Get to know Jamie Ramsay
Find out more about what the outdoors means to endurance athlete Jamie.
Why did you choose the outdoors instead of the city?
“When I decided that wanted to move away from the city environment - which I had realised was quite a toxic place for me - I looked back to when I could remember being happy, satisfied, fulfilled, motivated to do more. That had been after running in Vietnam for over a week. I wanted to recapture that feeling, to get back to the happy place for me. I had to go out into the wild places and that’s what’s prompted me to fly to Canada and then run through the wilderness to Argentina.
“I think I have a personality of extremes; if I’m in a place that’s toxic, I get caught up and pulled down in a spiral. Being out in the wilds is a place where I can be more me, more just at peace, more relaxed, and it helps me to rationalise. It’s little bit like self-therapy, being out in the hills or the desert.
“Even more important to me is if I’m standing at the bottom of a mountain or the edge of the desert or I can see an island, I think, ‘do have the ability to conquer that, can I do that?’. It ignites a little fire in me, and I start to think ‘how can I do that? Can I swim over that, can I run that, can I do this?’. It sets something alight in me that makes me want to push myself further.”
What’s the difference between being outdoors on your own compared to with others?
“The way my personality works is that I engage with people but after a certain amount of time, I need to be with myself. The outdoors is somewhere you can be alone, relax, reassess, recalibrate, spend some time up on the hills. You can process what you’ve done over the last few days and prepare for what you’re doing next. It allows you to clarify everything mentally, and that’s what I love: going for a long walk, run, cycle by yourself is amazing.
“But then, a lot of the time, I go out into the mountains with people who are doing things they’re never done before. If you’re that person who’s taking them on that journey - that’s going to give them something that they feel proud about - if it ignites something new in them, that’s a really rewarding feeling. I recently took a chap up a mountain and found out halfway up that he’d never been up a mountain. We got to the top and he phoned his kids and said ‘we need to go to the mountains more, this is something we need to bring into our lives’. I thought: that little spark is something I just put into his life and hopefully it will go into his kids’ lives too. That’s hugely inspiring for me, and it motivates me to do more and more with others.
“It’s also about learning about yourself. I know I can go up a mountain and accomplish what I need to at a good speed, but by walking with others, I notice different people’s capabilities and I have to learn how to be a better person around other people. Spending more time with them and taking them up to the mountains is something that helps me to be become better at who I am. That’s a huge motivator for me.
“Lastly, I know the life I lead is very privileged. I can come up to the mountains whenever I like, especially as I can come up here on a Monday when everyone else is working. But it makes me realise that with that privilege comes a bit of responsibility to help people who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to come up the mountains. Whether that’s writing ‘this is how to do it, this is the right kit, theses are the best places to go’ etc, or physically finding people and taking them up, that’s an aspiration for me. If I can find a way to get someone from an inner city to the top of a mountain, that would be a huge achievement.”
Is there anything you don’t like about the outdoors?
“Bizarrely, the outdoors has this ability to throw you into situations that, when you’re in the moment, you absolutely loathe. I’ve got so many memories of being in a tent or out in wild places – cold, wet – or so many videos of me crying in tents saying, ‘I can’t do this’, and eating a box of biscuits and going to sleep with no real food. And I always think ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, why am I doing this?’. But the next day, something amazing always happens and because I went through that little thing, it makes me appreciate that you get to experience something new as a result.
“Being on top of the Andes was one of those moments: I was in a tent, it had been raining for hours, I was cold and miserable and then the next day I woke up to clear blue sky and I was the only person for miles around. I got to look at the sun glinting off a mountain and I thought, ‘this is why I do it’.
“So, there are things I don’t like about the outdoors, but there’s also so much of the outdoors I haven’t experienced yet so I don’t know if I like it. I’ve been to the mountains and the desert, but I haven’t been to the arctic or the jungle, and I haven’t done as much snow stuff as I’d like to. Those environments might be things I hate but wanting to see what that’s like is what drives me to do it, why I’m always thinking of places that will push me. My desire is often to put myself in horrible situations because then I know I’m challenging myself and what I’m capable of.”
