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I’m off to climb Mount Everest…

Thursday, March 31, 2011 AT 19:33 PM Comments9 Comments

After nearly 31 years of waiting, dreaming and preparing, this Saturday is finally the day I set off to Nepal to attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest.

30 years is genuinely not an exaggeration of how long I’ve wanted to climb to the roof of the world, as it seems to me to have been an ambition of mine ever since I became conscious of my own existence, and if all goes to plan I’ll be celebrating my 31st birthday, after a number of weeks of acclimatization climbs on the mountain, setting off from advanced base camp for the summit.

I’ve had two very different responses recently, to me saying I’m climbing Mount Everest, one from down south, “that’s fantastic, excellent, good for you, I wish you the very best of luck”, and one from up north, “what d’ya want t’ d’ that f’ y’ knob?”. I thought it showed an obvious north-south divide in aspiration thought processes, although I wouldn’t want generalise, and I genuinely don’t know which I prefer as a response (I do like my fellow northerner’s grounded response) but I think it simply shows that in some, and not in others there is the basic question of ‘why’?

I haven’t ever aspired to venture to the places that I’ve already been or those I’ll continue to endeavour to go to because I’ve seen other’s before me go and either succeed or fail, but more so I choose, not an expedition, but more a place or a cluster of moments of time, not because they are, certainly not in this day and age, at all sensational, or that they create (unjustifiable) media storms that will feed ones ego and raise ones profile, as in any case my ego was beaten out of me a long time ago, but because, simply, for whatever reason, a reason I don’t understand, they just mean something to me.

Everest creates no real media interest these days as many have been before and many have succeeded and failed, and for the most part, like with most expeditions, no one really cares, and it certainly doesn’t prove anything, or give any value to anything or anyone, but for me* to climb Everest would be special. I remember vividly, as a child, making a promise to myself, that one day, I would go and climb the highest mountain in the world, and I’m going to keep that promise. *(This is not ‘for charity’).

There are a number of stories from the mountain that have fuelled my desire over the years, of course starting with the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who first summited Everest in 1953. To do something first is what captures peoples imagine but the story and dynamics of the partnership between them that got them to the top and then unfolded and lasted over the many years of their consequential fame and notoriety was what fascinated me, and I guess to some extent I’ll try to understand this a little better within the next few months of my own experience.

Another story that captured my imagine when I was a child was the story of Alison Hargreaves the first British woman to summit Everest, solo and without supplemental oxygen, who then went on to die on K2 three months later leaving behind a husband and young children. “How can a mother, leave her family behind like that?” was the media cry, but, ‘how can any of us?!’. This is something I’ve only just really considered having sat down to write this blog and I still don’t even understand (how) sat here just two days before I leave for the mountain, because it is, if I’m honest, an entirely selfish and self indulgent endeavour, but, I actually don’t see anything wrong with that! Is it wrong to strive to fulfil one’s own ambition, even if that ambition has no expressible meaning and certainly could not be understood by anyone who did not instinctively, understand?

The most interesting story for me from Everest, is the story that predates Tenzing and Hillary’s, the one of George Mallory and ‘Sandy’ Irvine. Attempting to summit Everest from the opposite side to Tenzing and Hillary, on 8th June 1924, the British climbers left their high camp on Mount Everest in a bid to reach the summit. Neither returned. They were last seen alive at 12.50pm as they surmounted an obstacle on the Northeast Ridge, (possibly the second step) not far from the base of the final pyramid. They were “going strong for the top”. But whether the pair were the first to reach the summit, 29 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and how they came by their deaths, remains a mystery.

Mallory and Irvines story, aside from the unavoidably obvious £10k financial benefit (it costs c£30k to climb from the south and ‘only’ £20k from the north) is why I’m delighted to be attempting to summit** via the North East ridge that Mallory and Irvine were lost on, rather than the south side where Tenzing and Hillary were successful, as I’ll be able to put real life experiences together of places that I have for so long read about and imagined.

**Climbing Everest is part of my ‘Adventure Trilogy’, a series of three life time ambitions including Rowing the Atlantic, climbing Mount Everest and Skiing to the South Pole. I was successful in rowing across the Atlantic on the Oyster Shack, when we set the fastest ever crossing to Antigua in 2007 and I had hoped and had planned to attempt to summit and traverse mount Everest but unfortunately we could not acquire the permit to traverse. So I will have to be content with ‘just’ the summit. For now!

In real terms, terms of really working towards this, it has taken me the last 10 years to systematically learn to climb, ice climb and mountaineer and progressively acquire credible experience on some hard core mountain expeditions like the traverse of Denali in 2007 and also extensive expedition experience across a number of different environments, expedition and endurance disciplines, all of which I believe will stand me in good stead for 2 months on the mountain and making my boyhood dream become a reality.

Thank you to everyone who has wished me well, it will be sporadic but you can follow my progress here. (And when I get back, I’ll be writing about how I became a professional Adventurer, expedition leader and manager)

One last massive thank you to my parents, Tish and Graham, for helping me pull the final things together over the last few months and sorry to everyone I was supposed to, and wanted to, catch up with before I went but couldn’t.

