Tag Archives: Adventure

Kayaking through the world’s largest archipelago, The FT How To Spend It

Blisters, muscle fatigue, never-ending daylight – and sleep deprivation: Fergus Scholes tackles an 18-hour odyssey through the world’s largest archipelago in Finland.

Northerly latitudes and vast swathes of untouched wilderness make summertime in Finland a 24/7 haven for lovers of the outdoors. Often overlooked in favour of neighbours Sweden and Norway, Finland, in fact, holds its own on just about every front – particularly its water ones: 188,000 lakes and a rugged coastline, deeply indented with bays and inlets. The Archipelago National Park on its southwest coast is a jewel in the crown; its more than 40,000 islands make it the biggest archipelago in the world, and with “everyman’s right” you can roam wherever you like, free as a bird.

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Running tours of Cambodia’s ancient temples, The FT How To Spend It

The ancient temple complexes around Siem Reap are spread over miles of dense jungle, and rarely explored solely on foot. Fergus Scholes does just that – at speed.

Run to see the world: it’s a mantra I’ve lived by for some years now. Marathons in cities, across deserts, over mountain ranges and along coastlines have been some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. So upon hearing about a “temple run” through the famous ruins at Angkor, in Cambodia – exploring the 1,000‑ year‑old capital of the Khmer empire not by tuk-tuk, but on foot, at speed – I was instantly intrigued.

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Canyon running and via ferrata in Oman, The FT How To Spend It

The jagged cliffs of the remote Al Hajar range dare Fergus Scholes to accept a vertigo-inducing via ferrata challenge and a gruelling 30km canyon run.

The Al Hajar range, about 50km inland from the Gulf of Oman, couldn’t be further from the glitz of the cities synonymous with the Middle East. These remote mountains are Oman’s majestic calling card, with vast panoramas and topography to rival any of the world’s best canyon lands. Peaks rise to 3,009m above sea level; deep wadis sheer vertically through the arid, untamed landscape.

It’s the perfect place to undertake two extreme physical challenges. My plan is to test out a via ferrata (or climbing route) that opened last year created to explore the mountains’ thrilling vertical elements; then, the next day, join together a series of four remote footpaths – each classed a “day hike” – into a single gruelling, testing run, covering 30km and 2,500m ascents. The trip can’t come soon enough.

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Rowing an ocean: The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge


In December 2013, myself and three friends stepped aboard a 29ft boat to row an ocean. We pushed off from the Canary Islands in early December, and almost immediately found ourselves in a huge storm getting pushed back towards land. After 3 days of being couped up in a tiny cabin, we resumed progress and reached Antigua after 48 days at sea. It was the most challenging and amazing adventure of my life.


13 adventure trips you need to take this summer, Redbull

Now the good times are back, it’s high time you planned a life-affirming adventure getaway. Start with one of these epic trips…

Sharpening your elbows to bag the best sun lounger around the pool at some all-inclusive hotel really won’t cut it anymore. Holidays are now all about maxing your valuable time and exploring as much as you can, immersing yourself in different cultures, pushing yourself physically, making new friends and feeling on top of the world.

Get your fill of adventure with one of these epic trips…
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Trans Atlas Marathon: 280km Across Morocco’s Mountains

Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369) is widely recognised as one of the greatest travellers of all time covering some 73,000 miles, eclipsing his near-contemporary Marco Polo by some way. He was Moroccan, and one of the native Berber people who have called North Africa and the Atlas Mountains home for millennia, many of whom still maintain a nomadic lifestyle to this day.

Mohamad and Lachen with 15 MDS victories between them

Two such Moroccans truly embracing this spirit are the Ahansal brothers – Mohamad and Lahcen – who have made a name for themselves as two of the best ultra marathon runners in the world. Between them they have come first and second in no less than fifteen Marathon des Sable races.  It is no surprise that they have gone about setting up their own event; one in their homeland embracing the true nomadic Berber spirit; an ultra marathon which eclipses most others.

And so the Trans Atlas Marathon (TAM) was born in 2013, and this year will be the sixth annual event.

