Testing the water with Mark Beaumont

With Mark Beaumont’s recent departure for the row-to-the-pole expedition, it seemed an apt moment to tell you about our last training session together.  As many of you know, over the past 6 months I have had the privilege of working with the record-breaking cyclist, Mark Beaumont.  He explained that he was filming an attempt to row to the magnetic north pole and needed a rowing coach to help him.  An email to St Andrew Boat Club, a phone call to see if I was interested and I jumped at the chance of course!  For his final session, Mark and I decided to combine our sporting specialties by cycling from his home to loch Tay and then rowing the full length of loch Tay.  This was a decision I would live to regret but did give me an opportunity to see the great man in action… 

You know you’re in for a tough day in the saddle when your cycling partner turns up with his name written on his bike!  My first thought was that my full aluminium beast, while sturdy and reliable, might not be the right tool for the job.  More importantly he had a lot more gears than I did – something I would understand more of later. 

The first section of the ride was fairly flat and Mark was mercifully not pushing the pace.  In fact he was taking it so easy that he had time to film and give interviews!  The first climb of the day was not a tough one but it was steady and definitely gave a bite on the legs.  After this we had a steady recovery period before arriving at the day’s serious business.  Mark pointed vaguely into the distance at a tiny car shaped blob and said the summit wasn’t far beyond that! 

Due to my ‘athletic’ build, I tend to climb relatively well but this was a different sport entirely.  In my smallest gear I was barely able to keep a sensible cadence and a quick glance at Mark and his extra gears confirmed my earlier concerns!  I stayed with him until we passed the BBC photographer (even psychologists are vain sometimes!) before quietly beginning to ‘pedal squares’.  Once over the top, Mark and I regressed into 10 year olds, haring down the mountain and grinning ear-to-ear.

We then rode the final section along loch Tay where Mark finally got the better of me and definitely did more than his fair share of pulling as we arrived for the rowing transition.  I staggered off the bike, hurting in places I didn’t think I could hurt and began furiously rigging my boat and getting as much food down as I could.

Once on the water it was a different game entirely!  I should explain that I had my racing scull while Mark was in a coastal rowing boat.  My boat is designed to efficiently translate all the athlete’s movements into boat speed while Mark’s boat is more like a canoe and is much more stable in rough water.  It was fantastic to see Mark putting all the hard work into practice as he rowed a beautiful controlled rhythm all the way down the loch; even finding time to conduct an interview for BBC radio Scotland.  By the time we arrived at the far end, we were both tired but elated and I was in no doubt that Mark was ready for the Arctic.


So what can I tell you about Mark?  Throughout this time, I have been frequently asked questions like: is he any good at rowing, what’s he like to coach, does he need sport psychology help, is he a nice bloke?  The truth is that Mark came to me as a novice rower and with hard work he has become a good rower.  He was already an outstanding endurance athlete and he has used this background to his advantage in his new discipline.  So what makes him a good athlete?  I work with a lot of athletes and a few things strike me about Mark that we could all learn from. 

When Mark commits himself to doing something he holds an inner determination that is truly unshakable.  He is quietly confident that he has done the training and knows that nothing will stop him from succeeding.

The other trait that is worth talking about is frustration tolerance.  All athletes get frustrated sometimes and different sports offer different levels of frustration.  Rowing is a very frustrating sport at times, particularly from a technical perspective.  Mark has learnt how to suffer and get on with difficulties on the bike and he transfers this to rowing.

So what did I learn from all this?  One, don’t go cycling with a guy who’s cycled round the world – it won’t end well!  Two, turning an athlete into a rower is only easy if the athlete is truly focussed and determined.  Three, Mark Beaumont is the kind of guy you really want to hate – he’s good at everything he does and it has to be said, IS a genuinely nice bloke!

Good luck in the Arctic Mark, don’t catch any crabs.

Photos courtesy of Christopher Sleight – BBC

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