Exercise in Extreme Environments

Exercise in Extreme Environments is a very valuable field to study the physiological adaptational capabilities of humans. There exist a multitude of endurance events around the globe ranging from the well known Marathon to races covering several hundred kilometers. Some of them take place under climate conditions very much different from the temperate zones.

The “Yukon Arctic Ultra” is an ultra-endurance event taking place in Canada’s north-western Yukon Territory annually in February, with the longest distance being covered: 690 km (430 mi) taking place biannually. During February the ambient daytime temperature can drop to a mere -30°C (-22°F) and during night to -50°C (-58°F). Race categories consist of running, snow-skiing and mountain biking; the participants can enter the distances of marathon-run (42 km), 100 miles (160 km), 300 miles (480 km) and 430 miles (690 km). This way, the “Yukon Arctic Ultra” provides a combination of several interesting aspects of Extreme Environments:

  • intense long-term exertion
  • deeply cold environment
  • isolation and sensory deprivation
  • dependancy on technology (clothes, equipment)

and therefore is a very interesting model to study effects on physiological functions of its participants and might lead to new insights for application in such an environment.

During February 2013, Dr. Mathias Steinach – with the kind support of the organizers of the “Yukon Arctic Ultra” and the consent of volunteer participants – conducted a first pilot study: “Physiological Changes in Participants of an Ultramarathon in Subarctic Climate” on six participants covering the full 690 km distance with regard to energy expenditure, body composition, sleep and heart rate variability and found numerous changes in the respective parameters – the results are being currently evaluated and are planned to be published. From a feasibility standpoint this study was interesting too, to evaluate, if under such harsh field conditions a study like this could be conducted.

The promising results and the smooth realization of the study with the support of everyone involved – especially the athletes and the organizer Robert Pollhammer – have led to a continuation and expansion of these investigations in 2015 and currently in 2017. The study was continued during the Yukon Arctic Ultra 2015. This effort was supported by Dr. Robert Coker from the University of Alaska.

Visit the respective blog-entries which were entered during the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February 2015: Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3, Entry 4, Entry 5, Entry 6.

Visit the respective blog-entries which are currently entered during the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February 2017: Entry 1

These measurements also received quite some media attention as the following press releases show:

Article in the “Frankfurter Neue Presse” (PDF, German)

Article in the “Whitehorse Star” (PDF, English)

Article in the “Medical Sports Network” (PDF, German)

Excerpt from TV-Feature by “Al-Jazeera Canada” (Youtube-Video, English).