When Jamie Ramsay became bored senseless with his career in financial communications, he did what many young men do and turned to partying to fill the void. Then, after 12 years of living an unfulfilling live, treading water without purpose, he suddenly realised he had to change.
He laced up his trainers and started to run – soon he came up with the loosest of plans to run 17,000km (1,056 miles) across the Americas, mostly as a way to legitimise giving up his job and heading far away from the desk that had chained him. He bought a aeroplane ticket to Canada and then set out to run to Argentina. But he didn’t think about the distance; he just thought about running 40km (25 miles) in a day, and then the day after he focussed on running another 40km (25 miles).
Even now he’s not your typical ultra-marathon running ‘thinja’ – he’s just a man with a burning determination not to live a mediocre existence. RSNG asked him how he approaches new challenges and how a life of adventure has, ironically, made him into the high achiever his City career never allowed him to be…
RSNG You had a career in financial comms, working in London but in a job you didn’t like for 12 years – what gave you the push to break out of that?
JAMIE RAMSAY ’One night I got absolutely shitfaced and woke up in the office, because I thought it was a good idea to go straight to the office, rather than go home. That morning I was like: “Oh, this is the wrong path.” I sat at my desk looking at people, thinking: “You never see your family. You're not married. You're unhealthy, and you're an alcoholic. I don't want to be any of you people, and if I do this, it’s another 30 years of my life.” That's where I changed.’
RSNG Why did you stay in it for so long when your passion was elsewhere?
JR ‘I was too scared to go out of that comfort zone, that little safety nest that I'd been in for 12 years. When I got out of that and went for the run across the Americas, it was more like not being scared to challenge what I could do, so that kind of mentality is now what pushes me forward. It's how far can you push yourself, because that's where you start to question. When you achieve something, you're like: “What can I achieve bigger, or how can I push myself in a different way?”
‘If you plan and over analyse, the biggest risk is that you're just going to freak yourself out’
RSNG You basically quit your job, flew to Canada and then ran to Argentina with hardly any planning – why did that work?
JR ‘If you plan, and if you over analyse something, the biggest potential risk with that is that you're just going to freak yourself out. On day one, you do not need to be able to run 17,000 kilometres. On day one, you need to be able to run 40 kilometres, so that's all you have to focus on. Then, on day two, it’s: “Can I run 40 kilometres the day after I ran 40 kilometres, and have I got my kit right? How do I adapt, change, and refine to make the next day easier?”
RSNG Do you think people stress out too much over the whole preparation phase?
JR ‘Yes, and also, they look ahead. People said: “You can't do this run. It's not possible.” I said: “Why do you think it's not possible?” They're like, “Well, you can't run across the Atacama Desert, you can't run across the Andes.” I took that on board, slightly, but I didn't really think about it too much, until I got to the Atacama Desert. Subconsciously, the whole way there, every time I got to something challenging, I would say: “If I can't do this, then I can't do the Atacama, so I have to get over this.”
‘Then I realised that everyone was saying, “you can’t” because they look at the person you are on Day One, and they're putting on you the challenges of Day 250. Well, that's 250 days to learn, and develop, and hone your skills. That person, yes, no way I would have been able to run over the Andes on Day One, but after running through 12 different countries, and over other mountain ranges, and over different deserts, actually, by the time I got to the Atacama, I was excited, because it was a new challenge – I’d done everything else.’
RSNG Can you describe the challenge?
JR ‘The biggest physical challenge was from San Pedro de Atacama, which is 2,500m (8200ft), to the Argentinian border, and you have to run over a mountain range. It's 165 kilometres (103 miles), and the peak was 4,830m (15750ft), and there are no shops, no water. You're just running out, and you have a choice to run it in four days and push more stuff, or run it in three days and push less stuff. You're pushing 50 kilos (110lbs) because you've got all your water, and all your food. By that point, I learnt, and trusted myself. I went for three days, and ran it in three. It wasn't relief that I got to the end. It was excitement that, “I've done it.”
‘I sprained, twisted, and cut my ankle and shin – I couldn't walk, so I had to run four days instead’
RSNG You obviously have the ability to suffer too – we hear you came third in the 2018 Cape Wrath Ultra race in the Scottish Highlands, despite injuring yourself?
JR ‘Yes, so that was 400 kilometres (249 miles). I sprained, twisted, and cut my ankle and shin on day four. I couldn't walk, so I had to run four days on a sprained ankle.’
RSNG How did you manage that, just strap it up?
JR ‘Strap it up, pop some pills, try not to think about it, and just get into a routine. Every day you just get up, run, get back to your bed, and sleep – get it elevated and just try and not think about what could be wrong with it. Just think about getting to the finish line, because historically I'm not a racer. I'm an adventure person. A solo adventurer.’
RSNG Give us an example of a ‘shorter’ solo adventure that you dreamed up yourself?
JR‘I ran the length of Majorca – a 140 kilometres (87 miles), three-day run, solo. It was fastpacking, so I had all of my kit for the three days on my back, and then wild camped every night. That was great fun. Majorca is just an amazing place. I was testing the Land Rover Explore smartphone and wanted to see if the phone would last all the way to the end. It did, just as well because I got to the end and I was like, “Shit, I don't have a hotel!” I had to use the battery to go online and book one.’
‘Everything's passion fuelled – I don’t do firsts, I don't do records, it’s not my thing’
RSNG How do you choose your adventures, and what’s next?
JR ‘One of the important things, for me, is everything's passion fuelled. I don’t do firsts, I don't do records. It's not my thing. I ran the Three Peaks, so I climbed Ben Nevis, ran to Scafell Pike, and then ran to Snowdon, but fully self-supported, camping all the way in thirteen days, 23 hours, and 40 minutes. A year later, someone said: “Yes, you've got the record.” I was like, “What? Okay, that's kind of cool.”
‘Recently I’ve been doing lots of running adventures. I was like: “Hang on, I'm just doing what people already know I can do. What am I proving to anyone? What am I proving to myself? Yes, I can go and run 700km (435 miles) but I've just done 17,000km (1,056 miles); why is that impressive?” So next year I'm going to do seven adventures on seven continents, and challenge myself in ways that I haven't done before. I’m starting the year, in January, doing Aconcagua to 6,900m (22,638ft). I don't know how I'll react, and that's what makes it exciting.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Jamie Ramsay deliver a TED talk on how passion fuels his adventures.
Jamie Ramsay is an ambassador for the Land Rover Explore outdoor phone – follow him via @jamieisrunning
Follow the author @mattfitnessray
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