Blog

 

SUP Europe: From Big Ben to the Black Sea

Sunday, 21st May 2017

On Friday, 26th May I begin a solo SUP expedition from London to the Black Sea.  More details of the journey can be found here.  

I can be tracked throughout the journey via my SPOT page.

Things to look out for:

I will wave an EU flag in front of the Houses of Parliament, as a nod to Londoners' strong desire to remain in the EU.  I have benefitted personally, academically and professionally from being in the EU, and I hope that the Brexit deal will not worsen trade, health cover, ease of movement, and support for medicine, technology, science and academia. 

 

 

Arctic Fat Biking 2017

Wednesday, 5th April 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 4th of April I rode my Sonder Vir Fortis fat bike into Whitehorse, after close to 950 miles (1500 km) of cycling from Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic coastline.  An overview of the expedition can be found here.  A write-up of this first part of the journey can be found here.

 

The Snow and Ice Ultra

Sunday, 18th December 2016

After more than a year of working behind the scenes, today I am very pleased to announce that I have teamed-up with Polar legend Charlie Paton, to put on what we plan to make the best Arctic ultra race in the world.  The Snow and Ice Ultra takes place in Scandinavia's far north, well within the Arctic Circle, and passes through Norway, Sweden and Finland.  Racers can compete on foot, skis or fat bike, across distances of 100. 300 or 500 miles.

More details are available from the website and social media:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

 

 

Paperbacks

Monday, 28th November 2016

All of my paperbacks are currently on sale at MyRaceKit.com for the reduced price of £4.99 each.  MyRaceKit has exclusive rights to sell the books, and it is likely stocks will be sold-out in the coming months.  

The paperbacks are available here.

 

Alternatively, my books are available from Amazon as ebooks::

 

             

 

 

 

 

Winter is Coming

Monday, 21st November 2016

Well, I could write about my recent experiences in the Gobi Desert at the Ultra Trail Gobi Race.  I really should write about that.  I cannot say that it is my number one priority, but it is at least up there.  The truth is, however, that I am distracted with making plans for the winter.  There will be travels in December and January (he writes from Belgrade, Serbia), and February's activities remain to be defined.  What is really getting me excited at the moment though is that in March I will be back in the Arctic, on a fat bike journey that will take me from the Arctic Ocean at the top of Canada, on a ~3500 miles (5500 km) journey to the Pacific coast and the border with the U.S.

More about the expedition can be found here.

 

Seminar: Arctic Racing

Sunday, 28th August 2016

I will be delivering a comprehensive but informal seminar on Sunday, 30th October in London, on all things Arctic Racing. This will be for anyone considering an Arctic race, or interested in hearing my thoughts on the different races, on race training, strategy, equipment and everything else.

More details can be found here.

 

 

The Ultra Trail Gobi

Wednesday, 17th August 2016

Exciting times are afoot.  With only 41 days remaining before I begin a 250-mile (400-km) foot race in the Gobi Desert, I thought it time to produce an overview and add it to my adventures page.  My introduction to the event can be found here.

 

Life

Friday, 5th August 2016

There are many times on expeditions and in every day life, when I pause to ponder how people might think should I shuffle off this mortal coil in some impromptu moment.  In addition, I have acquired a world view over the last decade, bolstered by various interests that have cropped-up during the course of my life, and my general passion for science.  Therefore, I decided to pen a rather  long-winded article about the whole thing.  The title was somewhat elusive.  "When I Snuff it"?  "Our Wonderful Life"?  or the more to the heart "We are all one"?  Unable to decide what I was trying to write about, I settled for Life.

 

 

Trans-Europe SUP 2017

Tuesday, 26th July 2016

Having postponed my original Danube SUP expedition from 2016 to 2017, my ambitions have now had the chance to grow.  I have decided that I will begin my journey on the west coast of France, to make this a truly coast-to-coast, trans-Europe expedition.  More details can be found here.

This is a short video I created following this year's introduction to the Danube:

 

 

Seminar:  Arctic Racing

I will be delivering a seminar on Sunday, 30th October in London on all things Arctic Racing. This will be for anyone considering an Arctic race, or interested in hearing my thoughts on the different races, on race training, strategy, equipment and everything else.

More details can be found here.

 

 

Solo SUP Danube

Saturday, 9th July 2016

In mid-May, 2017, I will fly out to Germany to begin my solo SUP expedition from the source of the Danube in the Black Forest, to where it flows into the Black sea.  The total journey will be close to 1900 miles, including a section from the spring of the Breg River (the Danube's source), and from the Black Sea to my actual finish point and return to civilisation.

This expedition was originally planned for July 2016, but following several delays and postponements, I have had to push the start date back to May 2017.  This will enable me to complete the challenge with ample time and without pressure to complete ahead of other events.

More information on the expedition can be found here.

Anyone wishing to donate to help support my Danube expedition is welcome to do so here.  I am extremely grateful for any and all support received.  A bit of cash for food or beer vouchers will always be appreciated.

 

 

 

 

Hobkey Adventure Grant

Thursday, 9th June 2016

I have made the shortlist for the Hobkey Adventure Grant.  This is an opportunity for me to receive a 1000-euro grant towards my solo SUP expedition along the Danube.  As the journey is about the adventure and various environmental issues, I am hoping to be in with a chance.  Anyone interested in supporting my journey can vote for me by visiting the Hobkey Adventure Grant website, and selecting my Danube trip from the list of options towards the bottom of the page.  For those who do, your support is hugely appreciated!

(PS: Please note, the grant votes ended on July 8th, 2016).

 

Seminar: Arctic Racing

Sunday, 5th June 2016

I will be delivering a seminar on Saturday, 18th June in London on all things Arctic Racing.  This will be for anyone considering an Arctic race, or interested in hearing my thoughts on the different races, on race training, strategy, equipment and everything else.

More details can be found here.

 

Inspired by Adventure

Monday, 30th May 2016

Following the sell-out talk Leon McCarron and I gave in London recently, I am very pleased to announce I will be giving another talk on the 16th June at the Fourpure Brewing Co. taproom.

I will be talking about my recent 1000-miler in the Yukon, and that will be followed by a selection of adventure films organised by Sidetracked magazine.

Tickets are available here.

 

Tales from the 1000-Mile Trail

Tuesday, 5th April 2016

I am thrilled to announce that I am teaming-up with fellow adventurer, Leon McCarron, to deliver an evening of lectures at Snow and Rock, Covent Garden, London, on Monday the 23rd May, 2016.

More information on the two lectures can be found here.

 

Sled Hauling the Yukon Quest...The Finish!

Friday, 3rd March 2016 

If that journey could be a metaphor for life: "Wow, what a ride!"

Every time I come out to the Yukon I fall in love with it a little bit more.  This journey was the best adventure of my life so far, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  The last few days on the trail carried with them that sense of melancholy that a truly great adventure was coming to an end.  Now at the finish, I know it will take some time before the gravity of it all sets in.

Full write-ups will follow, but a very brief overview is:

I left Fairbanks on the 1st February, hauling all my food and kit for this solo journey.  The Yukon Quest sled dog race began on the 6th February, so for a few days I was met with trail crews and mushers along the route.  The main climbs of Boulder Summit over Rosebud Ridge and the climb up Eagle Summit were fairly brutal.  Overall, the trail on the Alaskan side was broken but not packed, allowing the sled to sit deep in the trail and making it a real effort to haul it through.  The toughest sections of the trail were during a few days along the Yukon river before Eagle and over American Summit, where a couple of inches of snow (up to 4 inches on the trail where it had teamed up with the wind), made progress far more exhausting than the rest.  I later declared my love to the family who happened to pass by on that Yukon river section and break the trail for me with their snowmobile.

Aside from the physical hardship of hauling a heavy sled along a soft trail, there were only tough moments, not tough days overall.  Reflecting on each day, I think of the outstanding beauty of the rivers and mountains.  When surrounded by so much that draws in the mind and captivates it, the hours and miles pass by almost too quickly.  Sometimes I would just have to lie back on my sled and bask in the wonders around me.

The trail was a busy one with non-human traffic as I passed along.  I saw moose and caribou, rabbits large and small, hundreds of squirrels and the back end of a black wolf.  The trail itself spoke of dozens of wolves, probably every day, a few lynx and a couple of mountain lions.  After an unfortunate accident at Scroggie Creek, 350 miles from the end, I slept without the struggle of climbing into my bivi, instead building a mattress of spruce and placing my sleeping bag on that.  Passing the night as a human burrito I often wondered which animals might show up to socialise, and what I might see when I opened my eyes.  On the second night of sleeping that way, what I saw was a stunning display of northern lights.  The best show of all was as I left Braeburn during the last hundred miles, with the lights weaving and dancing across the sky.  I forget how many times I tripped over my feet or trekking poles as I looked up and behind me on that southward march.

Some miles were tough, most were easy - just putting one foot in front of the other for every mile and every hour.  The sled was heavy but I was in no rush.  The days took care of themselves.  As one the mushers said to me as we chatted "It doesn't get any better than this."  A journey of about 1000 miles came to an end after 39 days of sled hauling.

I was welcomed to the Takhini finish line by Yukon friends Jessica, Mike, Trisha and Glenn.  Four people who remind me that I don't only love the Yukon because of the landscapes and wilderness, but because of the folks who live here too.  Seeing myself in my room at the hotel I would say that I've lost at least 10-15 kg - the most effective diet I never wanted.  All donations to my website this month will be spent on gluttony.

I will update my social media with photos from the journey over the coming weeks.  Thanks to everyone who supported me on this amazing adventure.  So many people were in my thoughts and I was glad to spend some time with them on the trail in that way.

More to follow later,

MH. 

 

 

 

Preparing for the Off

Sunday, 31st January 2016

It has been a mixture of emotions during the last few days.  I arrived in Fairbanks, organised kit, tested what needed to be tested, and had a look at the start of the route.  Emotions have flitted between excitement and apprehension, unease about what might go wrong, and melancholy and sadness for being away from home.  Ever since arriving though I have felt a growing anticipation and eagerness to get started.  I love it out here in the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness.  I do feel like I am at home here.

I have been viewing the updates from the Yukon Quest trail team.  Overall the weather and trail conditions are good.  The biggest change from previous years is a 2,500 foot climb before my halfway point in Dawson City, due to impassable jumble ice on the Yukon River.  I am more concerned about navigation, as the route changes from one year to another, and I will be guided initially by a GPS route I have from the 2010 race.  I will have trail markers closer to the Quest's start on the 6th, so between now and then I will have to trust I can work it out.  If there are real problems navigating I can always practice some bushcraft whilst I await this year's route being put in.

Some very positive news in the last week has been a new sponsor, the FourPure Brewing Company in London.  I was introduced to this brewery when they appeared at a festival in Belgrade during the summer, and we have built up our relationship since then.  I am looking forward to welcoming a couple of the team to Whitehorse in March.  FourPure are about travel and adventure, and, as I am a lover of a good beer, I think we make an excellent match.

 

 

 

 

My hope is that I will reach Dawson City, 550 miles from Fairbanks, around the second or third week of February, and finish in Whitehorse by the end of February / early March.  I am not racing - I am here to enjoy myself and have a positive experience in one of the most wondrous places I have ever known.  I am here because the experience of being self-sufficient, sled-hauling across the rivers and lakes, and through woodland and over mountains, in tough conditions, is perhaps the most enjoyable, enriching, and satisfying occupation I have.  Right now I do not know if I will make it to the end, but the contingencies are in place so I need not dwell upon the potential of failure.  My focus is on putting one foot in front of the other, on hauling a heavy sled until the days make it lighter, and on maximising every positive of every moment that I can.

I am going on this adventure to pursue the sublime in life; to explore not only the most wondrous landscapes and scenes of astonishing beauty, but to get to know myself too.  There are times when everything is easy and everything is beautiful, and one basks in the fullest, greatest and deepest enjoyment of the moment.  Then there are the times of hardship, of difficulty, of the unexpected and the dangerous.  During these times there is a chance to falter, to exacerbate mistakes and worsen trying situations.  It is during these times especially that one discovers something precious within oneself.  It is the view one rarely sees, because it is a level of consciousness that must awaken to answer the most difficult three questions, and in the most unfamiliar, dark and perhaps frightening moments: How much do I want to continue, how can I continue, and what will happen if I do?  It is in these darkest of moments that one finds oneself in heaven, staring bleakly at one's soul and hoping to find the strongest, brightest and most focussed of lights looking back.  To undertake an adventure such as this is to escape with oneself into the sublime, and emerge thereafter forever changed, somehow better, with a greater love of life and nature, and more humility.  For me, embarking upon such a personal adventure is everything.  It is the very essence of what it means to be alive.

 

"Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger

Far from comfort and the well-lit avenues of life.

Pit your very soul against the unknown

And seek stimulation in the company of the brave.

Experience cold and hunger, heat and thirst

And survive to see another challenge and another dawn.

Only then will you be at peace with yourself

And able to know and to say:

"I looked down on the farthest side of the mountain

And, fulfilled and understanding all, I am truly content

That I lived a full life

And one that was of my own choice."

 - James Elroy Flecker, from "Hasan"

 

I can be followed on my journey via my SPOT tracking device.

More details on my Yukon Quest can be found here.

For updates on the sled dog race along the same route, which begins on the 6th February, visit the main Yukon Quest website.

Until soon.

M.

 

Back to the Yukon

Thursday, 15th January 2016

With a huge thanks to my biggest sponsors, Rab, I can happily announce that I am returning to the Yukon.  This time I will be undertaking a 1000-mile, sled-hauling journey along the route of the Yukon Quest - the toughest sled dog race in the world.

Most of my clothing and equipment has been supplied by Rab.  My food has been supplied by Serengeti Trading in Canada, shoes by Salomon, watch by Suunto, stove by Kovea, sunglasses by Bloc, action camera by Sena, and various other pieces of gear by MyRaceKit and Overboard.  I am hugely appreciative to all of them for their kind and generous support over the years.

My journey will begin a week before the dog teams start, with the expectation that they will pass me somewhere around American Summit, on the last stretch into Dawson City.  If the trail has been blown-in or lost in heavy snowfall, this will help me tremendously on those few days.

I'll be leaving from Fairbanks on the 1st February, and aiming to reach Dawson City (just over halfway) within 3 weeks.  I'll rest for two nights at the Downtown Hotel, before continuing on to Whitehorse.  The total journey will be just over 1000 miles.  My priority is reaching Dawson City, 550 miles from the start, as the section between Fairbanks and Dawson City will be new to me.  I have enjoyed the section between Whitehorse and Dawson City on 3 occasions so far, so that section of the trail will feel very much like coming home.

More information on the expedition can be found here.

 

Photo taken approaching summit of King Solomon's Dome, close to Dawson City, in 2011.  Photograph by Yann Besrest-Butler.

 

 

 

Refugee Crisis

Tuesday, 13th October 2015

Once again I have been neglecting my blog.  Fear not, I have been up to no mischief.  I have spent the last few months on adventures in the Balkans, and since September I have been helping the refugees in Serbia.

I am currently trying to gather warm blankets, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and rucksacks, as well as cash donations.

All donations to this website during October and November will be used to support the refugees.  

More details can be found here.

 

Adventures Await!

Tuesday, 16th June 2015

So, I have taught what I anticipate to be my final seminar in the UK.  Last month I delivered a highly prestigious lecture at the Royal Institution, and now it is time to head off on adventures.  As projects get finalised I will update the 'Adventures' tab on the website, so please come back to check that out.

