Ben Turner is an adventure athlete and coach, speaker and brand ambassador; pursuing his dream of winning the Iron-man World Championship, Kona in 2022.
Ben is currently training to break the Fastest Known Time of the Cape Wrath Trail (CWT) in Scotland. Regarded as the UK’s toughest trail, the CWT is 230 miles through the remote North West Highlands of Scotland from Fort William to Cape Wrath. The project will be produced into a feature length documentary by MGM Productions and Ben is currently looking for sponsors to help make this happen. You can support Ben by visiting his Fundraising and sponsorship page.
We caught up with Ben to find out what makes him tick and how he gets through these ultra human challenges!
When you did the 5X50 Ultra Marathons, how come you decided to do them all with a 25kg rucksack ?! Any injury problems arise from this?
I have a passion for the massocistic when it comes to sports, I love pushing myself harder and faster in every way I can, I have a 7 year career in the army to thank for that. As I was serving, I was constantly looking for the next challenge that would push me and develop me as an effective solider, one large aspect of this was physical activity. So, with training in mind and in search of an understanding the basis of military training (going a long way with heavy weight), I set about the ultra marathons. This was a great learning curve in terms of comfort of kit, pace, boots and understanding of terrain, but ultimately this put me in a very good position to be able to assist in the training and development of others. This underpins the ethos of understanding all academic aspects of the training, then putting it into practice myself in extreme circumstances. It was also a but of a novelty for the company organising the races too to have this maniac turn up and line up at the start line with boots, trousers and a rucksack on, next to people in skimpy shorts and tops (and in some cases, not come in last!).
I actually sustained no injuries at all, I went into extreme fatigue and once hallucinated an entire phone conversation, including saying the responses of the person I thought I was speaking to! It was more learning and the gaining of respect for distance, terrain, and what I could handle in my mind.
When you did the 16 marathons in 16 days, how did you manage your recovery and diet to sustain this challenge?
This was quite interesting actually. I decided that I would do this on an vegan (plant based) diet to experiment with how to ensure I was taking in the right macro and micro nutrients and fuelling the vast caloric need. I was training for 6 months, so had roughly a full 7 months on the diet to ensure my digestive system was fully adapted to the change of diet. Ultimately, I was trying to consume over 5000 kcal per day and even more during the 16 days of the marathons themselves. I was fascinated with the journey of experimenting with food, finding nutrient dense foods and fully investigating what each nutrient was doing on the inside, but I will save you the entire essay I could write on it at this point. I wanted this to give me an understanding of what its really like to be on an entirely plant based diet, so if I am training or coaching someone of a similar path, I have that intimate understanding. This is other half to my mission of evidence based learning, evidence forms the principle and experience forms the method, evidence in conjunction with experience ultimately gives the most reliable advice and coaching.
Any near death or scary experiences while doing some of the many challenges you have completed?
This is an interesting question, I always try and advocate thinking clear and not let your ego shroud sound decision making, however there are certain things you can’t help and sometimes mother nature and/or the universe just throws things at you. So yes, there have been a few occasions where the situation has got a bit ‘hairy’. I had a pack of feral dogs attack me in the mountains of Lesotho, got trapped in a weather funnel in the remote Icelandic highlands unable to really move, and had one or two near missed in the Himalaya. I find these are events that identify gaps in your experience and knowledge and the reminders that ultimately, nature is in control. These are the ‘after action review’ points that help you progress forward, without pushing ourselves we would never learn and grow. There is an important point here to ensure that your ego is not dictating your actions and decisions, as Shackleton says, “its better to have a live donkey than a dead lion”.
Any good nutrition tips for doing these ultra endurance challenges?
Nutrition for human performance is something I am absolutely fascinated by, there are so many ways to fuel physical endeavours, but there is also far too much nonsense out there. As a practitioner of evidence based nutrition and training, the scientific facts are what is most important to me. As I have said above, evidence forms the principle, experience forms the methods. What frustrates me most is the lack of evidence based practice out there, it’s the selling of ‘quick fixes’ that take advantage of people and lead people to misunderstanding. The hard-line views of certain individuals within each ‘diet practice’ also does not help the situation and ends up pressuring people into their way of thinking.
So nutrition tips? Essentially a good place to start is to understand caloric need and figuring out what your Basal Metabolic Rate and average energy expenditure is. This allows you to see roughly how much fuel the car needs and how big the fuel tank is. Next is understanding, especially with endurance, the palatability of food. Ultra endurance events are known as eating contests as they tend to be a the long slow(er) pace than can be maintained for periods of time that are longer than that of the stores of glycogen (a form of energy) in our body. Finally I would stress the upmost importance of eating in training what you intend to eat during the race or event, there is nothing worse than changing from one practice to the next between training and the race. Your digestive system will not thank you for that! Again, this is what forms the foundation of my nutrition coaching, nutrition is completely subjective, with certain principles that can adapted to find specific methods. I am here to offer and guide people through the theoretical understanding, my own practical application and suing this to shape appropriate intervention!
Where did the idea for the Cape Wrath Challenge come up?
I needed a project to work on! After the Ultra-Marathons, Iceland, Three Peaks Rope Climb and the 16 Marathons, I had built up a momentum that I wanted to maintain. Currently living in Scotland I though that the Cape Wrath Trail epitomised the ‘perfect adventure’ for me at this current time. By this I mean its wild (and I mean really wild), its remote, its a long way, its adventurous and its just that bit out of the ordinary. To me this was the perfect storm for a project, after a bit of digging I came across the current record at just over 4 days 9 hours. Now there was a time limit, I instantly thought I could beat that time by not stopping at all. Which is where the Cape Wrath Trail – Fastest Known Time was born, I will run it in under 60hrs. The logistics of this prove a large factor, this will be a supported endeavour (more like a race), in which case my wonderful Partner will be driving between every road intersection on the trail (roughly 5-8hrs between) with nutrition and safety support. This will also act as the facility for filming for the documentary.
I wanted this project to stand for something, I wanted it to be so much bigger than me, so that the project itself was just a vehicle for something bigger. The #breakyourownrecord initiative will be launched very shortly and will be a nationwide initiative to encourage people to get outside and break their own records, which I am running around the highlands. This could be anything from cycling to school to breaking your marathon or 5km record, anything! In conduction with this I want to launch a UK seminar tour whereby I will be talking about all things endurance and nutrition, challenging the fads and myths of both industries, clearing peoples minds and aiding in the understanding of how to train and how to eat.
What future challenges have you in planning?
In August 2020 I will be attempting to run/swim the entire Channel Island Archipelago. This will include running the circumference and swimming between each island from Jersey to the north, culminating in pulling a WW2 Landrover across Alderney. All of this will be in aid of the Channel Islands Air Search and the RNLI Channel Islands, the only volunteer rescue services of the entire area. This project will serve as a campaign for water safety ad will be used as a training exercise for Air Search and the RNLI for searching for lost swimmers.
2021 has a series of ultra distance extreme triathlons around the world before qualifying for the 2022 Kona Ironman World Championships, where I intend to win as a professional athlete.
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