THELONG WAYROUND

Mark Beau­mont has rid­den around the world on a bike be­fore – but this time, he’s aim­ing to do it in an as­ton­ish­ing 80 days or less. MF meets a man who knows ex­actly where he’s go­ing

Men's Fitness - - Features | Mark Beaumont - Words Joel Snape

At this point in the 21st cen­tury, most records are bro­ken by tiny in­cre­ments. This isn’t sur­pris­ing: the easy gains are gone, train­ing the­ory is (fairly) well un­der­stood, and tech­nol­ogy and mar­ginal gains can only do so much. And while cycling around the world hasn’t had any photo fin­ishes (yet), it’s still a hotly con­tested event. Since Mark Beau­mont first tack­led the dis­tance for time in 2008, the record has dropped from 194 days to an of­fi­cial 123, with a cou­ple of ef­forts in the lower 100s ei­ther dis­qual­i­fied or un­rat­i­fied by Guin­ness.

It’s an un­for­giv­ing chal­lenge, re­ly­ing on ev­ery­thing from the weather to bor­der cross­ings go­ing right – and that’s be­fore you get to the lo­gis­tics of cycling hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres a day with­out your body break­ing down. So how fast does Beau­mont think he can do it now? Well… ev­ery­one re­mem­bers Phileas Fogg, right?

FOGGY THINK­ING

To be clear, Beau­mont’s bas­ing his record ef­fort on more than a clas­sic Jules Verne novel. Af­ter climb­ing moun­tains, row­ing the At­lantic and a stint as a TV pre­sen­ter dur­ing the 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games – he fol­lowed the baton re­lay around the globe – the 34-year-old Scots­man started to plan a new chal­lenge.

“For a re­cently re­tired ath­lete whose job it is to lis­ten to young ath­letes talk­ing about train­ing to be their very best… well, it’s kind of a mixed dose of in­spi­ra­tion and jeal­ousy,” he ex­plains. “I just couldn’t re­move my­self from that pas­sion that they had in that jour­ney they were on. I sat down with my team and my fam­ily and said ‘Look, I’m not done yet.’ At 34, as an en­durance ath­lete, I’m prob­a­bly in my phys­i­cal and men­tal prime. I can al­ways come back to be­ing a TV pre­sen­ter in ten years.”

With his sights set on the world, in 2015 he set off on his first train­ing ride: along the 10,812km route from Cairo to Cape Town. “It was al­ways about the world,” says Beau­mont. “Ev­ery­thing else is small talk. I mean, there’s lots of other amaz­ing bike rides you can do, but the cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion is the ul­ti­mate. Cairo to Cape Town is quite neatly a third of the world in terms of dis­tance, and I took 18 days off that record, so…”

Mul­ti­ply­ing that by three, he was pretty sure he could have a crack at the cur­rent world record. “In Africa I was rid­ing fully un­sup­ported, so I was food ra­tioning, water ra­tioning, find­ing a safe place to sleep… That’s when I started to build the con­fi­dence.”

MAN WITH THE PLAN

That’s when Beau­mont started test­ing the wa­ters. “About 18 months ago I set on this idea, this hy­poth­e­sis, that maybe you could do it in 80 days,” he says. “Then a year ago we turned that hy­poth­e­sis into a plan. If you’ve got the right team work­ing at the right in­ten­sity, all the lo­gis­tics in place and the abil­ity to men­tally hack it, yeah, you can do it. It’d be 75 days of rid­ing, 220 miles [354km] a day, five days for flights and a small mar­gin of con­tin­gency.” Beau­mont has changed his orig­i­nal route slightly to make bor­der lo­gis­tics eas­ier (he’s skip­ping Afghanistan’s Hel­mand prov­ince in favour of go­ing north of the Hi­malayas, for in­stance), but he’ll still need to cy­cle around 29,000km

and go through two points on op­po­site sides of the globe – cur­rently, Madrid and Auck­land are the plan.