Key Facts:

  • 6 day ultra marathon (15th – 20th May) across the High Atlas Mountains
  • 285km in total
  • 12,000m of ascent and descent across
  • The highest point of the route will be at an altitude 3,400m above sea level, which to put in comparison eclipses Europe’s highest ski resort of Val Thorens by 1,100m (its highest point is 2,300m).
  • Temperatures will rise up to 35 degrees celsius at the peak of the day
  • The course is marked all the way along, and there is a team of at least 6 medics spaced out over the course monitoring the competitors.
  • The race isn’t ‘self supported’, so we will carry a day bag with only those mandatory equipment needed for that stage, such as your food, capacity for up to 3 litres of water, spare clothing should the weather come in, first aid kit etc. This will likely weigh around 5kg when fully packed. Each night we will stay in tented camps and have our evening meal and breakfast cooked for us.
  • There is a ‘lite’ version available for runners should 280km be too far. This is 120km over the same 6 days, but these competitors run part of each day’s route and then are collected by 4×4 vehicle.

Needless to say, this is an exceptional, unique and challenging ultra marathon, which puts it into a league above most others. Last year there were 47 competitors in total – 35 of whom completed the course, results here – and this year there is a similar number expected on the start line. It is intended to have a personal and family feel with no more than 100 competitors ever taking part in any one year.

This is an exceptionally challenging event, in particular given the altitude and ascent of each day which sets it apart from a lot of other ultra marathons. It seems to have all the hallmarks to truly find your threshold and push you to a level where you might quit. But looking at testimonials of last year, it seems it will be six days of your life which will be with you forever and ultimately make you a better and stronger person.

Trans Atlas Marathon 2014
Sebatian Haag, UVU Sponsor representative and Product Development for UVU

The Trans Atlas Marathon takes place between 12th – 22th May, and costs 1,490eur.

The ‘Lite’ version (a shorter part of each day’s route) costs 1,650eur.

TAM are partnering with Facing Africa. This is a charity battling the acute infection Noma which affects the face, the victims of whom tend to be children under 6. With up to a 90% mortality rate, and 140,000 new cases each year in sub-Sahr Africa, the charity sends out teams of surgeons to treat children and educate to help prevent it. 

My First Desert Ultra Marathon: the 242km Wadi Rum Ultra in Jordan

I was lucky enough to take part in the first ever 242 km Wadi Rum Ultra-marathon in September 2016. After 29 hours and 36 minutes of running over 5 days, I crossed the finish line in second place with the most enormous smile on my face having had one of the best experiences of my life!! It was so totally worth the training, pain, expense, time and commitment.

Here is a short video I put together to give you a flavour:

Background to the race

The race is set in the Wadi Rum Desert, a 278 sq mile sun scorched expanse situated in the south-western corner of Jordan, around a 4 hour drive from the capital city Amman. It is a 5 day event through the most stunning but unforgiving backdrop. There were just 7 competitors in total taking part, so it was a really intimate and friendly race, and this for me was without doubt one of the best aspects. The longest day was a gruelling 70km stage through soft sand, taking around 10 hours to complete with temperatures reaching around 40 degrees celsius – the stage was set for an unforgettable week!!


Here is my story ..!

We lined up on the start line on a rather chilly Monday morning at 5am, the beginnings of dawn happening. All bar one of us had very little race experience of any description! There was one competitor who clearly stood out from the rest of us amateurs; namely the fantastic and legendary Jordanian ultra runner Salameh El Aqra, whose Marathon des Sables accolades include coming runner up in the  8 times, and winning it in 2012!! It was a real privilege lining up with him on the start line, albeit it did make us feel pretty inadequate and ill prepared!


The starter horn went and we all trotted off on day 1. The picture above at the start line from my GoPro moments before we set off!  My water bottle (admittedly, untried and tested, mistake number one!), started leaking immediately, but fortunately there weren’t too many more kit malfunctions to come!


Having never competed in any form of multi day ultra marathon before I was unsure of my limits, and the last thing I wanted to do was to bolt out of the starting blocks and then have to pull out on Day 3 from bad blisters, dehydration or exhaustion. To my benefit was rowing the Atlantic 3 years ago, so from this I knew that pacing and looking after even the smallest niggle is of paramount importance. But now having completed this ultra, I have much a better understanding of my capability and all those elements involved with a desert ultra marathon, and I probably would be slightly more aggressive on my pacing next time.