See you all in 2.5 months…

Ben


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Adventure Hub Expedition Series featured on Explorers Web

Monday, March 14, 2011 AT 18:35 PM Comments1 Comment

Ian and I were recently featured on Explorers Web for our upcoming ‘Year of Adventure’ which will become the Adventure Hub Expedition Series. Here’s the transcript from the interview we did with the very nice Correne Erasmus-Coetzer…

The two Brits will be heading out to high altitude mountains, several ice fields, dry deserts and an ocean in the next 12 -18 months. Ben told ExWeb’s Correne Coetzer, “For both of us the obvious next step seemed to draw together our experiences in a range of environments and put them together in a single global adventure series that both emphasized the transferable expedition skills we have but also offered enormous diversity in terms of technical skills and environment.”

He added, “This is a pretty huge undertaking and for us to make it viable we have to run this as a pay per place venture bringing in other valuable team members on board at various stages. The idea is that we complete the entire challenge and develop a team or community who take part in stages and then in future years we build on this and continue to offer these and other expeditions to others who want to experience a range of expedition types.”

“One of the great things is the people you meet and this is part of the value of this for us.”

ExplorersWeb: Ben, Everest is your first expedition of the series. What is your mountaineering background? Ian, what will you be doing regarding mountains?

Ian: I will be undertaking 5 7000m peaks this year as a separate project, but this, like Ben’s Everest is separate to our series – personal goals above and beyond our adventure series.

Ben: Like Ian says, this is purely a personal goal and outside of our plans for the expedition series, it’s part of an ‘adventure trilogy’ for me, including rowing the Atlantic, climbing Everest and skiing to the South Pole, they’re just things I’ve always wanted to do as personal goals.

I’m a third of the way there, having rowed the Atlantic (which it looks like I’m going to be lucky enough to do again this year) so hopefully by the end of June I’ll be two thirds of the way there! I learned to mountaineer years ago and done some nice little climbs including a traverse of Denali, but I think Everest is probably the highest mountain I’ve ever tried to climb! 😉

ExplorersWeb: How do you feel about climbing Everest?

Ben: Like I say above it’s just something, like rowing the Atlantic and skiing to South Pole that I’ve always wanted to do since, it feels like, I became conscious of my own existence as a child! I can’t wait.

ExplorersWeb: With whom are you climbing Everest? With O2?

Ben: This is just a personal ‘holiday’, just climbing with Dave Pritt and the Adventure Peaks guys, yes with O2…I signed a healthy cheque for O2 recently which I have to admit was really tough; being sat in my living room signing the cheque for O2 whilst being surrounded by the stuff! 😉

ExplorersWeb: Mountain climbing is a different mindset than polar skiing or desert running or ocean rowing. How do you prepare yourself mentally?

Ian: Both Ben and I believe that the expedition mindset and basic skills plus the ability to be happy in discomfort are transferable whatever the discipline and environment even though some of the particular challenges are very individual.

Ben: I agree, I actually think the underlying mindsets are pretty similar, and a lot of the expeditioneering skills are transferable, like good admin and goal setting etc.

ExplorersWeb: How does you physical training program looks like – now and for the rest of the period. Do you have enough time in between expeditions to switch to expedition specific training?

Ian: I finished the Trans Atlantic row on 12 Feb 2010 and by April we were hauling pulks in Greenland. There are pros and cons from such a schedule. On arriving in Greenland I was fully ‘expedition fit’ and still carried the benefits of the row but had had time to bulk back up again.

A solid fitness base is appropriate whatever the environment and discipline. Hard training, lots of it, enough to strengthen the will to not quit and get the body used to not quitting when your mind tells it to keep going though you are tired and hurting, lots of good quality food and then some specifics.

Lifting weights – compound exercises not ‘in front of the mirror’ vanity stuff, loads of leg work, running, hauling tires, ski training, rowing. Variety! Between expeds when possible there will be a week of low level training and active recovery, putting weight back on and then build training back up again and just listening to your body if you feel an injury.

Training the body and being fit is perhaps the easiest part of an exped and the bit you can have most control over but above all it is about mental strength and the ability to endure discomfort and perhaps even revel it in!

Ben: I agree with Ian completely about the process of being expedition fit (most of your readers will know what this feels like), in Greenland Ian was totally nails, like a machine!

It’s one of the things we are trying to understand actually, moving from one expedition to another and maintaining that expedition fitness without getting broken, that is an interesting overarching challenge to the series for us, and I’m sure we are both looking forward to finding out what works and what doesn’t!

ExplorersWeb: On Iceland, where do you plan to start and finish?

Ian: We will start at Akureyi on the North and head to Skogar in the south.

Ben: This trip is a beautifully diverse trip, which certainly epitomizes the concept of the expedition series – we are all about diversification! Credit goes to Al Humphreys and Chris Herwig for doing it a few years ago, for us including this in the series.

We’d been looking at doing this for a while, and had planned bits of it when we passed through to Greenland in 2009. It was a late addition to the series when we caught up with their expedition online, it’s just too interesting to leave out of the series until later so we squeezed it in!

ExplorersWeb: Will you take the shortest route between the two points or as the Rules of Adventures states, go through a ‘central point’?

Ian: The route is neither the shortest or goes through the true centre of Iceland. One of the underlying principles of the series is variety (environment and discipline) so the route we have chosen reflects this going fully coast to coast over fell, mountain, volcanic landscape and ice taking in as much variety as Iceland offers without developing a contrived route.

ExplorersWeb: Will Iceland be a summer expedition? Only you two?

Ian: We will be doing this in the summer and are looking for a team of 6 to join us.