So why 80 days specif­i­cally? “Well, there was some dis­cus­sion about, you know, why not just an­nounce you’re go­ing for the record and then sur­prise ev­ery­one by ab­so­lutely blow­ing it out the water. And I said, ‘That’s not good enough’. You never do that much bet­ter than you set out to – you’re not go­ing to try to break the 123 days record and ac­ci­den­tally smash it by 40 days. So you’ve got to be very, very clear on day one what you’re try­ing to do. And we’re ab­so­lutely fo­cused on what it takes to do what we be­lieve is pos­si­ble.”

TEAM SPORTS

“We” in­cludes a team of half a dozen set to make the trip with Beau­mont, in­clud­ing driv­ers, chefs and lo­gis­tics co-or­di­na­tors. Half will go ahead in a sup­port car, tak­ing care of ac­com­mo­da­tion and bor­der cross­ings – some coun­tries shut down their check­points out­side of of­fice hours. The rest will drive in an RV along­side Beau­mont, help­ing him fuel and re­cover as he goes.

“It was al­ways about the world. There’s lots of other amaz­ing bike rides you can do, but the cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion is the ul­ti­mate”

“I’m used to be­ing out there on my own, on th­ese wild­man-style ad­ven­tures,” says Beau­mont. “But this time I’m re­ally fo­cused on per­form­ing, not wor­ry­ing about where my next meal is, find­ing clean water or where I’m go­ing to sleep. The amaz­ing team we’ve put to­gether aren’t just tech­ni­cally good at their jobs – they’re peo­ple with re­silience and tenac­ity. You can’t just be a good physio, you need to be some­body who’s been on ex­pe­di­tions and knows what it’s like – a month and a half in when you’re sleep-de­prived and stressed, can you still think clearly? So, yeah, I’ve got a great team.”

TRAIN­ING TIMES

Per­for­mance man­ager Laura Pen­haul knows a thing or two about stressful en­durance ef­forts her­self: in 2015, she and three other women rowed the Pa­cific from the US to Aus­tralia, set­ting two world records. In the run-up to the at­tempt, she’s bring­ing Beau­mont up to date on train­ing the­ory, among other things.

“One of the big­gest changes we’ve made is that Mark’s just used to do­ing sheer mas­sive vol­ume on the bike,” says Pen­haul. “He’s not used to do­ing Wat­tbike ses­sions and high-in­ten­sity stuff to un­du­late his pro­gramme. Les­ley In­gram, his phys­i­ol­o­gist, and I sort out his di­ary and work out his com­mit­ments, then we do three weeks of build­ing and one week of adap­ta­tion – which is a bet­ter way of put­ting it than “rest”. If you do high vol­ume, you need a pe­riod for adap­ta­tion to take place, or you’re get­ting worse, not bet­ter.”

Beau­mont is also in­clud­ing strength and con­di­tion­ing in his cy­cle train­ing plan for the first time, fo­cus­ing on teach­ing his body to work as a unit. “We’re work­ing on hip mo­bil­ity, tho­racic mo­bil­ity, neck strength,” says Pen­haul. “What we call anti-ro­ta­tional work re­ally helps on the bike, build­ing iso­met­ric trunk stiff­ness. Mark does a move where he has his legs fixed to a bench and has to hold the rest of his body hor­i­zon­tal with his core mus­cles, for a cou­ple of min­utes at a time. If you just do arms and legs and there’s noth­ing con­nect­ing them, you’re not get­ting the most from it.”

MI­CRO MA­CHINE

Beau­mont’s world-con­quer­ing rid­ing plan, which calls for 16 sad­dle-hours a day in four-hour blocks, doesn’t leave a lot of room for eat­ing or re­cu­per­a­tion, so things are go­ing to get mi­cro­man­aged. His sched­ule in­cludes ten-minute cat­nap/med­i­ta­tion breaks to re­lieve the men­tal pres­sure, and he’ll wear cus­tom-fit­ted, med­i­cal-grade com­pres­sion gear to re­duce DOMS and stop blood pool­ing in his arms as he rests on his

tri bars. Dur­ing his one daily off-the-bike meal, he’ll use elec­tri­cal mus­cle stim­u­la­tion while he eats to cut down on re­cov­ery time. Most of the time, he’ll be fu­elling on the go.

