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T'S almost four years since TV presenter Ben Fogle and Olympic champion James Cracknell embarked on a gruelling adventure that saw them row across the Atlantic in 49 days.

Along the way, the pair faced waves "bigger than houses", a blazing sun that forced them to row without clothes and wince-inducing blisters on their backsides.

"The Atlantic was hideous. I'm very proud we did it but I don't look back with very fond memories," says 35-year-old Ben.

"But it didn't put me off. If anything it fuelled that curiosity about how far we can push ourselves and the boundaries of our own physical endurance."

It was towards the end of 2007 that the intrepid duo decided it was time to hatch another extreme challenge: a race to the South Pole.

"What we liked about this challenge is that a race like this, against other teams, had never been done before," says Ben.

"It was a proper adventure, we weren't going to be led by anyone. We'd stand or fall by our own mistakes. If something went wrong it was our fault, so we knew we had to put a lot of planning and preparation into it."

Both married - James to TV presenter Beverley Turner, with whom he has two children, Croyde, five, and Kiki, three months, and Ben to Marina, who's expecting their first child later this year - the pair agree it takes understanding and supportive partners to put up with their adventurous exploits.

"You know there's no way you can explain it without coming across as selfish because it is selfish," says 37-year-old James. "You're going away and leaving people at home to do something that is self-indulgent."

But after the Atlantic challenge, James says he learned a lot about how to balance home life with going away and doing things.

"I should just butt in there," says Ben. "James actually explained to his wife what he was doing this time, which he forgot to do when we rode across the Atlantic!" But perhaps ignorance is bliss. In the months leading up to the race Ben's family was put under immense emotional pressure when he was diagnosed with a flesh-eating disease.

"I was in hospital for the month leading up to the departure and it was a pretty bleak period because we'd been planning and training for months," says Ben.

Amazingly doctors gave Ben the all-clear with just days to go, although since returning from Antarctica the disease has come back and Ben continues to receive treatment.

"I was just very unlucky and even more unlucky for it to come back," says Ben.

"I hate to admit it but it's probably partly my fault that I didn't recover enough afterwards.

"But there's something you get called summit fever in the adventuring world where you don't think about anything else but getting to the start line or getting to the finish line."

Training for the expedition started a year in advance. "I was certainly always trying to fit in about two or three hours' physical training every day for a year," says Ben.

"Whether that would be tyre-pulling in the park or in the gym on the cross trainer or on the rowing machine."

The team also embarked on mini-expeditions in preparation for the race, including experiencing temperatures of minus 40 degrees in industrial freezers, learning to cross-country ski in Norway and deal with the deep crevasses of Austria, as well as attending training camps in Switzerland and Hollywood.

"Our third team-mate was the actor Johnny Lee Miller for about six months," says Ben. "We travelled the world with him and sadly at the last minute he dropped out because of work commitments - and also his girlfriend was pregnant."

As a result, a national search was opened and Dr Ed Coats, an ex-decathlete, was selected as Johnny's replacement.

But for all the planning, nothing could prepare the trio for walking hundreds of miles while pulling a 150lb sled in temperatures up to minus 50 degrees.

"We had to eat about 4,000 calories a day on the move and then the rest would be in the tent," says James.

"The danger is the situations you get yourself into by being tired and exhausted and malnourished. You don't make good decisions. We came across a couple of crevasses when we were incredibly tired and it was difficult. We made mistakes there or we approached it in a way that we wouldn't do now."

While Ben faced his lowest point in the days leading up to the expedition (not only was he recovering from hospital treatment but his wife had suffered a miscarriage), once they'd started the race it was James who suffered most.

"Maybe psychologically Ben almost has the whole trip whipped away from him and suddenly he was allowed to go, so he felt much more positive," says James. "Whereas Ed and I were thinking: 'We really don't want to be here'."

Shortly before reaching the halfway point, when doctors assess all the competitors' health before they are allowed to continue, James suffered pneumonia and it looked like doctors were going to pull him out of the race.

"If you have to be rescued, it's hugely expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds," says James. "They didn't want to put other people's safety at risk either by me going out there.

"It would obviously also have meant my training had been wasted, but as you have to finish with the same number of people you start with, it would have meant the other guys would have missed out as well and I would have felt terrible."

Having captured the high and lows of their Antarctic experience on personal cameras, which will be shown as part of the BBC Two series On Thin Ice, viewers can expect lots of emotion.

"We did a lot of the same sort of filming that we did on the Atlantic," says Ben. "And yes, there were many, many tears again!" On Thin Ice starts on BBC 2 tonight at 9pm
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 28, 2009
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