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Reframing success

(This blog is taken from the Due North Alaska Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/duenorthalaska where it was posted on July 20, 2017)

It feels strange. Sitting in a coffee shop, warm, dry and with endless food and drinks if we want them. No more daily rations of dehydrated food and energy bars, filtering water or continuing along this summer’s daily trend of making progress each day as we move to the next camp spot – making progress in latitude, longitude and mileage.


Our trip ended too soon. We should still be in the Arctic. In the raw wilderness, engulfed in the subtle shades of tundra, with the wind, mosquitoes (though not simultaneously) and shore birds for company. And it feels odd having this time to reflect on what has happened, as well as coming to terms with our new normal.

We both wake each morning sharing stories of our vivid and intense dreams; kayaking nowhere, dragging gear through mud over and over again, starting to paddle and realising we’ve forgotten something essential. Our subconscious processing the events of the last few months even while we sleep.

It’s easy to feel like we’ve failed. That the expedition hasn’t been a success. We work hard, we plan meticulously and are both extremely determined. It’s fair to say we are not used to not completing something we set out to. And so these feelings take adjusting to as well.

We are fortunate not to have the endless “what if?”s on loop in our heads. On the final kayak there was nothing more we could have done to change the situation we found ourselves in. And there is certainly some comfort in that. But it doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t complete what we set out to. How do we find any comfort in that?

What we’ve been reflecting on over the last few days, is that exploration is about discovery, not necessarily about completing what you set out to do.

Carving out a new path is always going to have more unknowns and uncertainties than following a well-trodden one. But it also makes it far more interesting and rewarding.


And it’s those times when things don’t go to plan and situations aren’t as expected, that you learn and discover the most. Both about the world around you and (as cheesy as it sounds) about yourself.

One of the main aims of the Due North: Alaska expedition is education through exploration. To share this journey with others – in all its ups, downs, twists, turns, landscapes and people – was a huge part of what drove us on each day when we were exhausted.

We’ll continue to leverage what we’ve learned and share it as widely as we can. And all of the human-powered miles we did travel will be a success. Even if we didn’t reach our final coordinates.

And so, although we find ourselves in a situation we had planned never to be in, we are beginning, bit by bit, to reframe success.

Luke and Hazel

Stuck in the mud: a changing Arctic

(This blog is taken from the Due North Alaska Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/duenorthalaska where it was posted on July 13, 2017)

This is a very different update to the one we had hoped to provide.

We are safely in Utqiagvik / Barrow – where we had aimed to reach – but we’re not here by kayaking as planned.

Despite making great progress along the Arctic coast, over the last few days of paddling through the historical inland route, we’ve witnessed some very real and hugely significant changes to the dynamics of the landscape up here.

Changes that don’t appear on recent satellite imagery, certainly aren’t on paper topographic maps and weren’t known by anyone whose kind advice we sought for this remote section of the expedition.

In this wilderness we found dry lake beds where once stood huge swathes of water, shallow waters – inches deep – full of mush in those that weren’t fully dried up yet, and streams that once flowed suddenly stopping – with the bow of our kayak running into grass or sand instead. The pictures tell their own tale.

Birds standing in the shallow water in the middle of ‘lakes’ miles wide seemed to be taunting us. With a deep layer of mud just below the surface and the overpowering stench of escaping methane gas – we tried over and over to drag and slog our way through, yet kept getting stuck – with not even enough water present to drag an empty kayak through.

So when we reached what would be the final lake (which we had named ‘just one more lake’) of our expedition at 5am, after 30 hours of hauling and portaging 100kg of gear over tundra, dry lake beds and mush – only to find its water level as low as the rest with increasingly dangerous waist-deep sludge, we knew we could not continue. We camped up.

As well as being exhausted and disappointed, we felt very sad – as much in knowing this would be the end of our journey as for these lakes and the landscape that felt so unwell.

And so this historical Inupiat trading route, last taken decades ago, is certainly no longer possible by kayak and with it goes a little bit of history.

