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The inspirational James Cracknell talks to Gareth Ludkin about getting a tan in the Sahara, plans for the future and pushing his body to its limits.


t’s hard not to be impressed by a man who has finished 12th in the Marathon De Sables, set a world record for paddling the Channel on a surfboard, rowed across the Atlantic, raced to

the South Pole and competed in The Coldest Race On Earth. Not to mention the two Olympic and six World Championship gold medals achieved in an illustrious international rowing career. His greatest challenge to date, however, has come in the last year. Midway through filming the second section of the Discovery Channel’s Unstoppable: The James Cracknell Trilogy, Cracknell was involved in a life threatening crash. Hit by a truck while cycling through Arizona as part of his race across America, Cracknell found himself in a critical condition with serious head injuries. But despite this life-changing accident and a long six-month rehabilitation period, this accident failed to temper his enthusiasm and he was soon taking on the third of his three chal- lenges: The Coldest Race On Earth – a 400-mile race through the depths of a bone-chilling Yukon winter. Before his accident, Cracknell had also competed in the Marathon Des Sables – a six-day marathon race across the Sahara desert. Finishing 12th, he became the fastest British athlete to have completed the race for 25 years.

Upon talking to Cracknell, I was intrigued to find out exactly what laid behind his exhaustive desire to push his mind and body to its limit, and also, what impact his time as an international athlete has had on his competitive streak and his ability to perform


when the going really gets tough. “A lot of these things are about how you plan,” explains Cracknell. “You know what you’ve got to do and then it’s a case of basically planning and preparing and getting your- self in the right physical, mental and practical state to do it. Then it’s just a case of doing it on the day or doing it on the days that are important.” And it’s this intense work ethic and desire to perform that has shaped Cracknell as both an Olympic rower and as

“I’m running through the’s nice and sunny.”

an endurance athlete. The willingness to work hard, plan and prepare both mentally and physically has seen him conquer some of the world’s toughest chal- lenges. “As much as I enjoy doing the actual event, that’s the part I enjoy the most. Getting yourself into a position to give your best performance; then it’s up to you to do it on the day,” explains Cracknell. “There are certain points of the marathon [Des Sables] that I didn’t enjoy. But there is the general satisfaction of being able to look at yourself in the mirror and think, actually I got the best out of myself that day.” Constantly driven by a desire to challenge himself,

how does Cracknell motivate himself at the darkest of moments? “Breaking it down into chunks I guess is more practical than any motivational quote that you sort of push upon yourself. It’s fine to say ‘be positive,’ but the reality is that when you’re in a tough situation you want to be able to enjoy it and feel that you’re lucky to be there. So even when mo- ments of the Marathon De Sables weren’t very nice, and it was hard and horrible, you’re thinking ‘I am running through the Sahara… it’s nice and sunny’. The appreciation of where you are and how lucky you are is actually really important.”

The mind boggles at the number of physical challeng- es and epic adventures that Cracknell has completed since retiring from his rowing career seven years ago. But following his accident, the completion of the series and the recent birth of Trixie, his third child, Cracknell has taken some time out to reflect and take stock of what’s next on the agenda: “At the moment I’m trying to work out what I will do next; what with Trixie being born and the programmes having gone out on Discovery. There’s nothing mapped out yet. Maybe by the end of May I will have some idea of a direction I’m heading in,” concludes Cracknell.

James Cracknell will be talking at this year’s Hay Festival, Wed 1 June. Tickets: £6. Info: 01497 822629 / www.hayfestival. com

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