Published on February 3rd, 2012 | by Adrian Simpson0
Ultramarathon: Chillisauce talks to Tim Williamson, a UK entrant into this year’s Yukon Ultra
Unfortunately there’s no way Chillisauce could take part in this year's Yukon Ultra as the office really needs tidying and there would be no one to water the plants, however, we have been in touch with one of the plucky Brits going out there to pit his wits against one of the hardest races in the world. Adrian Simpson had a chat with Tim Williamson, a 25 year old Lab Technician from Newcastle to try and find out what it’s going to be like, how tough the training has been and why his girlfriend dumped him…
Adrian Simpson: Why on Earth are you attempting the Yukon Ultra?
Tim Williamson: In the summer last year I’d just finished hiking the 270-mile Pennine Way non-stop when I got a call from a mate of mine. He had heard of this race called the Yukon Arctic Ultra and we joked about me running it. He said he’d give me twenty quid if I finished the 300 mile distance. A week later I applied to compete in the race. I think he’s pretty worried about parting with his money now.
AS: What is the longest you’ve run so far?
TW: The longest I’ve run without sleeping is 104 miles. It was the Hadrian’s Wall route which is only 84 miles long but I got lost a few times in the dark. That was tough.
AS: How do you train for something like this?
TW: Before I started, if I knew how tough the training would be, I would rather have had a vasectomy than gone through it. I thought I was pretty fit – I’ve done a lot of long distance running but this has been a whole new level. My training’s mainly broken into 3 categories; running, weight training and resistance training where I’ve simulated dragging a sled by attaching my harness to car tyres and pulling them along the ground.
AS: You must be eating piles of food?
TW: I’ve been eating my way through the entire animal kingdom; chicken, fish, pork, venison, beef, duck, even pheasant. My weekly food bill has shot up but I’ve only gained 5kg in weight and that’s all muscle. I’m not a fan of all this ‘GM-free organic low fat stuff;’ if it’s food, I’ll eat it.
AS: What happens if you get lost?
TW: That’s one of my biggest worries. If I get lost, I can’t call for help unless it’s an emergency. I can retrace my footprints, as long as it’s not snowing. It sounds a bit harsh but that’s part of the race, that’s why it’s the toughest. I’m not taking GPS – I’m using map and compass. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned like that. I’ve managed without it until now, plus it’s a lot of faffing around with the added weight, changing batteries etc.
AS: Can you give us a rundown of the kit you’ll be taking with you?
TW: I’m taking as little as possible to save weight. There are items which are mandatory for every athlete. There’s the big stuff like my sled, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. Plus my clothing which comprises of 3 layers – base layer, insulation layer and windproof layer. Added to that are my down-filled jacket and trousers for when I’m not running, a stove and fuel for melting ice to have a cuppa. And of course the emergency stuff like extra food, first aid kit, whistle and matches. That’s only part of my kit so you can see it adds up to a big amount.
AS: What’s going to be your biggest issue during the race?
TW: It sounds stupid but I it’ll be keeping warm. I’ve never been further north than Scotland before and I haven’t run in temperatures below -14°C. Frostbite is my greatest fear, simply because I need my fingers and toes to do my 9 to 5 job. I just have to make sure I don’t lose my gloves on the trail and keep to a routine of checking my feet and changing socks at each checkpoint.
AS: What happens if you run into a Polar Bear?
TW: Luckily Polar bears are a rare sight in the Yukon. Grizzly bears, brown bears and arctic wolves are in their thousands however, and they’ll probably see me as easy pickings. For defence I’ll just use bear spray and my natural charm.
AS: What can you possibly do to top this race once you’ve done it?
TW: You mean if I do it? Right now I’m just focused on this race. Afterwards though there is in my mind only one tougher challenge worth taking on; the North Pole Speed Record. It currently stands at 36 days, 22 hours by a dog sled team supported by air drops. I’d take it on solo and unsupported. If sponsorship opportunities turn up I’ll be going for it.
AS: What’s been the hardest part of training?
