Arctic Challenge / Challenge Journal / Motivation

Ski Sunday's Graham Bell reveals what the race is really like

By Vicky Anscombe

"Just pace yourselves! It’s a long three days, and if you get the pacing wrong - or head off too hard - you’ll suffer. Lots of people get overexcited at the starting gate - don’t fall into that trap. And the very best of luck!"

Graham Bell

Ex-Olympic skier and Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell reveals what the race is really like

As March draws even closer and The Arctic V’s training begins to intensify, we thought it would only be fair to give our team a heads-up by finding some expert advice from people who have tackled the race before.

We spoke to BBC Ski Sunday presenter and five time Olympic skier Graham Bell about his experience of competing in the race in 2007 - and what our intrepid team can expect from their three-day challenge...

Unlike The Arctic V, Graham tackled the race by himself, and like us, he’s committed to the idea of living life to the full, tackling a challenge head-on and grabbing opportunities with both hands. He’s a #WeLiveNow ambassador, for sure.

“Make the most of every day you’ve got, and embrace new challenges,” he says. “Take new things on. It’s very much a philosophy that I’ve lived by. When I was still a professional sportsman, new challenges were really important to us, because the ability to learn new skills is something that really helps. Keep your mind and body active, and keep challenging yourself to learn new things! For me, the Arctic Circle Race was one of those challenges.”

Graham found the race much tougher than he’d imagined. “The last day in particular was really hard,” he says. “The last hour was mainly downhill, but we had a 60mph headwind, which was brutal! It’s one of the toughest things I’ve done, endurance-wise - I ended up pushing myself pretty hard. However, it’s a beautiful place, and a fantastic setting. Greenland is wonderful.”

The Arctic V are working themselves hard in order to be in prime physical condition for the race - but they’ll also need to prep their kit properly if they want to beat the rest. “In terms of hints and tips, I’d work on getting my skis waxed properly,” he says. “It’s classic cross-country skiing, so you need to have two types of wax - the running wax, and the grip wax. If you get that wrong, you can have a really bad day, as too much one and not enough of the other on your skis will ensure you waste a lot of energy. It’s all about getting the technical things right.”

The racers will be burning thousands of calories every day, and sleeping in tents in the snow - surely making sure that you’re not always hungry and tired will be a struggle for Chemmy and the gang?

“You’re so tired, so they will sleep, that’s for sure,” says Graham. “I think I probably had a couple of naps once I got to the base camp, after the race, then I had dinner, and went back to bed! You tend to sleep loads because you’re so exhausted - being in a tent won’t bother you.”

"You’ve also got to get the nutrition right - it's a long day, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re eating and drinking enough. When you're pushing yourself to the limit, you can forget to eat and drink, and then your body shuts down. You have to really be disciplined to keep the eating and drinking going."

Graham found a novel way of keeping himself warm during the race - he filled his CamelBak with warm (not boiling!) juice, and took small sips every minute or so. “You don’t want to be drinking cold liquid, even if you warm up,” he advises. “The thing with a CamelBak is you have to drink regularly, or the tube freezes up! The warm liquid stops the tube freezing. If that happens, you’re scuppered.”

When Graham lost his ski goggles during the last day and was skiing through a blizzard, his producer stepped in to help with a spare pair - but he knows how lucky he was to have a support crew. “I nicked the producer’s goggles, which is probably not in the rules!” Graham laughs. “Lightweight goggles are a must. When the wind picks up it’s a definite advantage.”

The Arctic Circle Race takes no prisoners, and Graham found that none of the three days of the race were ‘easy’. “I thought the second day would be easier, because it was flat,” he says. “But all that happened was the effort went from my legs to my upper body. On a flat stage, you end up double pole-planting the whole way round, and basically just pushing the whole way. All the effort is through your upper body - my triceps and shoulders were properly cramping up at the end of the day.”

The Arctic V will be facing a life-changing physical and mental test in March, but Graham knows that they’ll smash it - and has some advice. “Just pace yourselves!” he says. “It’s a long three days, and if you get the pacing wrong - or head off too hard - you’ll suffer. Lots of people get overexcited at the starting gate - don’t fall into that trap. And the very best of luck!”

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motivation Graham Bell The Arctic V arctic challenge The Arctic Circle Race Ski Sunday ski fitness ski insurance

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