Above: Me running along side Salameh El Aqra (2012 MdS winner), that was a real honour and one of the highlights of the race for me. I managed a couple of full 10km legs with him (running at 6min km pace), but I couldn’t sustain that for too long ..!!

What is the Wadi Rum Ultra comprised of?

So it’s a five-day event, totalling 242km, comprised of the following stages: Day 1 50km, Day 2 70km, Day 3 50km, Day 4 42km and Day 5 30km. It was actually meant to be 300km (including a 100km day) but after two of the competitors ended up having to drop out from salt loss and dehydration, the race organiser took the decision it was best for all involved to reduce Day 4 from 100km down to a marathon (42km) to make sure nothing more serious happened to anyone. Even Salameh (the MdS winner) backed this, as he too was finding the conditions quite tough.  We would start each day very early to avoid as much of the heat of the day as possible, with the longest day (the 70km), starting at 3am, meaning three hours of running in the dark with head torches and glow sticks – this was super cool, the stars were phenomenal!! But even then by around 10.30am, you’d really start to feel the heat.


Each morning, the course is made by local Bedouin guides who go ahead in a 4×4 and put little flags marking the route every 30m or so for the competitors to follow. Sometimes you would be in a day dream and suddenly realise you hadn’t been keeping an eye out for the flags and that you’d lost them. This happened to me a couple of times, and believe you don’t want to spend an extra minute running than you have to, so this was infuriating and you’d get really annoyed at yourself!! Every 10km of the stage (between 1 hour and 1 hour 45mins of running), there would be a checkpoint, where the race organisers would have a vehicle, check you were OK, and top you up with water, and off you’d go. We would typically be finished by around 2 pm each day, so then we would try to stay off our feet as much as possible, and recover, eat and re-hydrate. You can do all the training you wish, but if you’re not replacing lost salts and re-fuelling, you could find yourself in some trouble!


Above: Lee Fudge, the Safety Officer, topping my bottle up whilst I take a moment’s rest!

Conditions on the whole were quite favourable, other than it being very hot, I would say into the mid 30s. There was no particularly adverse wind. One of the days had very soft sand, and this was so very draining. On the 70km day, I was feeling right as rain at the 60km checkpoint, but the last 10km (in the hottest part of the day, around 1 pm) suddenly hit me hard, the sad was super soft, and I walked a considerable amount of this – it was tough! This was a particular lesson that respect for a challenge and a location like this was not to be underestimated at any moment, On Day 4, the 42km day, the surface was almost entirely baked hard salt flat, akin to running on tarmac, this was quite hard on the joints.

What kind of training was I doing  beforehand to make sure I was prepared as I could be?

I firmly committed to the race only around two and a half months before it, around mid June, so my preparation was by no means textbook! I had a good base level of fitness to build from though – probably at around 3:15 marathon level at the point I signed up – and my focus was then to start upping the mileage from my usual 10-20km runs ASAP! Over the months of July and August (the race being the beginning of September), I would be clocking a minimum of 100km per week. This would be comprised of running both before and after work 6 days a week. My peak week was at the beginning of August totalling 175km, including my longest training run of 60km. It was a complete change in mindset for marathon training, which was a lot of tempo and speed work. This was all about getting as many hours on the feet as possible, even if some of it was walking.


Above: Here are Salameh and I at the end of Day 2 taking some much welcome shade! This was a brutal 70km stage, taking 9hrs 42mins.

What kit was I carrying with me for the day? Did all of it perform well?

We actually only had to carry what we needed for the day’s running, so unlike Marathon des Sables and some other ultras, we didn’t have to carry all our food and sleeping equipment. This no doubt made life much easier and meant we just had a small mandatory kit list (first aid kit, compass, windproof jacket for example), and food, gels and bars for the day, and that was all. So, fully loaded for the day with water (2.5litres) I would imagine the pack weighed in at around 4 – 5 kgs.

Footwear-wise, after much deliberation I opted for New Balance Leadvilles, which were just fantastic. While other competitors were hobbling around and visiting the doctor each night with blisters, my feet were in prime condition and were perfect! You’ll note we have gaiters affixed to the trainer to keep the sand out – these work very effectively.