TW: The hardest part was starting it. At the beginning I was doing 3 hours a day of running and weight lifting and seeing zero benefit. And then one day in late October my girlfriend came over and she was like ‘wow, you’ve been working out!’ Since then my running times have come down and my weights have gone up. It’s been all about perseverance and sticking to a training schedule.
AS: What time have you got in mind for finishing?
TW: There’s a time limit of 8 days but aside from that I don’t have a set goal in mind. I’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort for this – I’m not going to be there for the scenery – I’ll be there for war. I just want to win!
AS: How will you celebrate?
TW: I’ve let my friends sort that one out. After I get picked up from the airport God knows where I’ll be taken. As long as the place is warm and the beer is cold I don’t mind.
AS: What sort of food and drinks are you going to be taking with you?
TW: I’ll be surrounded by frozen water so I won’t be taking many liquid drinks with me. Unless I put them under my jacket, any drinks I do take will soon freeze over anyway. Food-wise it’s looking grim; basically rehydrated food in packets that are full of carbohydrates. Everything is instant; instant coffee, instant mash, instant custard. It’ll be like student living again.
AS: What are you going to do about sleep?
TW: The clock is always ticking so I won’t be getting much beauty sleep. There aren’t any tents or log cabins I can collapse in either. All I’ve got is a sleeping bag inside a waterproof bivvy bag. I’m not planning to spend much time in them though; 4 hours sleep a day is what I’m hoping to get away with.
AS: In these conditions and being on your own, will it be difficult not to lose the plot?
TW: Really difficult. People tend to focus on the physical strain and forget the mental aspect. This race was designed to find the limit of human endurance. When you’re close to physical and mental exhaustion a mile can feel like eternity. In previous races, hallucinations have been common among the athletes. At that point it’s easy to talk yourself onto the next plane home.
AS: Can you tell us about the charity you’re raising money for?
TW: I’m raising money for the LIVESTRONG Foundation set up by professional cyclist Lance Armstrong in 1997 during his own battle with cancer. He was given 20% chance of survival. Two years later he came back to win the tour de France an unprecedented 7 consecutive times. Straight after I applied for this race, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. For the past 6 months she’s been fighting like Hell and raising money for LIVESTRONG means I can fight back too.
AS: Have you got any race rivals?
TW: I don’t have any personal rivals. Although that can easily change as the race progresses. I’m one side of the ancient love-triangle of the French, Germans and British so no doubt that will provide some friendly rivalry. I’ve been sent a load of Union Jack patches to stick on my sled and clothing so the French and Germans know who’s overtaking them.
AS: Are you going to take any form of entertainment with you?
TW: I’m leaving the Xbox at home. Apart from an mp3 player, there’s really not much entertainment to be had. Unless I take a bottle of gin with me. It’s probably one reason why some athletes lose the plot.
AS: How expensive has it been to enter and train for an event like this?
TW: It can be as expensive as you want it to be. Straight away it costs £3,000 for travel, accommodation and the race fee. Add to that all the equipment and cold weather clothing and you can easily pass £6,000. For me I’ve done it on a budget of £5,000. But my equipment won’t be up to the level of the big-named sponsored athletes. Sometimes it’s felt like throwing £20 notes down a well.
AS: How conducive is ultra running with having a girlfriend?
TW: Great for chatting up girls; you sound pretty interesting and you obviously need to be really fit to do it. But it’s rubbish for relationships. My last girlfriend left me in November thanks to a culmination of stuff. For instance I had to wear my socks in bed because my feet look pretty disgusting from all the running. It all came to a head when I was supposed to take her and her parents out for a meal but I forgot and instead was halfway up a mountain in the Highlands when she called asking where the Hell I was. ‘Middle of nowhere’ didn’t cut it.
Footnote: All in all Tim has had a pretty tough year and here at Chillisauce we salute his courage and determination. And not only is he a gutsy bloke but he’s also doing it to raise some money for a good cause with a very personal meaning. If you’d like to donate to the Live Strong Charity, this is the link to Tim’s page.