Being a cyclist myself, I know what it takes to climb mountains; and already being hugely inspired by Marcus, as an athlete and entrepreneur, I was intrigued to learn more about his motivations and reasons for taking on the massive challenge of climbing 16,000m on a bike in just five days.
Marcus, you are very passionate about helping people to improve their lives – what exactly do you do?
“I build brands to make people’s lives better”. I am involved in three businesses that are all very different but have the same
vision in making people’s lives better. Through my performance brand InnerFight we try and make people’s lives better through physical and mental training; through Smith St Paleo we make people’s lives better through good food that enables their bodies to perform optimally and through my marketing agency I focus on helping brands create experiences and environments that make their consumers’ lives better.
What is your background in sport and other physical challenges?
At school all I cared about was sport. I played every single sport I could. As a kid I loved athletics and used to compete in as many events as possible. My main sport was rugby where I went on to play professionally, culminating in playing in the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens. Aside from this I have always believed in challenging myself physically. I have run multiple ultra-marathons as well as the more famous Marathon Des Sables. I look at events, and if they scare me, I normally say yes.
You have only been cycling for 18 months – how did you get into cycling?
I used to race my mountain bike downhill. However, as a kid, inspired by my father completing cycling challenges, I knew that one day I would ride a road bike. That day came at Nad Al Sheba after finishing a running session, when Wolfi (of Wolfi’s Bike Shop) introduced himself. We had both heard a lot about each other but had never met. The way Wolfi approaches cycling and life immediately appealed to me and we decided I should get a bike.
16,000m+ of climbing in the Alps in just 5 days – tell us more!
Last year I joined a few friends on their annual bike trip to the Dolomites in Italy; that was my first cycling challenge. Although I had trained quite a bit it was a baptism of fire. Riding a bike up some of the Giro routes was just unreal; the physical and mental challenge was like nothing I had done before.
I returned totally pumped and we started planning for 2016. I made a pledge which was to be far better in 2016 than 2015; the prospect of more suffering excited me. In July 2016 we completed the Mont Ventoux Challenge, climbing the mountain three times in the same day; 137km with 4,400m of climbing. We then went on to the Alps and after three “warm up” days of 3,000m+ of climbing per day, we completed La Marmotte, one of the more well-known Sportifs taking in over 5,000m of climbing across 170km, including Col Du Telegraphe, Col Du Galibier and Alp D’Huez; all iconic climbs I remember watching in the Tour De France as a kid.
What were your motivations for taking on such a huge challenge?
After my debut in Italy I wanted something equally as challenging, but I wanted to be better; I wanted to be faster and generate more power. Some people do these things for charities which I think is awesome, but for me most of the time the drive is more personal; it’s for myself, it’s to learn, it’s to suffer so that I can get better as a human and through my experiences help others.
I am passionate about coaching people, and for me to do that correctly and ask people to suffer, I have to have been through the same pain or more. I want to go out there and feel it so that when I am coaching someone I know how they are feeling.
How did you prepare for this challenge?
I used functional strength and conditioning year round to stay “fit” and “ready”. Of course, for cycling I had to get very cycling specific and we are super lucky at InnerFight to have Neil Flanagan as our head of endurance coaching. Neil is a great athlete and his understanding of how to write people’s training for endurance events blows my mind and he has written my programs for the last three years.
I spent a lot of time on the indoor trainer but of course what is important is time riding the bike up mountains and suffering. I spent weekends at Jebel Jais; and at Jebel Hafeet I sometimes made ten ascents in a weekend.
Marcus, in general you are super strong and fit – was the challenge hard for you?
I go through hell just as much as anyone else. It annoys me when people tell me “you are fit, it’s easy.” That is not the case. I am 189cm tall and 93kg, that is not “easy” to get through 5,000m of climbing in 7 hours – it’s painful and I suffer. My legs hurt, I feel tired, my lungs burn. They are the challenges. At the end of the day we are humans and we feel similar emotions. The difference is how you deal with them.
So how did you deal with the hurting?
It’s all mental. Our bodies are totally amazing; it’s the mind that breaks first every single time. Mental strength to me is three things:1) Setting your goals properly,2) understanding why you are doing it, and3) focusing on the process. Too often, people fail on all three of these and then wonder why they only achieve average in life.
What will your next challenge bring?
I have no real bucket list but if it looks uncomfortable I will go. For our next cycling challenge we are looking at doing something similar again, and yet again I will aim to perform higher, push more watts and be able to suffer more.
With a background in CrossFit – how do you think CrossFit and cycling can benefit or hinder one another?
There is a massive misconception of what CrossFit really is I think. People see it on YouTube and make a decision that it is not good for other sports, and to be honest what they may see on YouTube probably isn’t good. However if you want to ride a bike with more power, then having stronger legs can only aid that. Do I think taking a workout from the CrossFit games and doing it every day will make you a better cyclist? Not for one second, it may do more harm than good. But strength and conditioning is a wide field and cycling can benefit from it, thatI am sure of.
You clearly thrive on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – why?
You learn so much about your body and life; things that cannot be taught in a classroom or from books. You have to get out there and challenge yourself. Right now that may be just running 5km and that is ok. Everyone’s Everest is different but people need to realise that there are way too many limits imposed by society or ourselves that are just untrue.
At InnerFight, how do you help others to become better at challenging themselves?
Our process is the same no matter if you are a professional athlete or professional desk jockey. We want to make sure your body works well first – simple movement is so important and often overlooked. We check people’s movement and what’s working and what’s not working and then we link it to their sport and put together programs that are going to make them better in their sport and by default better in life.
You can learn more about Marcus and his businesses at www.mjdsmith.com, www.innerfight.com and www.smithstpaleo.com
Words by: Helle Bachofen von Echt
Photos by: Marcus Smith