Alex Staniforth – endurance athlete (#127)

Alex_stan

Alex Staniforth is a record-breaking adventurer, endurance athlete, inspirational speaker, author and mental health activist, aged 24 from Chester – now based near the Lake District.

Alex knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity, having experienced the two biggest consecutive disasters in Mount Everest history, including the 2015 Nepal earthquake which trapped him on the mountain for two days. In July 2017 he became the fastest person ever to climb all 100 UK county tops to raise awareness of depression and eating disorders, and winning the Pride of Britain Granada Reports Fundraiser of the Year 2017. In 2019 he founded ‘Mind Over Mountains’ to help others restore mental well-being through outdoor experiences.


Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?

I’ve been lucky to have regular moments of awe whilst running in the Lake District fells at home. One of the most poignant was running up Red Pike in Buttermere – I left in the dark and the sunrise across the water was otherworldly and colours I couldn’t describe. I felt very insignificant in the world but incredibly grateful at the same time – I’ll never forget it.

 

Where in the world is your favourite spot? Why?

Nepal will probably always be my spiritual home so anywhere on the trail to base camp always blows my mind. Closer to home, a little fell called Benson Knott is less than a 30-minute run from my front door, I almost always have the summit to myself, and the views over to the Lake District at sunrise or sunset always fill me with gratitude and freedom.

 

For you as an endurance athlete, what’s the drive or the appeal? For many it would just seem like a sustained length of pain.

The ‘why?’ question is hard to pinpoint, especially when it surfaces in the painful moment itself. But for me the challenges and how we overcome them are what make life worthwhile. If we don’t live life in the peaks and troughs we run the risk of just ticking over at base camp and failing to discover our potential. Only in these hard times do we truly know ourselves, I think being able to choose deliberate challenges for ourselves is liberating and gives a full appreciation for life.

 

What is the most satisfying part? During, at the finish line or in the period after the event?

They’re all different but the finish line is usually over so quickly and you’re too tired to fully appreciate the moment or the process, and you normally have some existing discomfort to deal with. I love the time afterwards when you get to reflect on the journey, share the achievement with others, or just enjoy the sense of relief that the discomfort is over! You always appreciate the simple comforts so much more afterwards, otherwise we just seem to spend our lives on a predictable straight line.

 

How do you keep going when possibly every muscle in your body is screaming to stop?

There’s sometimes no realistic choice other than to keep going, because having to confront the aftermath of giving up too soon and letting ourselves down feels even worse. Having a clear goal at stake and the experience of enduring worse things is quite grounding and re-assuring to know that you physically have the capability to keep on going, and it will be worth it.

 

What ingredients go into making a good adventure?

Uncertainty, fear, type-2 fun, generosity and support from others, and unexpected setbacks that need to be overcome.

 

Why do you think they’re often a great source of life changing moments?

They force us to see the world from a different mirror,change our thinking and to be resourceful to overcome a difficult situation. We challenge our limits and beliefs which then changes our mindset towards life in general. My first walk in the mountains at 14 years old ultimately gave me the chance to dream big, and realise that I could achieve more than thought possible.

 

Are we more human in the wild?

It makes sense. It’s where we’re from and meant to be. There’s enough evidence of the harmful effects of our modern lifestyles to create a compelling case. But just the fact of feeling so much calmer and positive whilst spending time in nature speaks for itself, that’s why we need to make time outdoors a regular part of our daily lives.

 

What is so special about the outdoors?

It’s unpredictable, pure, and reminds us of what really matters. No two outdoor moments are ever quite the same. Whether in the hills or a local forest, it has a calming effect and helps us look at things with a different perspective. Often the hardest part is taking the first step but this itself is part of the magic – no time spent outdoors ever feels like a waste.

 

As both a campaigner and someone who has experienced various challenges affecting mental health, why does going outdoors help?

The benefits for our mental health have been explored and researched a lot, and it’s difficult to put a finger on it, but for me personally it gives us feel-good endorphins, a positive distraction, and the option to take positive control in our lives. The wild places help put our problems in perspective and remind us how beautiful the world can be when it may feel like everything is working against us. It’s no miracle cure but I’ve found the little ‘boosts’ can make things bearable and allow us to keep going during low and difficult times.

 

You’ve said: “we can’t always choose our challenges – but we can choose how we respond.” What is a healthy way to respond to challenge? What would you advise someone who feels daunted by their Everest?

The more setbacks and adversity we face, we can build our ‘resilience reflex’ and see problems as a challenge to be overcome instead of just accepting defeat. This grey zone is where I think most people miss out on realising their potential and achieving goals. There’s also a fine line between carrying on just for the sake of carrying on when the reason or benefit has changed. My advice would be to focus on the small steps and not to worry about things too far ahead – chances are most of these worries will never materialise anyway and if we knew what could go wrongwe’d never do anything.

 

What’s your next big adventure?

Starting the 21st August 2020, I will be attempting to run the National 3 Peaks Challenge in 9 days, climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, covering over 440 miles between them. I’m aiming to raise £10,000 for Mind Over Mountains to restore mental health after lockdown through outdoor experiences. It’s the toughest thing I’ve attempted but we can’t settle for base camp. You can follow my progress and donate at www.alexstaniforth.com/3peaksrun


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