Cycling hero Mark Beaumont to tackle rowing record

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HE swings open the front door of his top-floor flat, clean shaven, casual but smart.

There's nothing immediately obvious about Mark Beaumont that screams action hero, daring adventurer or, for that matter, particularly high-flying businessman.

In fact, at first glance, with his comfy cords and striped shirt, standing in his slightly chaotic living room where a copy of the Guinness Book of Records lies tucked under a table and a bike is propped up against the fireplace – his other, a 2000 training bike, was stolen from the stairwell outside last week – he looks more like an accountant or IT specialist than the grizzled, bearded and exhausted cyclist last seen conquering the world.

It is ten months since he crossed the finishing line of a mammoth challenge that saw him slaughter the world record for cycling the globe and then propelled him into a universe of media interviews and glittering award ceremonies, rubbing shoulders with some of the nation's biggest sporting heroes.

Although he has no formal filmmaking experience, he's also gone on to see the documentary he made of his travels receive a Bafta nomination and is cleverly honing himself a comfortable career in motivational speaking. All that and he's even writing a book.

All of which adds up to a pretty remarkable year. Yet if anyone has trouble coming to terms with that, then it's him.

"I have to pinch myself sometimes," he grins, reflecting on how life has changed since he was merely an economics and politics student with a bizarre ambition to ride his bike 18,000 miles around the world in 195 days. "I beat Chris Hoy at the Glenfiddich awards in the sports category – he got the Top Scot, I got the Sport award. Andy Murray and Sir Alex Ferguson were in the same category. Unbelievable.

"It's very strange for me to be in that group and it's not how I see myself. They are at the top of their game, I've never had a professional coach in my life.

"It's certainly a world I never imagined when I started this."

But should he really be so mystified to be spoken of in the same breath as some of Scotland's best-known sports figures? After all, what Mark clearly shares with each of those world-beating sporting legends is an invincible determination to succeed.

And, it transpires, to keep on succeeding.

Today, at his Fountainbridge flat – where thieves last week cut through two locks to snatch his bike, throwing his training schedules into chaos – he's planning for his next challenge. Next summer, he will join 11 other men in a 52ft boat that they hope to row across the treacherous North Atlantic through vicious storms, all faster than any rowers have ever managed before.

The physical challenge aside – a 3300-mile row from New York to Falmouth, three pairs of oars, two hours on/two hours off – there is a mental mountain to conquer, too. That's before you even begin to figure out the dynamics of placing 12 highly motivated and strong willed individuals on a small vessel for 45 days and nights.

Indeed, just getting a place on board required steely determination and physical prowess. "The selection process was tough – six days and six nights sleeping out under tarpaulin, sleep deprivation, 30-mile hikes. It was very psychologically demanding as well as very physical," recalls Mark. "It becomes about personal resolve, about not giving up.

"There's no common physical denominator in the team: the oldest is 50, I'm 25, the average age is 30. There are guys who are 5ft something and broad, others are 6ft 5ins and lanky. The commonality is in the mindset."

They will be led by Edinburgh stockbroker Leven Brown, the first person to row from mainland Spain to the West Indies, and the first rower to conquer Spain's notorious Bay of Cadiz. They will follow the route of George Harbo and Gabriel Samuelson, who completed the crossing in 55 days and seven hours in 1896, with the aim of knocking ten days from their finishing time.

That all sounds quite enough for one year, but for Mark it's simply a chance to prepare himself physically and mentally for what he calls his next "big adventure".

"I've two or three big ideas," he explains. "Next year is my preparation year. I can't say what I'm thinking of doing – they might not be what I ultimately do. But while I'm very much known as a cyclist, that's only part of what I do. Next year, I hope to have a rowing world record, and my main sport is skiing.

"I see things that can combine those and push the mental and physical side, too."

More than that he refuses to say, but it's a fair chance his next epic journey will be on a similar breathtaking scale to his astonishing global cycle ride.

Perthshire-born Mark hit on that idea while he studied politics and economics at Glasgow University. His plan was to work in finance and to run his own business, until he suddenly found the prospect of an office-based job too much and decided cycling round the world seemed a better idea.

"I did a simple sum," he recalls. "It was 18,000 miles, I thought I could cycle 100 miles a day. That meant 180 days. Take one day off a fortnight for injuries or food poisoning, rest and travel, that made 195 days. So that was my target."

In fact, he did it in 194 days and 17 hours, shattering the previous record of 276 days 19 hours. When he raced over the finishing line in Paris in February, crossing at the Arc d'Triomphe from where he quietly set off six months earlier, he was greeted by cheering crowds, a police escort and a media frenzy.

"There was this incredible mayhem," he says, shaking his head at the madness of it all.

"I'd spent six and a half months alone, lost in my own world. It was hard to come back and suddenly hit that level of national and international interest."

His journey took him through 20 countries, crossing dangerous territory in Pakistan, cycling into a headwind for thousands of miles in Australia, being knocked down by a car in Louisiana and then robbed by crack addicts who took his film equipment.

He suffered dysentery and mechanical problems, was heckled by road rage drivers and wore out no fewer than six pairs of cycling shorts.

Yet, for Mark, the only thing that mattered was getting back to the finishing line within his own, personal timeframe.

"Everyone picked up on how much I'd broken the world record by, but what was important to me was hitting my personal target," he explains. "I was in Australia and struggling through the wind and people said 'take a week off, you're well within the record' but that would mean I'd miss my personal target. I couldn't do that."

He ploughed on through food poisoning in Pakistan and monsoon rains that lashed him for 1100 miles and 11 days between Bangladesh and Singapore.

By the time he was involved in a collision with a car in Louisiana – immediately leaping up from the ground, grabbing the camera he'd borrowed from BBC Scotland and filming it – only to later be mugged for his film equipment, there wasn't much energy left to keep going. But he did.

Now, as he looks forward to his next blockbuster journey, his global cycling adventure has provided him with more than a name check in the Guinness Book of Records. It's rather unexpectedly evolved into his career.

Mark is already looking to the prospect of making further film documentaries of his expeditions and expanding his own business of public speaking.

"I think people thought it was a post-university gap year thing, so I'm taking people by surprise by making something more from it.

"It's not something I can do forever, but right now I get to see incredible things and achieve personal ambitions," he adds. "I have a lifestyle that is a real privilege.

"Every day I wake up and pinch myself and say, 'yes, this is what I want to do'."


ROUND-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont is swapping his cycle helmet for oars for his next major challenge.

He will be among a 12-strong team attempting to cross the treacherous North Atlantic in just 45 days.

The team will be led by Edinburgh stockbroker turned adventurer Leven Brown, who is said to be descended from Christopher Columbus and holds a string of ocean-faring records.

The June expedition is the final one of three as Brown bids to smash three world records and raise 1 million for charity.

His 14-man La Mondiale crew has beaten the record from the Canaries to Barbados

and he is now preparing to row the same 3000-mile route in under 33 days, breaking his own record.