Ben: We may trek this depending on who joins us but, what we’d talked about originally was running it unsupported. As with a few of the series, we’ve doubled up on strategies to allow us to trek or run (utilizing our experience of ultra distance running/adventure racing and expeditioneering, and combining the two into this concept of the ‘running expedition’) – technically and logistically pretty tricky but we can make the concept work and it’s very exciting for any who likes things like the MDS but wants to go that one step further!

ExplorersWeb: What do you plan with the Skeleton Coast?

Ian: The Namibian expedition will be an unsupported speed trek from Walvis Bay to Luderitz with a team of 4 joining us looking to cover the distance in 25 days or less. We both have desert experience and a lot of practice with watermakers (from ocean rowing) but this is such a spectacular environment that we are looking at this as a very special expedition.

We have some excellent in-country support and are now in the process of trying to find suitable expedition members to join us.

ExplorersWeb: You plan to attempt Greenland again. Are you going for the speed record again? What have you learned from you previous attempts that you will improve this time? Will you go east-west again?

Ian: If this is a speed attempt will depend on the team we have join us. Whatever we do we will try to maximize our time traveling but even if this is not another speed record attempt I have a feeling that we will be back for this again!

How to improve our time? Hopefully not being stalked by polar bears for two days will make a lot of difference – we lost over a day last year due to the bear encounter plus we would approach the crevasse and melt water on the West coast differently – add miles but have better going.

We were very pleased with our strategy last time with good daily progress where we could use less than an hour to set camp, build a snow wall, melt water and eat at night and slightly less than that to get going the morning. We would also make a few minor kit modifications to make life easier.

Ben: Yea Ian’s right, we literally lost a day to the bear situation last year, but also because we went without sleep for so long and still pushed hard so early on it had a knock on effect and we never got to ‘secure the expedition’ in the first few days as we think it’s best to do, and we didn’t quite perform to our best.

We did it in 15 days but we know we can get that down by at least a day and a half (our Norwegian friends don’t need to worry just yet!), plus we learned a lot that would help us go faster in addition to last year’s strategy. So (as you can probably tell), yes we’ll go back with this plan at some point and it would be good next year but again it depends on the team.

The series is the most important element for us, and getting people to join us… There are certainly some economies of scale that would benefit a speed crossing in terms of team members (with the right people but without the team being too big! …it needs to be just right!!…like porridge!?)

ExplorersWeb: Will the Atlantic row be independent or part of a race? Do you have your start and finish points worked out already?

Ian: The row will have us as skippers – probably in 2 boats either concurrently with a race but independent or totally independent. It could see us racing each other which would be fun! We will be going from the Canaries to either Barbados or Antigua depending on clearances nearer the time. This will be my fourth crossing and Ben’s second and we are already looking for and selecting crew.

ExplorersWeb: Lake Baikal’s speed record is 13 days 16 hours. Do you plan to break that record? (What month of the year are we talking about here?)

Ian: We are not aiming for a record, especially with so many other projects and Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely’s time is very impressive! We will be heading out in May so pretty soon after the row.

Ben: We’ve never met Ray, but do like the way he does things and conducts himself. He seems like a good bloke. If we were only doing this expedition in the year I think we could give it a good stab; we are both ultra distance runners too so this is right up our street. We’ll do it as fast as the team dictates but we’re just looking forward to an awesome expedition as part of a great series…and maybe a bit of ice fishing! 😉

ExplorersWeb: Will you ski/snowshoe/run across the lake?

Ian: We will aim to be running in spikes whenever we can especially when the ice is blown clear of snow.

ExplorersWeb: How many of your planned trips will only be you two? Which trips do you need team mates to join you?

Ian: To make the project work and be able to offer these as guided trips in the future we are looking to have people join us at all stages of the project for either one part, multiple expeditions or even the entire challenge, again we are really looking to develop this group of experienced cross environment/cross discipline adventurers.

ExplorersWeb: With most of the expeditions you say “speed trek” or a “normal/regular” time. When and why would you decided if you will do a fast expedition or a normal one?

Ian: All these expeditions are incredible experiences and huge achievements whatever the pace. The speed will be determined by the slowest member of the group however we are in a position to be able and train all expedition members so that they get the most of the experience.

Ben: We are definitely in a pretty unique situation, to be working across all these disciplines and still also be able to throw in the speed strategy to any of them because of previous speed expeditions (Ocean row and Greenland) and our ultra distance running background (and I guess ultimately going as fast as possible over long distances is what we like) but this is all just still a learning experience for us all so we are planning on being flexible with the strategies and let the teams we form dictate the strategy.

ExplorersWeb: They all lead to Antarctica. That will be the 2012-13 season then, right? Which route do you plan to take? Do you still plan a crossing to McMurdo? From where?

Ben: We’re hoping to go asap but yes it looks like 12-13 now, from Berkner.

ExplorersWeb: How will you cope with the time window?

Ben: We’ve had talks about the window of coverage opening up a little, but yes we would need 100 days.

ExplorersWeb: That is quite a distance. Will it be unassisted, unsupported?

Ben: Yes

ExplorersWeb: Have you ever pulled 135-160 kg before?

Ben: Thankfully not! We’ve done all our calculations (off the back of what we learned in Greenland) and the sleds would be c140-145kgs

ExplorersWeb: Will that be only the two of you? Or Niall McCann with as you previously said?