It’s true that with advances in technology and progress in exploration, many routes have opened up – much more accessible than they once were. But here, in the North at least – as with expeditions to the North Pole – some are becoming more impossible.

We wanted to see for ourselves and record evidence of a changing Arctic. Well, we’ve seen it and struggled through it and it’s engrained in our drysuits, our boots and our memories.

We’ll be posting videos and photos and will be talking about all we’ve seen and heard on this trip for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, around Scotland, and at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival when we get back.

It’s been more of a journey than we could have ever anticipated.

We hope you’ve found and continue to find it of interest.

Thank you all so much for following Due North: Alaska.

Luke and Hazel

Enduring endurance

So you’ve signed up for an endurance event. Perhaps you want to test yourself, see how far you can go? Perhaps you’ve lost a bet? Or maybe you just fancy losing a few toenails? Whatever your reason, congrats for even considering it! You’re over halfway there.

Endurance events are incredible. The battle between mind and body is intriguing and you are certain to learn a thing or two about yourself. There are a few things that I’ve learned (usually the hard way) over the years that can really make a difference on the day and will hopefully make even the tough bits (and there will be tough bits) far more enjoyable.

So here are some of my top tips. We’re all different, though, so make sure you do what works best for you.

OK, SO…BEFORE YOU START:

Keep it old skool. Your trainers, that is. Make sure you’ve broken them in before the day or you may get some nasty (and painful) surprises.

Tape it up. If you know you often get blisters in the same spot, it can be worth pre-taping your feet with sports tape. This reduces friction with your skin and should prevent most blisters. Prevention is always better than cure.

Get organised. If possible, stash your snacks & water to be easily accessible without having to stop or take your bag off. Having them to hand keeps momentum up and means you’re more likely to eat and drink properly and have sustained energy (which you’ll need!).

Variety is key. When it comes down to snacks, don’t underestimate how much you might need when you’re moving for many hours. It’s best to pack mainly carbs as your body needs the fuel, but I find that after a few hours I really crave salty things, so always pack crisps or salted roasted beans or nuts for later. Whatever you want to eat, a variety is good. It’s also worth bringing a special treat for when things get really tough.

Layers layer layers. Scotland is beautiful but its weather is unpredictable. You can also get pretty warm when moving quickly and then cool down when your body is tired. So it’s best to pack lots of thin layers that you can flex depending on your needs, rather than thicker layers. Oh, and a decent waterproof is a must!


DURING THE EVENT

Stop, drop and…er, sort! Stop and sort any hot spots or potential blisters straight away. It’s all too easy to ignore and just keep going, but blisters can get bad very quickly and are often the main cause for people dropping out of endurance events. So a 5 minute stop to get them sorted is better than having to pull out.

Break it down. I find it helpful to break up the distance or time into smaller targets and mentally tick them off. Just watch that the targets aren’t too small or you’ll be checking your watch every 2 minutes!

Remember the why. Remember clearly why you’re doing it and keep focussed on that end goal when things get tough (which they will!). Imagine it a bit like a rollercoaster – you’ll be moving forward the whole time and towards the finish (and cold beer!) but there will be both ups and downs along the way. 

Keep moving. Stop if you need to of course, but don’t stop for too long as it can get harder and harder to start again.

Snack attack.
I would recommend to eat and drink regularly to keep energy levels up and have something to look forward to (so make sure you have tasty snacks!). I usually eat a bite of something every 20-30 mins and try to take a drink more frequently than that.

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…

Enjoy! Savour every moment, even when it gets really hard and everything aches. Know that during the really tough bits you’ll get through it, just keep going, you can do it! And if all else fails, just keep thinking about that cold beer…

This blog was written for Move Act Do and was originally published here: http://moveactdo.com/blog/

Photo credit: Hamish Frost Photography (www.hamishfrost.com)

Due North: Alaska – the countdown

Note: this is taken from the Due North: Alaska expedition website – http://www.duenorthalaska.com and was written by Hazel and Luke.

As with lots of exciting journeys, it started off with a map, a wild idea and with a lot more questions than answers.

