Tuesday September 19, 2017

British cyclist bikes around the world in record-breaking 79 days

Endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont in April, three months before he started his record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe.

Endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont in April, three months before he started his record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

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At As It Happens, we strive to figuratively take you around the world each night with our interviews — but Mark Beaumont literally went around the world. On his bicycle. In just under 79 days.

Now, the British endurance athlete holds the world record for making that trip by bike — just shy of 29,000 kilometres — in exactly 78 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes. What's more, he beat the previous record by 44 days.

"When I broke my tooth it was literally a case of my performance manager rebuilding it using a temporary filling. Lying there with my mouth open, and her rebuilding my tooth, I fell asleep." - Mark Beaumont

As It Happens guest host Helen Mann spoke to Beaumont on Tuesday, the day after he finished the record-breaking ride with a final stop in Paris, France. Here is part of their conversation.

Mark Beaumont, first of all, congratulations on reaching the end of this journey in Paris.

Thank you. It's an amazing and slightly surreal moment to get off my bike after 79 days of pedaling.

What's it like for you this morning waking up and not immediately getting on a bike?

The honest truth is this morning hurt a lot. I was really sore. I've been on the bike 16 hours a day, riding the best part of 400 kilometres a day since the second of July. So that's absolutely gruelling for the body and mentally it's been an obsession. It's been everything I've been thinking about, so stopping is very strange. It's going to take a while to re-adjust. 

'Attempting a flight of stairs at the moment is quite a challenge. I need to get back on my feet rather than two wheels.' - Mark Beaumont

You mention being sore. Generally though, in terms of just the physicality of being on your feet and not on wheels — what does that feel like?

It feels odd, I mean, decidedly odd. I started from Paris on July 2 and I've not really walked much since then. I've been really supported by an amazing team and we've had RVs on the road. I get on the bike at 4:00 a.m. I ride 16 hours a day. At the end of the day I get back into the RV. I eat and I go back to sleep. 

So I've not really walked anywhere and, certainly, attempting a flight of stairs at the moment is quite a challenge. I need to sort of get back on my feet rather than two wheels.

Now, you planned to do this in 80 days. Were you a big Jules Verne fan before this?

I guess, like many kids, I grew up with that amazing story Around the World in Eighty Days. Of course, that was a Victorian fiction. But I was very much inspired by early adventures by some of those amazing stories.

Keep in mind, the previous world record was 123 days. In fact, I cycled around the world 10 years ago in a time of 194 days. So this wasn't about a marginal gain. This was about taking the 'round-world record to a whole new level.

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Mark Beaumont moments before completing his circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle in 2008. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

It's an incredible achievement. Give us a sense of the route, the places this took you.

So leg one was through to Bejing, so that went Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China. Then across Australia, up New Zealand, which was very similar to the route I cycled 10 years ago. You've got the outback and some of these amazing mountainous terrains through New Zealand. Then, more familiar territory for your listeners, I arrived in North America in Anchorage, came down through the Yukon, northern British Columbia, crossed into Saskatchewan and parts of North America just south of the Great Lakes, and then back up through Ontario, New Brunswick and I flew out of Halifax. And then final, what I call a sprint finish, was up through Europe. It certainly didn't feel like a sprint but it was a short leg from Lisbon back up to Paris.

In terms of the physical challenge of all of this, were there particular moments that were especially difficult for you?

For sure, I mean, I came off my bike three times, which is never fun. Certainly in moments like that it sort of threatens the viability of carrying on at all. I had a crash day nine just east of Moscow, which I got some injuries from. I broke a tooth and injured my elbow. There was a moment where it was a case of am I okay? Can I get back on the bike? Is this safe?

BRITAIN-SPORT/CYCLIST

Endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont circumnavigated the globe in a record-breaking 79 days. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

Is it true that you were so tired you feel asleep while your tooth was being repaired?

Yeah, twice actually, because when I broke my tooth it was literally a case of my performance manager rebuilding it using a temporary filling. Lying there with my mouth open and her rebuilding my tooth I fell asleep.

So you don't go to a dentist in a moment like that?

Well, there's no time. I mean, if I went to a dentist I wouldn't get around the world in 80 days. But it happened again. It fell out when I was riding through Ontario. So by the time we got to Halifax airport, I was waiting for my flight and once again Laura (performance manager) had to rebuild my tooth. I fell asleep while we waited for the plane, literally mid-operation, if you like.

You mention the mental challenge. There must be periods of extraordinary boredom as well as the gruelling physical pain you are going through. What do you focus on? What is it that keeps you going in those moments?

It's probably the most sociable thing I've ever done. I could stand on the London Underground with a thousand people around me and feel lonely and bored. But riding your bike on a journey, which everyone's excited by, with a support team who are willing me through — it was brutal, it was mentally the toughest thing I've ever done — but it's a million miles from being lonely.

Now, as you've pointed out, you've shaved 44 days off the last record holder's time. It's hard to imagine someone is going to try to jump in the saddle of a bike tomorrow and do this, but I guess there will be competitors who are going to try to take that record. If they do, will you try to beat it again?

Go around the world a third time? Not a chance! (Laughs) No, I really hope that does happen. It only validifies records by other people going for them.

It's human nature. I want people to go for them. I want people to build on what I've done and go further. I think that's the exciting thing about sport. It's the exciting thing about human ambitions.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Mark Beaumont.