Ben: Niall too (Niall is great and 3 people gives us advantages in our strategy)

ExplorersWeb: What is your favorite expedition – polar, mountains, rowing…?

Ian: For me impossible to say, I love experiencing the varied environments, pushing my limits they all have their merits. I have two sons and the greatest part is coming home to them and my wife and sharing the experience with them and hopefully the two of them will grow up realizing that they can pursue their dreams even if they are out of the ordinary if they are determined enough – it was great to have them joining in when Ben, Niall and I were making our plans as if this was the most normal thing in the world!.

Ben: I don’t have anyone that loves me at home ;( …so I just like being out of the house! 😉

Ben Thackwray and Ian Couch are about to embark on a series of adventures over the next 12-18 months. Starting in April 2011, Ben is off to attempt to climb Mount Everest. When he returns, they have a number of planned Kilimanjaro trips, a traverse of Iceland, a Skeleton Coast expedition, another row across the Atlantic, another crossing of Greenland and a Lake Baikal expedition, and some other summits and smaller rows/mini expeditions. “Some of these will be speed expeditions, in keeping with the strategies we’ve used before and will lead us to our planned Antarctic expedition and beyond”.

Biography courtesy of the team:

“Ben Thackwray (30) and Ian Couch (40) are experienced professional Adventurers and Expedition Leaders and Managers, and have accumulated an extremely diverse breadth of experience over the last decade of adventuring. Between them they have personal experience of 4 Ocean Rows, setting several Guinness and World Records, including the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic to Antigua, the fastest ever crossing of the Indian Ocean, and the fastest 1000 miles in an Ocean Rowing boat; they have successfully climbed 2 of the 7 summits, one an unacclimatized speed accent of Kilimanjaro, and one a summit and traverse of Mt McKinley, there is also a planned summit of Mount Everest in May this year to add to this tally; they have run across the Sahara and the Gobi deserts; they are both experienced ultra distance runners, having run tens of ultra distance marathons including twice over 100 miles non-stop and one 145 miles non-stop; and, in 2010 they set the fastest ever British crossing of Greenland, making them the most efficient polar travelers in the UK.”


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The Adventure Hub 50 mile Yorkshire Ultra – ‘The Frostbite 50’

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 AT 16:17 PM Comments4 Comments

Saturday 29th January 2011 saw the inaugural Adventure Hub 50 miles Yorkshire Ultra, affectionately and fittingly nicknamed ‘The Frostbite 50’.

Following on from the success of the Adventure Hub Norfolk Ultra in October , ‘The Frostbite 50’, the 2nd edition of the Adventure Hub ‘6 Series’ was an enormous success and left all the runners exhausted but with great big, muddy, smiles on their faces.

The route starts from the cold and eerie Whitby Abbey and makes its way down the Cleveland way before turning inland onto the North Yorkshire Moors and then looping back to the Coastal Path.

The eerie Whitby Abbey

I ran the race purely as a participant and I have to say, without bias, this was the best ultra distance event I’ve ever done. (I should clarify I have been to some EXCELLENT ones in the past) (Best organized and managed, the best course, the best atmosphere, and a REALLY tough challenge and a really happy and friendly community atmosphere).

The Adventure Hub 6 Series is designed for Ultra Runners, Adventurers, Marathon runners and novices alike, and each race offers different distance options at six beautiful and varied courses all over the country.

The Frostbite 50 is split into marathon and 50 mile ultra distance events, with the marathon runners setting off 5 minutes before the ultra runners over the same course to the 13 mile check point before looping back to Whitby Abbey. (Testament to the ‘all welcome and everyone catered for’ philosophy, there was even a dog that ran the marathon – with its owner!!)

I ran the 50 miles ultra marathon, and set off at 8am with all the other eager runners of all ages, abilities and experience and we soon got a taste of things to come! The first 6 mile section down to Robin Hoods Bay follows the Cleveland Way, which, if you have ever walked before, you will know it is beautifully exposed along the coastal cliffs, and a real baptism of fire in terms of ascent and descent for an ultra marathon, something which gets the heart pumping straight away but at the same time you know that you will have to do this section all over again in another 44 miles time!

From Robin Hoods Bay the second section follows the cycle path and then climbs steeply up onto the moors and across Stony Marl Moor. It starts to get pretty cold up here as you become really exposed before you drop back down to follow Helwath and Jugger Howe Becks through the woods.

One of the best things about the ‘The Frostbite 50’ is that despite the fact that the course is really tough each section is so varied in terms of the terrain and type of scenery changing from coastal cliffs where you have to be careful and work hard and take the steep sections head on, to the cycle path where you can open your legs and run as you would on a 10k, to the woods and becks providing naturally winding flowing routes, to the open, rugged, frosty and boggy moors where you have to dig in on every step to move anywhere!


From the beck you run towards Brown Hill and up onto the moors for the loop. This is a different challenge again from the first two sections of coast, cycle path and the beck, and here you find yourself starting to dig in on a relatively long and in our case extremely cold and boggy section to the first check point on the loop.

At this stage (about 20miles in) I had settled into running with two other runners I met on the route, Hannah, and John who I had not seen since a previous 100 mile event in 2006. Both were a delight to run with and so typical of ultra runners – ultra tough but at the same time warm and friendly and a great laugh, always ready with a “Ha ha ha, are you ok?!” when you fall on your face! We really made quite a team for the rest of the race. After a quick cup of coffee and some snacks at the check point we were off again to the next check point 6 miles away through the woods.

