G4S Q+A with Alastair Humphreys
Sometime in the next 18 months, Alastair Humphreys will set off on what he calls the first return journey to the South Pole on foot. The expedition –SOUTH – is the longest unsupported (human-powered) polar journey in history. The 1800 mile walk will take 4 months to complete, while Humphreys and his pal Ben Saunders haul 200kg sleds.
Humphreys has dedicated his life to demanding, marathon-type adventures around the world, including a 4-year-solo bike ride that covered 60 countries and 5 continents.
Read the Good4Sports Q+A with Humphreys, and post a comment about what you think of expeditions that take adventurers to remote parts of the world.
Alastair Humphreys likes to get out! When he was 14, he cycled off road across England. After being schooled at Edinbugh and Oxford, he set his course for big adventures and talking about his favorite causes like the environment. He’s paddled the Yukon river in North America, walked the river Kaveri in India, and run the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert.
Our conversation began talking about a mishap during the 150 mile run through the desert.
G4S: When you competed the Marathon des Sables, you broke your foot on the 5th Day. What happened exactly?
AH: I just stood badly on a rock and heard it go CRACK!
G4S: How do you adapt to cope with a broken foot in that situation?
AH: Everyone was hurting to some degree in the race so I didn’t feel I was particularly worse off than many other people. Besides, I had come so
far and it wasn’t that far to go (1.5 days) so I just ate lots of pain killers and hobbled on
G4S: What have been the long-term consequences of that decision to continue in the desert?
AH: None-fixed fine. Perhaps it has made me realise that I can cope with more than I thought I could
G4S: You write that your first major hiking expeditions were taken as a child ( at 8 and then 13 years old). Who was shaping your choices at that stage of your life?
AH: I guess the teachers at the school I went to. At that age I think you will have a go at whatever is offered to you.
G4S: Looking back to your childhood, who did you hold as a hero? And why?
AH: When I was young it was football, cricket and rugby players. But from about 18 it became people like Ranulph Fiennes for really making the most of their lives.
G4S: Now as an adult, who are your heroes?
AH: Ran Fiennes, Lance Armstrong.
G4S: When it comes to physical and mental fitness, what aspects of your childhood prepared you for the endurance events you’ve taken on as an adult?
AH: I was a bit weedy as a kid and not very good at normal sports. I suppose endurance events were something I could do ok at and they didnot require much skill, just a refusal to stop.
G4S: When riding a bike around the world by yourself for four years, what bodily strengths did you discover you had?
AH: I realised that physically if anyone spends 8 hours a day on a bike they will lose weight and get fit. It is as simple as that. No excuses.
G4S: What weaknesses revealed themselves?
AH: Loneliness, self-pity, snatching at my own excuses.
G4S: What’s biggest challenge related to spending so much time by yourself?
AH: Loneliness, lack of friendships and deep relationships, boredom,
questioning whether you would be better of spending your days doing
G4S: You also completed a remarkable Yukon canoe trip. In what way was that trip different from your solo bike tour?
AH: Navigation was easier! Just keep following the river! I loved the fact
that it was truly wild – no constraints of roads, no vehicles, no
towns. Proper wilderness. I loved it.
G4S: What is the relationship that exists between your “will” and your body’s limitations?
AH: The body can handle it, it is the mind that is weak. Think how you boost your performance in the gym when your favourite song comes on loud: your body is capable if only your mind can push it on.
G4S: How much of success in these endurance events is related to your physical shape? And is that shape something you were born with, or something you had to develop?
AH: None at all. I am not an athlete. I am not very strong. I am very normal! It’s just willpower and practise.
G4S: You recently broke the 3-hour mark in the London marathon. How easy would it be for you to repeat that?
AH: Easy, I think, except the will has gone. I wanted to nail 3 hours. Now I have done it I can’t be bothered to do another marathon.
G4S: How much of success in these endurance events is related to preparation (physical, mental, emotional)?
AH: None. It is due simply to getting on and beginning them. Don’t worry about things, just sign up and commit to them. And once you begin them do not stop!
G4S: Your adventures – though unique – reflect the good that can come from sport. For you personally, what good comes from pursuing these sporting activities to the extremes that you do?
AH: Realising I am capable of so much more than I originally thought. Realising that the world, and life, are wonderful and beautiful and therefore not to waste it…
G4S: And beyond yourself, what good does your pursuit of these events do?
AH: If I can encourage a few kids to chase their dreams (sounds very cheesy!!) then that will be cool.
G4S: You’re planning an expedition called SOUTH, where you will join Ben Saunders for an unsupported return journey to the South Pole. When do you hope to go?
G4S What’s your biggest fear when you think about that trip?
AH: That our success depends mostly on finding a finanical sponsor and that is out of our own hands.
G4S: There are a lot of easy, sometimes flippant answers one can give when asked what motivates them. But, when you stop to consider the path you’ve taken since leaving school , why do you suppose you do what you do?
AH: Because it is fun! I love being outdoors running around. I love being my own boss. I enjoy writing and photography. And if I can make my living doing what I love then I am a lucky man indeed.