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Mark Beaumont: 'If you don’t have the ability to suffer, you are not going to make it'

Trevor Ward
14 Sep 2017

We joined Beaumont for a leg of his world record ride. Photo: Johnny Swanepoel, Moonsport

Endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont touched down in Lisbon on Wednesday to start the final leg of his record-breaking ride around the world in 80 days – and we were invited along to join him for part of the route.

Beaumont is on schedule to arrive in Paris at lunchtime on Monday, completing an 18,000 mile circumnavigation of the globe in 79 days, beating the previous record of 123 days, held by Kiwi Andrew Nicholson.

As we set off from Lisbon towards the dusty, rolling farmland of the Alentejo in temperatures in the high 20s, Beaumont was relaxed, chatty and humorous for a man who had just stepped off an overnight flight from Halifax, Canada, with 16,743 miles in his legs.

Though aware he still had 1,250 miles to complete – including the most mountainous stretch of the whole route in Spain – he was unequivocal about the secret of his success so far: suffering.

'There have been times when I’ve really had to scrape the barrel of my soul, when I’ve been so low I’ve been reduced to tears,' he told me.

'If you were to write the Haynes manual for what I’ve done, it would include all the things like training, aerodynamics, logistics, equipment.

'All those factors are important, of course, but the X-factor is grit. If you don’t have the ability to suffer, you are not going to make it.

'Every cyclist will be able to identify with that.'

But amidst the suffering have been moments of humour. Before boarding his flight from Canada, Beaumont had attracted the attention of a cycling evangelical preacher.

'He was riding with me and shouting to everyone we passed, "Hey, this guy’s cycling around the world."

'Eventually I had to tell him to stop. A bit later he said he’d like to say a prayer for me as we cycled along, and I said, "Ok, fine."

'After he’d finished doing his bit, I said to him I was sorry for not closing my eyes, and he replied, "Hey that’s OK Mark, you didn’t have to close your eyes".'

On the subject of whether he thinks any other riders will attempt the 80-day record, Beaumont is philosophical and frank.

'There’s no reason why it couldn’t be broken. After all, I’m not even your typical cyclist - I’m 6’ 3” and 90 kilos.

'Someone who is 75 kilos and a "proper" cyclist might do it. We shall see.

'But it’s been a life-defining experience for me, and I was the first. No-one remembers who was second up Everest.'

Would he consider doing an event like Race Across America or the Trans-Con race?

'No, there’d be nothing in it for me or my sponsors, I’d be just one rider among hundreds,' he says.

'I’m doing what I’m doing to earn a livelihood and support my family, it’s as simple as that. Is what I’m doing tougher?

'Well, the entrants in those events are entering a long, dark tunnel, but it will only last a couple of weeks maximum. My tunnel has gone on for 11 weeks.'

Waiting with me for Beaumont’s flight to land in Lisbon was his mechanic/navigator Alex Glasgow (who had been with him during the 28 days of Leg 1 from Paris to Beijing).

His phone buzzed with a message from team leader Mike Griffiths: 'Challenge Time is now BST+1. There will be no more changes during Leg 4 to Paris.'

Glasgow confirmed the team has been living in a bubble for the last 74 days, operating in its own time zone to counter the effects – physical and mental – of travelling through so many time zones so quickly.

'We have been putting "Challenge Time" forward by 10 minutes or so every hour during the day,' he said.

Before flying out from his home in the Scottish Highlands, Glasgow had been “fine-tuning” the details of Beaumont’s route from Lisbon to Paris.

'I spend a lot of time working with maps in my job as a forest designer, so I quite enjoy tinkering about with routes, and I think I’ve saved us 3,000 metres of climbing from the original route,' he says.

'If you imagine the idea of plotting 18,000 miles on Strava and making sure we don’t take him to a dead end, down a gravel track or private road, or somewhere with a ‘No Bikes’ sign - it’s a minefield.

'Before leaving Paris on Leg 1, I fine-tuned the route and took a bit of elevation out. On the fly we had to micro-manage the navigation.

'It was more stressful than we’d wanted, going off the Strava route to find quiet roads away from the really busy roads in Poland, but it was worth it.'

But it’s not just about finding the quietest, flattest roads or most direct route, as British Army veteran Mike Griffiths explains: 'We have to find an extra eight miles today.

'We took a short cut to Halifax, so our current projected mileage total is 17,992, and it has to be at least 18,000 for the record.

'So I want us to find those extra eight miles today, though Mark would prefer to leave them until France.'

The other key member in Beaumont’s support team is his performance manager Laura Penhaul, team leader of a record-breaking all female crew that sailed across the Pacific in nine months in 2015.

She’d already been in touch with me two weeks in advance of my arrival, insisting I start taking a course of Vicks First Defence nasal spray to ward off any possible cold infection.

'We can’t risk anyone bringing any germs into the bubble with Mark’s immunity vulnerable. Start thinking that you’re the athlete for the next few weeks,' she’d written.

During the ride with Beaumont, I witnessed Penhaul in action. If she wasn’t waiting to hand up drinks, paracetamol or chicken wraps (part of his daily 9,000 calorie intake) to Beaumont at regular intervals, she was ready to massage him, cook him lunch or attend to his chronic injuries, including a fractured elbow (sustained in a crash in Moscow), and calluses on his feet and hands.

She’s also been Beaumont’s dentist, regularly reapplying fillings to a tooth he damaged in the Moscow crash.

'She basically manages me, makes all the decisions about what I eat, when I rest, so I can just concentrate on the cycling,' says Beaumont.

As if to prove the point, the support vehicle – a camper van driven from the UK the previous night – passes us, and Penhaul shouts out the window: 'Break at 2.07'.

This strikes me as still a long way off – I for one am starting to feel the heat, even at Beaumont’s consistently steady 15 mph pace – until I realise she’s operating on ‘Challenge Time’ which is an hour ahead of the local time.

Penhaul has also been responsible for stopping the growing media interest distracting Beaumont from his goal.

'We are so close to the record, but we have to stay focused, and I have to keep the media noise from getting in the way of our objective,' she says.

But she admits that things will be different on Monday, when a team of police outriders are scheduled to escort Beaumont through Paris to the Arc de Triomphe, 79 days after he started out on his attempt to Ride Around the World in 80 Days.

Mark Beaumont is an Ambassador for Visit Scotland.   
Find out more about his record-breaking ride at: artemisworldcycle.com   
Thanks to Cycling Rentals in Lisbon for the loan of our Fuji Gran Fondo 2.1 bike.

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