul and his team to the very limits.
In 1996, polar adventurers Jock Wishart and David Hempleman-Adams organised The Ultimate Challenge, in which they chose 10 arctic novices from over 500 applicants and successfully led them to the Magnetic North Pole.
On the same trip, they made the first scientific measurements by magnetometer and theodolite for many years to determine the exact location of the Magnetic North Pole: 78°35.7′N 104°11.9′W78.595°N 104.1983°W. This is the most recent certified position, although it has certainly moved since.
The Polar Race 2013
The 2013 race will be the last ever Polar Race. Due to climate change and the ever increasing costs of polar exploration, the 2013 expedition will see the end of this famous race. Paul will leave for Canada in March 2013, spend one week training and preparing in Resolute, then head 600km north, over the frozen arctic ocean to the pole...
Frequently Asked Questions
- You must need some serious kit for this!? Unsurprisingly, a huge amount of specialist kit is indeed required. I have base layers, light fleeces, thick fleeces, a wind suit, down jacket, 4 pairs of gloves/mitts, hats, base trousers, Baffin Boots (good to about -80c), GPS, Radio, Eperb (for evacuation), 35 days worth of rations, fuel and stove, a specialist 3 man tent and a shotgun and ammo
- Underwear? Just the four pairs... and yes, I will smell like a dead badger for about 6 weeks
- What kind of sleeping bag do you need? A big one! I have a specialist expedition bag (RAB 1200 if you are interested). It has an extreme temperature rating down to about -67c
- What are the biggest dangers? Polar bears, hypothermia, frostbite and falling through the ice
- How cold is it? The air temperature will likely be between -30 and -50c (that's -22f to -58f for the American's amongst you). On a blustery day and factoring in wind chill, it may feel like -80c (-112f)
- Is frostbite serious? Yes, you can lose fingers, toes, noses, cheeks and yes gents... the captain is the most undiscussed casualty of frostbite. For a great site on frostbite, visit my good friend Nigel's site at www.mrfrostbite.com
- How do you go to the toilet? Really f***ing quickly. Frostbite on the arse is actually on of the most common places. Trust me... no reading the paper out here. Also, need to be very careful to hit the target. Splash back (or worse) doesn't go down well when you can't wash or change your clothes
- What do you eat? I have dehydrated ration packs for 35 days (70 ration packs!). We have hot food twice a day (morning and evening) made in the tent. This is essentially boil in the bag food and as calorie rich as possible. Omelette or porridge in the morning and normally chicken or beef with some rice, noodles, veg etc. in the evening. 'Lunch' is a perpetually consumed meal of pepparami, broken, biscuits, nuts, chocolate, protein bars etc... all consumed whilst walking (too much hassle to put the tent up again!
- How much weight will you lose? Tough to say, I estimate I will lose about 15kgs (35lbs). Basically, I will use about 8-10,000 calories a day and only consume 6000 calories. The 4,000 calorie deficit is the equivalent of running 1.5 marathons a day without consuming any food at all. Good dieting technique.
- So you need to get 'fat' for this?! Yes. I will be putting on about 10kgs (22lbs) on top of my normal weight in the 2 months prior to leaving. This will keep me warmer and ensure I have enough energy reserves.
- What about water - where do you get it from? Luckily we are walking on it... everyday, for multiple hours we will boil 10 litres of water using the snow and ice around us. This literally takes hours at -50c and takes up a lot of the evening and morning
- What happens if you fall through the ice? You get out as quickly as possible! This is of course assuming you don't go into shock and/or your kit and sled don't drag you to the bottom of the ocean. Assuming you make it out... two schools of thought, one is tent up immediately and dry off or the Norwegian method of powering on as hard and fast as possible to generate as much body heat as possible
- What are you most scared of? Screwing up and risking the expedition. It's a long way to go to make a silly mistake and have to come back...
- What sort of training have you been doing? A lot of this is technical training, learning how to survive in this environment. This part is all about preparation and experience... of which you can never do enough. I have been preparing for this for two years. Physically, I do about 15 hours a week of running, weights, yoga, climbing and trekking. It doesn't feel like it is enough!
