Compeed x Wendy Searle #EmbraceLife

5 min read
Compeed x Wendy Searle #EmbraceLife Compeed x Wendy Searle #EmbraceLife Compeed x Wendy Searle #EmbraceLife

It’s never too late to try something new.

That’s the message from polar adventurer Wendy Searle who fronts Compeed’s brand new #EmbraceLife campaign.

As recently as six years ago, the 45-year-old, in her own words, lived “a very ordinary life” juggling her responsibilities as a mother of four with her job as a civil servant. Then things changed. After managing the media campaign of a polar expedition by Army Reservists, she became hooked on the idea of a “big adventure” and testing whether someone with no experience could attempt something similarly daring.

In 2020, Wendy fulfilled her aim by becoming only the seventh woman in history to ski solo and unassisted from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole. It was a journey that took her 42 days. Later this year, she returns to Antarctica with the aim of completing the 715-mile journey faster than any woman has done before.

In our eyes, Wendy is a true inspiration and we look forward to supporting her world record attempt, every step of the way.

Press play to hear Wendy’s #EmbraceLife story and keep reading below for an interview detailing her epic undertaking.

#EmbraceLife - Polar Adventurer Wendy Searle shares her incredible story

From desk job to the South Pole in the space of six years…and now a world-record attempt. Meet Wendy Searle, mother of four and polar adventurer.

Hi Wendy, thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming expedition?

In December this year, I’m attempting to become the fastest woman to ski solo and unsupported from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole. I won’t be allowed any outside assistance, I’ll have to transport all of my equipment and supplies with me and, to break the world record, I’ll have to complete the journey, which is 715 miles, in fewer than 38 days. I know I can complete the distance because I did that in 2020, but this time I have to go five days faster! It’s ambitious, especially as the conditions are so unpredictable, but I’m planning as best as I can to succeed.

You're now experienced on the expedition front but that hasn't always been the case has it?

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No, that’s right. I would not have believed you if you’d told me 10 years ago that is where I’d be sitting now and preparing to do this record attempt. I had a very nice, very ordinary life. I worked in an office and had a young family.

As the kids became older I started thinking more about what was going to challenge me. I learnt pretty quickly that when you start pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens. I started off doing things like Parkrun and kept pushing myself from there. It’s been a big change in lifestyle over the course of a decade. That eventually led to my 2020 trip to Antarctica. And now I’m heading back.

What types of challenges will you face in Antarctica?

The challenges are the same as those faced by the first polar explorers, namely the weather! That’s the key thing. The temperatures will sit between -10 and -35 degrees Celsius meaning there’s a real risk of frostbite at all times. The wind is pretty relentless and whiteout conditions will restrict visibility. In those instances, I’ll just be relying on my compass for hours on end.

In terms of the terrain, I have to be careful of crevasses and then there are sastrugi which are a real pain when you’re hauling all your supplies. They are wind-blown scoops of ice, almost like a ploughed field or a lemon meringue pie, that you have to weave around. Imagine attempting that when you can’t see anything! Last time, I fell over a lot.

It might be hard to believe but one of the biggest challenges is making sure I’m not too hot while I ski. If my sweat freezes, I’m at risk of hypothermia, so I need to pay close attention to that as well.

It sounds like a mammoth undertaking, how do you train for something like this?

For the first expedition, I trained twice a day, six days a week. Much of that time was spent hauling tyres to replicate the weight of the sledge I’ll be pulling with all my supplies. I also spent a lot of time in the gym, running up hills, those sorts of things. Clearly, I need to be prepared for the extreme weather conditions so I’ve tackled smaller expeditions in places like Norway, Iceland and Greenland to ensure I’m ready for what Antarctica has to throw at me.

There’s no denying that the training is a massive commitment. My whole thing is about consistency, I was average at sport at school, I wasn’t great at anything really but by a consistent approach, I’ve been able to make big gains. The physical preparation is huge but it’s definitely within reach if you’re prepared to work at it every day. Sometimes going out and doing those training sessions, they’re a bit boring sometimes but actually being able to make yourself put on your trainers, go for that hill sessions or go out for that tyre haul for two or three hours is what makes all the difference over time.

The physical challenge is clearly immense, but it must also be a mental challenge?

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Absolutely. Skiing for long distances every day is a huge physical undertaking but you can prepare for the physical strain with your training. The mental side is actually far more challenging. In fact, people often say a polar journey is 80% mental. Getting out of your sleeping bag, rolling up your tent, putting on your skis and challenging yourself to a 12 hour day, over and over and over again – that’s when you need to dig deep.

The only way that you can really get your head around the length of the journey and the number of miles you’ve got to cover and the number of hours you’re going to ski is actually not to think about it in that totality. If you do, it just feels like too much. It’s too much to compute. I look to break everything down. It’s a tactic I apply to fundraising, to my training and when I’m in Antarctica I’ll just be trying to get through one hour at a time or targeting the next block of ice in the distance. In the end, it just comes down to putting one ski in front of the other.

Can you tell us why Compeed is so important to you?

Everyone is familiar with the pain and discomfort caused by blisters but on a time-sensitive expedition like mine, they are a recipe for disaster. I have to be focused on the job at hand and can’t allow any form of discomfort to eat away at me mentally or physically. Blisters might be small, but I won’t let them get in the way of my ultimate goal.

Compeed travels with me wherever I go. They’ve kept me on track throughout my training and will be vital in helping me cope with more than five weeks in ski boots as I tackle some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth.

Who are you hoping to inspire? 

I’m dead-set on reminding women, and mothers, in particular, of the huge benefits of saying ‘yes’ to things outside their comfort zone and of doing things they might have put off because a career or family came first. I started setting myself smaller challenges and soon came to realise I could do more than I thought, then the momentum really built and I ended up at the start line of this extraordinary journey.

While I’m not expecting a groundswell of women to start skiing to the South Pole, if I can persuade someone to go for that run they’ve been putting off, to apply for their dream job, to book their holiday of a lifetime, to try something new, whatever it is, then I’ll feel like I’ve shared some of that expedition magic with everyone else.

How do we follow your progress?

In the coming months, I’ll be chatting to Compeed about my expedition preparation and sharing my tips on how to plan an adventure of your own. You can also follow my training on Instagram @BetweenSnowandSky.