I was under no illusion that preparing for an expedition to the South Pole was going to be easy. It requires physical and mental preparation, developing skills and experience in navigation, glacier travel and being able to recognise and avoid crevassed terrain. The necessary tick-list I received when I started this journey, rom Steve Jones, was a definite reality check. I knew that there was a big challenge ahead of me and that I would need to push far beyond my comfort zone to achieve it. The key to my success was going to be my training.
My initial preparation began with reaching out to two polar veterans, Wendy Searle, the 7th woman to reach the South Pole solo and unsupported, and Louis Rudd MBE, the first Briton and second person to ski solo across Antarctica. As mentors, their insight, expertise and connections have been invaluable, and they have helped me to gain the skills and confidence I need to face what lies ahead.
An important aspect of my training was finding the right coach. Jon Fearne of E3 coaching has a proven track record of training female polar explorers. Every week I am sent tailored training plans, focussed on building my endurance, strength and cardiovascular fitness that are monitored through an app. I train within certain heart rate zones, the aim being, to achieve maximum performance in Antarctica without sweating, which increases the risk of hypothermia. I carry out repeated drills, such as setting up and dismantling camp in the thick gloves which I will wear on expedition. All of this is to form muscle memory and to increase speed and efficiency when out on the ice.
To mimic the experience of pulling of a pulk, I spend many hours hauling a tyre along the Cornish coastline. As you can imagine, this does not go unnoticed, and 18 months in, I still manage to raise a smile as someone inevitably remarks, “ooh, that looks tyring”, the sarcastic sound of the snare drum and cymbal repeating “ba-dum-tss” in my head every time!
Behind the beauty of Antarctica is isolation and danger. Its landscape is a testament to the forces of nature and it’s a full body workout to navigate the large areas of sastrugi (wind-formed ridges of snow and ice that can reach several metres in height). The upper body and core requires just as much fine tuning as my legs.
Managing my mental state during the isolation is somewhat uncertain and difficult to prepare for. I’m reassured by my positive attitude to adverse conditions during training expeditions, but I am also not naive to the fact that this might be one of the most challenging aspects. The monotony of the landscape and the lack of interaction has led to some solo expeditioners to experience hallucinations……from chats to long lost grandparents on the bus, to small bald-headed men hiding behind sastrugi, I can’t deny that I am somewhat curious as to what my hallucinations might be!
Mental training will include visualisation exercises and mindfulness practices, but in reality, I have got to hope that my mental toughness has developed throughout my life experiences.
I still have some big training milestones to achieve over the next few months, but as with everything, I am concentrating on what is next on the list to avoid feeling overwhelmed with the larger picture. May will see me back on Dartmoor for further navigation and GPS training, then toward the end of June, I’m off to Chamonix to gain experience in glacier travel and to look at my route options in detail with an ALE guide. By the time August comes, I should be fit and prepared enough to take on the most difficult test to date, a 3 and a half week crossing of the Greenland ice cap, where I will try my best to disguise my fear of polar bears, or at the very least, ensure I don’t look like their easiest meal!
I hope that this overview has given you just a taste of the training required. I was never in the scouts (more an air-cadet kind of girl), but their motto ‘Be Prepared’ seems a sensible one to follow and I know that I can never be too prepared for the challenge that awaits.
Perhaps spare a thought for me on a Sunday morning, knowing that whatever the weather, I’ll be out there, dragging a tyre or two, imagining myself to be on the breath-taking and unforgiving terrain of Antarctica. I definitely find myself having to dig deep, but the motivation comes from imagining the reward that awaits if I have the right mindset and put the training in.