Eating in Confined Spaces.

British skipper Alex Thomson on what we can learn from his routine during the extreme adventure that is the Vendée Globe.
Text: Hadassa Haack
Photos: Alex Thomson Racing/Cleo Barnham
  • Eating in Confined Spaces.

  • Last frontier of adventure.

    Throughout history humans have been driven to explore, to go beyond the known to discover the unknown. But what is there left to explore? We have gone to the bottom of the sea, to the highest mountains, the deepest caves, vast deserts and most impenetrable jungles, even outer space. Only a few people, however, have taken on the adventure of single-handedly circumnavigating the world in a sailing boat.

    Photo: Yves Sucksdorff

    Meet British skipper Alex Thomson – if you haven’t already come across him on YouTube where his videos have garnered millions of views for his breath-taking and risky PR stunts (just search for “skywalk”). The extreme sailer has become known for pushing the limits and is currently preparing for the much anticipated Vendée Globe in November – his third. In January 2013, Alex finished the Vendée Globe in third place, being the fastest Brit to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the globe, finishing the race in 80 days, 19 hours, 23 minutes. This time, he intends to be the first British sailer to win the race.

    Photo: Yves Sucksdorff

    Cooking up a storm.

    While the Mercedes-Benz ambassador’s feats are spectacular and entertaining, it is – as always – what is happening behind the scenes that is fascinating and possibly educational. We catch up with Thomson in the video above, where he invites fellow athletes, F1 race-driver Susie Wolff and big wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner, on board of his IMOCA 60 sailing yacht HUGO BOSS to taste the freeze-dried food that will sustain him for three months when alone at sea. No additional food is allowed on board once the race has begun and it’s easy to store and weighs little.

    Video.

    How does he cope with not being able to eat normally during that physically and mentally challenging time? Does he ever crave a big fry up and a bottle of wine? He laughs. “My teammates and I sometimes joke about how long we can go without eating – it’s not like I enjoy the freeze-dried stuff. I am giving my body a break. We normally eat more than we really need, so during the race it is all about optimum performance and getting the necessary nutrients. It is actually harder for me to make the switch back to normal food than vice versa.”

    As he is on his own, Thomson has to perform the tasks of several different crew members all by himself while getting very little sleep, and subsequently lost 8 kilos during the last Vendée Globe. “I call it the most expensive diet in the world,” he says and chuckles.

    Lessons for mortals (and parents).

    When life gets stressful, healthy habits and daily routines often fall by the wayside – just when we need them most to help our body and mind to take us through challenging times. Reflecting on Thomson’s almost super human discipline and mental strength during his intense trip around the world, what is the takeaway for us mere mortals?

    Alex Thomson thinks about this for a while before he responds: “I can only say what I have learned personally from sailing. It’s taught me that the body is able to take a lot and how to combat difficult times. Take for example having babies. Being able to manage my sleep definitely came in handy – I was able to support my partner, with a watch system like on the boat. You learn to work together as a team to achieve a common goal.”

    Attitude determines your altitude.

    “Also, I’ve learned to adjust goals when they become unrealistic. I have to do so many jobs on the boat, and feed myself properly, I might have to reset goals every 30 minutes. There is no point aiming for something that is unachievable, you’ll just become depressed. Keep it positive, set new milestones, break them down into small tasks. We all have a choice how we approach difficult situations, we can choose to be positive or negative. I chose to be alone at sea for 90 days, so I am positive about it. We’re normally so busy in our day-to-day life, every minute is packed with something to do. I only have to focus on one thing – winning the race – so that is actually refreshing to me.“

    Focusing on a single goal at a time, being willing to adjust that goal when it’s not attainable anymore, and eating for optimum performance in intense situations – valuable suggestions indeed. What we can learn from the skipper above all, however, is that a successful journey begins and ends with a positive mindset. Speaking of: What does one say to wish Thomson well on his journey aka possibly the most difficult race ever conceived? “Break a leg” sounds all wrong – as does “good luck” given the skill and experience involved. “Well, you could just say ‘Bon Voyage‘ but we say ‘Bon Courage’” and laughs. The man doesn’t need any luck. He’s prepared and he’s in for the win.

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