Looking for inspiration to get off the sofa? You need to talk to Tobias Mews.
How I Live: Adventure Journalist Tobias Mews
Looking for inspiration to get off the sofa? You need to talk to Tobias Mews.
If you haven’t heard of Tobias Mews, then you may have read one of his articles. One of the world’s leading extreme adventure journalists, he is the guy that editors call when they needed someone to hop on a plane at the drop of a hat to compete in the latest extreme adventure craze, and then share his triumphs and pains in print. In his words, ‘ I tell stories that inspire people to get off the sofa’. As a result, he has over 200 extreme adventure races under his belt and is as happy tackling an ice-cold Ironman as an Ultra Marathon across the driest desert in the world.
Yet ask him what his greatest challenge has been, and his reply isn’t related to one of his epic adventures, but instead, balancing his passion for global travel and exhilarating adventures with spending time with his young family. The good news? He seems to have found the answer.
On Living the Good Life: I’m sitting in the sunny Pyrenees at the moment. We moved here from London in March and it’s been a big change of lifestyle, but it’s wicked as we have a little girl and wanted her to grow up with an outdoor lifestyle. We swapped a flat in Balham for an 18th century farmhouse set on 10 acres just south of Pau. Located in the South of France, its a bastion of belle-epoque British-ness a bit like hobbit land, with lots of rolling hillocks. The location is fantastic, you are right next to the wine region and the mountains are just 10 km away. It’s kind of perfect as you don’t need to worry about the snow and all the inconvenience that comes with living in the mountains, but you have them right on your door-step, then down the road, there’s white water rafting and mountain biking. It’s an awesome place to be and raise a family. We are in the process of converting part of the farm-house into to open a luxury B&B and glamping site, so we can host adventure experiences combining mountain biking, running and white-water rafting and specialist courses.
On Becoming an Adventure Journalist: I spent 5 and a half years in the army, which is where I caught the bug for adventure. I loved being fit and respected as an adventuring alpha male, but I’ll preface that by saying that my nickname before the army was 'Champagne Tobes'. I did no exercise and almost didn’t make it to the army, which really goes to show that anyone can do it. What I did miss in the army was creative expression, so when I left, I retrained as a TV journalist with the intention of becoming a defense correspondent. I was still ultra-running and I soon realized I was far more interested in my hobby than my intended profession! So I started racing, running and kayaking every weekend, and discovered this other world. It flipped me head to toe and around several times. The writing came as an accident - I’d trained to make films, but I wasn’t doing any writing, and then I came in the top 20 of the Marathon des Sables, and first position amongst UK competitors. I was doing an interview and cheekily told the editor of the magazine that I’d like my own column, to which she said yes! It was called The Weekend Warrior. Soon, I was a rapid reaction force for all Outdoor Adventure editors. I'd never train for events, but just turn up and do them. Soon, I started working with brands and writing for more publications, until I had enough confidence and experience to leave London and live the dream I had been selling all along.
On How to be your own Race Director: I’ve just finished as new book on how to create your own races by assessing what you have on your doorstep and constructing a course. It could be racing against a high-speed train or creating an adventure tracing a river from source to sea. The brillainace of it is that its something you can do anywhere in the world, and it forces you to look at your environment with a military eye. You look at the terrain around you and think, how does the ground and climate work with what I want to do? The key to it all is how you read a map. I’ve recently been racing mountain trains in the Basque country and swimming in a lake set at 2000m across the French-Spanish border as part of my research.
On Extreme Twining: Most people think that twin towns are pointless, but my latest invention is to use them to create a unique course for yourself. Take the twin towns of Cascais and Biarritz for example, they are set 1020km apart along a beautiful straight route, and then there’s a direct sleeper train to catch on the way back. I want to encourage other people to adventure like this.
On the Most Challenging Time of his Career: Its now! Balancing a selfish existence, of doing what I love and travelling around the world, with learning to compromise and being picky about my commitments. My challenge now is to make choices that involve my 1 year-old daughter and wife in as many adventures as possible. We are talking about taking her cycling the Camino de Santiago next year, doing a 100km trail-run around Mont Blanc with her on our backs and a triathlon in St Kitts, where we plan to run the final section together with the buggy. I call it ‘selfish outdoor parenting’ - you get the kick of adventure but with your family along for the ride.
On His First Family Adventure: The day I finished my latest book, we planned an impromtu 6 day adventure, cycling 340 km from Bordeaux to Biarritz along the Vélodysseé, which is a bespoke cycling route in France. This time, we decided to take our toddler on a trailer. Its the first time we did something like this and we literally planned it on the back of a fag packet and jumped on the train the next morning, taking our commuter bikes from London which we had packed away. We cycled about 60-70 km a day and it was absolutely awesome, seeing the sunset across the Atlantic ocean every night. The Vélodysseé is a great option for family adventures - there are 15 routes across France and they are all car free.
On What He Learnt: Don’t cycle into the sun! What is fine for you won’t be fine for your baby who can’t regulate their own body heat, so think about the direction of travel and how to construct a shaded shelter. Take the bare minimum, babies need more things but you can always get things on route; and finally, don’t be too ambitious – this is a different sort of adventure where less is more, so enjoy the journey with lots of stops in beautiful towns and cafes. We aimed to arrive by 2pm every day so we could spend the afternoon on the beach.
On His Most Memorable Adventure: I recently competed in a transfrontier ultra marathon through the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park. We started in South Africa and finished in Nambia. Its oone of the driest and oldest deserts in the World, and the expereince was like a running safari, with ostriches and zebras running alongside you. It was a proper privilege to be there. Its so far way from anywhere that its rarely visited, so you have one of the highest number of unique species in the world. We ran through Fish River, which is the second largest canyon in the world, and then each evening, the park rangers would come and explain how life survives in such a dry area. When it rains here, plants and wildlife burst into life like Jurassic Park. The route is unmarked so you need to navigate via GPS and maps, which makes it feel like a proper adventure, but then at night, they set up a full fledged safari camp in each location, so its feels quite luxurious. While the race is 200km over 5 days, there were husband and wife teams, a father with his daughter, so its not just for experts, but people interested in a cultural experience. And the stars… you’ll never see anything quite like it.
On How to Get Started: The first thing to do is build your confidence. You may have a big goal, a dream adventure, such as running 800 km across the Pyrenees. How do you get there? You break it up into smaller parts and set achievable goals. The first week, you might go for a run, then in 2 months, you could do a 10 km trail race, then a half marathon, and then a full marathon. Set a date for your dream and create a plan to get you there, and you will see your confidence start to build. Learning to believe in your self and push beyond self-imposed limitations is what it is all about. We live in a society of fear where when you tell someone your dream, they will most likely say, ‘You can't do that’. But don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t, just start with baby steps.
Tobias’s latest book '50 races to Run Before You Die' is out now.
GO! An inspirational Guide to Getting Outside and Challenging Yourself, is out in April 2017.
For more inspiration, check out Tobias's content site ‘Hard as Trails’.