Having broke the back of it we forged on back to the start of the loop on the top of the moors, through ‘Leech Bog Slack’ and to the psychological mile stone of the 30 mile mark…only 20 more to go!
Getting off the loop and back onto the outward course we started making quick progress and found ourselves stretching out over the cycle track for around 5 miles at around 8 miles an hour! (You hardly ever get to do this past 40 miles on an ultra event, but it’s comparatively such good running it’s hard to say no to!)

It was dark long before we finished but after 11 hours 57 minutes we ran happily over the finish line together back at Whitby Abbey and were greeted with our prize bags and hot cups of tea, soup, refreshments and snacks all inside the warmth of the race head quarters tent.

This is the best Ultra Marathon I’ve ever done for so many reasons, it’s fantastically organized and well managed and the course itself is pretty brutal. (It took me c12 hours and I can run 50 miles in 8 hours on the flat!) After all, if you like running ultra’s you want the course to be varied and TOUGH! This ticks every box for me and was a great ‘training event’ for me before I go to Everest in April…

…I’m looking forward to the rest of the Adventure Hub 6 Series. If you want a new challenge or want to come and try your first ultra or marathon come and join us, we’d love to see you there 🙂

Or if you’re looking for something more than an ultra marathon why not try one of the Adventure Hub ‘Running Expeditions’ – a new genre of expedition taking the concept of fast and lightweight multi-day adventure and ultra races and combining it with the fully unsupported nature of real expeditions. The first exciting destinations in 2011 and 2012 are to the Skeleton Coast and Iceland. Please get in touch for more details at Adventure Hub or contact me at ben@benthackwray.com


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A glimpse back at three of the best ways to spend New Year’s Eve…

Sunday, January 16, 2011 AT 12:41 PM Comments0 Comments

Well I’m only 2 weeks late on posting my three favourite New Years Eve’s! I’m not actually a big fan of the idea of celebrating New Years Eve, I just don’t get it! It’s a new year every day if you think about it so rather than set New Year’s resolutions and make a big deal out of that particular day I think it’s probably better to live your life as if it were NYE 1999 everyday!?

Having said that, it is a nice measurable milestone and in certain circumstances I think there is genuine reason to celebrate, here are my top three ways to spend NYE, in no particular order;

The first one I’m actually not going to talk about! The only thing I’ll say is that if you’re lucky enough to be completely in love with your wife or girlfriend (or both!?) and get to spend NYE with them celebrating the year you’ve spent together and looking forward to the next one, then that is worth celebrating, although if I’m brutally honest I haven’t really done that for about 10 years.

The next top NYE/NYD for me was this year. I spent it by myself up in the Yorkshire Dales running around the 3 peaks! I’ve got big plans this year and for me it was about getting my mind right, with no distractions, and doing a bit to training in my back yard. It’s the first NYE/NYD I’ve actually spent by myself which was pretty liberating actually and it was a lot fun!

The 3 peaks course was drenched as most of the snow had melted and it was actually more like the three islands so the ‘running’ was really hard work and I was properly knackered, but I left the dales feeling focused and fulfilled for the year ahead.

The last space in my top 3 ways to spend NYE’s goes to NYE 2007/2008 (spending it with your mates on expedition) when we were rowing across the Atlantic. It was a totally surreal experience, Christmas day had passed us by when we were nearly hit by a container ship, and this just really crept up on us. Ian and I were lucky that the shift pattern rotated such that we would be rowing at midnight and when we realised it was quite an experience.

NYE 2007/2008

Best place to spend New Years Eve?

As we rowed and watched the clock tick down on what was a dark cloud covered night out on the Atlantic in 6 foot wide rowing boat, although we were thinking of friends and family back home, who were all at parties and undoubtedly all merry, we were very aware of what a privilege it was to be where we were, doing what we were doing, actually rowing across the Atlantic!

It was just one of those moments, that are few and far between, and that some people are never fortunate enough to have, where you just realise and think to yourself, “I’m alive, now”.

(Yes, I am looking for a night vision camera sponsor!)


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Why you ‘should’ continue to train through injuries or illness and the ‘benefits’ of drinking heavily and training!?!

Monday, December 20, 2010 AT 18:24 PM Comments0 Comments

Ok, first disclaimer for today’s blog is that this is not my ‘professional’ advice, but I have considered this for a long time!…it came to the fore again the other day whilst I was out running whilst suffering from the flu, and let’s be honest, the ‘silly season’ is also now well upon us so juggling training and partying can get a little difficult. But, fear not, although I write this from a slightly whimsical, tongue in cheek perspective, I genuinely think there can be ‘some’ real benefits to be taken from burning the candle at both ends!

Both arguments, for training through injuries or illness and drinking heavily and training are based around the question of what you would do on an expedition when there is no alternative than to just ‘suck it up and get on with it’. The theory is that in certain ways, pushing through injuries, illness, fatigue or incident are forms of ‘sports specific’ training for expeditions.

If you are training for a marathon, you essentially train by running, if you are training for a weight lifting competition, you train by, yes you’ve guessed it, lifting weights. So here’s my thinking, if you are training for being on a really tough expedition, then you need to train your body, and more importantly your mind, to keep going when your body is falling to pieces, you’re totally broken, knackered and you feel like sh*t!

