I thought, having cycled the world, I held a high level of fitness. And I suppose that compared to my desk-bound colleagues I am quite fit. But cycle fit is not the same as polar fit. The endurance in my legs will need to be replicated and stepped up a notch or ten over the rest of my body.
My shoulders and core must be strong enough to help my legs drag a 90kg qajaq across a frozen plain littered with icy detritus, pressure ridges and meter-high sastrugi (or ice waves). My heart must pump strongly and calmly, like that of an ox feasting in a marijuana plantation. My VO2 Max, the rate at which my body uses oxygen, must be at it’s peak to allow great effort with minimal sweat.
It didn’t strike me how much work this would involve until I received a picture message from my team mate, Polar Pook. She had just finished dragging two truck tyres around Stave Hill, a 1.7 mile circuit. It took her 40 minutes and drenched her in sweat. She looked hollow, her cheeks were drawn and blue eyes lacked their usual spark. I can’t repeat here what she thought about the experience.
Another team mate, Robert aka The Horse aka R-Pettz, invited the Ice Warrior team up to Oxford to be put through our paces at the Athlete Centre, winner of the World’s toughest gym award 2013. If we are to get fit for the challenge of walking 200 miles over the ice, then this place had the credentials to help us.
The Athlete Centre is situated in a sparse industrial estate outside of the heart of Oxford, the prefab metal and concrete structures containing local businesses immediately put us in the mood to work (a rare feeling for me). Finding the correct metal husk we entered a light and airy reception area to meet the rest of the team and our coaches for the day, Ed and Barrie.
Once indemnity forms were completed we headed through the blue double-doors and into a large and mostly empty warehouse space. Black metal frames and multicoloured heavy plates glowered at us. The rubber flooring didn’t do much to assuage our nerves, we had no idea what Barrie, the head coach had in mind for us. I jumped a little as a freakishly strong gym goer slammed down a loaded barbell.
Barrie, a tall South African, lead us through some warm-ups then split us into two groups. I was placed in Coach Ed’s group along with Kip, The Horse and The Captain, Rob Sparrow. This is good, I thought, together we could take him if we needed to.
Far from the aggressive round of clean and jerks I expected our routines were tests of mobility, checking our flexibility and strength over a range of motion. We performed deep squats then overhead squats. The strength work involved pulling then pushing a loaded sledge called a prowler (note: do NOT Google ‘prowler’), then we did the farmers walk, carrying 120kgs a short distance. My dad’s a farmer, I think he’d just use a wheelbarrow.
The day ended with an encouraging talk with Barrie and flipping a huge tractor tyre; a chance for the men of the group to demonstrate their dominance over a heavy, inanimate object.
We travelled back to The Horse’s home, tucked away from the hustle of Oxfords busy shopping streets. He had prepared a delicious and protein laden feast to repair damage to our sore muscles. We discussed the day’s training over copious amounts of tea in the living room and decided that it the time to step-up and get serious had come. It was time to train or die!