How do small microadventures like this compare to some of the mega challenges you take on?
“I think something a lot of people don’t necessarily understand about the massive adventures vs smaller adventures, is that a massive adventure is pretty much nothing more than lots of little adventures put together. For me, every single day is its own little adventure and that has its own little high and low points; put them all together and that creates a massive adventure.
“The way I deal with a massive adventure from psychological point of view is by breaking them down to make them achievable. That way, when you do a shorter adventure or a microadventure, you still get the same sort of satisfaction; every time I’m doing something smaller, it’s because I’m probably thinking about something bigger. You could arguably say that it’s part of that experience: if you’re going to try out a new piece of kit, or a different way of doing things – maybe a bivvy instead of tent or a more challenging route. Everything you’re doing out on the mountain, whether you’re swimming cycling or running, it’s all about becoming better at what you do, so when you do the bigger stuff, you’re better prepared and have more chance of succeeding.
“If you go into a big adventure with enough of the skills and practice and most importantly, the building up of your self-confidence, you’ll be able to take it on without feeling so daunted. You will attack it not thinking ‘am I going to do this?’, but instead, ‘I am going to do this so how am I going to do this?’. I like to use the little stuff as training.
“But sometimes, it’s not just about the physical. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with everything else that’s going on in the world and just going for a walk is the opportunity to clear your head, the opportunity to rejig everything in your mind, make sure all the jigsaw pieces are in the right places and that you are balanced and happy. Because if you get out of sync, then everything else goes out of sync. Sometimes, just a walk, across a fell or up a mountain, allows you to stop, pause, think and then restart.”
Do you challenge yourself in the outdoors for records and achievements, or just for yourself?
“I think for a lot of people, especially when you get to the big adventures and the people for whom adventure is a bit more of a central part of their life, records and firsts are seen as a goal. And when I speak to those people, I completely understand why that motivates them, I can see why they do that. But for me, I’ve never thought about whether I want to be first or the quickest against someone else. I want to be the quickest against what I think I am capable of, so if I achieve it quicker than I thought I would, that’s where the success is.
“But sometimes you realise things aren’t about being first. This was a lesson I learned running across the Americas: I think a part of me wanted to be first, but then my sister got engaged and set a wedding date right in the middle of the adventure. I didn’t even for a second think, ‘I’m not going to go and see my sister for her wedding’, which made me realise that it’s about enjoying the moment I’m in and just everything I’m doing. I knew I had a massive obstacle further down the line, so it wasn’t about being the best, being the quickest, to be all that; it was about being prepared that when I got to this big obstacle at the end, I would be able to conquer it.
“I think taking away firsts and records frees you up to be more present in the moment. But then, I’ve spoken to people who say that it’s a little extra thing that drives them to get to the finish line, and I completely understand that. People are made in different ways.”
Why is the outdoors important? Why does it matter so much to you?
“What the outdoors means to me has changed a lot over the years. The outdoors used to be a place I’d sit and think about and dream about and if I could, I would pop in and visit it, to spend a bit of time there. But as I’ve transitioned from being in a desk job to being someone who spends more time out in these environments, it’s become a lifeline, a friend, a place where I can come and just be.
“Sometimes when I go for a walk (and it sounds crazy) but you can end up just speaking out loud, going through your thoughts. I earn my living from it, but I get my best experiences from it. I get to come and live in it, drive through it and if I’m picking up litter, I’m caring for it. In that way, the outdoors is more of a being, an entity, more than a place you go and visit. You have to interact with it and the more you interact with it, the more you get out of it. For everything you do there is a reward, but you need to work for it and that’s why I love it, because it sits with my way of thinking. It continues to surprise me every time I go into it.”
What have you learned about life from your experiences in the outdoors?
“You really have to find what makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be adventuring or a different job, you just need to find what it is that drives you and lights a little fire inside you and make that what you do. Because if you’re not happy then all the people around you aren’t happy, and it just creates a horrible lifestyle. Just find what it is you want to do and pursue it. Do it in small steps, maybe at the weekends, and then you can build on it. But most importantly, just follow your passion.”
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