Training like the Pros

Submitted by Thorsten on 21st October 2018

Tyre pulling is today firmly established as the way to train all year for polar expeditions where you are pulling a pulk. Three months before our Hardangervidda crossing, I have started training with tyres myself. I may be a bit late, to be honest, but this will still be valuable exercise for me.

There are many blog posts out there on the basics of tyre pulling. The best I know is The fine art of pulling rubber tyres by Børge Ousland. You may as well learn the basics from the best instead of from me, so I am going to focus on the things I learned on top of that article.

Building the kit

For a tyre pulling kit, you need the following things

  • A tyre (duh)
  • A harness
  • A steel cable/bolt and nut/chain/whatever metal part to attach a carabiner to the tyre
  • A couple of carabiners
  • About 3.5m of rope

Getting the tyre is relatively easy. You can look at ads on classified online platforms, where people are often giving away old tyres for free. This is how I got mine. Unfortunately, you can also just find an old tyre in the woods. Just join a local litter-pick and you might be lucky and do something for the environment on top of it. This is where Lauren got her tyre. You can also try asking garages or other places working with cars.

The harness has to be bought. We are using a model from Fjellpulken, but there are other choices available. Carabiners and rope are easy enough to obtain.

Preparing the Kit

Technically, all you have to do is drill a couple of holes into the tyre. What I learnt while preparing mine is, that tyres are very sturdy. You might have to use a power-drill to make any progress. Originally I planned to drill two holes into the tyre and put a loop of rope through it. This plan was quickly foiled by the fact that my tyre has metal wires sitting inside the rubber, so I could not put a rope through that without risking it chafing and breaking. Luckily I had a steel cable lying around that I could use instead.

Basically, that is all you have to do with the tyre, but Ousland recommends drilling holes in the bottom of the tyre to allow any water you catch to drain. This time you are drilling only through the rubber, but another annoying feature of tyres is that any hole you drill into them just closes up again because the rubber just contracts. To get actual holes into it, I had to use a keyhole saw.

The harness usually has two attachment points on either side of your body. You attach a short rope to it that extends in a V-shape behind you. Then you just connect the tyre and this rope with another rope of about 2.5m length using the carabiners.

Taking your tyre for a spin

I went out to the local woods with my tyre. You absolutely have to be prepared to get funny looks and questions what the hell you are doing. I was honestly surprised by how easily the tyre was sliding over all kinds of ground behind me. I had expected it to be way more difficult. I started out going on a dirt road, and during my session, moved across forest paths, fields with deep grass, gravel paths, paved roads, and even through the forest off-path. The tyre followed me everywhere and only once got stuck, and once I had to pick it up and lift it over a fallen tree. I was pleasantly surprised by how similar it felt to dragging a pulk on our Arctic training in February. On paths with fallen leaves or gravel, the tyre tends to collect debris, which adds quite a bit of resistance. The hardest terrain was high grass.

I was out for 5h on my first session and managed just over 20km in that time. I did stop for a freeze-dried meal and some videos in between. My actual walking-pace was about 5km/h. The first 10km felt easy in any terrain, after that it slowly became a pain. I noticed that for me it is just the right balance between being challenging and being fun.

I shared some paths with cyclists and even met one car, so I was constantly a bit worried about people not noticing the 2.5m line with the tyre I was dragging behind me. This was especially obvious near the end when it was already getting dark. Nothing happened, but I will probably take measures to increase its visibility for the next sessions. Lauren is already way ahead of me. She has outfitted her tyre with a kid’s bike-flag and is planning to add LED strips so it can be seen in the dark. I am thinking about maybe painting it in bright orange because that is obviously the best colour anyway, or maybe adding reflectors.

Starting to train with a tyre feels like I am entering the “big league” of polar explorers. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to go 20km right out of the gate. In the future, I will probably go for a bit shorter sessions, maybe 2h each, because they will be easier to fit into a regular schedule.

Training like the Pros

Thorsten

Keen hiker and ÖAV trekking and hiking guide, in love with Nansen. Owner of the most walk-averse rescue dog ever. Ice cream lover, kit junkie, runner and mad software genius.