With less than 2½ months before we take the first stroke in the Pacific Ocean at the start of a 2000 mile journey to reach the most Northerly point of the USA, we’re busy dreaming of the best and planning for the worst.

The other side of the world

In a point to point, multi-discipline, 80 day expedition through an area of land on the other side of the world that’s over seven times larger than the UK (but with a population only slightly larger than Glasgow), logistics were always going to be a bit of a nuisance.

We knew from the very start that to have a chance of making this possible, we would have to rely on a lot of goodwill from people we’ve never met and some we never will. But as with any previous dabbling in remote lands, these strangers – in name only – have contrived to ensure that the vision and aims of this expedition will be made possible and now it’s down to us to repay this goodwill and faith. Again we’ve learned never to underestimate the kindness of friends and family, but also of our new found pen-pals.

Not so long ago, expeditions could take years to plan and many still do (see Sir Ran Fiennes epic Transglobe expedition – a whole seven years in the making). But now we’re in the age of the internet. And for all its lack of romanticism, the web is by far the most useful and accessible resource available. Things happen more quickly and (selective) information is typically free and very useful. Through Skype, emailing and other methods, we’ve been able to move a portion of our lives– specifically May, June and July 2017 – all the way to Alaska. Before we’ve even arrived.

Putting in the hours

Edinburgh is an ideal base for pretty much all forms of training. From the off-road running of the Pentland Hills, Blackford Hill and Arthur’s Seat, to the fast cycling roads beyond the bypass, to the sea-kayaking options of East Lothian, the opportunities are endless and completely accessible to many. 

For the psychological training, we’ve both had good experience from previous expeditions and ultra marathons, where it’s always amazing to see just how much the mind controls the body. Through deep exhaustion and fatigue, the mind urges the body on. It’s always surprising to see how strong we can be and how far we can go, especially when there isn’t really any other option.

As well as longer, back-to-back days of training, we’re looking forward to the 156-mile Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert in just over a month. This will certainly help with these psychological aspects – even if the conditions underfoot and in the air will be completely different from Alaska.  This is another event where body management is key and avoiding injury is just as important as in training and during the expedition itself. It will also be such a treat to just turn up and only have to think about avoiding spiders and scorpions, instead of the midges of Alaska…

Spreadsheet love

The lead up to the trip has been a fine balancing act between training and logistics. It’s slightly ironic that we’re certainly not training outdoors all the time, but largely sitting in front of laptops, sending emails and appreciating the beauty of spreadsheets and lists.

But our planning motto has been “no surprises” and “don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.” These both keep us moving forward, prioritising what is most important and trying to make sure we cover every eventuality, knowing that things are likely to change when we get out there.

We’ll never be able to predict the exact weather, for example. But we can ensure we’ve thought of all possible things that could go wrong, from which preventative measures and back up plans can be put in place. There will always be unknowns. But that’s what makes it exciting too.

The extended team

We try to make sure that we divide and conquer the endless to do lists to play to our strengths in what will be a team effort in every aspect from start to finish. The lows that come with a “thanks, but no thanks” email are hugely outweighed by the highs following a positive meeting or phone call. We feel truly humbled by our partners who have aligned with the vision of the expedition and without whom this expedition would not exist.

We’re focused on trying to get people excited about the environment and the outdoors and strive to take on their own adventures and challenges. We’re working with Education Scotland so that everything about Due North: Alaska can be used to engage children through exciting learning.

We are fundraising for our charity partner, the incredible Marie Curie, that helps people living with any terminal illness, and their families, to get the most from the time they have left.

We’d love to hear from you! If you have any questions or just want to say hi then please ping us a message at info@duenorthalaska.com and check out www.duenorthalaska.com.

We hope you’ll enjoy following us on this world-first expedition.

Thanks!

Hazel and Luke

Due North is proud to be supported by:

Floradix | TentMeals | Nuffield Health | Bio-synergy | Sea Kayaking UK | Celtic Paddles | Sockeye Cycle Co. | Standard Horizon | Rose Point

Beddy, steady…GO!