Above: The start of day 5 .. just 30km to go ..!!

Did I do anything with a charity?

Yes, with the support of my wonderful friends and family, I raised £2,565 for British Exploring, which is a brilliant youth development charity called the British Exploring Society. They work with young adults from all backgrounds aged between 16-25 and take them on challenging expeditions to remote, wilderness environments (such as the Amazon, Himalayas, Africa, the Yukon) to develop the next generation’s confidence, teamwork, leadership and spirit of adventure. As well as this, they also run several outreach programmes for some of the most deprived people in the UK. It’s a great cause.

Would I do it again?

In the blink of an eye I would do it again. No hesitation whatsoever. I intend to be back there this October for the next one, and I am eyeing some other ultra marathons, both home and abroad, in the meantime .. bring on the adventures of 2017 …!!!


Above: Moments after we had all crossed the finish line, this request by the photographer for us all to ‘jump’ wasn’t most welcome!! Competitors: David Radcliffe, Zander Whitehurst, James Whitehurst, Alexander Spencer, Salameh Al Aqra and Mohsen. Organiser: Jamie Sparks, ‘Great Michael’ and Lee Fudge.

The next Wadi Rum Ultra starts on the 7th October 2017 with a total distance of 260km over 5 days. The entry price is a bargain £750, and I would highly recommend this if you were thinking of a challenge for 2017..!!

You can view my short YouTube movie of the run by clicking here.


A 4-day 100 mile quadrathlon expedition race in Norway

At the end of March, I am taking part in the awesome IGO N60 – Norwegian Challenge; a 4 day 4 discipline expedition race set in the stunning Norwegian wilderness. We’ll be doing x-country skiing, fat biking, touring ski, and a marathon snow/ice run to complete matters!! There are two other IGOs this year which look seriously tempting, one is in Montana in August, and the other in Morocco in October. But the N60 Norwegian Challenge has always stood out in particular to me as I have been captivated by the stunning Norwegian countryside for some time, and this seemed the ideal way to embrace and adventure in it.


So here is what we’re in store for in this year’s N60:

Day 1: Ski Touring, 15 miles, 3-7 hours
Day 2: Fat Biking, 26 miles, 3-8 hours
Day 3: X Country Skiing, 26 miles, 3-8 hours
Day 4: Snow Run, 26 miles, 3 – 7 hours

A team photo from IGO N60 2016

IGO is brilliant concept; a compressed action packed expedition race holiday, taking only 5 of your precious ‘annual days’ leave’ and ensuring you’re gonna be totally invigorated when you get back to your desk!! IGOs are based on a set formula; a 4 day 4 discipline expedition race held in the most stunning and dramatic environments in the world. It doesn’t pretend to be a brutal multi day marathon, nor a dreadfully long Atlantic row, rather a very well organised and robust challenge set in beautiful places with a great group of people.

This is an actual, yes actual, photo from last year’s IGO N60 Norway!! The competitors camping in the wilderness under the Northern Lights were just sensational each night

This is the second annual N60, with a total of 20 competitors confirmed as taking part in this year’s race. The organisers have a highly capable support team in place to make sure everything runs smoothly, and that everyone is safe, because not to forget we will be in very remote parts of Norway and temperatures can quite feasibly be as low as -20 degrees celsius, so this safety net is vital for an event of this nature. Those there to keep an eye on us will include expedition leaders, local guides, experts in each of the four disciplines, medics, physios, photographers, videographers.

A competitor during the ski touring stage
Second place athlete in N60 2016, Phil Lowe on the marathon run stage

Competitors fly into Oslo on the Saturday morning, and then have two full days of training with pros, getting settled and checking gear etc, before the race starts on Tuesday. The last race day is the Friday, then we have a couple of days afterwards to unwind, relax and enjoy Norway. I love this format, and this is why I would be inclined to think of this as an adventure-challange-holiday-race … it’s just perfect and certainly beats being sat on a beach reading a book 100% …!!!

Dog sledding after stage 2 for competitors to unwind and have some fun

One of the really cool aspects is that each day, the camp is set up in a new part of the Norwegian wilderness, with teepees complete with log burners being home. As well as this, after the fat biking stage on day 2, all competitors are treated to husky dogsled rides, which again is another component which makes this a unique adventure, with the odd ‘leisure’ orientated element like this thrown into the mix!

