Mark Beaumont: Why don’t more ex-pros go for the round the world record?

Mark Beaumont talks ultra-endurance as he readies himself to take on his latest challenge, the pairs record at the Race Across America.

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“It’s all over in a week,” Mark Beaumont begins.

“So, in my book, that’s a pretty short race.”

The 39-year-old isn’t being flippant, but when you’ve built a career spending months on end cycling around the world, time must look different. Months become weeks, weeks become days, even after an hour of non-stop discussion on all things Race Across America and ultra-endurance, he’s as fresh as if he’d just had a 10-second conversation with the postman.

Even though RAAM is a shorter race than what he’s accustomed to, Beaumont doesn’t think that will make it any easier. The longer distance races and record-setting efforts are meant to be sustainable but with RAAM “you’re going at a pace where you couldn’t keep going indefinitely”.

“Now that’s an interesting point in terms of psychology,” Beaumont reckons. The Scot will be riding as a pair (they set off four days after solo competitors) alongside Jonathan Shubert for GCN and trying to beat the two-person record, set in 2006, of six days, 11 hours and 24 minutes.

“The shortest record I’ve still got is 10,000 kilometres, the length of Africa,” he continues. “So RAAM is a lot shorter than that, but it’s the world’s most iconic ultra-endurance road race. My entire life has been expedition riding, I’ve never really stood on the start line until GB Duro last year. And that was a reaction to being stuck in the UK because of Covid. It’s a very, very different experience, suddenly being on the start line with other racers, and RAAM is going into its 40th year. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no Brit has ever won it. So it’s quite an exciting prize.”

When racing around the world, Beaumont averaged 25km/h for 16 hours a day in 4 x 4-hour sets. Now, for RAAM, not only will he have someone else to help cover the distance but they’ll also be on time trial bikes, which admittedly Beaumont believes will be “horses for courses”. On a recent 1000-mile training ride they comfortably averaged over 32km/h. “If we can hold that base we will absolutely be on par for the current record,” he estimates.

In preparation, Beaumont has changed the way he trains. Previously, he’s been a classic solo ultra-endurance athlete, able to sit at 200-220 watts all day long. But now he’s built his top end, now able to happily sit at 260-270 watts for one or two-hour pulls. “Weirdly,” he says, “I’m a stronger athlete than I was five years ago.”

Part of the secret to Beaumont’s success is while he is an extraordinary athlete on the inside, on the outside he is your garden variety 39-year-old man. Measured in temperament, blessed with a soothing Scottish accent, and equipped with an ability in his various documented superhuman athletic efforts to let the humanity pour out of him. To show you the emotions you yourself would probably go through if placed in a similar scenario.

“I’m 6’3″, 90 kilos. I’m not the best bike rider in Edinburgh, let alone the world. And yet, that ability with my teams to break records and to win races is because of a process is because of how we all work together,” he explains. “It’s not because of my FTP. It’s just being incredibly diligent about how you sustain these efforts over insufferable amounts of times and ultimately enjoying it. I take a real pride in being a team. There is a real sort of humour which comes from being in a dark place and going ‘this is the good stuff. This is really life affirming. How many memories we’re creating together’. You’re in these environments where you get to see the absolute best of people and it’s great fun. It’s very high pressure as well.”

The core motivation for me? I’m still the homeschool kid that loves going on adventures

Beaumont says he’s often asked if he’s missing the point of undertaking these epic adventures, getting to see more of the world than most but all the while going so damn fast. He says it’s a balancing act between being an athlete and also taking the time to enjoy the “sheer wonder of life and the beauty of riding a bicycle”.

“I pedalled around the planet twice. I’ve done expeditions to 130 countries. I’ve got no interest in entering the same race every year, and just pushing myself as an athlete trying to beat the person next to me, that’s never been my motivation,” he says.

Beaumont taking on the penny farthing hour record

“The core motivation for me? I’m still the homeschooled kid that loves going on adventures. And I think my career has been a fine balance between performance, and it’s actually become more about high performance as the years have gone on, and still wanting to get out there and have great adventures in wild places. And you can do both. You can absolutely do both.”

“Going around the world, we’ve gone 1000 miles every four days. It is such a tantalising way to experience the planet. And I’m lucky to have seen so much of it in different places. But I think I just wanted to make that broader point because high performance can get lost in that sort of blinkered athlete’s perspective of what’s possible. But for me, there’s definitely still the wanderlust and the adventure of it. Otherwise, I would just stay in the UK and race in circles like a lot of other racers do. For me, it’s still got to be a great adventure.”