If we look at this, semi-seriously, from a physical point of view, the process of physical training on the muscles or even the heart at a cellular level is a process of ‘tear and repair’. The stress placed on the muscles during physical activity actually creates tiny little tears or fractures in the muscles which are then repaired naturally by the body and result in the muscle growing and becoming stronger (e.g. muscular or ventricular hypertrophy). So there is an argument to suggest that training through injuries like plantar fasciitis for example which I did when training for the Marathon des Sables, where there are already broken structures, will shock the body so much, it will force it to react to the constant unrelenting stress, making it over compensate and actually heal the affected area and make stronger and more robust. (Yes it hurts like hell at the time but that doesn’t last forever!)

In an ideal world you want to be in peak physical condition all the time, but you’re living in a dream world if you think that’s a reality, and when you’re on a tough expedition there will almost certainly be a time when you at least pick up a niggle or you have to keep going when it might be ‘best’ in terms of physical preservation to stop. Irrespective of whether you’ve ‘over trained’ the body to become more robust, on a psychological level how you react to an injury whilst on expedition will ultimately depend on how you’ve trained.

If you’ve trained in a gym, in perfect conditions, you’ve precisely calorie counted for your expenditure and drank to the exact millilitre amounts of isotonic fluid at the ‘36.5 second intervals’, then you might appear to be in the best possible condition, however, psychological, you’re probably not! Like anything else you don’t know how to do, if you don’t know what it’s like to perform in less than perfect conditions then you don’t have the tools or the experience to deal with it when that happens for real, when your life may depend on it, which is where training with injuries or illness and burning the candle at both ends over the Christmas period becomes beneficial! The old adage is true that, practice makes perfect, habitual behaviour in skill based training is known to be extremely important, and you certainly don’t want to get into the habit of making excuses not to do something just because conditions aren’t quite perfect, so better to get into the habit of just getting on with it regardless, and with the point being you are training your mind more so than your body.

If you train as much as I do you are inevitably going to be carrying some form of wear and tear injury for most of your life, and we all like a few pints of Guinness now and again, so there’s plenty of opportunity to test this theory over the next few weeks!! So my pearl of wisdom is, sometimes it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ the training is and how ‘bad’ you feel, the important thing is that you train. Just do something rather nothing, do anything you can, and as often as possible…and enjoy the Christmas holidays.

(I couldn’t help thinking of this when I just read this back)…

Merry Christmas everyone….I’ll leave you with some less scientific ideas as to why a few beers over Christmas will be beneficial when you’re on expedition…

1. Being at altitude can feel a lot like being drunk and having a hangover combined so a few beers will be good experience! Just as throwing up repeatedly and uncontrollably until you dry retch the next morning will be good experience for if you’re planning on rowing across an ocean if you’ve never had sea sickness before!

2. All the extra calories from all the pints of Guinness you’ll be drinking can be ‘stored’ used as ‘fuel’ for all the training you’re doing! And that goes for the two pizzas, kebab, or late night fish, chips and gravy you’ll undoubtedly be picking up on the way home!

3. ‘The way home’ is generally longer than it normally is when you’re sober, so you’ll be covering extra training miles as you stagger, and zigzag back!

4. You’ll probably get lost on the way home from the pub too, even though where you need to be should only be a two minute walk, after an hour walking you’ll realise you’re not home, you don’t have a clue where you are, and you’ll have to navigate home by using the stars. Not only that, but because you’ve lost your coat at some unknown point through the night, you’ll have to run instead of walking, in order to keep warm because it’s -11C outside and you’re afraid you might die from exposure and you “can’t believe it’s all going to end like this”! (Excellent cold weather experience, decision making under pressure, navigational practice and extra training miles!)

5. What is affectionately referred to as ‘p*ss heads pocket’, (where you went out with a wallet like Rockefeller’s, but woke up the next morning with nothing but a pocket full of loose change and one of your broken teeth) well, if you’re going to go on expeditions and do it big, you’re going to have to get used to getting uglier and being skint!

6. And finally some really tenuous reasoning…Galileo said “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them”. Adventuring, and going on expeditions is a all about discovery, not just discovering things about the world, people and places but about discovering things about yourself. It’s also said “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas”, so I think you ‘could’ argue that in both adventuring and drinking heavily we discover truths…and if we are honest, neither is good for our health!


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New year’s resolutions and plans for 2011…

Sunday, December 12, 2010 AT 13:40 PM Comments0 Comments

As the end of the year draws in, most people will be setting new year’s resolutions, and when I’m out training in January I will definitely, as I do every year, see a lot more people out running!

I personally don’t set new year’s resolutions for the very same reason that the increased number of runners I see in January returns to normal in February or March when good intentions fade and the rest of us are left to carry on happily in knowledge that we aren’t doing it to specifically ‘change’ our life, but rather because that it is our life, and has become so over years of ‘practice’!

Now, I’m not saying don’t go out and run if you want to get fit, or adopt a healthier lifestyle, do, but don’t give up in February!…and why wait to January?! Getting fit is a lot more difficult and painful than keeping fit, so just get on with it, it’s going to hurt, but once you’ve done it for a bit, it’s really enjoyable!

