The planetary cycle challenge
What drives Mark Beaumont? He has completed his 79-day bike tour of the world, breaking two records (and one tooth). “If you can’t suffer,” he says of endurance sports, “you won’t make it.”
At 4am on July 2nd, Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont got on his bike in central Paris and started pedalling. His goal: to cycle around the world in 80 days. On Monday – 78 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes later – he made it back to the same spot and collapsed in his family’s arms.
His time smashed the previous record of 123 days. But not everyone was impressed by his speed: “He’s taken quite a long time, hasn’t he?” said his daughter.
Why 80 days?
Beaumont was paying tribute to Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days, about a wealthy Englishman’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe by train and sea.
Verne’s novel has inspired many journeys. In 1889, American journalist Nellie Bly became the first real person to travel around the world in under 80 days (she did it in 72). In 2014, two young travellers repeated the feat without spending a penny.
Where did Beaumont go?
Guinness World Records sets a few rules. Beaumont had to cycle 18,000 miles, and cross two antipodal points (ie, places on opposite sides of the world). His route took him through 14 countries, including Russia, Australia and Canada.
Every day he cycled for 16 hours, covering around 240 miles (Tour de France cyclists do 105). An average night’s sleep was five hours. When he reached the ocean, he flew.
Did he do it alone?
No way. The trip took two years’ planning. As he cycled, a team of mechanics, navigators and photographers followed him in a camper van.
A key member was his performance manager Laura Penhaul, who organised his schedule, monitored his health, fed him his 9,000 calories a day, and kept the press at bay. She even acted as his dentist when he fell off his bike in Russia and broke a tooth.
I take it Beaumont is an experienced cyclist.
Of course. He has cycled the lengths of Great Britain, Africa and the Americas. He has gone around the world before: in 2008, over 195 days (that time he was alone). His video diaries were turned into the documentary The Man Who Cycled the World.
Beaumont is also skilled in long-distance rowing. However, he almost died when the boat he was in sank during a cross-Atlantic trip in 2012. The experience put him off sports for years.
What is the appeal of such extreme challenges?!
There is the prestige – as Beaumont says, “No one remembers who was second up Everest.” He also has a taste for adventure, noting that “the interaction with the world around you” makes his career worthwhile.
On a more philosophical level, his challenges help him understand the limits of human endurance: “I’m not really out here to have fun but to figure what’s possible.” When he succeeds, he attains “a completely focused and immediate view of the world”.
Are these sports actually good for you?
Yes and no. Endurance sports like triathlons are becoming more popular, particularly among white-collar workers. Experts point to their psychological benefits. They provide the sorts of clear, measurable goals sometimes lacking in office jobs, and the exercise can help with anxiety and other mental issues.
That said, extreme exercise sometimes takes a toll on the body. Studies have linked endurance sports to everything from heart failure to digestive problems. And adventures can often be dangerous; just last week, British headteacher Emma Kelty was murdered while kayaking alone along the Amazon.
What next for Beaumont?
His plan is to “decompress” – ie, chill out. He intends to spend time with his family, and has called on others to break his record in the meantime. Knowing him, however, he will not be out of the game for long.
- Beaumont has been described as a “hero”. Do you agree?
- Set yourself an athletic challenge over the next month. (You don’t have to be as ambitious as Beaumont!) Keep a diary of your progress, noting any changes in your body or mind.
- Beaumont also broke another record, the greatest distance cycled in one month: 7,031 miles.
- Two young travellers
- Milan Bihlmann and Muammer Yilmaz managed by hitchhiking, sleeping at strangers’ homes and blagging free tickets from travel companies. See The Daily Mail’s article in Become An Expert.
- Guinness World Records
- The world’s most authoritative organisation devoted to tracking world records. It publishes a reference book every year.
- Camper van
- The team narrowly escaped disaster when the van was hit by a car in Australia. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the vehicle was replaced.
- Laura Penhaul
- A successful endurance athlete in her own right, Penhaul led the team of female rowers who crossed the Pacific Ocean in 2016.
- Who was second up Everest
- After Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first successful ascent in 1953, the next people to reach the summit were four Swiss in 1956.
- White-collar workers
- People who work in offices or similar settings – as opposed to blue-collar workers, who do manual jobs. Endurance sports are expensive; white-collar workers tend to earn more.