At the moment I remain keen to do some epic trips in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, both this coming winter and the next.  I am eager to get back out on the sea ice, as it has been a couple of years since my last trip there, and there is less and less 'good' ice each year.  My 'safe' plan for this coming winter is 1000-miles in the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness.  Watch this space for more.

I am also branching out now, with more general adventures to complement the ultra-endurance adventure racing.  Over the coming 18 months - depending on funding - I hope to tandem kayak from London to Paris, packraft the River Spey in Scotland with adventure-chum Leon McCarron, and SUP the Danube (or even across all Europe).  I'll spend a couple of days packrafting a short section of the Danube this year with another adventure-buddy, Paul Huckleberry Everitt, of Going Solo Adventures.

I am delighted to be working with MyRaceKit, Rab, Sena Prism, Kovea, OverBoard waterproof bags and Active360 on these new paddling adventures.

I have a good number of books in the pipeline, some ready to be published as e-books, and others seeking out a publisher.  Just as soon as I have my PhD wrapped-up, I shall be unleashing my new tales of adventure to the world.

 

Running in Spain

Friday, 29th May 2015

Well, I had planned to come out to Spain to compete in the Quixote Legend race - a multi-stage, hundred-and-something-miler.  Due to an event sponsor withdrawing at short notice, the race was cancelled for this year.  Instead, I've come out anyway to enjoy some running in the hills.

A few photographs have been uploaded to my Facebook athlete page.

 

Muscle Stiffness and Efficiency.  Part II: The Hip Extensors

Wednesday, 13th May 2015

Due to my priority of getting the PhD wrapped-up, I have been neglecting my other writing duties.  However, I have just managed to pen the 'Part II' of my two-part series on muscle stiffness and efficiency.  This article focuses on the hip extensors, and can be found here.

Muscle Stiffness and Efficiency. Part II: The Hip Extensors.

 

Sports Injuries Seminar

Saturday, 21st March 2015

I will be delivering a sports injuries seminar in London, on Sunday, 14th June 2015.  The seminar will cover the topics most of interest to the attendees.  At present, the main focus will be on golf, football and running.

Full details of the seminar and how to book can be found here.

 

 

The Iditarod Trail Invitational: A Rookie's Run to McGrath

Friday, 20th March 2015

After a couple of months in India, a few weeks in the Yukon, and a few days in Anchorage ahead of this year's Iditarod Trail Invitational, I was not as fit as I should have been for this race.  My lack of fitness, inability to get food drop bags to the organisers on time (due to being in the Yukon), and demanding trail conditions, made this race the most brutal I have ever attempted.

I have written a chapter on the race to be included in a book on my last couple of years of races and adventures.  The full story of my first attempt at this epic race can be found here:

The Iditarod Trail Invitational

 

 

Warka Water: Please Help Change the World!

Monday, 2nd February 2015

Warka Water: Each unit will provide approximately 100 litres of clean water to villages in Ethiopia, where people currently travel for miles to carry back filthy water (human and animal waste, bacteria, parasites, etc.). I will be spending some time this year in Ethiopia helping with this.

The units are very cheap, easy to build and maintain, and will genuinely help to make a difference in a continent where 50,000 people die every day (mostly children), from the effects of drought, famine and disease. This is an opportunity to help engineers build their solutions and make a real difference to the world. Please share details of this project with friends, and if you can encourage employers / other companies to contribute larger sums, that would be amazing.  This is the Kickstarter page.


 

Time for Crowdfunding!

Monday, 19th January 2015

I have set up a crowdfunding page to raise funds to get my next few books finished and ready for publication.  Anyone able to contribute (in exchange for receiving early draft chapters and manuscripts), please visit the main crowdfunding page.  Your donations will be hugely appreciated!


Crowdfunder Page

 

 

Celebrating a Phenomenal Two Years!

Monday, 12th January 2015

I am now back in the UK after my amazing trip to India.  The focus is now on getting set for Canada and Alaska, where I will be support crew for the Yukon Arctic Ultra and Yukon Quest races, and I will be racing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational.  I also plan to do a winter sports promo, to include all the sports I love, plus a few new ones, once the races are over (details on all those to follow nearer the time).

In the meantime, I am celebrating two years since leaving my last 'proper' job, and looking back over the various ultra-endurance races and adventures I have been on in this time.  I have a London lecture and Sunderland lecture planned to talk through these.  At the end of March I will be delivering a seminar on running science, aimed mostly at runners, but that should appeal to coaches, personal trainers and therapists too.  I also have a seminar for physios, osteos, therapists, personal trainers and athletes, on back pain and common sports overuse injuries, in April.  The lecture and seminar will both be at the end of January.

Sunderland Lecture

London Lecture

Running Science: Fads, Biomechanics and Injuries Seminar

Back Pain and Sports Injuries Seminar

 

Incredible Assam

Monday, 5th January 2015

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

I am now back in New Delhi, having spent close to a month travelling in Assam.  The journey was originally intended to be a jaunt in the jungles and villages of Arunachal Pradesh, but a problem obtaining permits led to a last minute change of plan.

In all, I trekked about 500-km (300+ miles), from the north into the south of Assam.  The journey was mostly along roadsides, with brief excursions across farmland and into jungles.  The people I met along the way, especially in the north, were the most hospitable and warm-hearted that I have ever met.  

I will be producing some articles, a book chapter, and a short video of my journey.  At the moment I am busy writing notes, editing video clips, trying to focus on the PhD, and wondering how I will fund-raise for my upcoming trip to Canada and Alaska to race, support races, and to promote winter sports.

 

 

Greetings from New Delhi!

Tuesday, 2nd December 2014

Today was spent strolling about the New Delhi suburbs, trying to get permits organised for the northeast, and testing my DeLorme InReach.  It is a great piece of kit, and I felt a need to check the tracking and automatic messaging was all setup correctly.  The plan is to take the train to Assam, leaving on Friday night with a train service that will take about 2.5 days to get there. 

From the station I will most likely head south along the Brahmaputra, picking up a tributary and heading towards Nagaland and Myanmar.  How far I go will depend on the terrain.  There are restrictions for entering Myanmar, but it would be nice to get close enough to take a peek.  The original plan was for Arunachal Pradesh, but it is looking unlikely that my permit will arrive in time, and I choose not to wait in Delhi when there are adventures to be had.

In the meantime I have been sprucing up the website and chipping away at the PhD.  I have two research papers and a couple of chapters to polish off.  That ought to help wile away the time on the train.  The grand plan is to have everything fully drafted by the end of January, within a few weeks of my return to the UK.  That will leave me a couple of months to sharpen up the drafts into a finalised version.  Then, my friends, I might dream of being free. 

 

Sena: A New Sponsor for 2015!

Sunday, 30th November 2014

I am delighted to announce that Sena are to be my first new sponsor of 2015, and they are a hugely welcome addition to the fantastic brands who already support me.  I already use Sena's GoPro Audio Pack, and I am looking forward to trialling their range of Bluetooth mics and headsets, and their own Action Camera.  They will all get their first outing during my trip to Canada and Alaska for winter shenanigans.


 

 

All Quiet on the Hinesy Front

Wednesday, 5th November 2014

There is no chance of a quiet run-up to Christmas for me.  I recently posted on my social media that I would be establishing radio silence, whilst I work furiously to get my PhD back on-track.  It has been a busy few weeks, but the progress has been encouraging.  Meetings abound next week, and in the meantime I am drafting and improving drafts of thesis chapters.  At the moment I have it in mind that I will have everything completed during the second or third week of January.   It all depends on whether I will produce three studies or four, and how much data processing and analysis will be required for each.  Exciting stuff, and I can tell you are both enthralled and captivated.  I mean the both of you who could be bothered to read this far.

Why the urgency to wrap-up all things PhD?  A couple of reasons.  Finance is one.  The longer my studies last, the more I have to pay in tuition fees, and the longer I must last without being able to focus attentions on generating an income.  Times are becoming desperate.  Next, my PhD is my only link to the UK, and it is an anchor preventing me from doing what I really want to do: racing, adventuring, and generally be in the outdoors.  I also have so many books outlined or drafted, and I cannot turn attentions back to those until the thesis is complete.  

Ah, the hypocrite emerges.  Sort of.  The urgency is also due to convenience.  I am abroad as I type this, and will be traveling to India later in the month, then in January I will be off to the Yukon, and in February to Alaska.  I will return to the UK after that, with the hope of applying whatever finishing touches are required to the PhD, and sitting the viva.  So, the PhD is not, in fact, stopping me from doing what I love, but it is impacting on my freedoms and my ability to earn an income to finance my lifestyle.  I am also carrying around a certain amount of guilt - I need to do more with the PhD so my supervisors can see I am committed to it, and I need to do more adventures so my supervisors can be proud to support my efforts.  Next year...next year the chaos will come to an end, and I can dedicate myself to finding new ways of introducing different types of chaos back into my life.  

I apologise for my quietness, but I am working fiendishly hard behind the scenes.

MH.

 

 

A Busy Year

Friday, 29th August 2014

Last weekend I was privileged to deliver a course on Arctic and sub-Arctic adventure racing with Andrew Heading.  My final course will be held in the middle of September on The Science of Muscles.  Aside from that, I am now offering private consultations / sessions for those unable to attend the courses.  I can be contacted via email by anyone interested in these.

From the end of October I will be traveling to India to begin a packrafting expedition, although we will be waiting until the last moment to decide which river we will raft.  This will be determined according to the effects of the monsoon on water levels.  From January through to May, I plan to be in the Yukon Territory and Alaska, returning to the UK briefly next year in the summer, before engaging on further expeditions.

On the whole, I am busy, and it is with adventures, expeditions and races.  Good times indeed.

 

 

 

Our Natural Diet and The Jungle Marathon Books in the Shop

Saturday, 28th June 2014

My last remaining stock of books is to be sold soon.  I have seven copies of The Jungle Marathon: Ultra Endurance Running in the Heart of the Amazon, and six copies of Our Natural Diet: Optimal Nutrition for Health, Looks & Life. 

These are available on this website's online shop as signed copies.  Once sold, there are still plenty available via Amazon and MyRaceKit.

 

 

Races & Expeditions Galore: It's That Old Devil Called Cash Again

Thursday, 19th June 2014

Despite starting the year with a broken hand, 2014 for me has, just like my hand, gone from strength to strength.  Spending a month or more in the Arctic has become a winter necessity for me, and being part of a race safety and support team was certainly an eye-opener.  I am looking forward to spending some months in the Yukon next year, and hope to compete in the Arrowhead 135, Iditarod Trail Invitational and the 6633 races.  Presently, a lack of cash is the only perceivable barrier.  Whilst in the Yukon I hope to be supporting both the Yukon Quest and Yukon Arctic Ultra, the latter being a race I hope I will return to in 2017.

2016 is already looking good too.  In February I should be heading to Fairbanks to follow the Yukon Quest on foot, all the way through to Whitehorse (over 1000 miles).  After that I will head up and across to Resolute Bay for the inaugural Ice Race.  Once I have finished that, I will return to the Yukon to commence the building of my log cabin.  Should any barriers present themselves to that project, I will have to come up with a Plan B, but the priority is the move to the Yukon.

I spent about six weeks over the summer traveling from London to Transylvania for the inaugural Transylvania 100k race, only to arrive there with a throat infection and having to downsize my race to the 50k before the start.  Still, it was better than risking a health issue causing me to burden the support crew, and far, far better than a DNS.  The journey from London comprised some running, some hiking, and some leaping on whatever transport was available (except planes) to jump across country.  I returned and ran the London to Brighton 100k race the next weekend.

I have two priorities at the moment.  The first is to complete my PhD, thus releasing myself from UK obligations and distractions, so as to be free to travel and engage in more expeditions and races.  The second is the raise the necessary capital to afford all this.  There is scope to generate some cash from sponsorship, but this, as yet, remains to achieve financial fruition.  A few books should be finished this year, but not in time to make any meaningful contribution to my various costs.  That just leaves lectures and courses.  I do not have any lectures organised just yet, but a couple of courses should help my cause, provided I more than break even on them.  The first is a two day course on the science of muscles (everything about how they adapt and change, how they respond to activity and injury, and how injuries can be efficiently rehabilitated).  The second is two one-day courses on cold-weather and Arctic environment racing, which I will be delivering with Andy Heading.  More details can be found here.

There is certainly some stress involved in promoting courses and lectures as a key source of income, especially when there are advertising and room hire costs, and the sad sight of very few initial sales.  Still, the benefit is that I do genuinely enjoy delivering these courses.  The people who come along really want to be there and always seem to enjoy the experience.  Thus, it is an incredibly rewarding way to earn a living.  It might not be enough to pay for rent or a home, or to afford a car, but it can help with race and travel costs, and help with food.  There is certainly no greed involved, and the money is going into the enrichment of my mind and body via the opportunities created.  I like that - it seems to me to be what working should be for.

 

 

London Date added to Arctic Training Course

Saturday, 22nd March 2014

Andy Heading - freshly returned from an epic Iditarod Trail race in Alaska - and myself, have added an extra day for our Arctic Race Training Course.  We are now offering a one-day course in the Peak District on the 23rd August, which will be repeated in London on Sunday, 24th August.  More details can be found on the course webpage.

 

New Sponsor: Bloc Eyewear!

Saturday, 8th March 2014

I am delighted to have Bloc Eyewear as my latest sponsor.  I have used Bloc sunglasses and goggles since my first Yukon Arctic Ultra race, in 2009.  The Chameleon sunglasses were perfect for protection against the strong glare, and were hardy and robust during their use in that race and many others.  Since then I've enjoyed using other glasses in their range, and am extremely pleased to have them as a sponsor.


 

 
 
 

 

Arctic Adventure Racing Course

Sunday, 2nd March 2014

I will be delivering a course with Yukon Arctic Ultra and Iditarod veteran, Andy Heading, in the Peak District in August.  This will be a one day course, where Andy and I talk about training, planning and preparation for the Arctic races.  This will include an overview of the various races and environments, our own experiences, and a chance to display some of the kit we have tried and tested in those events.  Rab will be along to show-off some of their latest kit too.   In addition to the most important themes discussed, we will also share what we think represent the good, the bad and the ugly of clothing and equipment choices, race strategies and personal management through an Arctic race.

Full details of the course are on the main page

 

New Muscle Physiology & Injuries Course

Monday, 27th January

Tickets have begun to sell for a muscle physiology and injury treatment and prevention course in March.  Aside from a visit to the UK in September, I cannot imagine having the time to provide another course this year, and I do not think there is any other material to cover - hence this is shaping up to my final hurrah and I shall deliver it with that assumption!  The nutrition course was extremely well received, and requests were made for the muscle physiology and injuries course, hence I am delighted to be able to offer this.

The cost has been kept as low as I can make it, to encourage plenty of people to attend and to help offset the costs of travel and accommodation.  The course will focus on how muscles respond to lifestyle and activity habits, and include the latest information on injury prevention and treatment.  The content should be so new that it is unlikely the information will be in the public domain this year, other than via the course itself.  This is particularly so as I will be covering findings from my doctoral studies.  The course should be suited to personal trainers, coaches and athletes, and really anyone interested in a healthy and active lifestyle.  More details can be found here.

 

Preparing for the Frostskade

Sunday, 26th January

Well, the kitchen is a hive of activity.  Beef, salmon and a selection of fruits and vegetables are being dehydrated, and I will shortly turn my attentions to making some high-energy shortbread and truffles.  I am looking forward to getting back out to the Arctic again, and even more now that the food is almost exclusively being prepared at home.  It is a good feeling to be in control of my own race nutrition for such an event.

