From Snow to Rock – Ollie Stoten
Ollie Stoten on the antarctic for the World Marathon Challenge South Pole Marathon
Ollie Stoten, a long term coached athlete, race team athlete and friend of Tri Training Harder embarked on an adventure in 2016 to cross the Antarctic (1,100miles) with a team of reservists (SPEAR17). After arduous weeks, Ollie can proudly say he has successfully crossed the antarctic unsupported. To top it off, he and his team mates did the antarctic marathon when they finished...because they were there! This champion ultra marathon looks back on what was a very different season for 2017 compares where he was 12 months ago to where he is now and shows that sport, like life needs perspective. [Read about his racing season here]
A year ago to the day I landed in Chile, the final stop before flying into Antarctica to attempt the impossible: a man-powered crossing of the Antarctic continent, as a complete polar novice. In Chile we did our final preparations: packing 3 million calories into daily portions to sustain our 7,000 kCal daily efforts, glueing & drilling the skins onto the bottom of our skis to get the traction to drag our 120kg sleds, and the final adjustments of our clothes to face the constant headwinds and temperatures down to -60degress C.
I didn’t run for months. I spent the entire off-season not running a step, but constantly skiing for 10 hours a day. I got back to England in February injured and thoroughly spent. I set my expectations low for the year, not knowing if I’d be able to walk properly again, let alone run. I went on to have the best running season of my life. So whats changed?
For starters, I missed running. I really missed it while I was away. The freedom of running, the feeling of running, the progression and the pain. Its not like I wasn’t free, I was hundreds of miles from anything in the most sparse and inhospitable climate on earth, but I was still dragging a bathtub behind me. When I run, its just me, my over-sized derrière and the trail...and maybe some water and sugar.
Photo credit Rob Brown (Instagram @Rob.brown26) – Ollie floating down trails...
"I missed floating down trails, hideous leg-burning climbs and sprint finishes. "
I spent months dreaming of competing in a race and having a strong finish. I itched to nail a race where I slowly caught the competition in the second half, then had a strong last few hours, picking the pace up more and more into the finish. I’d entered the Centurion Running North Downs Way 100 miler wishing for exactly that. It was the first proper ultra I had done, back in 2012, and I wanted to go back to home soil with this renewed ambition and crush the final parts of the race. I was injured going into the race and eventually pulled at 83 miles, ruining that dream. It was still a burning desire in me, and I got to live that dream flying across the Brecon Beacons, hitting the fastest splits across the back half of the race and feeling like I crushed the last few hours of the 11.5hrs race.
"Still, I had the most consistency that I’ve ever had."
I was more committed. I’ve been working as a junior doctor in Bournemouth hospital since I got back, usually starting work between 0730-0800, and doing weeks of night shifts every few weeks, or 13 hour days over the weekend. Compare this to being a student, where time is more flexible, albeit while trying to pass med school. Still, I had the most consistency that I’ve ever had. I would wake up between 0445-0530 every day, much to my better half’s despair, and either run a hard speed session or go to the gym. I’d head out at the weekends for longer days on my feet, and ran some of the best and longest training runs I’ve ever done.
Photo Credit of Freedom Racing
I enjoyed running so much more than before. It wasn’t a chore, it was a pleasure. Of course not every run feels that way, and I had to will myself into an awful lot, but I was happy to do this. Holidays became running camps; I’ve had 3x 1 week holidays since coming back, and I’ve been to stay with Tri Training Harder in Portugal for a training camp, then out to the Alps twice for as much running in the mountains as I could manage. And I loved it. I felt alive.
"I came back from Antarctica heavier than everyone thought I would."
I ate better. I came back from Antarctica heavier than everyone thought I would. I put on 11kg of fat and muscle before I went, starting at 90kg and about 14% body fat, and I finished about 82kg. This was great; we’d disproved a lot of polar mythology and been able to do a lot of medical research while out there, but there was no way I could race well at that weight. I met with
and looked at how to slowly bring that weight down to my target 75kg, the weight I’d performed best at in the past.
and by the height of my racing season I was at race weight, not having to shed extra pounds when I needed to concentrate on performance. Eat well was a pleasure when its delicious & nutritious, and planning ahead helped a lot with long and variable shift patterns and nights.
"...Breakfast would become a mix of porridge, scabs and blood"
I also had a new set-point of suffering to go to. The weather got pretty miserable on both the North Downs Way 100 and Brecon Beacons 89k races, but not polar plateau bad, with temperatures in the -50s, constant wind, frostbite and the constant threat of hypothermia. Climbs got pretty hard but not as hard as climbs 1000 miles and two months in, dragging that evil anchor behind you. Muscles have ached when racing, but the pain was nothing compared to having achilles tendonitis knowing you have 1000 miles of inhospitable wilderness ahead. And nothing compared to the pain of waking up in the morning in a freezing tent, knowing the moment you opened your mouth, scabbed lips would tear apart, the bleeding would start again and breakfast would become a mix of porridge, scabs and blood. Fortunately no tears were present at breakfast.
Training in Norway in 2016
Crossing Antarctica was an incredible, life changing experience. It gave me time to think, a lot, about the past and the future, and I realised more than ever how fragile life can be; to not waste time in the pursuit of something I didn’t truly want. There is no point climbing the ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall to start with. I’ve come back and changed a lot in my life. I wanted to become a better runner and a good doctor, and I can at least say that I’m becoming a much better runner than I thought I could be this year.
With an off season ahead involving more running and less stress and huge fluctuations in weight and body composition, I can only be excited for what next year holds.
And so are we Ollie!
If you want to reflect on your season, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get you online!