The only person he’s ever really been pushing is himself. For the first 12 years of his life he was on a farm, working alongside his two sisters. That meant he became physically able and had a great work ethic instilled in him, comfortable in his own space and getting out into the wilderness. He was never in the playground or playing football or rugby until he was a teenager. At first he really struggled with that. He was the kid who rode his bicycle (first riding across Scotland when he was 12), rode ponies and skiied.

“There’s still a homeschooled kid [inside me] that doesn’t like competition. I turn up at sportives because the organisers ask me to as an ambassador and you can see everyone go ‘oh let’s beat Mark Beaumont’. And I’m like, ‘you’ve got this’, I’m very aware that I just don’t like direct competition. I know it’s from my childhood, which goes completely counter to the fact that I’ve spent my life trying to push myself and smash records.”

Why don’t more ex pros or RAAM riders go for the world? It’s the biggest prize out there

So how has he kept it going all these years? How does he keep finding things with which to light his competitive spark when the only person he’s ever racing is himself?

“If you’d asked me when I was 22, ‘how you’re going to keep yourself busy for the next 20, 30 years?’ Yeah, it would have been probably hard to come up with that wish list, but it’s been pretty organic,” he begins.

“The first time I cycled around the world I would have sworn that I was never going to cycle around the world twice and yet so much changed in that 10 years. Both in terms of the record and my experience. It was absolutely right to go back and do it supported and it was a completely different event at the end of the day.”

“Since the Around the World in 80 Days, I did feel like that was my Everest, I did feel that was the hardest thing. There’s nothing bigger than the world. I was inspired when I was a teenager by Ellen MacArthur sailing around the world. I don’t know why more people don’t go for the circumnavigation [record], it’s the ultimate, it’s the world. You know, how fast can you get around Planet Earth? Why don’t more ex-pros or RAAM riders go for the world record? It’s the biggest prize out there. Very few people do it.”

“So, after that, I set my sights on trying to take on some of the world’s most iconic ultra-endurance events. I’ve got two young daughters now. They’re eight and five. I don’t particularly want to be away for half a year at a time. I want to push myself really hard as an athlete, I want to take on one or two big projects a year and I want to train consistently. And I love the variety. A couple of years ago, I was going for the penny farthing hour record and then I was doing big gravel races. Then this year we’ve got time trial endurance with RAAM. There’s so many challenges out there. There’s such a variety of disciplines it’s not like I’m doing one thing. There’s no shortage of opportunities. Crikey, if you run out of adventures then you’ve clearly got a lack of imagination. There’s so much good stuff out there.”

For a man as busy as Beaumont has been, he can’t understand why other challengers haven’t come along, how his records are still standing. He really wants to see them broken. Whether that’s for the progression of the discipline or to give him something new to aim for? Who’s to say.

“I’d love to see it, I hope they do, I really do,” he says of whether the likes of Lachlan Morton will ever take on his circumnavigation record.

“And there’s not a jealous bone in my body. I want to see people going for these records. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I’m racing anyone. I love what’s happened in ultra-endurance in the last 20 years. Bikes aren’t that much better, physically we’re no more able, and yet what people believe is possible has changed beyond recognition. So who’s going to take that forwards? Who’s going to break these records? The ultimate hattrick for me, the big three, is the circumnavigation, the length of Africa, and the Americas. That’s you crisscrossing the inhabited continents of the world. Why have more people not gone for the Africa record? It’s the most beautiful continent I’ve ever ridden on a bicycle. That and the Americas aren’t competitive records to the same degree as 80 days around the planet.”

“I think one of the reasons that pro athletes don’t go for it is because it is a slightly different skill set,” he explains. “With all due respect to being a WorldTour rider, I couldn’t do what they do, but I also think they’d struggle to do what I do. You can’t just naturally leave Ineos and pedal around the planet, you’ve really got to want to do these things. I don’t have the world’s best FTP, VO2 max, and I’m not 70 kilos, but I think my X factor if I have one, two maybe, are just ruthless consistency and the ability to suffer on the psychological side. Can you live with yourself in these long races? To have this skill set and the attention to detail to break these records is a lot more than just being a pro bike rider. And clearly, they would have the ability to do it. Let’s see what happens in the next generation. We have seen it in our lifetimes [endurance] go from touring cycling to racing cycling. These worlds used to be a million miles apart. Ultra-endurance racing is a lot more akin to road racing now, but whether that attracts more road racers into ultra-endurance racing is yet to be seen. I would love to see that happen.”

Thomas De Gendt trying to beat the circumnavigation record? Sign me up to watch that.

Mark Beaumont is taking part in the Race Across America, aiming to break the pairs record with the attempt to be filmed for a new documentary on GCN+. His latest film ‘Around Britain’, following Mark’s ride around the coast of Britain as a trial run for the world record, is now available to stream on GCN+.

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