I enjoy it but I do tend to train with something more specific in mind. Training is like paying the mortgage, you have to do it because you can’t afford to buy whatever it is you want outright, but at the end of it get to live in a house that you actually own, that you can call your own, for a short period of time before you die! (Whilst I’m thinking about houses, a bit of advice, if you have an obsessive personality like I do…get someone else to clean your house!)

Anyway….plans for 2011, well, I will be out running the Yorkshire 3 peaks for the 51st time on New Year’s day, which means yes, I won’t be going out on New Year’s eve! Which might make me sound like a really miserable sod but, psychologically for me it’s important to know later in the year I’ve actually made some sacrifices and stayed dedicated to achieving my big goal for the year.

The first real event/challenge/masochistic vent of self hatred, of 2011, will be the ‘Frostbite 50’ organised by my dear friends at Adventure Hub. The Frostibite 50 is an ultra distance marathon, 50 miles in length in Yorkshire, so couldn’t be more apt for me, proudly being from Yorkshire, not so proudly having suffered frostbite and, thankfully getting into ultra distance running years ago, and loving it ever since!

I got into ultra distance running nearly 6 years ago when I was training for the Marathon des Sables. I always knew I had a good engine on me from playing football, but realised I was pretty good at ultra distance running when I ran 54 miles for the first time in the Thames Meander ultra having never run a standard marathon before. There’s a big disclaimer here; I am certainly not an outstanding runner and I wouldn’t even suggest I’m good enough to call myself ‘a runner’, but I’ll be pragmatic as always, I am ‘pretty good’ at ultra distance running!

For me, ultra distance running isn’t an ability, it’s definitely a skill, with the difference being that it’s not something natural or inherited it’s something that is learned. Yes you might be one of the few natural ‘freaks’ that can just do it without thinking about it, but for most of us, running for 8-30 hours covering distances of 50 to over 100 miles, can require an immense amount of concentration, a sound strategy and more often than not, the experience to do the right things at the right time.

I actually enjoy ultra distance running irrespective of whether it goes well or not but when you get it right it can be incredibly zen-like. I’ve actually run a 50 mile event where I got to the finish and almost didn’t know how I got there! (like driving a car, when you can’t remember driving even though you’ve been bombing down the fast lane for a few hours!). The real reason I like to run ultra distance marathons is because it is valuable, and it’s valuable to me now, for a number of reasons!

When I first started ‘following my dreams’, in my early 20’s, to go off to wonderful places and do the things I’ve always wanted to do, I wanted to prove that I was capable both to myself and to onlookers and sponsors that I was in some way capable, and not just some kind of chancer, and being able to run 50 miles without stopping does prove that you have ‘something’ (whether that something is ‘a lack of a girlfriend’ or ‘psychological problems’ is left open for debate).

The thing with running ultra distance marathons is that you can not hide behind a slick marketing campaign or stand on the shoulders of family connections (I do have family connections, but they only get me free fish, chips and mushy peas every so often, and the only titles or letters after our names that we carry are probably ‘STD’ or ‘ASBO’ 😉 – Just joking, I love my family, they’re awesome and are massively supportive).

When you run an ultra distance marathon you have to stand up on the start line and be counted, and the very first one you do smashes any ego you may have had out of you – it did with me! This is ideal for being on expedition and this is why I am continuing to run ultra distance marathons. Everything you learn on an ultra distance marathon is transferable to being on expedition and I genuinely believe that it makes me a ‘better’ ‘adventurer’ than I would be without running them.

Now, fitness is certainly not the be all and end all of your performance on expedition but it does increase your comfort zone, and the best thing about ultra distance marathons is that it will do that but at the same time it won’t take you so far that, when the sh*t hits the fan, when you’re on expedition you don’t know what it feels like to hurt, or to have to dig in. On the contrary, it gives you experience of doing just that, it makes you hit the wall, go through it, hit it again and find a way of going through it again and keep on going, it teaches you how to do what you are trying to do sustainably, and also how to realise when you’re doing something that’s not sustainable, and how long you can do it for.

It certainly helped with (although was not the crux of) our successful 15 day speed crossing of Greenland earlier this year (The fastest British crossing record), and I’m really looking forward to the Frostbite 50, because I haven’t run an organised ultra since the start of this year when I did 90 miles over two days. It ‘should’ also help with training for my big goal next year. (Plus, if you can run over 50 miles non-stop, girls tend to think that you must generally have good stamina – which I don’t! 😉 )

So….what is the big goal for next year? Well, it is of course, ‘The Adventure Trilogy’ part II, my attempt to climb Mount Everest in April.

I am SOOOO happy to finally be heading to Everest next year (well in 4 months!) – I have literally been waiting for (and working towards) this, almost since I became conscious of my own existence, and certainly since I was about 5 or 6 years old, and to be honest I’m getting as excited about it as a 5 or 6 year old will be getting about Christmas at the moment!

I was working towards going this year but after we got airlifted out of Greenland in 2009, I had to postpone it and go back to Greenland instead, not just because I felt like I had let my expedition buddy down and I should fulfil that commitment but because we had very much unfinished business in Greenland, as we were using it as a training expedition, and a method to discover how to travel relatively large distances in a relative small period of time in a polar environment for our project in Antarctica, which is ‘The Adventure Trilogy – Part III’.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed but I’m trying to coin this phrase ‘Adventure Trilogy’, like ‘Seven Summits’, ‘Adventurers Grand Slam’ and ‘About as innocent as a Nun doing press-ups in a cucumber field’!