At present, I still cannot confirm what distance I will be attempting.  I am focussed on the 500-miler, but the fractured scaphoid means I cannot use a trekking pole, which will slow progress considerably when hauling the pulk.  My greatest fear is frostbite in the left hand, as I will not be able to elicit the muscle contractions required to generate heat.  If it all turns sour I will have to gracefully depart the race at the 100- or 250-mile finish lines, then switch to a support role.  I won't know until I am actually making progress along the trail.  Until I am forced to rationalise otherwise, I am focussing on the 500.  Updates will be available from www.frostskade500.com.  

 

The Re-Evaluation

Saturday, 18th January

Hmm...it was going to be a busy year anyway. Now when I get back from the Frostskade I'll have to find some time to tick-off the Pennine Way in sub-7 days. It would be great to compete next year, but I fear I'll be off on expeditions, and this will be the compromise so that I can experience the full course in one sitting (and I'll compete again if I'm around). Waiting for a visit to A&E on 21st to establish what I can do in Frostskade - I need to rehab the arm / wrist / hand, but if a fracture it'll be a lengthy process. Still, this stuff is what I do for fun - given enough miles an accident will crop up, and I've had plenty of lucky escapes - in the grand scheme of things something like this doesn't even feature on my radar. A minor embuggerance and nothing more - call it a challenge and something to overcome, and then it's just another component to training and being who I want to be. Of course, I won't be taking risks - that log cabin won't build itself.

 

Life's A Lottery

Sunday, 12th January

An unexceptional fall very early in the race in bad conditions left me with a serious hand/wrist injury. It did little overall to hamper my efforts- good place over kinder then last man for helping casualty off top (with Sam Robson), then clawed back to middle of field by the end of the day. Medical staff considered injury more severe than I did, which was later supported by visit to A&E - worst case would be loss of function following avascular bone necrosis if not treated. I was just unlucky. Hopefully it won't be that serious but have to revisit hospital on 21st. Amazing race- loved every minute of it and gutted to be missing out on remainder. I saw the rest as race support

 

Having a Crack at The Spine Race

Friday, 10th January

Tomorrow morning at 0800, I'll be leaving Edale in Derbyshire, and heading off to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.  This is the 268 mile Spine Race, a self-sufficient, unsupported, single-stage race.  I was pleased to hear that Ian Corless listed me as one to watch out for, the most experienced competitor, and the one who will come into his own if the temperatures plummet.  It all adds to the pressure though, not that I mind, for a race that I do not really intend to 'race'.

The cut-off for the finish is seven days, two weeks after which I begin a 500 mile race within the Scandinavian Arctic Circle.  I have to prioritise the Frostskade 500, so cannot jeopardise my chances here.  The Spine Race will be a hard and fast walk for me - where the ground conditions permit - and a longer slog where they do not.  I will limit sleep as much as I feel is appropriate, both for making sure I can make the final cut-off, and to ensure I am not so fatigued I need months of recovery.

An ideal strategy for the Spine (in my opinion), is to have the attitude, clothing and equipment of a fast hill-walker, who does not mind breaking into a jog where the conditions permit.  For those who plan to do the opposite - to run as much as possible and walk where they must - there is a fair risk of slips and falls along the slippery flagstones.  Further, almost all of us will have wet feet each day, and if running the chances of serious foot damage is greater.  

Hypothermia is a particular risk in this event.  We are subject to the +5 to -5 Celsius temperatures where hypothermia is most likely.  This is partly because it is so often raining and windy, with both reducing the insulating potential of clothing (unless fully waterproofed and windproofed against the conditions).  With racers cold, tired and hungry, it is easy to make navigational errors, increasing exposure to the elements and delaying times to reach the relative safety of the checkpoints.

The ground conditions along the Pennine Way, where the race takes place, will be the worst I have ever raced.  This is not an excuse for slow timings on my part alone - we will all be delayed as a result.  The Pennine Way is wet, slippery, boggy, cold and windy.  I have run sections in the past, where winds have pushed me off the path and the wet flagstones have caused falls.  At the moment the ground around the flagstones is deep in water and boggy, giving no good alternatives to slow and wet progress.

Of course, we are all in this together, and it will be interesting to see how we all fair.  There are some accomplished ultra-racers competing, and a few Spine Race veterans (some having completed the race previously, others returning with unfinished business).  It has been great to see some familiar faces, and I am looking forward to catching up with some good friends along the route.

Updates of my progress can be found via my Facebook page, and via the Spine Race website (I am competitor number 041).

I am looking forward to getting stuck into the journey,

MH

 

On Board with RaceKit.co.uk

Tuesday, 3rd December

It's awesome to now be sponsored by RaceKit.co.uk.  Having been good friends with the original owners (Andy and Amanda Heading) it has been great to see how the new owners (Elisabet Frankenberg and Colin Barnes) are continuing the Racekit ethos.  They do not do pushy sales and they do not have a 'one size fits all' approach.  They are experienced and accomplished ultra-racers with a superb knowledge of what clothing and equipment is right for a given race in a particular environment.  They work hard to ensure they can give personalised advice and recommendations, and strive to come up with options for a range of kit, which is managed by their broad range of stock and their expert knowledge.  It's great to be a part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Up, Selling Out & Leaving the Country

Tuesday, 26th November

There is literally nothing to report that is different to my last post: the PhD is progressing and I am looking forward to my winter races.  I am in the process of selling everything I no longer need (and giving away to charity or recycling everything I cannot sell).  The sooner the PhD is completed, the sooner I can head off on proper adventures.  Tickets are selling well for the London lecture with James Adams and self, and for the London nutrition course I'll be presenting alongside Dr Simon Dyall.

The exciting things I am looking forward to include the Spine Race, the Frostskade 500, staying in a friend's cabin in Norway, and getting a few projects underway next year.

 

 

November?  NOVEMBER???

Tuesday, 29th October

Somewhat embarrassed to see my last blog entry was in July.  Well, dear reader, since then I can announce the lecture with Mimi Anderson was a triumph, and I am now looking forward to my final London lecture in December.  As my buggering-off far and away from this green and pleasant land is imminent, I will be regaling all with tales of what I have in store.  The main thrust of my talk will be on injury treatment and prevention, and I shall be speaking alongside the Legend that is James Adams,  He plans to witter on about psychology - if you believe in that sort of thing - and how it might apply to ultras.

I am also in the process of writing a nutrition course, also to be delivered in London in December, and that will be geared towards personal trainers, coaches and therapists, but everyone is welcome to come along.  Well, provided they buy a ticket, obviously.  Everyone else can bugger off.

What else is new?  Ah yes, I have written a spate of articles on adventures both recent and pending (Ramblings).  I am also dragging myself ever-closer to the conclusion of my PhD, slaving as we speak over a mountain of data. 

Without wishing to take too much surprise out of my announcements at the London lecture, I am planning to compete in the Spine Race in January and a possible double-Frostskade 500 in February.  The latter would entail racing the first 500 miles, then turning the second 500 miles into a sort of Arctic wilderness survival experience, although I am a long way from finalising that.  All I can say for sure is that I am tempted, and should conditions be favourable I may well go for it.  The remainder of next year will be spent living in a cabin where I will write and produce some ebooks, travelling around India, and getting into mischief in the Himalayas, Tibet, Bangladesh and Bay of Bengal.

If I can raise the funds I will also compete in the Inaugural La Ultra 333-km race and have a bash at finishing the 153-mile Spartathlon.

Oh yes, and I want people to sign-up for the Frostskade 500 because there are not enough competitors for my liking.  The more to experience such an event, the better.

My only other news is that all my books are now about as discounted as I can make them, as I hope to sell-off all my personal stocks in order to help fund my projects, and to ensure I have nothing left gathering dust in the UK when I'm off.  They are all available from Amazon and other online retailers, and from this site's online shop.

TTFN,

MH

 

 

 

 

Next London Lecture with Mimi & Mark

Thursday, 25th July

My next London lecture will be held on Monday, 9th September, in the main lecture theatre of the British School of Osteopathy on Borough High Street.  The plan is that I will give a talk for an hour or so on energetics, nutrition and hydration for endurance exercise.  We will then take a break, after which the marvellous Mimi Anderson will give a talk about her races and adventures, including her recent world record breaking run the length of Ireland.

We are hoping to get some kit suppliers to come along and show off some new kit.  Overall, this should be an excellent opportunity to meet other athletes and people involved in sport and fitness to the highest level.

More information and the link to buy tickets can be found via the Public Lectures page.

 

The End is Nigh

Wednesday, 24th July

This month I passed the halfway point in my data collection for the doctorate.  The PhD is the number one priority in my life at the moment.  Out of 60 participants I want to have studied, 33 have so far been tested, and plenty more have either booked in or expressed an interest.  The PhD is my only responsibility in the UK, and once completed I intend to spend the subsequent few years abroad on races and adventures.  It's great to see the light at the end of the tunnel after all these years. 

 

Update

Monday, 8th July 2013

Well, one can only apologise so much for being so useless with this blog malarky.   Right, the current State of Play in the colourful World of Hines is as follows.  Since returning from the Yukon in mid-April I have been living off the generosity and kindness of friends, and none more so than the exceptionally kind and generous Tracy, who has gathered me under her arms as a second child, ensured provision of sufficient food and water, and kept me safe from the world outside.  To her I am forever grateful.

I have been giving lectures to many a forgiving soul since my return to the UK.  Most recently this was with my chums from Racekit in Birmingham, as part of a charity event for Team Hope.  I have been taken aback by the kind words of those who appreciate my talks and my written work.  This is as much a marker of professional success as I could possibly ask for, and once bundled together with the PhD I shall be good for retirement.  Oh yes, any of you aged 18-50, with or without back pain, I still have places left for my entirely free and uber-comprehensive biomechanics / muscle physiology assessments at the University of Roehampton.  More details here.

I am sure your lives will be enriched with the news that I have completed my next book on the physiology of running.  My plan is to get the manuscripts out to potential publishers this week.  All my other titles will likely be going to ebooks only, as they are too specialist to generate sufficient revenue as paperbacks.  The remaining stock is still available via the online store on this site, via the publishers on Amazon.co.uk, and via Amazon direct.  Once I've got the new manuscripts out I shall revert my time to writing the literature review for my PhD, and writing-up and submitting some research papers for publication.

All that is left is organising my training time for the Spartathlon (confidence is not high!), and trying to source a sponsor for my Arctic epic.  Once the PhD is completed I plan to travel, to race and to adventure.  To Infinity and Beyond!

MH.

 

 

 

New Public Lecture Series

Thursday, 25th April 2013

I am pleased to announce a new public lecture series, commencing in June with a lecture in London on Exercise in Extreme Environments.  More details can be found on my Public Lectures page.  The goal is to bring runners together for lectures that combine both interesting science and tales from the trail.  The science will be relevant and accessible to all runners, and include information on hydration and nutrition, injuries, training and racing, and clothing and equipment.

The intention is that the first lecture will be successful enough to permit a series of presentations, maybe culminating in a full day or weekend event, and featuring various highly-accomplished ultra-runners and academics.  Each event is a celebration of running and open to runners of all levels and anyone interested in being physically active in the outdoors.

 

Back to Reality

Wednesday, 24th April 2013

After a shocking start to the month it is time to get things moving again.  My plans are as follows:

1. Find a part-time job (grumble, grumble, moan, moan, etc, etc.)

2. Publish about half-a-dozen research papers on biomechanics / physiology

3. Complete data collection for PhD

4. Organise some public lectures (check under 'Resources' tab)

5. Begin training for Spartathlon

6. Find financial sponsor for North Pole expedition in 2014

7. Complete Running Fitness book

8. Buy garage for kit storage and for use as a workshop (for Project 'Landy')

That should do for the time-being (as there is more).  There is a time-issue now, as I am planning a busy race and adventures schedule to begin in December and to last approximately two years (after which I'll be moving to the Yukon).

Crazy times back here in the UK, and I'm looking forward to catching up with good friends.  Great times are ahead for me, and it ought to be an incredible few years between now and The Big Move.  Let the adventures continue!

 

 

Dr Katharine Giles (in memoriam)

Wednesday, 10th April 2013

I was just preparing to board a flight from Vancouver to Toronto today when a friend sent me a message, describing someone involved in an accident and wondering whether it was a friend I had talked with her about some time before.  A quick internet search revealed that it was.

Katharine Giles passed away on Monday morning at approximately 08:25.  She was cycling to her work at UCL, London, from Victoria station, when an accident occurred involving a lorry.  No other details are available, other than that the driver stopped immediately and was not arrested by the police.

I met Katharine at the Herts and Essex high school in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, when I was 15.  We were in the same year and sat in one or two of the same classes for the two years I was there.  I remember her as someone at least as quiet as I was, although she was far more astute and intelligent, and just a better student all round.  She was tall and thin and pretty, with the loveliest long and flowing hair.  She was quiet but had good friends who she was clearly close to - Sarah, Julie and Laura come to mind, although plenty of others too.

When we went our separate ways to university we lost touch.  It was thanks to Facebook that I came across her again, some time in 2011.  I was thrilled to see she had obtained her PhD and I was stunned and staggered to see that it was in an area of research so close to my heart (climatology).  Her photos from Antarctica and the Arctic made me envious at once.  With my own plans to spend time on the Arctic sea ice I got in touch about a meeting. 

During the winter of 2011/2012 we met up on Tottenham Court Road after work to discuss research opportunities - essentially just how I could integrate something into my planned trips to the Arctic that would be of genuine usefulness.  When Katharine walked in it was as if time had stood still all these years - she had not changed at all.  Still as elegant, still thin, still beautiful .  Always the quiet, searching, perceptive and intelligent character.  It was so wonderful to catch up, and I am so grateful for the time she gave to me, the stories and the advice.  The communications continued via email, and I was awaiting confirmation of funding for my next expedition before getting in touch again. 

Katharine was one of those people who genuinely held a passion for what she did and she loved it.  It had taken her to opposite ends of the Earth and given her experiences and insights many of us will never come close to having.  A truly lovely person passed away this week, and that is a deep tragedy and a horrid shame.  My tears have been for the loss from my life, the sadness of such a wonderful person no longer with us, and all she leaves behind.

I miss you Katharine.

 

E-Books Released!

Monday, 4th March 2013

Well, at last my books have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the electronic age.  All my titles are now available as ebooks, and I have it on good authority my next title (Running Fitness) will be launched as a limited release, draft version in e-format later this month.  Watch this space! (or rather just above it, or sort of here but this bit will have moved down.  My books are far more sensible than this, possibly).

I am happy for the ebooks for three reaons: they're cheaper, it's better for the environment to buy ebooks than paper copies, it'll be easier to sell worldwide (as books aren't being sent out from the UK at increased expense to the buyer).  Also, these books can be read on any device capable of downloading them, such as PCs, tablets, ipads, smartphones and so on, via the Amazon Kindle Reader Apps.

These links are for Amazon.co.uk, but the books are now available from each country / region's Amazon too:

 

Although ebooks can be read on PCs, smartphones and so on, an ebook reader such as the Kindle is more portable than a PC and has far superior battery life than phones and tablets (up to 8 weeks on the Paperwhite Kindle, for example).  So, if you don't own one already you might want to do as I did last week and treat yourself!

 

 

New Sponsor

Monday, 18th February 2013

I am delighted to announce that Serengeti Trading became my latest sponsor, providing biltong and droewors for my third successful completion of the 430-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra.  Serengeti Trading are suppliers of South African foods in Canada.  Biltong and droewors are dried meats which provide an excellent mix of natural proteins, fats and minerals.  I always request unusually fatty cuts of meat, to help approach the energy demands of ultra racing for hundreds of miles in a cold environment.