Winter landscape road in Lapland
N60 goes through stunning Norwegian protected areas

I am really looking forward to my first IGO Adventure! I am fine tuning my kit at the moment, and I shall be writing a post on this in the next few days (love the kit aspect nearly as much as the adventuring itself .. is that sad?!!). Training is of course also underway, and hopefully I’ll be in with a chance of a podium finish .. to be continued …!!

IGO N60 – Norwegian Challenge: Event dates are from 11th – 19th March 2017. It costs £7,495pp person to have a 5* hotel set up pre and post quadrathlon, and £4,750 pp for a self-catered apartment accommodation pre and post (this excludes flights which are around £100).

Tenerife: A High Altitude Ultra Marathon Training Destination

In just over a week’s time, I will be on the start line of the hardest run of my life. One which has the capacity to get the better of me – the 285km 6 day Trans Atlas Ultra Marathon (TAM). My body is already exhausted and I’m starting to tire of the relentless training over the last couple of months, clocking up several hundred miles of running. But I knew I just needed one more week of quality and focused training to best prepare me for this testing ultra marathon. I have done other ultra marathons, but TAM is on a different level. To best prepare me for this testing mountain ultra, there were two characteristics in particular I was looking for out of my training:

  1. Altitude: The highest point on TAM is 3,400m above sea level, and the course rarely drops below 2,000m above sea level for its duration; and
  2. Ascents/Descents: With daily climbs of between 2 – 3,000metres on TAM, I wanted to be able to replicate this and build strength in my legs and stamina on steep and technical trails.

The weather quickly turned cloudy and drizzly

So I was eager to get in some training which would simulate and best prepare me for this as possible. On studying Google maps for quite some time, and researching best training camps etc, it became apparent at this time of year (late Spring) anywhere 2,000m+ above sea level was going to be impossible without pushing into the snow line, and therefore make any training less effective. I was searching far and wide – Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees – but all would still have snow. I considered Mallorca too as another option, but its highest point is just 1,445m and therefore didn’t really offer the altitude element I was looking for.

Photo 27-04-2017, 18 07 32
A typical view showing one of the trails going up Mt. Teide. Here around around 2,500m around the same level as the cloud line.

Then I stumbled across the Canary Islands, and why I hadn’t thought of this before I don’t know! A volcanic archipelago some 4.5 hours flight south of London with great weather and altitude, it was just the playground I had been searching for! Having set off on my 3,000mile Atlantic Ocean row from the Canary Islands three years ago, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before!

Photo 26-04-2017, 16 16 33 (1)
This was part way through my gruelling 5 hour ascent and descent of Mt. Teide at around 3,000m, and the cloud and wind has set in – it was really quite cold on your hands, and the terrain and trails were really technical – you really had to watch and place every step very with great care.

Tenerife – the largest of the 7 Canary Islands – was the best pick of them all. It has the highest point by a long way (3,718m), and the Teide National Park is home to some 19,000 hectares of brilliant running terrain. Also loads of options for direct flights from London, flights even at this late notice were <£200.  There are numerous well marked footpaths which will keep you very happy and busy for a week without having to cover the same ground more than once.  It is a volcanic island, but there are treelined trails with softer pine-needle covered ground at between 500 – 2,000m above sea level, and above this point you get into much more technical trails where you really get a sense this is a volcanic island.

So that was it, I booked my flight, and headed out there a couple of days later. I arrived on a rather cloudy Monday afternoon, and after the usual battle with the rent car company (although I ended up winning that one after giving it a bump but they never noticed on return!) and headed straight up into Mount Teide National Park. This was about an hour’s drive up windy roads from where I was staying, a small town near the coast on the north side of the island. I put on my trainers and hooked straight into the running, as wanted to maximise every minute of my time out here!!

Photo 25-04-2017, 11 20 54
This photo taken after I had done a morning run of 10km with 1,000m of ascent. This was in treelined trails at between 1,000 and 2,000m above sea level.

