World record-breaking endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont admits he hasn’t had time to read a book for pleasure in two years, but he will still have a great story to tell when he gives a talk at this year’s Borders Book Festival in Melrose this coming weekend.
Mark loves to push his body to the limits, no more so than when he made a journey around the globe in just 78 days last September.
Taking his inspiration from Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel, Around the World in 80 Days, he completed that 80,000-mile journey by cycling each day for 16 hours, covering 240 miles every 24 hours and sleeping no more than four hours at a time.
Setting off from Paris, he crossed Europe, Russia, Mongolia, China, Australia, New Zealand and North America before arriving back at the Arc de Triomphe in the French capital to be greeted by his family, friends and supporters.
The Edinburgh-based cyclist was exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the southern hemisphere and smog from forest fires in North America en route.
He had two falls and required emergency dental treatment along the way, but emerged triumphant.
With a support team backing him up along the route, much of the excitement was captured on film, and that’s footage he intends to share with his audience at the festival on Sunday, June 17.
He will be attending the event in support of his latest book, appropriately titled Around the World in 80 Days: My World Record Breaking Adventure.
Despite being something of a literary veteran, his latest opus being his fourth book, Mark, 35, admits his busy cycling schedule, along with family commitments, has impacted on his own reading habits.
He said: “I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve got two kids, both under the age of five. The only books I’ve read in the last couple of years have all been kids’ books.”
A life of adventure seems to have been predestined for Mark after growing up in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands, where his parents had an organic smallholding.
When he was just 12, he cycled across Scotland, from Dundee to Oban.
Three years later, he completed a 1,000-mile solo ride across Britain, from John o’Groats in Caithness to Land’s End in Cornwall.
Then followed a trek the length of Italy, from Sicily to the Alps, a journey of 1,336 miles, helping raise £50,000 for charity in the process.
A decade ago, Mark set a then-new world record of 194 days for cycling across the world, but it has since been broken by other riders, with the latest of their records standing at 123 days until the Scot broke it again.
That’s one of the reasons he was determined to take on the challenge one more time, describing it as “my Everest”.
Mark, awarded a British Empire Medal this year for services to sport, broadcasting and charity, said: “Over the last three years, I have been building a project, building a team to try to be the first to get around the planet in less than 80 days.
“You don’t need to be a PR genius to get the hook. That was the big prize, and we took nearly 40% off the old world record.
“That was 123 days, and last September we finished it in 78 days.
“I’m 35, and my first adventure was when I was 12 and I cycled across Scotland.
“I truly believe that it is two decades of experience which has given me, and the team around me, the experience to do this.
“Around the world in 80 days was my Everest. There is nothing in my world that is bigger.
“I love going out and pushing myself, but I’m never going to try and beat that.
“I’m not going to cycle around the world for a third time.”
There are, however, other challenges ahead.
He explained: “Interestingly, the Borders Book Festival comes three days after my next world record attempt, on June 14. I’m going for the furthest you can travel in an hour on a penny-farthing.
“The existing record was set in 1883. It’s not a serious record like last year, but I love the history of it. I love the challenge of beating a record that was set 130 years ago.
“Two days after that attempt in London, I’ll show footage from it at Melrose. I’ll either be talking about how we smashed another record or how we failed.”
Mark is expecting a diverse audience at next month’s festival.
He said: “Having just finished the book and spent the last four months writing about it, the Borders Book Festival is the first literary event where I can get to talk about that process, the stories and the adventures.
“People who pick up my book have normally followed my adventures on social media or on the BBC.
“Even though I’m an athlete and a bike-rider, I am always amazed at the demographic at these events. It’s not just your hardcore cyclists.
“Because my work takes me around the world, top to bottom, it’s really interesting to anyone who has a care for travel, adventure, culture, the places that my journeys take me, and I think that is where the wider interest is.”
Can anyone become an adventurer or is it predestined, we asked Mark?
He said: “I don’t think anyone can do it. I’m not that flippant. I think a lot of people could do it if they had a life journey which gave them that confidence and that skill-set.
“It’s not about being the world’s best bike rider. Look at me as a human being. I’m 6ft 3in and 90 kilos. I’m not your average Tour de France rider.
“What I do have is a huge amount of resilience to injury, conditioning, and the ability to run the business behind a big project.”
Mark will be at the Baillie Gifford-sponsored Borders Book Festival this Sunday, June 17, at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £15, £13 for concessions.
The festival takes place at Harmony Garden from Thursday, June 14, to Sunday, June 17.
Tickets are available at www.bordersbookfestival.org or via 0131 473 2000.