LOWRI MORGANPushed to my limits in the ultimate Arctic endurance race.
In 2011 I was pushed to my physical and mental limit as I strived to complete a gruelling 350-mile, eight day endurance race in the freezing Arctic.
I was facing one of the most extreme foot races on Earth: the 6633 Arctic Ultra.
The 6633 Arctic Ultra is a non-stop self-sufficient foot race in a frozen windy world where daily temperatures are around -40 degrees Celsius.
Only five people in the world had ever finished the race so I knew I’d have to push myself to the limit and battle the conditions along the way. This wasn’t a competitive race for me but a personal challenge.
I wasn’t looking to break any records or compete against others. I just wanted to push my physical and emotional limits and see how far I could go.
Success on this race was down to three things. A third was down to your physical strength, a third depended on your mental attitude and the last third was down to your personal administration or your systems, as we called it.
So I went about training 30 hours a week, running 150 miles a week, to make sure I was prepared. In the 12 months leading into the race I ran 4000 miles. I also trained with the Special Forces in Northern Norway; I ran in industrial sized freezers; and I would run up and down Snowdon non-stop twice.
I ran a 46 mile race around Brecon Beacons and then ran home to Gowerton, Swansea – a total of 105 miles, in 21 hours.
I also spent hours practicing packing and unpacking my kit at home, the special forces soldiers I trained with in Norway had even taught to me assemble and disassemble my cooker whilst being blindfolded. They taught me to light fires in knee deep snow and how to sleep out in -60 degree Celsius.
When you’re exhausted, sleep deprived, hungry and freezing, even the simplest of challenges like doing your shoe laces is a nightmare.
The training in Norway was the hardest I’ve ever done, it scared me. How would I survive out in the Arctic?
But the training taught me resilience out in these extreme conditions. Because when it came to packing my kit, or repairing a puncture or melting ice in a boiling cup, I knew I could do it blindfolded.
The 6633 Extreme Ultra was my first venture into extreme cold. And when I started the race what a shock it was too, temperatures averaging –40 and on one of the days going as low as –75 with the wind chill factor!
This race was a real challenge and test of my physical and mental abilities, I knew that I could race in the heat, but how would I cope with the extreme cold?
I started well and after 24 hours I was in fifth place before I caught up with the other four competitors.
One had dropped out and the other three had decided to in shelter in bivvy bags in the valley as the winds were up to 70mph dropping the temperature to -72 Celsius.
It was now dark and I had to decide if I was going to sleep for a few hours or continue on in the darkness and freezing winds.
Taking a huge risk, I went for it, onwards to tackle the Richardson Mountain range in darkness. I took the fearful step past the race check point and carried on.
And carry I did, for nearly 46 hours with only a couple of hours rest in between.
Wrights Pass, (the border between the Yukon and the North West Territories) affectionately known as Hurricane Alley, was so windy I struggled to stay upright on occasions!
Slowly, all the other competitors dropped out and after 250 miles I was the only one left in the race.
I wanted to give on many occasions myself but every time I thought about giving up I was greeted with stunning scenery.
The first section of the race was extremely undulating with lots of pine trees, the further north I went the landscape became more and more barren and the trees became smaller and smaller.
The highlights of the race for me were the Northern lights, a spectacular display each night. They are like funnels of green smoke that fly around the sky, touching the ground only to be bounced off again into another shape.
They are so bright they lit my way.
By the time I arrived at the last section, which was on the so-called ‘ice road’, I knew I was going to make it even if it meant dragging my fractured feet towards the end.
The ‘ice road’ is in fact made of the frozen surface of the Mackenzie River, which freezes during the winter months and is turned into a road.
The colours of the ice were stunning, blues, yellows and greens. With only about 20 miles to go until the end of the race I reached the highest point of the ‘ice road’ river, from where I had the most wonderful views for miles around.
The sunset that evening was quite spectacular, turning the sky pink. The scene was so beautiful I pulled out my sleeping bag and bivvy bag and decided to rest for an hour to view the Northern lights for one last time
I can now understand why this is considered to be one of the hardest races on the planet with the continuous walking and running, the lack of sleep and loneliness all playing mind games throughout.
I suffered from hallucinations throughout the race and I even imagined I saw park benches all lined up on the ‘ice road’ at one point.
Tears would well up in my eyes and instantly freeze but I had a positive attitude – any negative thoughts and I would have given up. It’s very hard to understand in the beginning that the whole idea is not to beat the other competitors.
The Arctic race stripped my soul bare, but it also, very slowly, rebuilt it.
I’m proud that I didn’t listen to that voice as I became the only person to finish in the 6633 Arctic Ultra that year. In doing so I became only the sixth person in the world in 2011 to have ever done so.