Discovery Channel gives viewers the opportunity to live vicariously through an endurance athlete that lends his body to science and extreme conditions. On two separate occasions, Discovery’s camera crew followed James Cracknell on the toughest race on earth,
Marathon De Sables and the coldest race on earth, the Yukon Arctic Ultra.
Marathon de Sables, is a six day back to back race through the sand dunes, salt flats and mountains of the Moroccan desert. In heat that can get as high as 50 plus degrees Celsius and adversely very cold nights. Taking on the Yukon Arctic Ultra was almost a test to what his body can handle, he does this in the coldest of temperatures, just months after a near fatal accident. In this North Canadian race, athletes have the option to run, cycle or ski over very icy terrain, facing blizzards, freezing winds and moving ice.
Each race is self-sufficient meaning everything that he needs in the race, will have to be carried on his back or bike.He had a bike custom made, one that could handle the terrain needed wider wheels that run at a lower pressurer, so it could grip in snow. Adjusted space for a bag below the frame and handle bar, carried his tent, sleeping bag, food and fuel for the stove.
For a six day marathon in the heat of the Saharan Desert sustenance is a tricky science, Cracknell worked with scientists to work out just how much food he would need, based on how much calories he would burn in sweat and exertion. To acclimatise to the heat, ‘I trained a couple of hours every day on a treadmill in a room at 50 degrees.’ All the findings of Cracknell’s experiments will be used to better prepare British soldiers sent to Afghanistan.
Having some relevance or learning in each endurance event is a must for him, be it for a charity or educative documentary. Having this perspective on the things he chooses to do, can be attributed to his near death in experience. While racing across America, cycling on Route 66 Cracknell was hit at the back of his head by the windshield of a passing truck. His brain catapulted forward, affecting the part that governs personality, concentration, planning and decision making. Getting out of a critically state so swiftly had a lot to do with his ‘bank of fitness,’ Cracknell has been a sportsman all his life and is a two time rowing Olympic gold medallist.
But the possibility of a full recovery is unlikely, brain injury is often referred to as a hidden illness, the continuous tribulations that Cracknell and his family face many won’t understand, on the surface everything seems fine. ‘As a sportsman you work in data to go faster and faster; whereas a brain injury, it takes a different recovery which requires a different mindset,’ says Cracknell. What keeps him going is a refusal to let this change his life any more than it has already, ‘I was on a road in America and for an accident to happen in that environment could happen to all of us, you can’t control what anyone else on that highway is doing.’
In a refusal to live with a ‘what if’ attitude he gets to it;In that spirit he took up the Yukon challenge and the London Marathon just months later. He does all this, how he knows best, with strategy, preparation and pace: ‘if there’s a skill involved, I make sure I spend the time practising and learning that skill. The more you train and prepare for something the more you’ll enjoy it, and I think that’s the key thing.’ All of us, not only sportsman, could learn a thing or two from that kind of adamant perseverance.
Written by Janice Matthews for SAmen.co.za
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