 

A Mixed Start to 2013

Monday, 18th February 2013

I left for Canada with excitement for the start of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, but disappointment that I would have to postpone plans for visiting the Arctic afterwards.  As with many of this season's Polar adventurers, bad ice conditions off the North American and Canadian coastlines have prevented me from heading to the Arctic.  Our team metereologist sent images showing swathes of open water and wide leads, and with information regarding thin and chaotic ice north of Barrow. 

Without a financial backer it quickly became clear that nothing useful could be gained from a heavy personal investment and minimal ice to travel across.  The purpose of our expedition is to show that a fast and light, 'ultra-runner's' approach to sea ice travel is viable, but the conditions have to be conducive for it.  This season, unfortunately, they are not.

This year saw soft trail conditions for the first 100 miles of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, and an unusual warmth in the air.  There was no fresh snowfall this year, nor heavy winds to blow in the trails.  The temperature remained between -10 and -18 Celsius throughout the race, with a couple of very brief drops towards -30.  In 2011, -30 was about the average, with temperatures down to around -50 for days. 

All in all, it was an easier race to get through, but I held back to help prevent any overuse injuries due to the soft trail conditions early on.  By the time the trail improved I was in second place in the foot category, and happy to manage myself in that position throughout the remainder of the race.  A full race report will follow shortly.

 

2012 Racing Wrapped Up: A Brief Reflection

Sunday, 11th November 2012

Not only am I now finished with racing for 2012, but I finished on a great race.  The Broadway Tower marathon, organised by Cotswold Running, was probably the prettiest race I have run.  At just shy of 28 miles, the route took us along beautiful countryside across the wolds, and through some of the prettiest villages.  The golden Cotswold stone was looking at its best under a clear blue sky, despite a race that started in drizzle and following a storm.

The ground conditions went from challenging to hilarious, as some field sections were so saturated and muddy that progress was considerably slowed.  But, for me, this was my last race, and one in which I had to hold back.

After my return from the Arctic in March, I began training with gusto for La Ultra in the Himalayas.  In May I competed in the Hardmoors 110, which was my first continuous 100-miler.  Getting through that gave me the confidence that I could get through the 138-mile La Ultra, but in doing the HM110 I was left far too battered.  It took three weeks before I could return to training, and by the time I left for India I was only just recovered.  There had been compromises to take me from a multi-day racer to a single-stage racer, and I accepted those as important for the greater good.

I returned from the Himalayas in August, and immediately launched myself into a series of races.  All the time, my priority was training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February 2013.  Because of this, I did not want to do anything that would compromise that training, but a number of race invites and a desire to see good friends and great routes, meant participating in races I really should not have.  Even though I just aimed to manage myself through each, the reality was that a weekend race would rule out good training in the subsequent week.  As an approach to training, this was not acceptable.

So, by the time I raced through the Cotswolds, my feet and joints were in good condition, and I had no muscular aches or other issues.  I managed myself through and enjoyed the experience immensely.  I included a training run during the week after, and a reasonable amount of walking.  Training is now underway and focussed on the Yukon.  I am certainly not as fit as I was in November 2008, ahead of my first attempt at the YAU 430, so I have a considerable amount of catching up to do.  The workload from my college, doctoral studies and writing obligations is limiting my time, but all will come together and be fine.  It will do, because it has to.  My office and bedroom have maps within easy view, and lists of YAU competitors. 

As I write this I look up to see maps with the route from Whitehorse to Carmacks.  I also have a huge map of the Arctic Ocean, as I will be heading there for my record attempts after the YAU.  Of course, there is a greater chance the conditions will not be right and I will have to postpone until the following year, but as I cannot know that in advance, I have to assume I can make it happen.  And now I am reminded...I have to go for a run.

 

Big Steps Afoot

Wednesday, 12th September 2012

Well, the time has come for re-evaluating priorities.  I have resigned from my position as Exercise Physiology Lecturer at my college, with a view to leave on the 25th of January, 2013.  I will be leaving directly for the Yukon Territory to compete in the 430-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra for the third time.  When I reach Dawson City, after a couple of days to recuperate, I will leave for Fairbanks, Alaska, to complete the full 1000-mile journey of the Yukon Quest Sled Dog race.  Hopefully my friends Jerym and Robbie will be joining me for this.  From Fairbanks we will head north to the high Arctic, to complete one of two potential expeditions we are interested in.

At present, the Yukon and Arctic events are what I am most focussed on.  However, following a safe return I plan to compete in the Transvulcania race, after which I will head to Vietnam for the inaugural Jungle Marathon.  I will spend a month or so in Vietnam before heading to the Himalayas, where I will compete again in La Ultra, and take a month or so to see more of the Ledakh region and thereabouts.  From Leh, Ledakh, I will be in India for another month, seeing the jungles and the ocean, before returning to the UK.  There is the small matter of completing the write-up of my doctoral thesis and sitting the 'viva' exam.  I also have two books to write in 2013 with a chum of mine.  The Arctic Exploits will doubtless be worth a write-up too, and I will need to earn my keep somehow.

Following these adventures the plans are far from definite.  However, at present, I think I ought to do a solo row across the Atlantic to the Carribean, before paddling to the Amazon and exploring South America via kayak.  Perhaps a bit of footwork will be in order after all that sitting down, but we shall see how matters develop.  A smattering of races, a couple of good expeditions, and a journey of epic proportions seems to be the order of 2013 and beyond. 

 

Reflections on The High

Friday, 24th August 2012

The High did not go well for me.  I managed myself through to a comfortable finish and, well, that was the problem.  Over the weeks since I have been analysing the performance as much as I can, trying to decipher my shortcomings and the reasons for them.

I arrived in Leh a day later than everyone else, and in trying to compensate I pushed far too hard, too soon, and became ill, ultimately harming my acclimatisation and fitness for the race.  With hindsight, I should have taken it easier in training, I should have insisted my support crew be with me for it, and I should have better prepared myself with food, electrolytes and other supplies.  When I became ill I should have taken better care of myself rather than relying on others.

During the race I did what I could but really struggled to perform well because of the lack of acclimatisation.  There is a possibility I simply do not cope well with altitude, but personally I doubt it, and in any case I feel I should go back to  La Ultra if I can and try for a better performance.

What did shock me a little was the response from others.  Many friends were congratulating me and attempting to assure me my performance was actually far better than I considered it to be.  But I have an issue with this.  As an athlete and a competitive racer, I want to perform as best as I can, especially in my main races.  There are plenty of smaller events I do during the year, and if they are not a specific focus then I go for the atmosphere, for the enjoyment of the trails, and for the camaraderie of racing with others.  I still work hard, but these are not my big events.

So, when I do go to a main event, I expect to do myself proud.  This time I did not achieve that, but I can console myself I did finish, and I did so without injury and I enjoyed myself throughout.  In terms of performance, I left wanting to return to have another go, to see if I can better myself in preparation, fitness and race approach.  And this is the point: It is 'okay' to not perform as one had hoped, planned and intended. 

It is okay to under-perform because it permits a valuable learning experience, but more than that it generates a palpable craving, a hunger greater than any other to do better.  It means going back to the trails with more determination, and it means contemplating every level of how to raise one's performance.  Further, it means one finds oneself dreaming about that improved return, with a desire to be fittest, strongest and most determined to succeed.  I can already feel that familiar mountain pass beneath my feet, I can feel that thin air in my lungs and my laboured breathing.  I can see the tops of those mountain passes, and I want to be running up towards them again. 

I wish you all the best with your races, adventures, training and everything else you do to be you.  It is okay to under-perform sometimes, just as long as those times become your inspiration to become more than you could have been otherwise.  Happy trails.

 

La Ultra / The High

Saturday, 11th August 2012

Apologies for the absenteeism, but internet access in Leh, Ledakh, is not much.  Besides, I was simply having too much fun.  My build-up to La Ultra was far from the genius trajectory I had initially planned.  Rather than a consistent, measured increase in weekly mileages following my return from the Arctic in March, I chose instead to test fitness with a couple of 100-milers ahead of the big race.  Considering these were my first ever continuous 100-milers, I had felt their inclusion essential, so that in my mind I knew I could complete the 138-mile La Ultra within the 60-hour cut-off time.

Regrettably my pre-La Ultra races had their consequences, even though brakes were applied and I took things relatively easily.  Each required recovery time, during which training was minimalised, with injury-avoidance proving to be the primary focus.  In fact, although weekly mileages were not as high as hoped before leaving, I was pleased to be able to run for hours whilst managing injury prevention - something which continued right up until and during La Ultra.

I arrived in Leh a day after the other competitors, care of a faux pas on the part of the crew.  To compensate, the next day I went out for a training run/walk to 4100m, returning to the hotel hours later than planned, suffering from mild hyperthermia and hypoglycaemia.  Even more excitingly, the uber-dry Himalayan air, and super-dusty and outrageously polluted mountain roads, started in motion an unwanted and ill-advised upper respiratory tract infection - a common affliction amongst ardent ultra-runners.  After that little shock to the system I was beginning to get a feel for what I was up against.  Initial excursions to 5200m were met with yours inevitably breathing rapidly and almost gasping for air at every opportunity.  A week later I would be moving across that point at fair pace.

The race began 10-k before Khardung Village, continued uphill towards Khardung La, after which the road descends into Leh.  From Leh it is a long flat section to Karo, then a return to Upshi, and a quick up-and-down Warrila pass.  This was an alternative route to the usual over Tanglang La, but was a necessity due to flood risks on the original roadways.

For me, I was disappointed I could not push as hard as I had wanted, with even a super-gentle start causing me to pause at about 5000m to vomit into the gutter.  By the time I was on the descent and headed for 'safe' altitude for good running, the heat was up and I was still forced to go slow.  I treated myself to almost an hour of sleep that night, a further 20 minutes in the car whilst at Karo, and then continued on, meeting up with fellow competitor, Justin (Jup) on the return to Karo from Upshi.

Justin and I took on Warrila together, then having to retreat from the top some 5-km away, on account of deteriorating weather with hail and ever-poorer visibility.  We descended until the early hours, so as to sit-out the storm, and then continued on to the top.  The run down was my best run of the race, enjoying sporadic runs becoming concerted and consistent ones as altitude became more forgiving.  During the race I had seen every other competitor, each with his or her own trials and tribulations.  That so many (9 out of 11) made it to the end was demonstrative of the determination of those suffering more than the rest of us.  I returned home fitter and stronger than I left, and am now focussed on training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February.  Well, I'll give myself this weekend off, but there's no need to overdo it.

 

 

Bloodymindedness Overruled

Tuesday, 26th June 2012

Well, it is nice to surprise myself with sense, even if the immediate result is counter to the plan.  The Hardmoors 110-miler will go down as one of my favourite races of all time, not least because it was my first 100-miler.  However, I had had to beat myself up to get through it within the cut-off, care of tight muscles and sore joints making the going tough.  Progress was about finding the line between a pace good enough to get me to the finish in time, but not so fast as to cause an injury that would prevent me from getting there.

It took me three weeks to recover sufficiently from the HM110 before I could commence training again, only giving me a couple of weeks to ready myself for the UTSW.  On the day of that second race I was still feeling the nagging influence of those 'pre-injury' warnings from the Hardmoors.  Without the training miles to know if I could finish, I made the decision to start the UTSW with a feeling of unsupported optimism and little more.  As it turned out, about 20 miles into the race those nagging issues were already limiting performance, and I chose to retire from the event along with a few other big names of ultra-running, all of us unhappy with how things were turning out.

For me, the UTSW was three weeks ahead of La Ultra/The High - the race I had signed up to the HM110 and UTSW in preparation for.  These races were purely to help me guage fitness for La Ultra, and the idea of pushing myself into injury - or even just to the point of delayed recovery - was an absurdity.  As one friend kindly reminded me, 'you have to pick your battles', and mine was La Ultra.  It was a shame to not finish the UTSW - not least because it is such a beautiful and challenging trail - but it was absolutely the right thing to do.  Sometimes pride hurts in these situations, but nothing would hurt more than doing the wrong thing and jeopardising my chances in the main event.  In that respect, both the HM110 and UTSW were simply training runs with race numbers, plenty of good friends, and food and water stops every few miles.  A great race, but I'll have to save finishing it for some other time.

 

Race Season in Full Swing

Thursday, 21stJune 2012

As I sit here, preparing to wade into a tomato and basil soup which, in itself, will be breaking trail for a topside of beef, I feel contented that race season has well and truly arrived. My present location is Newquay's Hotel California. I am here because in just shy of 21 hours I will be commencing the Endurancelife Ultra-Trail South-West (UTSW), a 100-mile continuous jaunt along the Cornish coastline. We begin in Porthleven and conclude at Watergate bay, a mere six miles nor'-nor'-east of where I am currently living it up.

I am not ready for the race - not by any means - but readiness is not always a prerequisite for success.  Sometimes, particularly in feats of human endurance, an unhealthy and ill-advised measure of sheer bloody mindedness will see a chap through. Three weeks ago I completed the Hardmoors 110, a 110-miler along the full length of the Cleveland Way in Yorkshire, and it was utterly delightful. During the first two marathons there was a not unreasonable amount of descending along steep, wet and slippery trails. This combined with an ill-timed stumble led to some issues arising in the middle of my foot, which quickly increased stresses on my right calf and then knee. By the sixtieth mile I was barely able to run, and I soon deteriorated. Rather than a splendid run I found myself sort of hobbling along, only gathering pace significantly during the last eleven miles, so as to ensure I finished ahead of the cut-off time.

Three weeks later and here I sit. I will continue tonight in my endeavours to free-up that now troublesome right calf. Ideally all problems would have been avoided so as to allow continued training, rather than the minimal 10-Ks I have been completing more recently.  Still, fitness would not have been lost, and all I must do is avoid actual injury. 100-miles along the Cornish coast should shape up to be another character-building opportunity.

All this, of course, is not the end in and of itself. If it were I would be very disappointed about current form.  As it is, I am six weeks away from my main goal - the formidable La Ultra in the Himalayas.  It is a 138-mile continuous run across the two highest mountain passes they have on offer.  Oxygen will be limited and as such the altitude will present the greatest obstacle.  But, all is in hand. My support crew of Matt, Katy and Louise is prepped and ready.

As for me, I have gone from running weekend marathons to double-marathons to 100-milers and more. I know I can do the distance. I also know I could be fitter, and will be by the time I reach the start line in the Himalayas.  All is coming together now. Just this final fling along the coastal path and then I'll be heading to Snowdonia and the Lakes for some better hill training.  And if things do not go as I wish, I know a goodish measure of bloody mindedness will see me to the end. It has never let me down before, and I see no reason to imagine it'll dabble with experimentation any time soon.

 

 

I Just Won't Shut Up!

Tuesday, 22nd May 2012

I have just had a great couple of weeks.  On Wednesday I was proud to represent Salomon at the Keswick Mountain Festival, where I gave a Q&A session with Nigel Shepherd in the evening.  On Saturday morning I was presenting a lecture on muscle passive and active properties at the FASTER Fitness Convention, shortly after which I went for a pleasant five-hour run, sampling the delights of Southampton and its environs.  Between those two talks I managed to squeeze in a meeting with the guys at Rab, and only wish that I could have made it for longer.  This week I have enjoyed catching up with a good friend, spending the evening with a new friend, and have received countless emails from friends old and new.

