Why Mark Beaumont's Cycle Circumnavigations Tell You More About Business Than Bikes

To achieve riding around the world in 80 days, ultra-endurance athlete and adventurer Mark Beaumont, is going to have to ride 240 miles a day for 16 hours a day – for two and a half months, to smash his previous record of 194 days. It makes RISING’s head spin just thinking about it, but that’s exactly where he says the real challenge lies. And he says that the lessons he has learnt from a life of adventure could supercharge your career or business...

RISING Around The World In 80 Days On A Bike is an iconic target but is it really doable – how much of this is a leap into the unknown?

MARK BEAUMONT ‘Kind of, all of it! I mean with the current world record being 123 days, this is a significant leap in performance. It really begs the question that if I came home in 81 days or 91 days would that be failure, because you’d still obliterate the current world record? But my view is if we come back and can, say hand on heart, that we left it all out there; this was everything we had, then that’s success on our terms. That’s why I’m not willing to go out there and just say: “Look, try and break the record,” because you’re setting your target based on what somebody else has done.’

RISING Can this approach apply to other targets, in professional or personal life?

MB ‘A hundred per cent. It’s what I talk about all the time and you should do it in anything in life. You see it in business all the time, people say: “Ah, as long as we do better than last year; as long as we do better than our closest competition, that’s success.” Well, that's not success on your terms – when you actually start talking about what’s possible, what your potential is, it’s a completely different conversation rather than just trying to be a wee bit better than last time. I know that’s very flippant but if you look at the blueprint to all the projects I’ve done over the last year, we’ve always tried to create a leap in performance. Not because these are pie-in-the-sky numbers but because we’re always trying to target what we believe is possible, as opposed to just trying to break the current standard. I'd love for people to see this project and basically say, “What's my 80 days?”’

RISING You’re making this attempt with a full support team – does this approach motivate them too?

MB ‘Yes, I think it motivates the team far more because you’re not working in somebody else’s world, you're purely saying: “Well, this is for us to own,” as opposed to, “let’s try and figure out how somebody else has done something and try and do it.”’

‘I had food poisoning, which is miserable when you're riding a bike for 12-16 hours a day’

RISING So, should you ignore what has been done before, in business and adventure?

MB ‘I will say: do your research, know what’s gone before, but for goodness sake don’t base your targets on history; base your targets on potential. It’s blindingly simple but it’s actually hard for people to do because when things go wrong, when you’re in difficult periods in a project, people tend to just slip back to whatever next best is. They say: “Oh well, it’s fine because the reference point for success is what somebody else has done.” Having the confidence to actually stand by what you’re trying to do is difficult, especially when projects last for months and months.’

RISING Obviously there’s the physical side but what do you anticipate will be the toughest mental challenge?

MB ‘Well, I think it's probably a bigger mental challenge than physical, because ultimately any elite-level road rider would be able to do this; whether they’d have the willpower and the want is a totally other question. I would suggest you’ve got to have quite a few years experience of ultra-endurance experience to be able to even commit to a dream like this. The reality on the road, I’d say, is going to be quite insane.’

RISING How will it break down, day-to-day in your head?

MB You need to keep your target pretty short. When you get on the bike at 4am all you’re thinking about is: ride til dawn – that’s your first target. Get off the bike after four hours; get some food in. You can’t be thinking about riding 16 hours a day; it’s just about the road ahead of you and trying to get a march on that journey. The ability to do that is the way you compute it and the mindset. It’s where most roadies would fall short. They probably would have the physical ability but they probably just wouldn’t have the experience or the willpower. I’m not underestimating, it’s going to be extremely difficult but I think I’ve had a pretty relevant last ten years to be able to take this on.’

RISING It’s fashionable to talk about ‘mindful exercise’ – do you find yourself entering a meditative state on these long rides?

MB ‘Haha. No, I don’t. I’ve just never tried mindfulness. I’ve never talked to a shrink; I’ve not got a mind coach. I’m just a firm believer in: get out there, get experience, just get stuck in. I’m sure there’s a lot of useful stuff out there but you can also spend your life talking about things and I think it’s far better just to get stuck in, and learn from your own experiences – understand and build resilience.’

RISING You must have days that almost break you, though – do you have any psychological tricks that you use to hold on?

MB ‘When you're in a particularly tough period in an expedition, with experience you know that that’s going to become your fondest memory. It’s what I call Type Two Fun. So, we can be having an awful day – for example when I was breaking the Cairo to Cape Town World Record, there were a couple of days in southern Ethiopia where I had food poisoning, which is miserable when you’re riding a bike for 12-16 hours a day. And there were broken roads, monsoon rain, the bike; everything was going wrong. You might just stop, you might say “that's too much”. But it’s the part of the ride that I’m probably most fond of now. It’s the career-defining, life-affirming stuff. When you’re in the heat of battle, when the chips are down and everything’s against you, it’s having the objectivity to go: “Do you know what? It's miserable right now but this is the good stuff; this is why we do it.”

‘The success of the project is defined by the bad days, not the good days’

RISING You’ve run a lot of expeditions, what’s the most important personal attribute to have in a high-pressure situation, regardless of the setting?

MB ‘One of the first things we teach is to make sure that you’re more than your technical ability. There’s no point having athletes who are physically able, if when they end up in high-pressure situations, they can’t cope or they look to other people to pick up the slack. That accountability and resilience is absolutely fundamental, and it’s the big difference between just being a straight-up athlete and being able to perform on big expeditions. There’s no point in performing on the good days and then looking to other people to perform on the difficult days. Everyone knows that the success of the project is defined by the bad days, not the good days.’

RISING Being mentally robust isn’t all about toughness, though – does humour play a part?

MB ‘On expeditions there’s quite a lot of toilet humour and dark humour, the sillier the better. Ocean rowing’s a great example, when you’re rowing two hours on, two hours off and it’s in the middle of the night, and your teammate gets whacked around the side of the head by a flying fish. It’s obviously hurting him quite a lot, but it’s bloody funny and it probably makes you row a little bit harder for the next hour. It’s in the moment, understanding what each other are going through.’

WHAT NEXT? In the words of Mark Beaumont: ‘What's your 80 days?’ Whatever you’re looking to set a goal around, whether it’s a sport or a new business plan, ask yourself what could you potentially achieve, rather than what would be just ‘good enough’. When you’re in need of inspiration, check out where Beaumont has got to on his own mission,  supported by Wiggle, and leave comments for him to answer in his on-expedition videos.