Here is what it was like during day 3 of my training: “Drawing in breath as hard as I can, lungs struggling to offer up the oxygen my legs scream out for. My hands are clenched trying to keep warm – it’s cold here at 3,300m above sea level. The weather has unexpectedly turned and I find myself ill equipped on this training run. Two and a half hours in and not even half way, my pace is now just a walk – medium to small length strides – and concern and fatigue are battling to occupy my mind. The steep treacherous trail winds its way up the volcano, made of sharp boulders and loose shale. Now covered in moisture, eyes scanning and trying to select a secure footing to avoid slipping, a long way from anyone or any help.”

Whilst out there, I hooked up with a great local runner, Marnix Mortier, who has run many ultras in his time and a real font of knowledge of Tenerife, trails and running generally. He was a guide for me on some days, and we ran together on a couple of the routes. He operates Tenerife Trail Running Sports, TTR, which specialise in offering bespoke running / hiking holidays on the island. They’re a great shout if you don’t want to do lots of research yourself and plug straight into a great setup.

I managed to squeeze in a total of 6 runs whilst out there, with a total of 130km of running and 10,500m of ascent and descent. Here is the daily breakdown of the training I did:

  • Monday: 16km, 1hr 29min 1,200m +/-, altitude 2,100m+
  • Tuesday am: 20km, 2hr 15min, 2,000m +/-, altitude 1,000 – 2,000m
  • Tuesday pm: 23.5km, 2hrs 15min, 1,200m +/-, altitude 2,100m+
  • Wednesday: 30km, 5hrs 2 min, 3,200+/-, altitude 2,000m – 3,500m
  • Thursday am: 10.3km, 1hr 4min, 520m +/-, altitude 1,000m
  • Thursday pm: 30km, 3hrs, 53min, 3,000m +/-, altitude, 2,000 – 3,500m
  • Total: 129.8km, 10,652m +/-

The highest point you can get to on Mt Teide is 3,500m above sea level. This is the highest altitude I have ever been to. It was really interesting, the effect of altitude, and I really noticed the extra work my lungs had to do to suck out the oxygen. Also it was almost impossible to run, only taking good strides and steps up the steep trails. I can only imagine how strenuous each and every movement would be up 8,000+ mountains – big respect!! Also, it was a reminder when heading out on any kind of longer distance run, particularly up a mountain. to take extra food and clothing in case things go wrong. It got really quite cold and windy when I ascended Mt. Teide – the weather came in and I found I was really quite ill equipped with no gloves, hat and no extra layers, it felt a little sketchy at times!!

Photo 27-04-2017, 17 00 00
One of the runs I did up in the Teide National Park, here kinder trails with sandy and less steep terrain.

This was a really worthwhile trip, and I’d recommend Tenerife as a location for running training, or a running holiday where you can mix in other more leisurely activities too! I for sure feel much more prepared for the Trans Atlas Marathon after this. I experienced similar altitudes, steep slopes, technical trails and terrain – everything from sharp volcanic boulders to scree slopes to tree lined narrow tracks. I will stand on the start line surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, in a week’s time with that little extra confidence and self belief which could just make all the difference when the going gets tough.

TTR Sports Holidays specialise in putting together bespoke running and hiking holidays in Tenerife. 

Google maps with Teide National Park trails marked on. Super handy to navigate and keep on your desired route: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1_JnCXdqaLL0fDw-7NlhvQQUhhps&usp=sharing

The IGO N60° Norwegian Challenge, A Four Day 100 Mile Winter Expedition

I’ve just got home to a rather rainy and grey London, finding myself going through the inevitable re-acclimatisation and come down after you’ve been away on a a mind-blowing week’s adventure!

The native Teepee ‘Lavvu’ tents were our home for the four days of the expedition, each equipped with a fire, they were an awesome home from home!

So for the last 8 days, myself and twenty other challengers took part in a very unique event. We were totally immersed in the stunning and wild Norwegian mountains, taking part in the annual IGO N60 Norwegian Challenge – a four day, four discipline, expedition challenge.

I am sat at my computer with a slightly tanned face (please note from windburn not sunburn!) cracked lips, a tired body, blistered feet to name but a few physical aliments, but feeling so invigorated and uplifted for the week I have just had. This has to be the adventure-expedition-holiday to end them all!!