The PhD is progressing steadily, with only some minor carpentry and the like to do before commencing pilot studies proper.  I bumped into an old friend I had not seen in years, which was an uplifting surprise.  I currently have some lamb, sweet potatoes and broccoli steaming happily away.  I must now turn my attentions to funding applications for the first of my pending North Pole expeditions.  On Thursday I will be giving a lecture on Exercise in Extreme Environments at the Cotswold Outdoor shop in Islington, London.  Life is good: good friends, good times and running well.  I hope you are all at least as happy as I am, and hungry for more.  TTFN, M.

 

 

Back from Alaska

Sunday, 18th March 2012

Well, the old blog has been neglected over the past few months, and for that I must apologise.  The truth is that I was up against a good few challenges during the build-up to my recent Alaskan trip - in terms of training, logistics and management, and equipment procurement and testing - and for that my mind was focussed to the detriment of all else.  I flew out to Barrow, Alaska in the last week of February, and from there engaged in daily excursions onto the sea ice.  This has all been ahead of planned Arctic expeditions and world record attempts due in 2013 and 2014, sponsorship depending

Part of the plan for the trip was to test equipment and gauge the viability of an expedition from Barrow to the North Pole, along a classic route used by Britisher Sir Walter Herbert in 1968/69.  The daily jaunts included an assessment of speed over the sea ice, as compared against ground speed during cold-weather races such as the Yukon Arctic Ultra.  As things turned out, the findings were very positive, although there will be some unique challenges of the Arctic environment that need to be taken into account and prepared for ahead of the full expeditions in 2013 and 2014.

Now that I am returned, attention will shift to the completion of my book on Running Fitness, as well as developing fitness for a number of ultras over the coming months.  Once the last of those has been completed I will begin training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra and North Pole attempt in 2013.  All I need now is to find a corporate sponsor.  More information is on my North Pole page.

 

The Fun Never Stops

Monday, 5th December 2011

Ah, they do say absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Since last I wrote here my latest book, Our Natural Diet, has been released, and I have received a letter from the PM.  He too, it seems, feels it would be splendid for Jerym and I to tackle a couple of world speed record attempts at Geographic North this coming February.  I mean it is the start of the Olympic and Paralympic year.  It would be rude not to.

As a consequence life has become more interesting.  We are gathering shiny things like magpies, fretting about sponsorship for the flights, and trying to thrash ourselves into some kind of shape.  We are not quite sure what the shape is we are aiming for, but remain convinced more thrashing is duly required.

Full details are on the sparkly and spanking new North Pole 2012 page.

 

An Improving Plan for some Cold Weather Events

Friday, 28th October 2011

Well, today was a fairly pleasant day.  An early start was necessary as had an abstract to write for ACSM's 2012 conference.  The college closed early as it was the graduation ceremony for last year's students.  I had already primed our new first years that each year when we faculty staff entered the theatre to the sound of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance march, and exited to the theme from Superman, I died a little inside.  A handful of students requested photos of me in my ridiculous outfit, which demonstrates my popularity has increased considerably.  A few graduating students were particularly grateful for my help throughout their research projects, and such gratitude is what makes my job worthwhile.  Perhaps one year they'll change the soundtrack and let me stroll in to Ride of the Valkyries and leave to Danielle de Niese singing Vide cor Meum.

Due to the time commitments involved in writing manuscripts, I haven't managed to invest the time needed to find corporate sponsors for a Polar expedition in the coming spring.  So, the plan as of yesterday was to do a few hundred miles around the Pennines over Christmas, head out to Svalbard in the spring to take a look at the drift ice, then do the Yukon Arctic Ultra and Iditarod back-to-back in 2013.  That would give Jerym and I until 2014 to raise funds for the Pole. 

Then I spoke with Jerym this evening...

I was aware I could only do the first 350 miles of the Iditarod in 2013, as I would need to complete that distance before being permitted to compete in the 1100 mile race.  The Yukon Arctic Ultra covers the first 430 miles of the Yukon Quest dog sled race.  The full distance is about 1100 miles.  So, Jerym and I are going to do that - 1100 miles from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks, Alaska.  Jerym had already calculated that as long as we keep to a good daily average we can reach Fairbanks in time to fly over to the start of the Iditarod.  Apparently I'll be able to do the 350 miles officially, then do the remaining distance to Nome unofficially.  So, that's about 2200 miles in the spring of 2013.

Should be good.

 

EnduranceLife Live More Lectures:

Guest Lecture on Exercise in Extreme Climates

Wednesday, 19th October 2011

In June I was invited to give a guest lecture at the EnduranceLife Festival in Devon.  It was a fantastic experience to be a part of the event, although it seemed a little strange to be surrounded by athletes and not actually taking part in any races myself.

I was given the pleasure of presenting the penultimate talk of the evening, hours later than originally anticipated, and to well over a hundred (mostly inebriated) athletes.  It was such a great crowd, and the atmosphere in the tent was superb.

I had originally planned to give a physiology talk, but because it had been moved back so late I chose to mostly tell stories and weave some physiology trivia in as I went along.  Hence, the presentation was unplanned.  Hopefully it was well-received because some of it was interesting, although I cannot rule-out the possibility that I was in a tent largely filled with individuals pleasantly merry on the local tipple.

 

 

 

 

Three Hours in the Devil's Punch Bowl

Saturday, 20th August 2011

I have been neglecting my blog, for which I apologise. I have been a slave to my writing, reviewing drafts of Our Natural Diet, in preparation for the reviewers later this month. However, the time arrived today when I packed up a rucksack and headed out into the Devil's Punchbowl, and enjoyed one of the most delightful runs I have ever had.

The pack felt deceptively light on my back as I left the house. Despite it having been raining earlier in the day, by the time I set out - at about 17:30 - the skies had cleared and the temperature warmed. I emerged from the woods at the top of the first depression, with views beneath the blue skies stretching for miles across rolling green and wooded hills.

I had not decided in advance for how long I would run, but with a jaunt along the length of the Pennine Way planned for next weekend, I wanted to put in a good effort with the rucksack. As it was, I had already been experimenting with a route along new trails, with their long, gentle undulations leading over the low Surrey Hills, sometimes over stony paths and at others across the grass and mud.

The first half-hour was through the woods, and an hour after that a long open climb brought me to a trig point by a Celtic Cross, there to ward off the ghosts of these haunted woods. A little further off, a couple of hundred yards to the south-west, I paused by the headstone of a murdered sailor, his throat having been cut by three highwaymen in 1786, after he had bought them food and ale in a nearby pub. I turned back and located a trail I had started along during a previous run and, having passed a post upon which was written 'There is no God', from there was onto new ground.

It was a wonderful run, during which I discovered new trails I followed until I reached their end, before turning back to explore another. As dusk approached I began working my way back to familiar ground, emerging from a steep climb to see the Celtic Cross, elated as I was that I had found a known landmark. From there it was a little over half an hour further to reach home, and I arrived satisfied I had made it through a good run over challenging ground.

I am now looking forward to Thursday, when I head up to Kirk Yetholm to begin my 270-mile, north-to-south journey along the Pennine Way.

 

London Explorers Connect

Thursday, 7th July 2011

This evening was the first time I attended an Explorers Connect meeting. We had a presentation by Jo Ruxton on the Plastic Oceans project - a project to make a documentary on the amount of plastics accumulating around the world's waters, and the damage this is causing to marine wildlife. These plastics are entering the human food chain, and are just one more unwelcome addition to the various man-generated chemicals polluting the seas.

But it was not all doom and gloom. Aside from a positive spin on the Plastic Oceans project, the purpose of the meeting was some networking. Jerym and I had a go at this, but as nobody seemed to grasp what we were trying to achieve we gave up, and instead exchanged banter with old friends. It was great to catch up with Tobias Mews and Scott Gilmour, and to meet Louise Pratt, Alex Hibbert, Leon and James. I originally met the organiser, Belinda Kirk, and her partner, James Starr, at the Endurancelife festival, and it was really good to spend some time with them again.

Belinda and I had had a conversation a little while ago about me presenting at one of these, but I could not help but think Jerym would be the better man for the job. Whilst I can babble on about various extreme races, and the physiological consequences inherent in each of these, Jerym would doubtless impress everyone with his antics so far this year. In February he completed the Yukon 430-miler in about 11 days, and then went on to complete the Iditarod 1100-miler in a further 27 days. Fewer than 40 days on foot and a total of 1500 miles accumulated. Yet people still seemed dismissive and unable to grasp the concept of an even faster crossing of the North Pole, from Russia to Canada. All we need is the funding for the flights, and preferably with some of the equipment costs too. Realistically this will require about £60k, but a target of £100k will no doubt see us through. We need to find those corporate sponsors who want to see a British team accomplish something very special at 90 degrees north. If the funding is in place then we will leave in February.

 

Obscure Holidays Part 1: The Jungle Marathon

Saturday, 2nd July 2011

Well, I have been away from my blog for far too long (or not long enough, you might say).  But, the birds are singing outside my window, the sun is shining, and tomorrow I shall go for a gentle run around the Devil's Punchbowl.  Hines is in his heaven, and all right with the world.

Anyway, we must dismiss this gay banter and turn our attentions to matters of far greater import.  The race I consider to be the single most fun and enjoyable ultra-endurance adventure race in the world, the Jungle Marathon, has an abundance of places still available.  This is a situation that will simply not do, and if you bear with me I shall endeavour to explain all.

In the beginning, people learned to run, and they saw that it was good.  Then, it began to dawn on these runners, that if a little running felt good, then more running might feel better.  Soon enough, people were running super-long distances, and yearning to travel the world so that their passion for running could be married to their desire for high adventure.  Breathless joy, wonderment and satisfaction were what lay ahead.

To answer this call came the race organisers.  These were runners who shared this desire for both ultra-distance running and grand adventures, and they directed their passions into action, and soon enough the multi-stage ultra-endurance adventure races were born.  Patrick Bauer was one of the first, with his ever more popular Marathon des Sables.  Shirley Thompson, along with a few others, followed on soon after.  Shirley's race is the Jungle Marathon, which entails about 135 miles of racing through the heart of the Amazon rainforest.  Competitors run along jungle trails, cross refreshingly cool rivers, and emerge onto white sand beaches.  Nights are spent in hammocks, with a gentle breeze blowing across from the Rio Tapajos, whilst Howler Monkeys wish you a good night and cicadas sing you to sleep.

When I wrote that I consider it the most fun and enjoyable race, it is because every few yards the scene before you changes.  One moment you are moving through trees and the next you are wading through a cool swamp.  On some days there are stretches of river to cross, giving you the chance to swim and see the Amazon from a new perspective.  On the long stage you emerge from local community villages onto the white sands that border the Rio Tapajos, a tributory to the Amazon further north.  Most competitors reach the sand after nightfall, when the stars shine down on the equatorial land and appear clearer and nearer than I have ever experienced them before.  Mile for mile, the Jungle Marathon is an incredibly demanding race, but it is a beautiful race too, and one which caters for the fastest runners and the most committed plodders too.

I do not only support the race because I think it is so incredibly wonderful as an event.  The Jungle Marathon is a form of eco-tourism in the Amazon, and the money is driven directly into local communities.  It would be nice for their government to see that eco-tourism can produce a far more profitable and sustainable future for the area than logging, and other schemes that harm the environment.  Even more, the Jungle Marathon is still one of the great and original ultra marathons.  Now there are competing races, some of which offer new opportunities to racers, but which might aim to be predominantly financial enterprises.  Such competition can mean larger organisations ruin the business of the originals, and with that we racers lose the events organised by the people best suited to direct them - the racers like us who had the drive, passion and committment not only to realise their own dreams, but to realise our dreams too.

So, now I have talked myself into it yet again, I need to beg the boss for a week and a half off in October.  Having written all this, maybe you think it might possibly be a good idea for you to head out there too.  I do hope so - I really cannot recommend it highly enough.  If you need any further persuading, then I shall have to direct you to my book on the event, which gives a far fuller account than anything I can produce here.  See you all in October - if we do not meet at the airport then you will see me quick to have my hammock put up on the boat, before we spend the night drifting down the river to our start point.  See you there. M.

For more information, please see the Jungle Marathon's race website

 

Our Natural Diet

Sunday, 12th June 2011

 

Still not finished, but coming together well.  I have been reliably informed the press release has been completed now for Our Natural Diet, and soon all booksellers across the land will hear the news that the great diet book cometh.   The press release will also hopefully get me some much needed media attention.

Despite initial plans to simply write an instructional version of Human Evolution, Diet and Health, I am now busily researching for the new book.  In two weeks' time all the background reading will have been completed, and the almost-final manuscripts will be ready at the end of July.  That will be good timing for publication, but bad timing for sending out the manuscripts to the bookshops and press.  Still, can't be helped.

The improved version will contain chapters on oxidative stress and free radicals, the true meaning of toxins and what to avoid, a few home truths about hydration and tap water, and some very important information about tea (and why we need drink nothing else!).  Tea is, in fact, the secret to lifelong good health and hunger-free weight loss.  You read it here first.  So, something for everyone, I fancy.

 

In the Press

Saturday, 4th June 2011

This month Men's Fitness has included a five-page feature, written by yours inevitably, on the Yukon Arctic Ultra.  I say 'written', but I mean I wrote the original article, to which they applied their own styling.  As a consequence, it is five pages of content influenced by me, but the language is not really reflective of my character.  But then, that is probably why television interviews I have given are typically cut from the final edit: I am simply too chipper and give entirely the wrong impression. 

During the Jungle Marathon in the Amazon rainforest, I was to be found reassuring others that the event was not inherently dangerous, but rather that a failure to train adequately increased the risk of serious problems arising. It became fairly obvious later on that the theme of the programme was 'the most dangerous race on Earth', which was a nonsense.  The Jungle Marathon is the most fun, exciting and challenging multi-stage race there is.  I have the Yukon Arctic Ultra pipping it to the title of 'toughest race in the world', but the YAU is a single-stage race, whereas the JM is not.  In the jungle you spend your nights sleeping by a beautiful, white sand beach, with the sound of the wind and circadas in the trees.  In the YAU it might be fifty below zero, with rest times limited to a few hours at best before having to push on.

Both races hold a special place in my heart, and I would love to return to both for many years to come.  Such pleasures allude me though, due to the realities of work, finances, and my enduring passion to seek out and complete that 'next big thing'.  Anyway, the article is a pretty good insight into the nature of the YAU, and I hope you might enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  The book is available on Amazon and Waterstone's, and a couple of chapters for this year's race are to be found on this website.  Pip pip, M.

 

Logistics Coming Together

Monday, 30th May 2011

It has been a long weekend, spent successfully avoiding any writing for my new book.  What has been achieved, however, are the first steps in organising logistics for a Polar expedition in 2012 or 2013.  My team-mate, Jerym, and I have been exploring options.  We both like the idea of a classical route, either from Svalbard to the Pole and back, or else a crossing from Cape Arktichevsky to Ward Hunt Island.  Alternatively, we may be forced to do a return trip from Ward Hunt to the Pole.  Where we begin and end up will ultimately be determined by the ice conditions, as confidence is now growing we will be able to secure funding (well, we haven't had anyone say 'no' yet, which is a good confidence boost.  Of course, nobody has said 'yes' either, but that is purely because we haven't asked anyone).

