Battling temperatures of -50°C, avoiding polar bears and covering 100 miles over thinning ice will be just some of the perils that face the Arctic Rugby Challenge as they set off in April in an attempt to break a world record of playing the most northerly game of rugby … at the North Pole. And attempt to raise £300,000 for the Wooden Spoon charity in the process.
So, 6 months on from our first chat with Steve and his Arctic adventuring buddies, we’ve caught up with the soon-to-be intrepid explorer about his preparations for the most gruelling rugby match of all time.
TakeTheThree: Hi Steve, how have you been keeping?
Steve Henry: Very well thanks.
SH: Christmas was a welcome bit of a break from everything but I’ve managed to keep my fitness in a reasonable level over the winter and didn’t over-indulge too much.
TTT: What did you get up to, generally and exercise-wise?
SH: I spent some time in Scotland with my wife and her family and after that we went skiing in France. It was a good bit of practice being on skis (albeit the wrong kind of skis) and I think it still counts as exercise – my legs were certainly sore by the end of the week!
TTT: Have you already started tailoring your training programme to more endurance stuff?
SH: Yes, I’m trying to include a good variety of endurance training in my regime. I’ve never been one for an overly formalised training plan, but I’ll try and get some running, cycling, rowing and cross-training into any given week. A bit of variety always makes the training less boring and doing too much of one thing – especially running – can lead to injury.
TTT: How does your typical week look?
SH: I’ll run or cycle to and from work 4 or 5 days a week. It’s only 5km each way, but I’ll often find longer ways to take it up to 10 or 15km and it all adds up. I’ll also try and make sure I fit in a couple of gym sessions during the week and do at least one long run or cycle at the weekend and try and explore somewhere a bit different. It’s more of a struggle when you’re doing the same route over and over.
TTT: And you’ve been away to train with the team recently – what did that involve?
SH: We’ve done a few training sessions now. The most recent was a training weekend in Wales, we camped out by Ogmore Castle, using the tents we’ll be taking with us to the pole and cooking on the liquid fuel stoves we’ll be using. As well as getting used to all of the tent management (there are a lot of rules apparently when you’re in the Arctic!). We also did some fitness training and navigation skills, which were a bit of a wake-up call for most of us and there’s definitely a lot of work to do in the next couple of months before we set off.
TTT: I can imagine the fitness training for this must be quite gruelling?
SH: Yes but also a lot of fun and a good team building and bonding session for all the guys going. In Wales we were tied together in groups of 4 and sent running up and down a sand dune nicknamed the ‘Big Dipper’.
TTT: Have you done any other core work that is geared towards pulling a pulk?
SH: We did a bit of sled pulling while we were on a training weekend recently, which was a lot of fun. We were given pulks with a huge sandbag in and sent racing off over the dunes to sets of co-ordinates on our GPS’s. Jock – our resident Polar expert – has actually told us that we don’t need to go around dragging car tyres as, when you’re on ice, the lack of friction makes pulling the load quite easy. That said, the load will be pulling horizontally on our waist and shoulders, so core strength will be quite important, so is something I’ve been trying to work on in the gym.
TTT: What have the other training camps involved?
SH: The most fun of all the training sessions has to be the polar bear deterrent training. We learned a bit about polar bears and their behaviour and instincts, but we also needed to learn how to use the kind of shotgun we’ll be taking with us. But since there are no polar bears in the UK, we had to make do with some clay pigeons. I’ve done clay pigeon shooting before but it was a lot of fun using the borrowed pump action shot guns. For the trek itself, we’ll be carrying a range of shots including the so-called “bear bangers” designed to create a large bang to scare bears away. Fingers crossed we don’t have to use them…
TTT: Have you had a chance to go in an ice-chamber yet?
SH: No, unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to go in an ice-chamber. I would absolutely love to do so though, so if anyone has one and would let me use it, please get in touch. Failing that I suppose I could shell out and go to the Icebar for a couple of vodkas!
TTT: Well if you’re buying! So in the absence of an ice-chamber, have you picked up any other tips about surviving the cold?
SH: A lot of what we’ve been learning is about how to manage all of your equipment in the cold and a lot is specifically to do with moisture. I think I mentioned last time that when you’re trekking, you want to remain just on the bearable side of cold, because if you get hot and start to sweat, the liquid in the clothes will freeze and make you colder – it’s the same in the tent. When you breathe the moisture will rise and form condensation on the inner tent wall, which then freezes overnight only to either fall back down on you, or drip as water when the tent warms again.
To keep our sleeping bags dry and your head warm, we’ve been told to pull the hood so tight that pretty much only your mouth pokes out, that way the moist air escapes, but you stay warm.
TTT: What about your kit? Is it really high-tech?
SH: Actually most of the things we’re taking are deliberately low tech. When you’re operating in the cold you want things to be simple as there’s less to go wrong and its all easy to use with gloves. That said, I’m sure the materials in all of our clothing and tents are a lot more high tech than they used to be in the days of the early polar explorers.
TTT: What have Tim Stimpson and Ollie Phillips been like to work with?
SH: One of the great things so far about the challenge has been all of the great people I’ve got to meet. Everyone on the challenge comes from different backgrounds, but we all share interest, mainly rugby and a sense of adventure. We’ve got CEOs to recently graduated students and a mix of professional and rugby players. Tim and Ollie are both great, so I wasn’t fussed about which team I ended up on.
TTT: And have the teams been announced?
SH: The teams were announced recently, and I’m on #TeamTim, but I’m sharing a tent with Ollie, so I’ll get a change to get in the head of the enemy and pick up their tactics!
TTT: And onto the important bit – the fund-raising … have you got any other events planned?
SH: I’m organising a charity cycle ride from London to Paris over the Easter Bank holiday weekend. This is a great way to help with my fitness as well as getting people involved with raising money for Wooden Spoon. It’s also a nice excuse for a little jaunt to the land of Wine and Cheese!
[Editor’s note: TTT has actually been roped into taking part in Steve’s Arch to Arc Cycle and should probably invest in a bike…]
Or you can text the word “POLE49″ and “£” followed by any amount to 70070.