In less than seven months, Sebastian Copeland and Mark George will attempt “The Last Great March,” trekking 480 miles unsupported from Canada’s Ellesmere Island to the North Pole. He’s aiming to break the current record of 49 days, but perhaps more significantly, to complete what may be the last chance at this classic polar expedition, which relies on being able to walk across sea ice that’s rapidly melting due to climate change. Copeland’s crossing will be more challenging than any arctic traverse in history due to the fractured sea ice and pools of meltwater.
Copeland just completed the first part of his training plan: a 404-mile desert crossing in Australia. Copeland and George used “the same harness that we'll use in the arctic to pull our supply sleds, so the stress on the body will be similar, if not worse,” says Copeland. “I’m thinking we’ll have more drag with the soft sand and rolling dunes, and maybe even a heavier sled. We’re bringing 120 liters of water, so that’s 250 pounds of water alone, plus all our gear.” The two set a record for the longest crossing along the latudinal axis of the desert in the process.
While the desert crossing was a success, Copeland, who is 52 years old, won't be resting on his laurels. He's already resumed his grueling strength-training regime, training six days a week for 1.5 to 2 hours a day using a combination of cardio and circuit training. He starts every session with the foam roller, then jumps on the stationary bike for 30 minutes, getting his heart rate to 150–160 beats per minute and holding it there for the duration of the ride. Next comes circuit training with a focus on core, legs, and glutes, and some upper body (pull-ups, bicep curls) added in for overall muscle balance.
“I typically cycle between 8–10 exercises in the circuit, with three of those being abs from each of the three angles — upper, lower, and side,” says Copeland. “For muscular strength and endurance, I definitely favor TRX and calisthenics, like squats on a BOSU ball and burped-style push-ups on the BOSU ball, to machines.”
Some of Copeland’s go-to exercises include dead lifts with 100 pounds, TRX mountain climbers (three sets of 50) for core, and the “monster walk” using lateral bands for glutes and legs. To best prepare for the desert crossing, he added in more upper body than usual, specifically for the triceps, in anticipation of the need to push the sled up sand dunes.
“The people who come back from the gym and tell me they’re energized, well, I think they’re not training hard enough,” Copeland says. “I’m exhausted when I get home. I take a shower and get in bed with my computer so I can be horizontal for 30-60 minutes. The pain of training is very much part of it.”
Six weeks out from the arctic expedition, Copeland will add in an extra workout where he hitches a large truck tire to his harness and hauls it for an hour on the dirt paths near his home in Los Angeles, or on the beach. He hopes to build up to being able to do two of those workouts per week, in addition to the six cardio/circuit-training days. Sunday is always his off day, where he goes on an easy bike ride with his wife or takes a long walk with his toddler and new baby.
For all his physical efforts, Copeland feels the most critical preparation is his head game. Each night before bed, he visualizes the conditions of the expedition, what it’s going to look like and feel like to be there. “It’s mental equity,” he says. “It’s something I do naturally, and have come to realize plays a big part in building my drive and motivation so that once I get out there, I don’t quit.”