Mark Beaumont Q&A
Tell us about your latest challenge.
The Artemis World Cycle is an attempt to cycle around the planet in 80 days starting in Paris on July 2nd,. This fully supported Guinness World Record attempt would take 43 days off the current time, which is 123 days, covering 240 miles a day. As a training ride, I completed a 3300-mile route around the coastline of Britain during April. It gave my support team, and myself, the confidence that we can sustain this gruelling 80-day pace. This project has been 3 years in the planning, and my support team will be relying on a huge amount of research and carefully planned logistics to keep me on course. All I need to do is cycle my bike for 16 hours a day, every day!
Are you prepared for the Artemis World Cycle, and your 80-day mission?
I know what I have got myself into! I’ve cycled around the world ten years ago, but that was unsupported, trying to find safe water, my next meal and camping at the roadside. This time, I’m fully supported, which means I’ve got a support vehicle and a media vehicle, and I am purely focused on performance. As an athlete it’s exciting to have this chance to push my body and mind to it’s limit, figuring out what is possible without the compromises of the ‘wild man’ adventures and the time constraint of filming my own documentary. Getting around the World in 80 days means 75 days cycling 240 miles a day, with 3 days of flights and 2 days of contingency. During the Around Britain we managed 80 day pace, but not including flight time. This pace would still be a phenomenal success, but my dream is to find some marginal gains to come home in 80 days including flights.
I am under no illusion about the intensity of this task. Around Britain was brutal, but everyone grasped the challenge and I have a dedicated team behind me.
Tell us about your training ride around Britain.
The 15-day training ride for the Artemis World Cycle was 3,300 miles around the entire coastline of Britain starting and finishing near London and cycling clockwise around the coast. Getting up at 3.30am every day, riding 4 times 4 hour sets a day, allowed the team and myself to practice the riding, nutrition, navigation and logistics that will be needed for the World. We made lots of mistakes along the way, but that’s why we did it, so we could learn and be confident in the plan for the World.
The coastline of Britain is seriously hilly! And in April we had the best and worst of British weather, so this fortnight proved a seriously tough but worthwhile exercise. I was only getting five hours sleep a night, so sleep deprivation started slowing me down towards the end and it’ll be crucial to try and snatch more sleep during the World. The online comments and support from communities along the route was phenomenal, some even coming out to cheer me on at 4am!
What is your route for Artemis World Cycle?
The 18,000 mile race around the world starts in Paris on Sunday 2 July at 4am. The route is then broken into four stages:
Stage 1: Paris to Beijing via Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia & China
Stage 2: Perth (Australia) to Brisbane & Invercargill to Auckland (New Zealand)
Stage 3: Anchorage in the United States to Halifax in Canada
Stage 4: Lisbon to Paris
What kind of a bike and what type of technology will you be using?
The bike is a Koga Kimera Pro, with Di2, hydraulic disc brakes, 47mm deep section wheels, Panaracer 28mm Race D Evo tires and aero bars. This is a very comfortable, but also light and fast racing set up. I am using a Trident Sensors GOS tracker to update my position regularly for online and Guinness World Record verification, and will be uploading my daily ride statistics to Strava.
Will any vehicles accompany you?
Yes, I’ll have a follow vehicle and media vehicle at all times, with between 6 and 8 support team for each leg of the journey. This means that one of these support vehicles can travel ahead if needed, to check the route is clear and safe for me, and try to negotiate quick crossings at borders.
What medical support will you have on the road?
My Performance Manager is Laura Penhaul who is charge of my wellbeing and that of the team. World Extreme Medicine and Dr Andrew Murray will be at the other end of the phone to provide expert medical advice.
What will you be eating on your journey?
My nutritionist sets me a well-balanced diet of about 8000kcal a day. Whilst cycling so intensely my overall calorie intake from fat, carbohydrates and protein will increase significantly, Ruth McKean (nutritionist) and Laura Penhaul (performance manager) will aim to work to a structure that will allow us to achieve this in a manner that should optimise my health and performance throughout the expedition.
Every meal will aim to have around 30-40g of protein, the equivalent to about four-six eggs. Protein is key to build and repair muscles while fat and carbs provide the energy. As I will start cycling at 4am each day, I find this too early to stomach a full breakfast so I will begin with a light snack that has protein, carbohydrates and fat, perhaps yoghurt with fruit and honey. That’s enough to get me going, but I’ll then have a breakfast smoothie about an hour into the cycle followed by a further snack once my metabolism has woken up and a full breakfast at the first four hour stop.