Competitors warming up on the start line, prior to the ski touring stage on day 1

After arriving out in Norway, we had two days in the resort of Hemsedal for training, kit prep and generally getting our minds in the right place for the gruelling challenge ahead. The event started and day 1 of N60 was underway with a merciless ski touring stage and a near 1,000m straight ascent right off the bat!

Part way through day 1 and the ski touring stage – this was a brutal 1,000 vertical ascent with no relief, and then the freezing winds picked up. The name of the game then was to get off the mountain ASAP!

As we followed the well marked route – with IGO flags placed in the ground every 100m or so – just when we thought we were breaking the back of this stage, the freezing gale force wind kicked in, which was so strong you were almost blown back up the hill on trying to ski down it! After numerous more skin removals / applications, climbs / descents, completion of the course and our camp for the next two days came, welcomingly, into view. I was very relieved to get out of the freezing wind and take shelter, make a hot chocolate and warm up in the Lavvu, a teepee style native tent.

As the other entrants completed the stage one by one over the coming hours – with the weather worsening and closing in by the minute – we would all throw our jackets and gloves on, emerge from the benches and warmth of the camp fires, and welcome them with cheers and hi-fives all round. Even on day one, this collective team spirit was clearly building, and the beginnings of great friendships and mutual support was underway.

Niel crosses the line, jubilant, after completing the gruelling marathon length fat biking stage on day 2

Over the coming three days, we were put through our paces with fat biking, x-country skiing and snowrun stages, with countless stories of personal endurance, perseverance, and pushing on despite the odds. Even with the exceptionally harsh conditions we faced, with the tireless support of the IGO crew, each one of us completed the race and crossed the finish line in Geilo to claim their medal.

For some entrants, this whole experience was completely out of their comfort zone and quite unlike anything they have ever done before – from camping out in the wild, to the freeze dried rations, to the distances we were covering, to the freezing weather and winds, to the disciplines – it was a first for many of us in many ways. But this is when the IGO concept is so brilliant and exactly where it excels, as it brings together such a broad cross section of abilities and ages of competitor who all muck in and take part together. The all important infrastructure and support system is there with guides, medics, physios and full support crew, and if you find yourself in trouble any point on the day’s route you’ll have assistance within minutes.

This was such a fantastic trip on so many fronts, and I will take away many things from it, but mostly the following. Firstly, the sheer dogged determination shown by the less experienced and physically strong competitors – it was so inspirational how they would keep on and on, despite being on the day’s route for twice as long as I was in worse weather. I didn’t want to be out on the course for one more minute, never mind another 4 hours (yes, on the x-country ski stage this took me around 4 hours with the last guy crossing the line in 8 hours, and let me tell you it was very very cold and bitter!). Secondly the friends I made – it was so wonderful to sit around the communal open camp fire each evening, and share stories and experiences with people from all walks of life, and of different ages. To welcome each other over the finish line each day, more and more bedraggled as the week went on.

The team and crew seek warmth around the open fire in the Lavvu tent, tucking into freeze dried rations for dinner

I managed to complete the route first in this year’s N60, with a total time of just over 12 hours. The last member of our ‘team’ (because by this stage, it very much felt like we were one big unit) was participating in the challenge for around 24 hours in total – big respect to them! I did particularly enjoy spraying an entire Jeroboam of G.H.Mumm champagne with the podium celebration – that was a first for me!

It was such a fantastic week, and one which I can’t recommend enough. You’ll have a great adventure for sure. There are also two other IGO Challenges this year, one in Montana in August, and one in Morocco in October, and I’m seriously tempted to take on all three if I can .. watch this space!!!

Check out the full kit list I used for the IGO N60 here

IGO N60 – Norwegian Challenge. 2018 dates TBC

IGO W114 – Montana Challenge. Dates: 12-20th August 2017. Disciplines: Swim Run, Mountain Bike, Kayak, Plains Run. Price: 3,895usd (excl flights)

IGO NW05 – Moroccan Challenge. Dates: 1st – 8th October 2017. Disciplines: Desert Bike, Kayak, Mountain Bike, Atlas Scramble. Price: 3,495gbp (excl flights)

Photo Credits: Jonny Fenn & Nico Wills