This morning I was pleased to receive two emails, one from Jerym to confirm logistics for a Ward Hunt start/finish, and one from a contact in St. Petersburg, confirming logistics for a Siberian start.  Jerym and I will head over to Svalbard in July, to establish what the quality of ice was around the northeast coastline last March.  The ice in Siberia and Svalbard are determined by the currents and winds, and so are hugely variable.  After Ben Saunders had to take a helicopter ride 50 km from Cape Arktichevsky to the solid ice, we want to begin wherever gives us the best combination of good ice and epic adventure.  Ward Hunt is the cloest and most achievable, and is therefore our last option.  Having said that, Ben was unable to get a flight there this year, due to weather conditions.  Ultimately we might not know our start point until days before we expect to step out to begin our journey.

At least it is coming together.  Jerym and I will meet up this week to discuss the maps and charts, begin settling options for logistics, and start writing out our kit lists.  Fortunately we have accumulated most of what we need from our previous exploits in the Frozen North.

 

 

Getting Needy - Need Help!!!

Saturday, 28th May 2011

Mostly, I need sponsors.  I already have sponsors for the best equipment in the world - Rab and Salomon give me full sponsorship, and Snowsled have historically given me huge support.  I would not be at all upset if I managed to get Suunto or Garmin onside too, but it is not a priority.  Biltong Canada have fully supported me in the past, taking care of the majority of my protein, fat and energy requirements.

What I need are good financial sponsors, preferably who I happen to like.  I have been looking at maps of the Arctic, and am growing restless and figgety about heading out to Svalbard in July to take a look.  There is a very real possibility of strolling onto Arctic ice next Spring, and I like the idea of a classic route from the island (rather than starting somewhere that is only convenient in modern times).  However, the thickness and spread of the ice from Svalbard is hugely variable, and is affected by the winds and currents.  Hence, I will not know until Jerym and I rock up there in Spring, whether or not we can take a perusal any closer to 90 degrees North.

If Svalbard is not a possibility, then we will have to set off from Russia or Canada, and the cost will run into tens of thousands of pounds.  Once we are flown out to one of those start points, then the distance to Geographic North will be less than 500 miles, which is at least 150 miles closer to the Pole than Svalbard.

The thing is, we are planning to smash the current record by a huge margin.  In fact, we want to take a look together, try for the unsupported and unassisted record, and then head back the following year to each independently have a crack at setting a new solo and unsupported record.  Both the team and solo attempts will be return journeys, so whoever does not get the solo record can return the following year for a one-way journey to the Pole.  I/He will be carrying less food and equipment, and so the one-way trip will easily enable him/me to set the next new record.  We think it's rather sporting.  Oh yes, and this is just the beginning. 

We will set those two records, after which we will commence planning for a couple of very interesting world firsts.  Following on from the Endurancelife festival, one of the goals that came out of it for me, was the desire to do one or two events so epic (or epically horrendous), that my hunger for That Next Big Thing is sated, after which I can look forward to a career wearing slippers, smoking a pipe, and savouring good single malts by an open fireside, and a wee nipper or two to sit upon the knee and tell long yarns about adventures past.  The North Pole will only ever be a new beginning, and from there Jerym and I will aim to define 'extreme' for ourselves.

So, if you happen to have any leads to help with sponsorship, or alternatively a means to help us sell a million books or more, then please do not keep it to yourself :)   

 

Writer's Stress

Sunday, 22nd May 2011

Perhaps that is a tad too melodramatic, I mean it is not a proper medical condition like writer's block.  Nevertheless, Stress is rife and has paid me a visit.  Having given the door a fairly thunderous tap, it has since  invited itself in, and between us we have attempted to get to the bare bones of the matter.  I want to be running, I want to be in the great outdoors, but instead I have forced myself to stay at home and work.  I do this at weekends and in the evenings.  Historically, I would spend several months producing a book, and then begin training for a race.  However, I am beginning to see that the training needs to be granted a much greater focus.

Part of the problem is that I have a lot going on, and I am far behind schedule with the next book, Our Natural Diet.  The reason I have fallen behind is that, rather than make the book an adjunct to Human Evolution, Diet and Health, I am writing the new title as an entirely independent volumn.  There might easily be four hundred references going into this one, and it is causes delays as I read through each to find the salient points, and deliberate upon whether it ought to be included.  It is a lovely weekend, after all, and I really should be running about in it.

So, I have made some decisions.  I got into writing because I enjoyed it, and I still do.  I had also hoped it would generate sufficient income to earn me a living, but that has so far not been the case.  I am also suffering a bit with the feeling that my writing style is not appropriate for the mass market.  I mean, I try to write each race book as a homage to PG Wodehouse, because I adore his writing so much.  But then, not everyone is really into that sort of thing anymore, and that is a pity.

I currently have three books to write for Healthy Body Publishing: Our Natural Diet, Running Fitness and Our Natural Health.  I would like to write one other diet-based book with friend, colleague and mentor Simon Dyall, although decisions are yet to be made on the most appropriate publisher.  Once that lot is done, I have two academic books I would like to write for Human Kinetics.  Although that seems like rather a lot, I will be drawing a line under those, and then calling it a day for the time being.  I will continue to write books on my adventures, but as those contain only one research-based chapter each they are easy enough to rattle off.  Further, as my next adventure is to set a speed record to the North Pole, I have a bit of time before the book is a concern.  But I would like to begin training for the Arctic.

And this is what it all comes down to.  I enjoy writing, I find it rewarding, and I believe my books are important.  But, I also enjoy reading, learning, planning and training.  Next for me has to be the North Pole.  I need to find sponsors and I need to plan logistics.  My work in general is going well, and I am making progress with my PhD, but the writing is becoming a little too much, and I need to be getting some miles under my belt.  So, expect some of my best work to be available over the coming months, because I will be writing these books as my last on each subject.  After that I will be taking a rest from it, so as to complete my PhD and break a couple of Polar world records.  It does feel good to have ambition again; to be so hungry for that next great challenge.  Now I just need to finish this book so I can get around to it.  Who knows - perhaps it will make me so rich I will not need the sponsors to fund my Polar adventures after all?

 

EnduranceLife Festival

Sunday, 8th May 2011

I have just enjoyed a fantastic weekend in South Devon at the EnduranceLife Festival.  They organised two days of races, including marathons, ultras, wild swims and cycling.  I featured as part of a series of presentations, under the general heading of the Live More lectures, with the intention that we ordinary folk tell stories of our extraordinary ventures.  Mine had the heading of 'Coping with Extremes', and with an original billing for around 7pm, I thought I'd be able to share some good, in-depth extreme exercise physiology banter.  When I actually stepped up to talk, not long before 10pm and to a tentipi filled with more than a hundred athletes, many of whom had been enjoying their beers and ciders for some time, I felt a more general presentation was indicated.  I shared tales of my exploits and those of others in extreme ultra races, including details of really awful consequences of coming unstuck in the desert and jungle.  Interwoven with the stories was the physiology of how the body responds to extremes of distance, heat, cold and humidity.  I was bowled over by the level of the applause at the end, and it was truly moving to feel so appreciated by fellow athletes.  I hope I'll be invited back to do more of the same again sometime.  The talk was recorded and should be available online soon (watch this space).

I was particularly inspired by the presentations given by Belinda Kirk, John Wilton-Davies, and Alistair Humphreys.  These reinforced my intentions to go on and do that 'next big thing'.  To that end, I will be investigating the possibilities of a return journey to the North Pole from Svalbard, if the ice continues to extend beyond the island during its March maximum.  If not, then focus will have to be turned to the shorter route from Ward Hunt Island.  Once completed the attention will shift to a crossing of Antarctica, although the real limiting factor in these is corporate sponsorship, as costs are prohibitively expensive.  However, with a commitment to attempt these comes the acknowledgement that funding is simply a very boring part of the overall challenge, and hopefully an organisation with cash to spare with want to be associated with these great journeys.

 

Extreme Gardening

Saturday, 30th April 2011

Having moved into a new place with a friend in September of last year, I have been looking forward to the day that we would have the garden in some sort of order.  What is particularly important to me is the fruit / vegetable area.  This is not hardcore endurance training, I accept, but the side of me that enjoys healthy foods and healthy living has been aching for some veggie patches for years.

Five patches have been arranged in steps leading from the back of the shed down to the slightly lower level of the rear driveway.  Having finally completed most of the physically demanding work, today I took great pleasure in planting three of the five sections.  Into the first I planted bushes of blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, redcurrent, and blackcurrent, along with a few varieties of tomatoes.  Into the next two patches I planted beetroots, sweetcorn, runner beans, broccoli, carrots, swedes, parnsips, butternut squash, onions, sweet peppers, and no doubt a few other things I've already forgotten, but will appear as a pleasant surprise when I dig them up.

The nearest patch will have a composter, a cherry tree, some mushrooms, sweet potatoes and other potatoes.  Into the farthest patch will be planted an apricot tree and an apple tree.  If I had any woods nearby in which I could hunt game, and a river from which I could catch fresh fish, then I would have everything I could possibly need to survive here in pleasant Surrey.  As it stands, I think I am doing well with what I have available.  And the Devil's Punchbowl is good for a run too.  Happy days. M.

 

Initial Approach to Guinness

Sunday, 17th April 2011

Having looked at a few maps I decided to submit a world record application to Guinness today.  The current record for the quickest solo and unsupported expedition to the geographic North Pole was set from Ward Hunt Island, in Canada's far northeast.  The distance from there to the Pole is just shy of 500 miles, and in fact all unsupported expeditions have left from Ellesmere or Ward Hunt island, or alternatively from a site in Russia.  No unsupported expeditions have left from Svalbard, an island group just north of Norway.  One of the reasons could be the distance, as it is approximately 625 miles from Geographic North.  However, Svalbard is accessible, and the ice sheet encapsulates the islands fully at its extent in March.  If there are other reasons for not beginning from there, then no doubt I will find them out soon enough, and have to change my plans.

So, I have submitted an application to Guinness to see if they will accept a solo and unsupported speed record attempt from Svalbard.  If not, then it will have to be from Ward Hunt Island instead.  One of the reasons for Svalbard being my preference is that it is so accessible from the UK, meaning that I can head out onto the Arctic ice for training from as early as next Spring.  I partly submitted the application to ensure that should one of those training expeditions evolve into a record attempt whilst out there, then everything would be in order and I would not be applying after the event.  Now I just have to wait to hear from Guinness - I should get a response around the middle of May.  Watch this space...

 

Back to the Blog

Saturday, 16th April, 2011

It has been a while since last I was here to update things.  Must have had something to do with settling back into normal life after the YAU.

I do now have a plan for the year ahead.  I am thinking of a non-stop circuit of the Isle of Wight, a non-stop run along Hadrian's Wall, and taking a week off work to run along the Pennine Way.  I'd love to get out to the jungle marathon this year, but that's dependent on work.

Future plans include a couple of training expeditions in the arctic circle during 2012 and 2014, and a return to the YAU (if I can get the time off) in 2013.  Well, it would be nice to make it three out of three, especially if I can win it this time.

Currently, I am doing some research on PubMed for the next book - Our Natural Diet: Optimal Nutrition for Health, Looks and Life.  I had planned to use Human Nutrition, Diet and Health as the basis for this new book, but it seems I cannot write anything along these lines without a pile of research papers at my side.  Oh well, so it might take longer to write but at least the wait should be worth it.

Pip-pip, cheerio,

M.

 

New Online Chapters

Wednesday, 30th March 2011

Following my return from the Yukon, I have now written a couple of chapters on this year's race.  'Returning to Whitehorse' is a short chapter that covers the build up to the event, whilst the main chapter on the race itself is 'A New Journey to Dawson'.

Both chapters are available via the 'Online Chapters' tab.  I think that both give a fair insight into the nature of the race and the training, but obviously far more information is contained within the Yukon Arctic Ultra book itself.  In any case, I hope you enjoy the chapters.

 

The Best Equipment for the Most Extreme Conditions in the World

Wednesday, 9th March 2011

I had only made one change to my kit list from 2009, and that was the inclusion of Rab's Summit Batura jacket.  The jacket is down-filled and waterproof, and beyond doubt the greatest single piece of equipment I own.  I simply cannot explain emphatically enough just how fantastic this jacket is.  If I had to bin all but one item from my outdoor clothing, then this is the one thing I would keep my hands on.  My top three all-time favourite outdoor pieces of kit are my Terra Nova Quasar tent, my Rab Neutrino 400 sleeping bag, and my Rab Summit Batura jacket.  At minus fifty degrees Celsius I was perfectly warm and secure in this jacket.  During breaks lying back on my pulk I would have the jacket wide open so I could keep my hands within my mid-layer, and I never once felt cold.  I do not know at what temperature this jacket approaches its limit, but I certainly did not come close to finding it in a Yukon winter.

Aside from the jacket I was wearing base-layer thermals top and bottom, Rab Vapour-Rise jacket and trousers, Rab Neutrino vest and Rab gaiters.  The gaiters were excellent at preventing snow from finding its way into my shoes and melting over my socks.  The Vapour-Rise, Neutrino vest and base layer were sufficient to keep me warm even at minus thirty.  My hands were protected by Rab Powerstretch gloves as a base layer, and Rab Expedition Mitts over those.  My hands were only ever at risk when I left them exposed during breaks, although usually I kept them safely within my mid-layer.  Again, at minus fifty degrees Celsius, my hands were safe when inside my mitts.  I used a Rab Powerstretch balaclava to protect my face, with a rolled up woollen balaclava over as a hat (sometimes I used a Rab Mountain Cap, but liked having the balaclava ready in case the my face became cold).

A full equipment list from my 2009 race is included in my book on the event.

Mark Hines Yukon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self at the finish in Dawson City 

 

The Best Sleeping Equipment for the Extreme Cold

Wednesday, 9th March 2011

My sleeping kit comprised a Thermarest Ridgerest insulating mat, which was thick and comparatively lightweight, and which acted as a perfect insulator.  Some competitors had struggled with inflatable mats, which were fairly heavy and tended to lose air in the night, and the smaller size of many other insulating mats had left some racers with cold feet.  I used a Rab Superlite Mountain Bivi, which is a single-skin bivi but closer to the scale of an ultra-lightweight tent.  The added space was useful as a shelter and to give room for tending to feet and such like.  I had been recommended against using a normal bivi because they can compress the down of larger sleeping bags, thereby having a negative effect on insulation.  The bivi had two poles, and no pegs were necessary as the bivi was only ever erected when I was in it.

I slept in a Rab Expedition 1200, which was absolutely superb.  At minus thirty-two Celsius I was perfectly warm and comfortable, and the bag did not even move out of its comfort range until it was below minus forty-five Celsius.  Even then I would have to question how much better it would have been if I had removed my base layer and ensured I was fully hydrated and well-fed before sleeping.  In any case, my body remained safe and warm for the duration of the coldest of nights.  Within the sleeping bag I slept in a Rab Vapour Barrier Liner (VBL), which protected the main sleeping bag from any moisture from me, and so ensured the down operated optimally.  Inside the VBL I kept my shoes and all the clothing, mittens and so on that I would put on in the morning.  A fellow competitor left his shoes outside his sleeping bag one night, and in the morning they had frozen.  By the next night a quarter of his right foot and three of his toes were frostbitten.

 

The Best Footwear for the Arctic Ultra Races

Wednesday, 9th March 2011

It is hard to know where to begin, in describing the incredible equipment that kept me safe during this year's Yukon Arctic Ultra.  As before, I was wearing Injinji and Sealskinz socks with Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTXs as my trail shoes.  My feet never felt even slightly cold until the temperature was down to minus fifty degrees Celsius.  All that told me was that if the temperature was to drop lower, then I would need to pull on thicker socks.  The footwear was incredibly impressive to have carried me through without any problems.