The team will eat together every night on the road to a set of recipes we’ve mapped out in advance. It will be based around one carbohydrate, whether pasta, rice or quinoa, with sufficient protein and fat to provide a nutrient rich meal. Moroccan lamb and spaghetti bolognese will both be on the menu! It’s important to have a fairly natural and balanced diet as you can’t fuel on gels and sports bars for 80 days!
What will be your go-to snack?
My favourite snack while cycling is chocolate, in the form of a tiffin or bar, but it’s important I keep these for treats and not too regularly! Food is such a powerful mental ‘pick-me-up’ and sometimes I crave savoury, like a chicken and avocado wrap, and sometimes it’s something sweet, like a banana and nutella wrap.
Will anyone be riding with you?
I am sure some of my mechanic will join me for a few miles every so often, and some members of the public may meet me en route, but it’s important I never ride behind anyone, as drafting is against the Guinness World Record rules. I am sure that the vast majority of miles will be ridden alone, and to be honest, I often need left alone when really pushing big endurance miles.
How will the support team help you?
As well as co-ordinating my food, water and anything else I need, within the team we have a mechanic, a Team Leader and logistics co-ordinator, navigation support and at least three of the team are trained in emergency response.
Our first priority is to get around the World safely and when you’re cycling around the world you need to be prepared for every eventuality. The support crew ensure we’re completely self-sufficient to stay safe in remote environments. In their van, you’ll find a full trauma medical kit including a defibrillator, through to bike spares including tyres, SPF to prevent sunburn, gaffa tape and everything else in between.
How can people keep up to speed with your journey?
My journey can be followed at www.artemisworldcycle.com, there will be a live tracker so people can keep up to date on my progress. People can also follow me on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram: @MrMarkBeaumont.
What gives you the ability to break the world record by 43 days?
I don’t think anyone has ever tried to go this fast and far before and so this is unchartered territory. I have been building my experience in endurance riding since over the past two decades so have the experience and training for the journey. But I am not taking anything for granted – this will be the toughest challenge of my life and involve a lot of suffering before the finish line in Paris. My performance team have worked closely with me over the last few years to get the optimal set-up on the bike and we have tested my fitness in every way possible. Recovery will be the key to not injuring and the Around Britain training ride prove that I could sustain the schedule.
How will you manage to improve on your previous effort of 194 days? What will you be doing differently to reduce the time by such a huge margin?
Last time was unsupported and this expedition is supported, and that’s the biggest difference. When I first cycled around the world I’d just graduated, no one had really raced for the world record before and I took 82 days off it last time. Since then, more athletes and adventurers have taken these challenges on and there have been further leaps in performance.
As a much stronger bike rider than 10 yeas ago and with full support, I know that I can go much faster than the last time. For example, I set the Cairo to Cape Town World Record (Africa), which is third of the world distance in a time of 42 days solo and unsupported, so if I stuck to that pace I should be able to complete the circumnavigation World Record unsupported in 123 days (the current WR. Riding fully supported also means that I can do more night riding.
There are also huge changes to the bike over the past ten years, moving from a metal touring set-up to a carbon race bike.
What is the biggest challenge you are going to face on this journey?
Physically it’s a step into the unknown. I’ve never pushed over 200 miles a day back to back for over two months. Mentally, I think it’s going to take all the strength and experience I’ve got from riding my bike for the last 20 years. Logistically, we’ve got to get a full support team around the world, going through, for me, unknown parts of the world like Mongolia, Russia, China. So, there’s plenty of challenges!
Are you scared of the task ahead?
It scares me, it’s hugely intimidating, but I’m putting all my chips on the table. I believe this is possible, and it’s my dream to push my boundaries and to find out what is possible.
What’s in your day bag?
Plenty of sun cream to keep me protected in the sun and wind, compression garments and ear plugs as well an eye mask, so I can get myself straight to sleep, and radio headset as well as my phone so that I can keep in contact with my team and family.
You broke the 18,000-mile circumnavigation World Record in 2008. What did you have to do to prepare for this? And what is making you go back and try this again?
My plan was to cycle 100 miles a day, solo and unsupported, for half a year, with a day a fortnight off for flights and contingency – this plan took me around the World in 194 days and 17 hours. It also took 82 days off the previous best time. The Man Who Cycled the World became a BBC documentary and book, which launched my career. This was an incredibly tough project to plan, as I had no track record and no profile at the time. In many ways the hardest part was getting to the start line in Paris – finding sponsors, engaging the media and trying to turn the dream into a reality. Ten years on, I have a lot more experience, I am a much stronger bike rider and I am going back with a full support team, so will be able to cover much greater distances. The circumnavigation is the biggest prize in endurance cycling, just like it’s the ultimate prize in ocean sailing, so it’s where all my focus and training has been for the last three years.