This blog is a reminder to myself. A pep talk in an attempt to reduce the thousands of excuses that fly through my head when the alarm goes off on a dark cold winter morning and I struggle to make the transition from cosy warm bed to running in the dark.

I’m missing the light. Training in the dark is beginning to get to me and my motivation to run in the mornings is seriously low. Bed is often winning.

But I know that the battle is purely in my mind – a mental tug of war I play every morning…

But I know that the battle is purely in my mind – a mental tug of war I play every morning, when my good intentions are almost talked round by the other voice in my head saying “go back to sleep…just another hour.” And I know from experience that if I can ignore this voice, get out the front door and just run then my day is better; I’m more focussed, determined, happy and calm. And filled with a sense of achievement at having done something before breakfast.

So in trying to work out a way forward to enhance my enthusiasm for dark and early miles, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve overcome this mental block in the past and what I can do going forward. Below are some thoughts. If you’re struggling with the morning warm bed battle as well, then hopefully some of them might be useful.

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Thoughts on how to overcome the morning battle with a warm bed:

  1. Plan in advance. Lie all your clothes out the night before (remember cosy layers that you can take off if you get too hot) and have a route in your head. That way when the alarm goes off you don’t need to think about anything but just get up and go. It’s also worth getting a decent head torch if you’re running away from streetlights, and high visibility clothing so you can be seen. Obviously be safe, carry your phone and let someone know where you’re going.
  2. Make yourself accountable. Find a running buddy who is up for the early start. You’ll be more inclined to get out and run if you agree to meet someone. If you don’t have anyone to go with, you can still make yourself accountable by agreeing with a pal that you’ll both run in the morning. Keep each other motivated!
  3. Have a goal and visualise it. Maybe it’s a race you’re training for or just that you want to be able to run a set distance or time. Whatever it is, visualise it vividly in your mind. Imagine yourself smashing that goal and the feelings of pride and happiness that comes with the achievement. Thinking about this in the morning will help give you that extra bit of motivation to get out of bed and work towards your vision. I also find that keeping track of weekly mileage (e.g. via Strava) and setting myself a weekly goal is a great way motivator to get up in the morning and get those miles done!
  4. Remember how good it feels after. That feeling when you’re back home after a run – blood and endorphins pumping round your body – having achieved something before breakfast. And how good breakfast tastes! Just remember that when you’re debating whether to get up or not. Plus, if you get your run done in the morning then you’re off the hook for the rest of the day.
  5. Trick yourself. Even if you’re tired when you wake up, say to yourself that you’ll just run around the block. This might be enough to trick your mind into get you out of bed – thinking “only 5 mins of running – I can do that!” Chances are when you’re actually out you’ll run further.
  6. Run your commute. If you can run the whole way to work then great. But if not, there may be options to park the car a bit further away and run the last bit. Or get off a few tube/bus/train stops earlier and run the rest. Running your commute is a great way to fit running into your morning routine without taking up too much extra time.
  7. Set your body up right. Get enough sleep and drink enough water the day before. If you’re low on energy in the mornings, it can sometimes help to have a very light snack before you run. I often take a few bites of dried fruit which gives my body the boost it needs.
  8. Remember that summer fitness = winter training. I really have to keep reminding myself of this. All the miles and hours that you put in during the long dark winter months will pay off when summer appears. You’ll be strong, fit and healthy – perfect for being able to maximise the longer summer days.

And most importantly:

Be kind to yourself. It’s great to set running goals and get out and smash them. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Celebrate the fact that you got up and out and don’t push it if you’re body isn’t up to it.

One hour left

With one hour left of a particularly stressful day at work, I was desperately wishing the hour away. Wishing 5pm to arrive swiftly so I could shut everything down, including my busy whirring mind, and embrace the evening ahead with open arms.

Acutely aware of how precious life and time is, I am not normally one to wish time away. But sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in things and forget. Catching myself doing it at 4:01pm on this busy Thursday I started imagining: what if this was my final hour? How would the value of this hour change if I knew it was my last one? 