“We’re aim­ing for 8,000 calo­ries a day,” says Pen­haul. “It’s a bal­ance between what you can stom­ach and what the body needs. We’ll be mon­i­tor­ing him to make sure he’s not los­ing sig­nif­i­cant weight. His­tor­i­cally he doesn’t lose a huge amount, but his pre­vi­ous fu­elling was a mas­sive break­fast, ride and ride and ride, gorge at night and do the same again – for per­for­mance that’s not ad­e­quate. He’ll be wak­ing up at 3.30 in the morn­ing, hav­ing some beet­root juice and some re­hy­dra­tion flu­ids, then fu­elling ev­ery 90 min­utes through­out the day – bars or a wrap or a smoothie, what­ever he can tol­er­ate.”

Else­where, the team will be us­ing the same “mar­ginal gains” ap­proach that’s paid div­i­dends for Team Sky. The whole team will be us­ing hand gels and bug sprays to re­duce the risk of ride-ru­in­ing in­fec­tion, and ev­ery­one’s on a sim­i­lar sup­ple­ment regime to keep them sharp. Mark’s saliva will be mon­i­tored for shifts in im­munoglob­u­lin and amy­lase, and even his bone den­sity will be mon­i­tored. Cycling might be ex­er­cise, but in im­pact terms it’s a notch down from be­ing in space – or row­ing the Pa­cific. “We lost around 10% bone den­sity dur­ing that time­frame,” says Pen­haul. “To some ex­tent it’s the same on a bike.” This is part of the rea­son Beau­mont’s mix­ing train­ing rides with run­ning: it all helps re­dress im­bal­ances from hours spent in the sad­dle.

NO DAN­GER

To most peo­ple, Beau­mont’s up­com­ing ven­ture looks like a cross between a mil­i­tary cam­paign and the Tour de France. Ev­ery de­tail is ac­counted for, with lit­tle left for the man him­self to do but put his head down and ride. Still, with any huge un­der­tak­ing like this, the tini­est de­tail – a nig­gle in rid­ing po­si­tion, a bout of flu, an overzeal­ous bor­der guard – can make a dif­fer­ence. So what hap­pens if… “If I come home in 81 days?” he asks. “Well, I’ll still have oblit­er­ated the world record by about 45 days. But as I say, this is about suc­cess on our terms.”

Beau­mont gen­uinely has no in­ter­est in beat­ing oth­ers – that’s not why he’s do­ing this. “I’ve got the ut­most re­spect for ev­ery­one else who’s gone for this record over the years. It’s un­be­liev­able, the leaps in per­for­mance in the past decade. I’ve never been a com­pet­i­tive ath­lete so far as I have never en­tered a race and gone shoul­der to shoul­der with any­one – but you know since I was a teenager I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in per­for­mance. I’ve al­ways wanted to push my­self and fig­ure out what I’m ca­pa­ble of.”

What’s dif­fer­ent now is that he’s not pre­pared to take huge risks to do that. “Some of the things I’ve done in the past – the ocean row­ing, the high-al­ti­tude moun­taineer­ing – while sta­tis­ti­cally they’re quite safe sports, when things do go wrong they tend to go very wrong. I’ve now got a wife and two wee girls at home, and my in­ter­est at this point in my ca­reer is to push my­self and fig­ure out what the lim­its are, to re­set peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of what you can do on a bike.”

DREAM TICKET

Beau­mont sets off on his world record at­tempt from Paris on 2nd July, so he needs to be back on 20th Septem­ber at the lat­est. And if he does it? “Within the cycling world I think it’ll be a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in pain en­durance,” Beau­mont says. “As a wider story, though, I’d love for peo­ple to re­flect on what their 80 days is. What am­bi­tion do you have? What dream can you work to­wards? What does that look like? I want to go around the world in 80 days be­cause I would love for peo­ple to fol­low this jour­ney – en­joy it, learn about the world and think, ‘Well, what would that look like in my world?’ It’s un­likely to be on a bike, but ‘That was my 80 days’ would be a won­der­ful legacy from this pro­ject.”

“My in­ter­est is to push my­self and fig­ure out what the lim­its are, to re­set peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of what you can do on a bike”

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