What are you taking on your trip?
This time around, unlike every other trip I’ve ever done, I don’t need to carry too much at all, it’s all in the support vehicles with me, which makes my job a lot easier. It also means that my kit list is a lot longer because I’m not limited to what I can carry on my bicycle. So, if anything goes wrong I’ve got spares for pretty much everything. So, on one hand I’m completely spoilt on this trip compared to the wild man adventures of old.
What are you most afraid of?
Getting an injury and then riding in a lot is probably my greatest fear. There are very few things that would actually stop me, but I know what it’s like to really suffer on the bike! So my priority is to stay, fit and healthy, always protecting myself for the next day. Stage one of the Artemis World Cycle, cycling through Russia, Mongolia and China involves the greatest unknowns – and so it will be a massive relief to get through without delays - the border crossings, the unknowns, and cycling though parts of the world that I’m really not familiar. Once I get to Australia it’s a far straighter bike race.
What/who inspired you to get into cycling?
As an 11-year-old boy, I read in the local newspaper about someone cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and that was it. I was hooked. At the time, I hadn’t really cycled off the farm, but this story encouraged me to pedal across Scotland from Dundee to Oban, just over 20 years ago. Several years later I completed the coveted End to End, and have since gone on to pedal across over 60 countries.
What/who inspired you to take up the challenge of cycling around the world in 80 days?
Over the years since I first pedalled around the planet, there has been a growing desire inside me to go as fast as I am capable. During other expeditions, there has always been a compromise between filming, finding my way and racing whereas with full support and a film crew, I can purely focus on performance and being an athlete. I have worked hard over the last three years to create an amazing team around me, and this is my chance to shoot for the stars and take on my biggest challenge of cycling round the world in 80 days.
Who are the most inspirational figures in your life?
Numerous people have nurtured and developed me throughout my career and on my personal journey. In the early years of my career as a presenter with the BBC, I was lucky to meet David Peat (film maker and photographer) who I worked closely with. He taught me the art of documentary making and the passion for capturing real life for the screen. He was a great friend and we travelled the world together. Sadly, we lost David some years ago, but I carry his enthusiasm and sense of mischief on all my adventures. My mum Una has always backed my ambitions and now works with me full time. It’s a great source of strength to have my family behind me and running ‘base camp.’
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My beautiful wife, Nicci, and daughters, Harriet and Willa. They support and share in all of my adventures. And I love that my three-year-old daughter often comments when I get on my bicycle in the morning ‘daddy’s going to work now!’
When are you happiest?
The periods straight after major expeditions, when there is that unbelievable sense of relief and I have time to relax with my family – that is a short spell of absolute calm and contentment that I always look forward to when I am in the midst of a major project.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In sport, the Africa world record is the hardest fought and my greatest achievement… so far. But as any father will tell you, my greatest pride and joy is my children, they are my world.
What do you never leave home without?
Chocolate – I have a terribly sweet tooth, but thankfully I ride a bike enough to hide the fact!
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Like most cyclists who don’t really drink much alcohol, my fix is coffee, which I enjoy in excess.
What is your most treasured possession?
I am not a particularly material person; my family are what I treasure the most. But when I manage to own an Aston Martin, I am sure that will become a treasured toy!
What is it about cycling that you love so much?
Cycling is freedom, I have never found anything else in life that gives me that sense of flow, and clear thinking. The bike has taken me to the most extraordinary places – both in terms of the physical world around me and my physiological and mental limits.
What tips can you offer someone wanting to get more into cycling?
The hardest part of cycling, like the hardest part of any journey, is getting started.
I understand that it takes confidence to ride your bike on the roads, especially if you live in the city and busy suburbs. So, it’s always best to buddy up, go out with people who have more experience and build your bike skills and confidence.
What is it about the extreme lifestyle that is so addictive?
I have always enjoyed pushing myself, physically and mentally. I was home schooled as a child, so spent most of my time on the farm and in the great outdoors exploring. So, what other people would consider extreme, is normal for me, and I have built my experience and comfort zone for the past three decades to be able to take on these journeys. Whilst I am competitive with myself, I have never entered a race – my fascination has always been where I can go and what I can see in the world, through endurance sports.
What qualities do you need to live life as an endurance athlete?
You need self-reliance, compassion and determination. I am a great believer in taking whatever education you have, and building on top real choice – taking the time to stop and really think what you want out of life. When the pressure is on, I always stop and think ‘What would my 70-year-old self do in this situation?’ – this simple question allows you to prioritise what you want most, over what you want now.
Your achievements are incredible. Can you tell us a bit about your more extreme expeditions?
