The world record-breaking distance cyclist opens up about his expeditions and university life
Mark Beaumont is a self-proclaimed adventurer. The broadcaster, documentary-maker, author and current rector of the University of Dundee is one of the University of Glasgow’s more successful and renowned alumni since the turn of the millennium. The former vice-president of the Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA), he is also the world record holder for cycling round the world, having done so in less than 79 days in 2017 and was awarded with an Honorary Doctorate by the University last year.
Beaumont was homeschooled in Perthshire until the age of 12 and it seems like this influenced his future career: “It was a pretty odd start to life insofar that I didn’t go to school. I was riding ponies, riding my bicycle, going skiing from the start so I wasn’t playing football or rugby, doing the whole team sports till I was 12 or 13. When I first went to high school I was much more used to adventure sports and journeys than team sport. I went to a school which was rugby mad, the only other professional athlete from my year at school was Alasdair Dickinson (former Scotland Rugby prop) so he was the sporty kid and I was that weird guy that rode ponies and rode my bicycle. Expeditions, journeys and riding my bike became my escape and I loved it.”
Although he had cycled large distances prior to university, during his time in Glasgow he didn’t race: “I was just an avid skier and I cycled in my spare time. There was no thought at all to make a career the way I had. I thought I’d work in finance. I studied economics and politics. I had no idea. I’ve been really lucky with my career so far but it’s not exactly what I planned to do.”
After graduating in 2006 with an MA in Economics and Politics, Beaumont didn’t particularly plan to become a world record breaker. He describes how he fell into it: “When I left Glasgow University I simply thought ‘let’s go on a post-university gap year and cycle round the world. Let’s do it while I can.’ I assumed that the round the world record would be something quite professional and coveted. I thought it would be the biggest prize in endurance cycling, so I was really surprised when I found out that only five people had ever gone for it and the record stood at 276 days.” The BBC commissioned him for a documentary and he beat the record by a couple of months. The rest is history.
Although he’s overcome some great obstacles in his expeditions, the 36-year-old reckons the biggest hurdle to jump is actually before the project gets off the ground: “That’s when I sit there and think ‘I can’t do this.’ Take Around the World in 80 days. You don’t see the 40 people working on it, you don’t see the nearly £1 million budget, you just see one guy on his pushbike pedaling away and it’s hard for people to understand the two and a half years it took to get that project to the start line.”
Known as “Monty” in his youth, Beaumont thoroughly enjoyed his student days: “I love Glasgow as a city. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the west end. A lot of my lifelong friends are from university. The biggest thing for me at university was GUSA and sport. The ski and snowboard club and then moving into GUSA itself and ending up being vice president. I spent a lot of my time in the unions, running the clubs and doing sports. I spent a lot more time doing that than in the library. I think because of that I was quite well networked at university. I was quite a public figure. It was hugely sociable.”
On the academic side of things, he doesn’t reckon he worked too hard: “I studied economics and politics. With social sciences, unlike medicine or a vocational subject, if you’re bright you can kind of cram them. I was never particularly diligent at essay writing and all the hard work but I would just cram and do well in exams. I’m not being flippant but I spent a lot of my time doing other stuff at university and I got by. The things I got most out of university were about looking after the budget, networking and sponsorship with GUSA. Do I use my degree much? Not really.”
So, what are the plans for Glasgow University’s 2008 Young Alumnus of the Year? “Around the world in 80 Days was my Everest when it comes to expeditions. It doesn’t get any bigger than that in my world. I’ve always had a big bucket list of some of the world’s biggest races that I’m going to be taking on this year and next. I’m still pushing myself and trying to do new stuff and taking on a few records but I’m not going to cycle around the world again.”
Beaumont concluded with the importance of sport to mental health: “I’m a better person when I’ve gone out and raised my heart rate. The excitement around the corner, that sense of adventure, sense of discovery is intrinsic in all of us. If you lose sight of that, you become a very sedentary person with a smaller world. To keep our horizons broad and to keep our ambition big, we need to have that fire in the belly and that want to get out regularly and push yourself.”