The Injinji socks prevented abrasion blisters, the Sealskinz prevented water reaching my skin, and the Salomons kept my feet perfectly supported and protected.  In fact, although I never saw what the winner was wearing, two of the three other finishers in the foot category were wearing XA Pro 3Ds, as were the next two racers who managed 413 miles before running out of time (and they had no foot problems).  Jerym, who finished fourth and was then due to leave for the Alaska UltraSport 1100-mile race, had complained about the poor insulation in the sole of his shoes, and went off to buy some XA Pro 3Ds before starting his next race.  I have used those shoes in deserts, jungles, over mountains and twice to successful finishes in the Yukon Arctic Ultra, and they are phenomenal.

 

Best Food for the Arctic Races

Wednesday, 9th March 2011

The best foods to take on any race, in my considered opinion, are the high-energy, lightweight freeze-dried meals from the Expedition Foods range.  However, because the Yukon Arctic Ultra is a single stage race, my preference is to carry food that I can eat on the move, without having to stop to get the stove going.  Water is also precious during such an event, and it takes a long time to melt snow.  Besides, using up fuel preparing food means that more has to be carried for melting snow, if necessary.

During this year's YAU I filled my mini Trangia's burner before the race, and had refills available in each of my drop bags.  It was there purely for emergency use in case I needed to melt snow for water or to cheat at getting a fire going.  By not having to cook food I was able to keep all my breaks down to less than fifteen minutes.

I was very fortunate to be supported by Biltong Canada, who I had used as a supplier during my 2009 race.  For this year's event they offered to make me an especially high-fat batch of droewors and biltong, and it was perfect.  The protein content was good, but the fat was my main energy source during the event, and far healthier than from vegetable oils or butters.  The dried meats were also fine at all temperatures, even down to minus fifty degrees Celsius.

In addition to the dried meats I also ate Rolos, Fruit-to-Go bars, and banana bread.  This was not great, but good carbohydrate sources are hard to find, as natural, carbohydrate-rich foods have a high water content and so freeze easily.  I am still to find the perfect solution there (the search continues).

 

The Yukon Arctic Ultra 2011

Tuesday, 8th March 2011

This year's race was an epic compared with that of 2009.  During my first year in the Yukon I had enjoyed the best conditions the race had ever had, which meant the conditions could only go one way.  I had also piled more stress on myself in terms of expectations.  In 2009 nobody had finished the race before, so my only goal was to reach the finish line in Dawson City.  This time I had not only to finish, but to push myself hard and do well.

The race started in perfect conditions, but it warmed up after the first couple of days and the ground softened.  Shortly afterwards the snows came, and I endured sixteen hours on a section that had taken me ten in 2009, and even in snowshoes I had found myself in snow up to my waist.  I had thought that my greatest troubles were caused by the jumble ice - over a square mile of ice blocks the size of small cars, all pressed together and presenting a phenomenal risk - but in fact it was hidden open water that would have finished me off if given the chance.  Towards the end of my race the temperatures plummetted to between minus forty-five and minus fifty degrees Celsius.

I have now written two chapters as updates to the existing book on the race, and those will be available on this website soon.  There are various clips from the race now available on YouTube.

Mark Hines Yukon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self at first checkpoint, enjoying some soup before moving off.  Photograph by Yann Besrest-Butler, www.ybbphotography.com

YouTube Clips:

Part 1, taken from the first day:

Mark Hines Video

 

 

 

Part 2, taken from the third day:

Mark Hines Video

 

 

 

Part 3, taken whilst en route to Scroggie Creek:

Mark Hines Video

Part 4, approaching the summit of Eureka Dome:

Mark Hines Video

 

 

 

Part 5, from the final approach to King Solomon's Dome:

Mark Hines Video

 

 

 

Part 6, from the summit of King Solomon's Dome

Mark Hines Video

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Lakes

Friday, 4th February 2011

In 2009, John, Sophie and I had intended to take part in the pre-race survival training at the Hidden Lakes in Whitehorse, where we would have been expected to build a fire and cook ourselves a meal.  Because our sleds had arrived so late we missed the chance to leave with the others, and so tracked them instead but reached the lakes too late to join them.  Again, in 2011 our sleds did not arrive with us on our internal flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse.  So, John and I put some kit into our rucksacks and decided to go ahead of the others, so as to get a proper fire going and do things in comfort.  The afternoon and evening was great for building our confidence and reinforcing some basic survival and campcraft skills.

Video clips from my visit to the Hidden Lakes can be found on YouTube

Mark Hines Video

 

Back to the Yukon

Wednesday, 2nd February 2011

The past couple of weeks have been like Christmas in my office, except when I had never ending hordes of students pawing at the door, obviously.  First of all it was the Rab kit, then the delivery from Salomon.  I strongly believe that Rab makes the best kit for the most extreme environments on Earth, and Salomon makes the best kit for runners.  As someone who runs in extreme environments, I am covered.

From Salomon I received some XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX trail shoes, their predecessors having done me proud in deserts, jungles, across the Alps and over the Yukon.  I also received a fantastic hydration pack, which will fit between my base layer thermals and mid-layer jacket.  From Rab, I will be using their gaiters, vapour-rise trousers and jacket, Neutrino vest, powerstretch gloves, expedition mitts, summit Batura jacket, expedition 1200 sleeping bag and superlite mountain bivi.  As mentioned, between these two great companies (and thanks to their great staff) I am covered!

The temperatures in the Yukon have been all over the place, from minus 50 C last week to plus 3 in Whitehorse as I write this.  Anything above minus 10 C is annoying, as the ground softens up, making the sled harder to pull (so I have to work hard, which is unsporting).  There have also been a few blizzards reported.  All I hope is that the temperatures drop a bit (no no - not too much now), for a good start.  I know James Cracknell is going to be there, but it's not fair if he thinks he'll be rowing along the rivers and not walking/cycling over them.  Grrr....that Cracknell...

The nights will be a little under 17 hours in length, and the daily mileages high.  When I'm out there I'll have nothing to do but let my legs take me to the finish line, some 430 miles from the start.  No work, no stress; just good times with good people, and my own mad mind.  I can't wait to be out there, and no doubt I won't want to come back.  I'll start as strong as I can, ease into my pace, and go for that finish line whilst wishing it always further on.  The Yukon Arctic Ultra is a journey, and despite the hallucinations, the fatigue and the tiredness, for the next two weeks there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be, and nothing else I would rather be doing.  I can't wait to see that start line.

My adventures can be followed via the race website: www.arcticultra.de, with regular news updates scheduled to be appearing as the race progresses.

Yukon Arctic Ultra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Training session in the Brecon Beacons

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

With less than six weeks to go before my return to the Yukon Arctic Ultra, I spent my Christmas enjoying some training and kit checks in the Brecon Beacons.  The Yukon Arctic Ultra is a race across more than 430-miles of Canada's frozen north, and having finished the event in 2009, this February I'll be heading back to push myself a little further.  Hence, I headed to Wales to make the most of some snow-covered hills and to test my kit.  The weather, skies and hills were perfect, although with a sled the narrow paths and frequent stiles quickly became character-building! 

The sled, harness and ropes were supplied by Snowsled, and in only three days I had managed to ruin it all!  British footpaths are too narrow to drag a sled on ascents, which meant that I was carrying it on my back until I reached the flatter tops and ridges (I was keeping my kit stored in a rucksack on the sled, having anticipated this).  In any case, what I found was that I okay pulling the sled, and in that respect the trip was a good confidence-booster. 

On Christmas Eve the temperature in the night dropped to -17/-18C, which had I foreseen I would have brought my trail shoes into my sleeping bag.  As it was they froze and the next morning the Gore-tex split when I started moving in them.  Fortunately they were due to be replaced before the Yukon anyway, but I had been surprised that the temperature had been so low.  I was testing my Rab Expedition 800 sleeping bag, so as to become accustomed to the style before taking the 1200 out to the Yukon, and the temperature inside was a super-toasty 33-35C! 

I was dressed up in base layer thermals beneath Rab's Vapour-Rise trousers and jacket, and with a Neutrino vest over that.  This worked perfectly, with the vest coming off as I warmed up.  When the rain started on Boxing Day I exchanged the Vapour-Rise jacket and Neutino vest for the Microlight Alpine.  In the Yukon I'll be wearing the same, but with a Summit Batura jacket rather than the Microlight, but there was no way the temperature would be cold enough for that to be tested.  I used the Summit jacket previously, and I am going to give the Batura a go because I think it is such a superb piece of kit.  The Vapour-Rise worked really well, as always, and it is so comfortable and good at letting the heat out when I'm working hard. 

In fact, I was so happy with my kit and the sled-pulling that I only stayed in the Brecon Beacons for a few days before returning home.  The kit worked superbly and I had no difficulties pulling the sled over good ground.  What has been lacking in my training is endurance fitness, hence as the temperature began to rise and the snow started to disappear, I decided to drop it all and turn my attentions to running.  My plan is to have three weeks of good, solid training; running six nights out of seven and covering distances between half-marathons and full marathons.  After that I will begin tapering down before I leave for the Yukon on the 3rd of February.  As for the Brecon Beacons, I loved the area and I'm looking forward to getting back there for a good distance walk once the Yukon is behind me. 

Happy New Year everyone!

M.

Brecon Beacons

 

RECOLLECTIONS OF A FIRST-TIMER

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Taken from the TGO Challenge Supplement with the October issue of TGO magazine.

 I was but a TGO Challenge novice. A few good years of ultra-endurance adventure racing had led me into a wonderful and blossoming relationship with Rab, who support the event, and I was delighted when they asked if I would be interested in representing them in the Challenge. Having spent a few days the previous month running along Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast route, the message came through loud and clear : "No running!"

Roger assisted with the administration, Alan Hardy was an enormous help with planning the route, and Rab ensured I had all the best kit I could possibly have dreamed of. As the train rolled slowly into Strathcarron station, the sun was shining and all was all right with the world. At 11am, no more than 10 minutes after leaving the train, my kit was made ready and I prepared to launch myself into the Challenge proper. It was, however, the work of a few minutes more before I could leave, on account of a tremendous downpour which arrived to see me off on my way. So, clad anew in my brand new waterproofs, I headed east : first stop Bearnais Bothy.

During the first two days of the Challenge, the weather was too pigheaded to permit me to climb as much as I had wanted to, forcing me to use my foul weather alternatives as strong gusts threatened to pull me from the mountainsides. Following that initial baptism, the sun came out once again and I was treated to clear skies and exceptionally good weather thereafter. A quick jaunt around Loch Monar and a boat ride across Loch Ness brought me into challenging, peaty hills, ending with astonishing views of the Cairngorms. The good weather held and permitted me to enjoy several high peaks on my way to the lowlands. After the mountains, I was unfortunately forced onto a direct route to the coast , as work commitments meant I had a meagre nine days to complete my route. So, after a couple of days of bad weather, a few days of the best of the highlands, all rounded off with some fast -paced walking east, I arrived in Stonehaven and my journey's end. I pitched my tent for the final time on a low cliff-top overlooking the North Sea , and reflected that night of what a wonderful experience the whole Challenge had been. I had made countless friends along the way, and been stunned by the friendliness of the locals I had spoken with. I was grateful to Roger and the support team, to Alan Hardy, to Rab and to TGO magazine who made the event what it was for me. It was only my first attempt, and I hope it will not be my last. The Highlands are, without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and celebrating some wild nature in the company of great new friends is absolutely what the whole event is all about.

 

Braemar to Stonehaven, The Coast-to-Coast Completed

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

I had arrived in Braemar with sufficient time for an afternoon off - there was no point rushing things and I spent the evening in good company at the Moorfield House Hotel; the best place for ale and internet in town.  Come the morning and it was time to flee for the coast: two days, 100km or thereabouts, and a mixture of forest trails and open roads.  Had I more time then I would have detoured round a little bit, but the necessity of work, my little students, and a pending renal exam I was to set them on the Monday morning wrung a good pace out of me.

The route took me from Braemar to Balmoral, but alas in poor dress and with insufficient hours to loiter and explore the grounds.  From there I moved on to Ballater and had barely passed through before a thunder storm loomed over the horizon.  I managed a final break a couple of miles outside of Aboyne before the heavens opened - forcing my retreat to beneath the biggest tree I could see whilst I donned my waterproofs.  As I entered Aboyne I made use of a community centre to fill my water bottles, as the countryside now was of too agricultural a bent to provide safe water.  I camped a few kilometres east of the town, and slept in a small area of woodland, as the tent was periodically lit up by lightening so strong the ground shuddered.  Maybe it was just my nerves.

Come 7 the next morning and I was up and on my way, the skies having cleared.  It was a long stretch of road walking, and some very walker unfriendly fence climbs to get onto long-forgotten footpaths.  The forest trails into Stonehaven were wide and made for forestry traffic, rather than the kinder Land Rover trails of elsewhere.  I slunk down into Stonehaven and strolled round to Dunnottar Castle, before finding a final home for my tent above the cliffs.

The journey had been wonderful from beginning to end, and my only regret was not having more time available to enjoy it for longer.  I had loved meeting the other challengers, locals, and other folk enjoying the countryside.  i wish I could have spent a day in Aviemore, and i wish I could have been in Braemar, at the Moorfield House Hotel for the Saturday night shindig.  But still, I got through as best I could and I loved it all.  I think that to have finished wishing only that I could have been there for longer, is the sign of a great event.  In difference to some I wasn't carrying a Platypus designed for wine, nor a cask strength single malt, and I didn't take the shortest route nor the highest, but I pushed myself as hard as I needed to and I completed the event in my own typical way.  The TGO Challenge is a wonderful experience, and I would probably recommend it to anyone.  Many thanks to Roger and the support crew for making it happen, and to Rab for making my own entry into the event possible and for ensuring I had the best equipment available to see me through.

Until the next big thing,

M.

 

Into Braemar

Friday, May 21st, 2010

So, having spent the night deliberating on the local breeds - those that escape their wives, those that have their wives escape them, and those that give in to it all and drag their wives about with them - I rallied myself for an easy stroll into Braemar. Having managed most of the day's scheduled journey during the previous afternoon and evening, all that was left was finishing it off. What with my having been out in the sun a bit I felt I needed an afternoon off; plus it would give me the chance to wash my clothes and feel sparkling fresh for the final flurry into Stonehaven.
And so that was that - just shy of 20 km brought me into Braemar by noon. Since then I've been fed, showered and washed my clothes. Shortly I shall be embarking on a saunter about town to see if I can find somewhere to send these updates to you from. Less than a 100-Ks to the North Sea. Fantastic (but it'll be a shame when the whole thing's over).
All the best,
M.

 

Aviemore to (Somewhere West of Braemar)

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The plan for the day had originally been to head out into the mountains, camp, bag a couple of Munroes, and then make it into Braemar for the end of the following day, eating up a few more Munroes along the way. I was forced to rethink that plan and come up with an entirely dastardly new one, on account of rather changeable conditions up in the Cairngorms. My constitution had been pressed a little by some fearsome gusts when attempting climbs during the first couple of days, and so my enthusiasm for the mountains had been tempered with such concerns. The latest reports, however, suggested that increasing temperatures made avalanches a greater threat.
So, I adapted my route slightly, so as to give myself a longer walk into the mountains, taking the glen adjacent to the one I had originally planned. When I arrived at the base of the first mountain on the list, conditions appeared promising: some white cloud masked the summit of the day's main climb, but there were no indications that conditions would worsen. After a good climb I reached the ridge, and before I knew it I was ascending and bagging Munroes as if it were my very raison d'etre. By the time I had bagged what was technically the fourth Munroe, I had become resolute in a decision to plug on and get the next day's mountains bagged too. I could have camped at the top, climbed another couple of peaks, and then called it a day, but when I saw those peaks they appeared far easier than what I had already managed, and so I felt no great affection or desire to mince about running round them. The meltwater had saturated the earth too, so a good camping group would have been hard to come by. So, I favoured making haste while the conditions permitted, and found myself hurtling off the last of them by the late afternoon.