Over the last decade my travels have taken me to well over 100 countries, some mildly adventurous as a TV presenter and other truly wild as an endurance athlete. The extreme comes in two categories, one being the level of danger and the other being the physical endurance. In terms of danger, capsizing mid ocean and spending 14 hours fighting for my life was the closest I have come to paying the ultimate price. This came whilst trying to break the World Record for rowing the mid-Atlantic. In terms of extreme endurance, I broke the Cairo to Cape Town World Record by a margin of 18 days, cycling solo and unsupported over 6000 miles in 41 days and 10 hours. But the most extreme is yet to come, I believe that it is possible to cycle 18,000 miles around the world in 80 Days.
What’s the hardest or longest climb you’ve ever done?
The Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia has to be one of the longest, hottest and roughest climbs of my life. It came after having already pedalled 100 miles that day, and so I was climbing for about an hour and a half and trying to get out of the gorge by the time darkness fell.
You have cycled in deserts and rowed to the North Pole, but where has pushed you the hardest?
Ocean rowing is physically the most brutal thing that I have done, mainly because you are two hour on, two hours off, for a month, so you never sleep for more than 90 minutes and are rowing hard for 12 hours a day. The salt sores eat at your skin and you are beyond rescue if you were swept overboard. I started hallucinating after a few weeks. It’s the most committed that I have ever had to give, on dry land you can normally stop and take shelter but not in the ocean. Next on the list would be the high mountains, for example there was a point high on Denali, Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, when my team-mate collapsed on a narrow ridge and very nearly pulled our rope team of four climbers off the mountain. It was the quick reactions of a teammate and myself by digging our ice axes into the snow that stopped our fall.
Are you ever scared? What has been your most frightening moment?
Yes, of course, everyone gets scared. There was a point when I was trying to climb Cerro San Valentin, the highest mountain in the north Chilean icecap, when the snow was so wet on this hanging glacier that our snow pickets and ice screws wouldn’t hold. There was no point my team roping together, as if one of us fell, we would all fall to our death. So, we were climbing solo, without protection. I was petrified and every time I kicked my feet in and placed my ice axe, they slipped. After this section I aborted the entire expedition, and turned the team back. No expedition is worth losing a life. And I can still remember how precarious it was, how frightened I felt.
What went through your mind when you capsized midway from Morocco to Barbados?
At the time, I was very calm and analytical, focused on treading water and salvaging the kit that we needed from our upturned rowing boat before it sank. The upset and the thoughts of ‘what if’ came later, once we were rescued – it probably took a couple of months to get over that trauma. It took nearly an hour to get the life raft inflated and the six crew inside it. Then, it was a process over six hours to swim between the life raft and the upturned vessel to salvage the kit that was needed to ensure we were rescued, including the GPS tracker, the satellite phone, the flares and the VHF radio. The first time I dived underneath, I was holding my breath, opening my eyes, which hurt in the salt and grabbed the first thing I could find, which proved to be the fire extinguisher!
Where did you grow up in Scotland?
My first memories are on a farm in the Argyll peninsula, which overlooked the island of Gigha, where my father was a dairyman. But when I was still young, we moved to rural Perthshire – it was a wonderful wilderness, surrounded by hills and forests.
What’s your favourite memory of growing up in Scotland?
I was home schooled for my primary years, and so my fondest memories are of adventures in the outdoors – I spent most of my time working on the farm, horse riding, climbing, skiing and of course cycling. By the time I got to high school, it was closer to Glenshee ski area than school, and my next-door neighbour was the head of ski patrol. On particularly snowy days, if I was up on my schoolwork, I was allowed to head north rather than south! Those days, often on my own, exploring the mountains, were where my love of adventure started.
Where’s your favourite place in Scotland?
I am bias to home, which has always been Perthshire. I live in Crieff, which sits on the highland boundary fault line, that runs all the way from Arran to Stonehaven, meaning that everything to the north is the highlands and everything to the south is the lowlands – this makes it the ultimate starting point for any adventures. Outside of Perthshire, I am always drawn to the west coast, in particular Argyll and the Isles – I recently had the opportunity to film and explore this area and can see why it is famed as Scotland’s adventure coast.
Where are the top places to go cycling in Scotland?
I have previously pedalled the North Coast 500 route around Caithness and Sutherland, taking in the Beallach Na Ba, often named as the UK’s best cycling climb. This entire west coast up past Torridon, Ullapool and Lochinver is absolutely stunning. Even further afield, right on the edge of the Atlantic, I am a big fan of the Hebridean Way, which spans the length of the ten islands of the Outer Hebrides.