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Tuesday, 4 January, 2000, 22:21 GMT
Tyre training puts women in Pole position

south pole expedition Catharine Hartley and Fiona Thornewill: Attempt at record

Sitting in a deep freezer, and dragging a tractor tyre for miles are some of the ways two British women have prepared for their attempt at a record-breaking walk to the South Pole.

Fiona Thornewill, 33, and Catherine Hartley, 34, aim to be the first British women to achieve the feat, which they estimate will take 65 days.

Along with the rest of their nine-strong team, they hope to cover the 680 miles to the Pole just in time to celebrate the millennium.

"We're not going to be able to take any champagne with us," Fiona told BBC News Online, "So it looks like we're going to be celebrating with a good cup of tea."

mike and fiona thornewill Fiona and Mike might be the first married couple to walk to the Pole
Fiona's arrival at the Pole will also set another record. She and her husband Mike, 37, hope to complete the trek together. If they succeed, they will be the first married couple to have done so.

"I guess in many ways it can be seen as the ultimate test of a marriage, but we both love adventure and travel and we are very excited about the trip," said Fiona.

"Mike and I have been together for eight years, and married for three, and he has really brought out the adventurer in me. If anything, I think the expedition will strengthen our marriage."

The couple will be raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care in tribute to Mike's father who died of the disease in 1983.

The two women will be keeping friends and relatives, as well as their sponsors and the charities they are raising money for, updated on their progress by posting bulletins on their own expedition websites (see internet links).

And they will be carrying flags representing the charities to plant at the Pole.

Fiona, a recruitment consultant, said: "Obviously, we are very limited by weight in what we can take, but we will be carrying a satellite phone, and will be able to contact the people who are managing our sites to keep everyone up to speed with how we are getting on."

Catharine, a floor manager at the BBC, will be adding slightly to her weight allowance by packing a soft toy in with her kit. The beanie baby will be auctioned off for Sense, a charity for deaf-blind people, when she returns in 2000.

She admitted to being very apprehensive about the trip, saying: "I just don't want to let anyone down. I have been training for 18 months now, and am fit, but I really and truly don't want to let the team down."

Her training has involved running every day on Clapham Common, near to her London home, dragging a car tyre behind her.

bear One of Catharine's companions for the 680 mile trip
She told BBC News Online: "I wear a harness, like I would for the sledge, and it is attached to the tyre which drags on the floor. I think the people on the common are fairly used to seeing me now.

"I also spent some time in an industrial freezer warehouse - Iceland's. I just sat in there while all the packing staff wandered around in their Parkas. I went there because I hadn't really experienced extreme cold before."

Catharine's big problem has been trying to put on weight. During the trip, she will consume an average of 5000 calories a day, and while training she has been trying to eat as much pasta, potato and carbohydrate as possible.

Fiona's schedule for the past two years has been to get up at 5am every day, and to run dragging a tractor tyre behind her.

She said: "I live in a village just outside Nottingham, and there's a dirt ditch next to my house. I get up and put the tractor tyre on and then I drag it up and down the ditch for two hours.

"Its weight is the equivalent to the 200lb sledge, which we will be pulling for 65 days, especially with resistance. Pulling the tyre over Tarmac is the worst, gravel is good because the tyre just slides across it."

Two hours of tyre-pulling completed, Fiona then runs to work, and then goes to the gym afterwards.

On their journey to the South Pole, temperatures will range between -20 and -40C, and they will have to climb summits of up to 9,000ft.

Their kit contains special skins for their skis which will give them grip on the ice so that they can climb upwards.

For all their exertion, the team must try to keep their body temperatures cool while they are moving. In the sub-zero conditions, the worst thing that could happen would be for them to sweat.

Fiona said: "If your clothing gets damp, then it will freeze, and then you have real problems. So while we are moving, we will just wear wind-proof clothing, and save the big warm clothing for when we stop to eat and sleep."

"It's going to be a test of endurance both physically and mentally," added Catharine. "I think just sticking with the project this far, and raising the money to go has prepared me mentally - and physically, we have both been working hard."

Fiona said: "It's something we all want very badly to achieve. Getting the record as Britain's first women will be a really amazing way of starting the new millennium."

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