I guess we never know when our last hour will be. We may have an inkling – it may be a fairly well-known time limit, imposed by a degenerative disease or illness – but it also may be sudden, with life snatched away from us before we get a chance to prepare.

So what if this was my last hour? Does everyone who means so much to me know how much I love them? How would I be remembered? Had I done all I could to help and make a difference? 

All these thoughts swirling round my already buzzing mind gave sharp focus to the dwindling minutes left in this final hour. 

I found myself quickly reframing my thoughts, focussing instead on how lucky I was to have this hour, even if I was knackered and a bit stressed from a busy day.

And so I savoured it. Took deep breaths, felt how alive I was and thought about all the people I really cared about. Funny how simple life is when you strip everything down to what really matters. The stress of the day seemed so slight and trivial in comparison.

Every single hour we have is so precious, and yet so easy to wish away in anticipation of more exciting (or relaxing) future plans. 

I am all too easily excited by future plans – dreaming big as to what they could be, getting a real rush from the future reality  in my mind. But I also have to remind myself that although the anticipation of the future can inspire and motivate, sometimes it’s important to focus on the only time we really have: the present moment.

“How hard can it be? Could you run an 8-day epic through wild Scotland?”

Here’s a wee interview I did with Ourea Events about the inaugural 400km Cape Wrath Ultra, from Fort William to Cape Wrath, Scotland.  It was used as extra content for the “How hard can it be? Could you run an 8-day epic through wild Scotland?”  article featured in Trail Running Magazine.

What do you like best about mountain running?

The freedom, the meditative focus required for technical descents and the ever-changing perspective you have of the surrounding landscape. I feel very calm in the mountains – very much aware that they have been around much longer than I have and will be here long after I’ve gone If you don’t respect them, they won’t respect you.

What trail running achievements are you most proud of?

By far the Cape Wrath Ultra! That has taken trail running to another level for me. 

Why do you like multi-day races?

The journey.  I’m not a fast runner, but can keep going, and I like the endurance element of running more than one day. It feels almost like going back in time, to when humans had to cover huge distances on foot through wild and barren regions. It’s also an amazing way to see remote parts of the world you wouldn’t otherwise get to see, which is such a privilege and you also get to eat what you want most of the time!

What’s your dream race win or achievement life goal?

I’m definitely more about the adventure and the journey than the win.  I was very inspired by the ages of some of the competitors, with a 68-year old tearing down hills in front of me. To be still running multi-day ultras at 68 would be a dream in itself!

Why CWU?

A chance to see Scotland at its finest and most remote, take on a real beast of a challenge and run it all with my fiancé, Luke!  We are both raising money for Marie Curie (www.justgiving.com/hazelandluke)

What’s most exciting about doing a 8-day supported race like CWU?

The remoteness of the terrain, meeting people from all over the world, not having to cook (or carry!) your dinner and the physical and mental journey; it’s effectively 8 days of self-discovery.

How did you train for it – weekly training brief overview.

I had a base level of fitness from the Beyond the Ultimate Ice Ultra in February and then did a few hilly runs each week and a bit of strength training.  We didn’t get as much training in as we had hoped…

Any initial concerns or excitement?

A lot of excitement and probably a good bit of naivety in there too, having never run anywhere near the distances or duration we ended up running. We had our first taste of avoiding the checkpoint cut-off on Day 3 (42 mi, 2400m), making it into camp just in time.  This was something (again perhaps naively) we hadn’t really considered as an issue beforehand, but which certainly upped the pressure and also the adrenaline levels for the rest of the race.

Any hairy moments or triumphs over the weather, bogs and river crossings?

The weather was just unreal; deep blue skies, baking hot sun and barely a breath of wind at times. A slightly hairy moment on the furthest day (45 miles), when we’d been running with no shade for almost 10 hours. Even with lashings of factor 50 sunscreen, electrolyte tablets and lots of food, my body began to overheat.  A few stream head-dunkings later and with my waterproof jacket on to keep the sun off my skin, I was back to normal. As a fair Scot, we are not used to such good weather!

How did your body react? Sleep, blisters, chafing etc?