- Do you think you will make it to the Pole? Probably
Marathon Des Sables - March 2014
The infamous 'Marathon Des Sables' (Marathon of the Sands') describes itself as 'quite simply the toughest footrace on earth'. Is it? Well, only two other people have done this and the Polar Race, so I guess I can give an opinion. The 250km, 6 stage race, takes place in the Moroccan Sahara and sees 900 runners from all over the world pit their strength, stamina and mental endurance against the desert sands in temperatures exceeding 50c.
In 1984, a slightly unhinged French concert promoter called Patrick Bauer decided to set out on an epic adventure - walking 200 miles across the Algerian Sahara with everything he would need on his back. Following this trek, in 1986 the infamous Marathon of the Sands was run for the first time in Southern Morocco.
Twenty-five years later the race has gone from strength to strength and today, attracts around 1,000 runners and up to 200 members of the press, plus a support team of around 400 set off annually for the 250km of vicious terrain ahead of them.
The MDS 2014
Paul will leave for Morocco in March of 2014, having meticulously packed his kit to reduce the weight he carries on his back for the duration of the race. The six stages vary in length from 'just' 22km up to 88km (55 miles) and will cover scrub land, soft sand and also up leg burningly steep sand dunes.
Frequently Asked Questions?
- People die on this don't they? Yes. To date, two people have died taking part in the MDS.
- How dangerous is it? Well, clearly, as with all true challenges, there is risk. Managing these risks is all part of the challenge. As well as the obvious issues of sunstroke, dehydration and exhaustion, almost every running injury imaginable is possible... some of the worse injuries relate to people losing toes and blisters that essentially remove all skin from your feet (check out this link)
- How much training will you do for this? I will aim to be running 110kms a week (almost 3 marathons!) in training for many months leading up to the race. On top of this, I will need to do a lot of weights and stretching to ensure I don't break in the process
- What is the farthest you have ever run? In August 2012 I decided to go for a 24 hour run, leaving on a Saturday morning at 11am and crossing my time based finish line at 11am on the Sunday. Google maps tells me I went about 170km (105 miles). I have also done (to date) one 100km ultramarathon.
- How will you cope with the heat? I hate the heat even more than I despise the cold. Human's naturally adapt better to the heat than the cold, so my cunning plan is to do a lot of training in saunas and also to head out to do some running in the middle east and north Africa prior to the race itself
- What kit do you take? As little as possible! One pair of shorts, one running t-shirt, one long sleeve t-shirt, two pairs of socks, one pair of running shoes, sand gaitors (stops sand getting in shoes), hat, sunglasses, venom kit, emergency flair, compass, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food for 7 days, salt tablets... all to be crammed into an ultra lightweight 20 litre pack!
- Isn't that heavy to run with!? Yes! There is a minimum amount you need to carry (6.5kgs, excluding water), but the average is about 11kgs. Including water, that is the equivalent of running with a 3 year old strapped to your back
- How heavy will you be? I will be probably the lightest I have even been as an adult - about 78kgs... that is a 17kgs (37lbs) lighter than my weight heading to the Pole.
- What will you eat? I will familiarise myself once more with ration packs and dehydrated food. You carry all your food the whole way... so your pack gets lighter as the race goes on! I am taking almost the bare minimum of calories... just 2500 per day
- What about water? This is a major concern of mine. You are provided with water throughout the race, but it is limited to just 1.5 litres every 15km. The mathmeticians will realise that is just 100ml per KM. At 50c, participants can sweat out over 20 litres in a single day. You carry about 3L at any one time, and will run out between checkpoints
- Do you think you will complete the race? Assuming I don't die, or have a truly debilitating illness or injury, I will get there. It won't be pretty, but I will finish!
- Do you think you will win? Most definitely not!! Unbelievably, the average maximum pace is 14kph! I would be thrilled with a top 20% finish... but just getting over the line will be an achievement