The Cairngorms had been utterly astonishing. Having had a jaunt up Ben Nevis a couple of years previously, my hunger for seeing the Highlands in all their glory still remained to be sated, and as I plummeted down that final Munroe I felt that I had really learned something. The Cairngorms, and indeed all of the Scottish Highlands I had encountered for that matter, are breathtakingly beautiful, and to climb in these mountains is one of the greatest privileges of good health. The TGO event itself seemed focussed on nurturing this in all of the challengers, but it does something more to. It is the social aspect that lends so much to this event, which would be lost in any kind of race or competition. I have not just whiled away the time with other challengers, but with many of the people that I have met out here. During my first night it was Diane and David at Bearnais Bothy, and then when climbing in the Cairngorms I spoke with the most wonderful man that had severed his leash and escaped into the the mountains for the day. When I camped that night I had a chat with Morris, an older gentleman staying not far away with his family, enjoying a cycling holiday. At the time when I spoke with him he was wondering where his wife had gotten to, whether I had seen her, or if there had been any sign of her or her bike at the base of the mountain I had earlier plummeted down. Good, wholesome, carefree, wonderful people. Brilliant.
M

 

Into Aviemore

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Yes, I'm afraid the sun rather got to me today. After a couple of days of sporadic and localised monsoons, then some pleasantly mild weather, it transpired that my longest day to date would be under the hottest sun. It was something like 50 km from where i had camped to Aviemore, and the day involved three fairly character-building climbs, and about 10 km of off-trail bush-walloping over heather, bracken, brush and bog. The climbs were interlaced with trails and minor road sections, permitting a good pace overall. Wet feet became sore feet by the time I arrived in Aviemore, but some clean mountain air soon dried them out and they were right as rain. Aviemore is a wonderfully British stab at a ski / mountain resort, and I loved it - it had everything you would expect to find in the alps, but with the addition of a Tescos, a chippy, and a woman in tartan playing the bagpipes. Utterly marvellous.
M

 

Cannich to (Somewhere East of Inverfarigaig)

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I had some reservations about staying in Cannich, considering that I could have stampeded my way directly to Loch Ness instead, then been in good time for a morning ferry across. Staying put, however, had been very much the thing to do. I had met with a menagerie of TGO challengers on my way into Cannich, and during the afternoon and evening I had ample opportunity to chat about all things great and small, making that day far more special than it would have been had I dashed on to Drumnadrochit (we'll assume I've spelt that wrong but you get the idea - long name beginning with a 'D' on the west of Loch Ness).
I immersed myself in woodland the following morning, and spent a goodish hour retrieving myself to a road. Kerrow Wood now featured some six foot high fences that I could not cross and so retreated for the road. Ambling along I passed various other walkers and generally had a jolly good time of things. Woodland tracks completed the journey to Drum, a ferry ride across to Inverfarigaig (probably spelt wrong - begins with an 'I' - opposite side of the Loch - you get the idea).
Having landed at six pm, time was against me so I managed a dozen kilometres or thereabouts before throwing up the tent and counting sheep. On that, before I forget, during the first two days I saw mostly deer, the next two days sheep, and the subsequent two days mountain hares. Thought I'd mention it, not that I'm keeping a log or anything. So anyway that was a long day, made long due to a few hours wait for a ferry. A good evening and a chat with a friendly farmer (is there any other kind?) rounded it all off nicely. Splendid.
M.

 

The TGO Challenge: People and Perspectives

Monday, May 17th, 2010

It should be far too early for me to be writing about the race as an overview, but unfortunately I won't see many people after today - perhaps a few tomorrow afternoon on the ferry across Loch Ness, but that will be it - after that I had some very high mileage days ahead.
What I wanted to say was that everyone I has met had been wonderful, and an inspiration as to what this event is supposed to be about. It is not a race, or a competition - but a challenge, pure and simple. It is intended to be a celebration of the great outdoors. Everyone I have spoken to has had to resort to their foul weather alternatives, and everyone is kicking themselves about it. Our only solace is that the goal is to travel from the west coast to the east, and that is it. How much of a challenge we can make it is up to each of us, with our overall progress being the most important thing. We just have to keep heading east until we reach the coast.
Some people I meet as we pass on the trail; some near our camp grounds; and some just while we're taking a break out on the hills. I have met some fantastic characters. There are so many couples participating in this event together, and that feels somehow enriching and makes me miss my girlfriend back home. Then I meet a three older gentleman, and they ask me how come I was allowed out, and I sort of wonder myself, but suggest it must be because this is what I have always done - it is who I am. Then the banter turned towards whisky, and how the Bowmore 17 was such a superb bottling and it was a shame that the 16 doesn't compete. I had been wondering what had happened to those three, until I bumped into them around Cannich later on, and they assured me that they had settled into the pub for restoratives before proceeding to the campsite. Nothing like good priorities.
I embedded myself in a pub to set up my laptop to send these updates and the videos (and to kick myself for not bringing my cable for the 'good' camera) - and within minutes I had other challengers sitting round my small table with me exchanging stories.
I think, rightly or wrongly, that the best people are met, often at their best, when out in physically demanding country, when undertaking some arduous feat for nothing but their own satisfaction. These people, this most staggeringly impressive and sometimes domineering land, makes this event what it is - a very real, palpable, celebration of the great outdoors.

Onwards to loch ness and beyond,
M.

 

Loch Monar to Cannich

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I awoke and laid in my sleeping bag, contemplating the meaning of life until I became bored that nothing sensible presented itself, and then packed everything up and headed off. I met a couple of walkers fairly early on, and then our paths separated as they remained on the main track and I headed off cross-country and up into the hills. I met another couple of walkers at the base of the day's climb, then three more towards the top. It was an easy day's climbing - just one hill to take me from the valley of Loch Monar to Cannich forest and river. It was a long walk along a road into Cannich itself, but the weather was good and I made swift progress over the hard ground. I arrived in Cannich at about 2pm. It was only when I began studying the maps that I realised I should have pressed on - had I arrived at Loch Ness in the evening I could have taken a morning ferry across and given myself an easy time for the following couple of days. As it now stood, because of the limited ferry times, I was due to arrive late in the evening with a few hours of walking into the wilds before camping for the night - because of the time darkness falls, and the wetness of the ground, I harboured concerns about setting up a camp out there - if nowhere presented itself then I would be walking through the night - not something I would ordinarily be phased about, so I will have to see how things go - so much depends upon the weather and ground conditions.
M.

 

Kit

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The kit is working really well - save for footwear (my feet are perpetually soaking wet - due to river crossing or just falling into streams - my waterproof socks would need to be neck-high to save me!).
Most of the time I am wearing my base layer top and bottoms, together with Drillium pants and Super Dru jacket. The combination is working really well because it is so wet all the time, and there have been plenty of climbs to keep me warm. At other times I use the vapour-rise jacket, with or without the Super Dru, or else just the base layer and Alpine soft shell. The later was perfect today when the weather was good and I had plenty of road walking to keep me warm.
The mountain cap and modular mitts have been called upon high up on occasion, but only really during the worst of the weather on the Munroes.
The kit is working out perfectly and I'm really happy with it - nothing else I'd rather be using. It's great to see so many other challengers wearing Rab clothing too - and I proud to be entirely unbiased when I say it's so clearly, obviously the best kit for the job!
M

 

Day 2: Bearnais Bothy to Loch Monar

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The Brew Crew were the first to stir, and David and Diane shortly thereafter. I rallied and wrestled myself from my sleeping bag, was packed away before all of them (Peter and Malcom still drinking tea), and headed out. Then I headed back in again, waited twenty minutes for the squal from the nearby loch to abate, and then headed back out again. I left the stone-built bothy, with the dead dear carcass nonchalantly decomposing by the wall, and set off by the side of a small river, across dense heather, uphill.
Diane and David were walking to Strathcarron, and the boys were bringing up my rear. The climb out of the valley was long, steep in parts, and involved crossing minor streams and meanie peat bogs, occasionally losing myself into deep water beneath a masked, mossy surface. By the time I reached the top I was tired but feeling good. My route then required a steep climb up a Munroe onto a ridge, with a ridge walk of a few kilometres before dropping down the other side. It looked rough from the base, with a climber further up pinned against the side, but I struggled myself against severe gusts from the adjacent valley and onto the wall. I climbed perhaps 75 metres, with 125 to the top, but by that stage I was being pulled from the stone I was gripping by the winds. Had I reached the top, which was unlikely with full kit acting like a sail behind me, I felt it would have been unlikely I could have made a safe crossing.
Retreating down the mountain was harder than the climb, and as I was thrown downhill at one point, despite 16 stone of combined bodyweight, clothing, and kit, I told myself again I was doing the right thing. I employed my Foul Weather Alternative and headed off into the valley that followed from the one I had climbed from the bothy. Rarely have I ever turned away from a mountain that I had planned to climb - in fact I can't recall ever having do so - so it smarted the pride a little bit to take the easy option. I had to console myself that the FWA was at least a longer route, so I wasn't making it that easy on myself.
After a long descent, a long trail walk, and a long journey across pathless heather and peat bogs, I had a river crossing to contend with before the next climb. I was fairly soaked after the crossing, but it didn't seem to affect me and I had a good long climb and and over towards Loch Monar. The weather was still apalling, so I elected a quick descent down to the loch. With no good camp ground I continued round the loch and headed off, cutting into my day 3′s route. Having been under horrendous weather all day, come the evening it brightened up and the temperature rose. As I moved away from the loch I put distance between myself and the mountains too. On a positive, that meant seeing a number of deer wandering about and upsetting the plant life. On a negative it meant that there were no streams - the ones indicated on the map had either dried up or barely had a trickle coming down them - not enough to fill a water bottle.
I pitched my tent next to the ruin of a house (because I have never been accused or irony), and collected some water from the river leading out of the loch. Having seen the waters running into the loch, I boiled the water well before making some food and tea, and puri-tabbed the rest for a dioralyte (I was concerned I might have been dehydrated following a few hours of walking in the heat with insufficient water).
I camped that night under a calm sky, with a wonderful view of some Munroes, and having completed a good amount of walking in challenging conditions.
M.

 

Day 1: Strathcarron to Bearnais Bothy

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Arrived into Strathcarron in good weather. Registered for the race at the hotel adjacent to the station. Five minutes later I left to organise my kit on a picnic bench. Spitting rain became torrential within the following three minutes. So, I dived back into the hotel and ensured I was fully waterproof before leaving. Ten minutes later the rain stopped. Typical.
It was a little more than 9km to Bearnais Bothy, over fairly well-marked footpaths. The ground conditions were variable, but I didn't lose myself in bogs and for the most part they were perfect.
Having left Strathcarron after 11, I arrived at the bothy around 2pm, with no delays - the time taken was due to the nature of the undulating group and map checks whenever the trail disappeared beneath the heather.
I dropped my kit at the bothy and had a rest for half an hour, after which I organised some kit into a drybag and fashioned a day sack with that and some cord. As I headed out the rains came - I met some other walkers who assured me conditions were awful up on the Munroes. I headed up to bag a couple, but had to shorted my desired route considerable, as the key Munroe that I had planned to bag was invisible behind a skirt of black cloud - with conditions fairly treacherous on the easier climbs I chose to employ my 'Foul Weather Alternative', and reluctantly retire to the bothy.
The climbers I had met earlier had by then left, to be replaced by a couple of walkers, David and Diane. Shortly after a TGO competitor, Peter from Stafford, arrived, and began apologising profusely for Malcom, for whom apologies could never be enough. Peter then went outside to inform Malcom that the locals were braced and ready for him, and had lowered their pitch forks, he entered. When asked where he was from, he responded: "I used to live in London, but then I got sophisticated so I moved to Essex".
Brilliant.
The 'Brew Crew' were carrying a kilo of sugar, apparently unaware of civilisation and shops north of Edinburgh.
With a fairly lively bothy I was in my sleeping bag in the late evening, the sound of rain incessantly drumming on the windows.
A fairly good start to the adventure, although the weather could have been kinder and more could have been achieved. Nevertheless it was good to be in good country with good people. And Malcom.
Looking forward to the morrow,
M

 

Before Leaving for the TGO Challenge:

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Right-o, all the kit is packed away for the final time. I am wearing my party dress and shall shortly be leaving for the station.

I have been storing and scribbling challenge control phone numbers, and blog and ftp log-in details. I shall be taking a mini laptop with me (top of rucksack, within two drybags and it's protective casing) with a view to upload images and videos whenever I come across a coffee shop with wifi (I'm reckoning I'll find at least three).

If I don't manage this, please at least know that I gave my laptop a wonderful holiday and a spot of fresh air for a change.

I have been testing my SPOT device, and although it works as a unit, I have been unable to attract the attention of satellites, so a full test will have to wait until I'm in Strathcarron.

My rucksack weighs approximately 1900 stone, but it'll lighten up favourably as I get through my food. I'm taking Expedition Foods freeze dried dinners, to cook up along with a nice cuppa on my mini Trangia. I'm also taking flapjacks and shortbread. I was expecting to take some dried meats - droewors or biltong - but the delivery didn't come through in time (I don't use typical preserved meats because of the sulphites / nitrates).

Currently engaging myself with an encouraging cup of tea. I have noticed my shoes laces are looking somewhat worn, so I might end up replacing those before the finish in Stonehaven.

My maps are all ready - I printed off 29 A4 sheets that, put back to back, lamenated and trimmed, give me 15 protected maps to carry (far easier than carrying full OS maps - lighter and easier to use, particularly as the route is clearly marked and I can bin the completed stages as I go).

With my water bottle filled there is not much else to report - I shall report back as soon as I can.

For now I'm just looking forward to registering at the control in Strathcarron and then heading off northeast into the hills - I drop off my rucksack at a bothy a little while later, grab a few essentials then make my way across a river and on to complete a couple of challenging peaks. I'll either sleep at the bothy or camp further down the riverside.

Thanks for reading this,
M.

 

Hullo World!

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Tired….tired….tired….

No reason - but thought I'd kick off by enthusing you all by tales of my boundless energy (snore, whistle…). Must be all the excitement. Possibly. Have no fear - I shall do all I can to deserve the Rab badge I'll be wearing.

Well, it's just after 8am and I shall be heading off to London Euston in the early afternoon. If all goes well I'll be arriving in Stratchcarron 10:45 tomorrow morning. I don't know but there's a distinct probability I'll be more tired - but am sure that the sight of the Highlands and the fresh air will fill me with gusto, vim, vigour and all the rest of them.

I'll feel more alert to all this after an amicable breakfast and a friendly cup of tea. Not a morning person - thought I'd throw that in - but fear not; simply drag me from the train and point me in the right direction and I'll be just fine.

Currently waiting to ascertain the URL of my SPOT device, after which I'll be able to send an OK message and ensure everything's working. I've packed and re-packed my kit a few times, partly to work out whether or not there's a better way of doing it, and partly to learn where I've stored everything. I haven't packed suntan lotion, so that should guarantee excellent weather throughout (watch this space, presumably).

Oh well - time for brekkie!
M