PUSH:
Mark Beaumont

Words by Naeem Alvi - Photography by Roo Lewis

 

At the age of 15, Mark Beaumont cycled on his lonesome from John O’ Groats to Lands End. At the age of 24, he broke the world record for the quickest time cycling around the world, smashing the existing record by 81 days. The Quarterly’s Features Editor Naeem Alvi, and Creative Director Roo Lewis, joined Mark at a corporate speakers event in London and then at his home in Perthshire, Scotland, to talk about what drives him, and so many people around the world, to their physical limits.

Mark Beaumont first decided to cycle the length of the United Kingom at the age of 11 when he saw an article in a local newspaper (The Dundee Courier) about a man successfully completing the challenge. After his parents advised Mark to try something “slightly less ambitious”, 12-yr-old Mark and a friend cycled 145 miles in three days from one end of Scotland to the other. Three years later, Mark set off to pedal the near 1000-mile distance of the UK. That’s really where his passion for endurance challenges began.

“10 years later I was leaving university with the ambition to break the world record for pedaling 18,000 miles around the globe. It would be wrong to say I always dreamed of cycling around the world. Quite simply, I first had an idea when I was 11 and each time I came back from these trips the buzz led me to dream up something bigger, better and bolder,” Mark explained.

Home-schooled until the age of 11, Mark went on to join a local secondary school and then graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Economics and Politics. Seemingly heading straight into a finance career, Mark discovered only five people had ever attempted to break the world record for cycling around the world and simply thought, “why hasn’t this been done properly?

“I just thought I’ve only got one time to go for this and risk big… Even with my limited experience I thought I can do that. I reckon I can smash that record and do it properly. And then maybe if I film the whole project, just maybe I can start a career in adventure and broadcasting,” Mark said.

Over the past decade, endurance challenge events and athletic lifestyles have seen a huge surge in popularity, with millions of people waking up every single day to push themselves to their physical and mental limits. Back in the 1980s, a marathon was considered an event for eccentric fitness freaks, but nowadays more than 30,000 people queue up every year to run the 26.2-mile (42.2km) London marathon. On top of which, it seems every Tom, Dick and Harry has completed some form of Tough Mudder or Mud Tougher. For some, marathons don’t even cut it anymore and new gruelling events like Ironman triathlons and multi-day desert races are springing up all over the world.

Timing wise, the boom in fitness and endurance events couldn’t have come at a better time, Mark explained.

“Where people used to play golf and spend time in the pub, it’s now a case of people of all ages simply believing they can do it. Nothing physically has changed but we look at endurance events differently now… Personally for me, it’s a very happy coincidence. With the boom in cycling, it’s made me a leader in the field. Even though I don’t see myself that way, it keeps me incredibly busy. I train with guys all the time who are far better at their sports than I am. The fact I’ve made a career out of this is incredible.”

Despite smashing the previous world record for cycling around the world by 81 days, Mark’s 195-day effort didn’t instantly secure the fame and fortune he had dreamt of back at university. When he set off from the start line at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, just six people gathered to wish him all the best and the low-key send off only managed to garner the attention of one of Mark’s local newspapers back in Scotland. In fact, it wasn’t until Mark was half way around the world when his record-breaking attempt started to gain noticeable media traction.

“When I dreamt this up at university, I thought this would be global and epic and everyone would love it but the reality of putting it together was incredibly tough. I pedaled out pretty much unknown so what massively took me by surprise was getting half way around the world and things suddenly starting to gain momentum. As in the BBC said: ‘Okay, this is great. We’re going to make a 4 part series out of this.’ By the time I’d finished they said they were going to show it on their network and then when I actually did cross the finishing line after 195 days on my own, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe were at a standstill with all the people and press that had come out to the finish.”

“I might have gained national and international fame for what I’d done but I was as poor as when I left.”

Despite finding the global spotlight, when Mark returned home after 195 days of cycling 100 miles a day, it wasn’t just his body that was broken. His bank balance had taken a fair hit as well.

“I might have gained national and international fame for what I’d done but I was as poor as when I left. As a business model it was hopeless because I’d spent every penny getting everything together and it was a good while later before the book deals and the events came and I actually figured out a way that I could make a living from doing adventure. The world cycle and the world record were my foot in the door when it comes to broadcasting. I always say to people you might be good at what you say you do but actually getting to the start and making a business out of it is incredibly difficult,” Mark said.

Six years later, Mark is now a full-time endurance athlete, published author and broadcaster. Further to cycling around the world, he has successfully cycled the entire length of The Americas to complete the first known ascent of North and South America’s highest peaks (Denali and Aconcagua) within a single climbing season. He was also part of the first team to row to the North Magnetic Pole, and recently presented a series of documentaries for the BBC as he travelled more than 118,000 miles alongside the Queen’s Baton Relay in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games 2014. Hearing all this, it’s easy to think Mark is unstoppable but a recent effort to break the world record for the fastest crossing of the mid Atlantic by ocean rowing boat, genuinely nearly killed him…

The full PUSH feature is available exclusively in Issue Four of The Quarterly.

 

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