It was incredible how the human body can get through 8 days of running like that. Each evening as we set our alarm for 5am, and each morning as we creaked out of the tent, we thought “how will we get through another day?”, let alone the rest of the week. But with proper body management (stretching, a high intake of protein and raising our legs) each evening and then after warming up in the morning, sure enough we were running again. And loving every second of it.

How important was navigation in addition to fitness and determination?

Navigation played a massive part. It was particularly important to us, as t times we were close to the checkpoint cut-off time and so any significant navigation errors would have seen us out of the race. The navigation certainly kept you focussed! Working as a team definitely helped in this respect too, as we would (politely!) question every decision the other made, even if it was just to play the devil’s advocate with regards to correct navigation.

What was the absolute best view?

At the top of Ben Dreavie, looking out west over all the hills and sea lochs, which were shimmering and sparkling in the bright sunlight was a magical moment

Most dramatic moment? (really big this up, describe it in all it’s gory detail)

Day 3 (45mi, 2400m) – we managed to keep over an hour ahead of the check point cut-off times, until later in the day when our margin slowly started to shrink. We had 10 miles or so to go, including a final climb and technical rocky descent, and the prospect of not making it in time really hung over us.  We ended up forming a group with other runners, and taking it in turns to lead and navigate, everyone pushing each other on and willing each other to make the cut off.  We reached the final summit, exhausted and elated, as the sun had set beyond the surrounding mountains.  After an initial steep descent, the gradient relaxed and adrenaline kicked in: we tore down the hillside as a pack of runners, like deer bounding over springy heather and winding our way through the woods, our eyes just about adjusting to the diminishing light.  All aches and pulsing blisters seemed to subside and we just ran and ran and ran.  After a couple of final river crossings, and now in the dark, we arrived at the camp in time, and were still in the race. It was a huge boost to our confidence.

Fave snacks/food/drinks on the move and at camp and why?

On the move: nakd bars, mini cheddars and frazzles. We mainly ate nakd bars as they vary in flavour, are a good balance of carb, fat and protein and are easy to eat and digest.  Mini cheddars and frazzles provided salt, which was exactly what our bodies craved later in the day, especially on the hottest days, and were a pleasant change from all the sweet snacks.

Camp: hot, salty chips! To be greeted with them after a gruelling day was surreal, and would often push us on during the last few hours of the day.

Listen to music or use of gadgetery – what and why?

I didn’t listen to any music – the sound of birds and streams was inspiration enough! On the gadgetery front, my Garmin watch and the GPS were essential.  I found I enjoyed the day more when I wasn’t checking distance on my watch, but mainly using it for time.  Checking the distance every few hours provided a real boost at knowing how far we’d covered.

Your most essential piece of kit and why?

Poles – they saved my knees on the descents, especially towards the end of the 8 days. As the week progressed, this run became more and more about body management.

What was the camaraderie like?

Very special.  Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed.

Describe CWU in three words

Epic, wild, journey

How does it compare to multi-day races or ultras you have done?

A different level.  Those extra 3 days, compared to a 5-day multi-day I’ve done before, were extremely testing on the body and mind; you really have to play the long game and not push yourself too much early on when you’re feeling strong.  I loved the navigation element of it as well.

Describe CWU as something else

It’s like a giant beast that eats you up for breakfast, or makes the Marathon des Sables look like a beach holiday

If you could go back and do one thing on the race differently what would it have been?

Reviewed the map and elevation profile fully and in more detail the night before.  We did this for Day 3 and beyond, but for Day 2 we didn’t fully know what to expect and the last few climbs of the day really threw us mentally.

How would you have altered your training knowing what you know now?

More training! Definitely 2 or 3 days back-to-back to get really used to running on tired legs.  More practice on blister prevention as well…

What’s next? Apart from a good old sleep! We mean trail run or race-wise.

Next race is slightly different…the Marathon du Medoc in France in September…essentially a fancy dress marathon with wine from local vineyards every mile.  Then next year the London Marathon and Marathon de Sables (better get the heat training in!).

Anything else you’d like to say about this epic race?

Sign up for 2018 🙂