The Adventure Trilogy is something I’ve always wanted to do and involves, Rowing across the Atlantic, Climbing Mount Everest and Skiing to the South Pole. For me these were the things that captured my imagination as a child because they were three huge ‘romantic’ ideas that involved the mastery (to some extent) of three completely different disciplines in three hugely different beautiful but potentially deadly environments.

I was lucky enough to row across the Atlantic in 2008 with some great guys, so Part I for me is complete (although having done it once, I will definitely go back and do it again at some point), so now it’s on to Part II.

I should say at this point, I only want to do these three things because for some reason (and I genuinely don’t know what that is but,) they mean something to me. I want to experience what they are like, that’s the only reason I guess.

I only know of one person who has done all three at the moment but there are of course a very small number of people who have done two parts (more having done the pole and Everest than the Atlantic and one other) so for me, it’s frozen fingers crossed that I’ll be in that small group of people that have done two parts of the Adventure Trilogy at the end of next year not so I can say that I am, but simply because I will have had the experience (and because I will then be one third closer to being some form of content).

So, I have quite clearly rambled on for too long, so in summary, I’m running a 50 mile ultra distance marathon in January and trying to climb Mount Everest in April, plans after that are not confirmed.

I’ll try blog once a week up to April, if I have anything worth saying and I can be bothered 😉


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Yes; The new look website is live!…

Saturday, December 4, 2010 AT 13:48 PM Comments3 Comments

All the old faithful of you will have noticed that the website has changed slightly over the last few days. It’s certainly not finished though and is a work in progress, please bear with us.

I’ve had the old layout for nearly 7 years (7 years!!) and with getting older come the accumulation of clutter! Over the last 9-10 years I’ve completed a tonne of ultra distance marathons, climbed some mountains, rowed across the Atlantic and done the speed crossing of Greenland so the time has come, as I approach Everest in April, to re-organise everything so it’s all a bit more easily accessible.

The website still needs quite a lot of tidying up, and my all my beautiful pictures from the expeditions and challenges loading up, so bear with us, it won’t be long and it will be worth the wait! (even if it’s just for the pictures! I spent last night editing them and some of them are just amazing, even if I do say so myself! I got quite proud of everything and even put them in a folder called ‘play this slideshow at my funeral when I die’!). I said to someone last night I couldn’t take credit for such beautiful pictures though as it’s very difficult to take a bad picture of such awesome scenery, but they said I could take credit for being there to take the picture…and having thought about it for a bit, and they were right, I think I will! 😉

Kilimanjaro - Summit at sunrise 2002

Marathon des Sables - last 2 miles of 150, 2006

North side of Denali - summit day morning 2007

Rowing the Atlantic 2008

Setting the fastest British crossing of Greenland - Day 10 of 15 2010

I guess starting from now, I’ll be blogging on a regular basis so watch this space for my self righteous, unapologetic anti-grand perspective on everything… 😉

PS. If you don’t want to wait for the photos, you can check most of them out here http://www.flickr.com/photos/benthackwray/ or by clicking on the Flickr icon above.

Cheers

B


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On Thursday I presented at the Royal Geographic Society…

Saturday, November 13, 2010 AT 17:08 PM Comments1 Comment

What an honour to be on the same stage as Michael Palin and Ed Stafford, and to actually be so kindly introduced by Ranulph Fiennes!!

Speaking at the Royal Geographic Society - 11th Nov 2010

My talk seemed to be well received and I may also now be the proud bearer of the title ‘first man with regional accent ever to talk at the RGS’!…(private joke!)

I thoroughly enjoyed Ed’s talk and I can’t wait to see Ed’s documentary about walking the Amazon (WELL DONE ED!)


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Next Event: Adventure Hub – Norfolk Coast 60mile Ultra Marathon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010 AT 17:08 PM Comments0 Comments

On the 9th of Oct I’ll be running 60 miles…

…in the Adventure Hub Norfolk Coast Ultra.

This is Adventure Hub’s first in a series of Ultra Distance Marathons they’ll be running all over the country, and I can’t wait to be part of the first!

Adventure Hub’s series of events are an extension of the Ocean Rowing, Mountaineering and Polar Travel they provide for clients and for anyone who is an aspiring adventurer it’s the perfect place to really discover ‘what it takes’!

(I’d also urge people making erroneous claims of grand achievements in other adventure fields to give it a go, there’s nowhere to hide on an ultra marathon!)

It will be a great day out, brilliantly organised and everyone of all abilities and aspirations are welcome. There’s even a 30 mile option…which is also a massive achievement.

There are places left so I’ll hope to see you all there!

http://www.adventurehub.com/adventurehub/Norfolk_Ultra.html


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We are speaking at the Royal Geographic Society in November…

Sunday, July 4, 2010 AT 17:36 PM Comments0 Comments

To be introduced by PAUL HEINEY and RANULPH FIENNES…

The evening entitled ‘Walks on the wild side’ is on the 11th Novemember and we are very pleased to be invited to talk about our speed crossing of Greenland.

Michael Palin will also be talking about ‘Walking with Camels’ and Ed Stafford about ‘Walking the Amazon’.

We’re really looking forward to it, and it would be great to see you all there..

For tickets please contact the Transglobe Expedition Trust (http://www.transglobe-expedition.org/page/latest-news)


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