Mark Hines a British extreme sports physiologist, ultra-athlete, writer and adventurer will set off on 1st February 2016 to be the first Brit to run the Yukon Quest trail unsupported.
From his experience of running multi-hundred mile routes in arctic, deserts and jungles of the world, and from his deep academic and practical knowledge of sports physiology in extreme environments, on 1st February 2016 Mark will set out to run the 1000 mile Yukon Quest trail from Fairbanks Alaska to Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon Territory.
The trail consists of 1000 miles of relentless wilderness, with temperatures down to minus 50, few settlements and ever present dangers from injury, frost bite, hypothermia, dehydration, bears, wolves, moose and isolation.
Over the years Mark has developed a unique approach to ultra-light, long distance running in very cold environments. He will pull a small sled containing the all the food, fuel and gear he needs for a month. The sled will be 1/3rd of the weight of sleds typically used in long distance expeditions. As the sled is lighter, he will use less energy to pull it and will therefore need to carry less food.
“I consume fewer calories to cover a given stretch of terrain, and therefore need to carry less weight of food with me, which in turn means I can go faster and further.”
One of the greatest challenges in such extreme environments comes from remaining adequately hydrated. Water consumption and consumption of fuel to melt snow is kept under control by managing perspiration down to a minimum. Pulling a very light sled helps with this processes, as does wearing only light clothing while running.
“When it is minus 30, the trick is to remain active enough to keep warm, but not so active that you start sweating. That way you reduce the amount of water you need to consumer which saves weight of fuel required for snow melting."
The amount of fuel he needs to carry will be further reduced by taking food which does not need to be cooked or hydrated with boiling water. It consists of high energy, dried meat and home-made “monster truffles” which contain a secret mix morale and energy boosting ingredients. Another innovation which Mark has developed is doing away with skis in favour of trail running shoes. This greatly reduces the danger from frost bite and further improves energy efficiency; “From my PhD research in bio-mechanics which I have applied and refined over the years, I have worked out that over a long distance, running on foot can be more efficient than going on skis. Skiis are great for going down-hill, but are much less efficient when going up-hill. It is the overall energy efficiency that I am interested in, and this is where I have an advantage over long distance skiers.”
These virtuous cycles are based on Mark’s academic work in bio-mechanics and nutrition, and from his PhD research at Roehampton and London Southbank Universities into exercise physiology in extreme environments. If he succeeds Mark will have further progressed the science of long distance, unsupported light and fast travel in extremely cold environments. But there is more to it than the challenge itself. The adventure has become an end in itself. “I love it out here in the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness. I do feel like I am at home here.”