As I sit here at my desk during ‘lock down’ I look over wild olives and distant fields of unripe sunflowers. It’s 11.30. I’d like to pretend that I’ve had a long sleep, a leisurely shower, a very long breakfast. The reality though is quite different, I was up at 8.00, went for a furtive 7km. run then an hour of Fernando’s tortuous exercises followed by 10 minutes practicing the Wim Hof method in the pool (cold water is apparently fabulous for strengthening your immune system, I can’t vouch for it but it certainly gets up an appetite).

Nuevas fotografías de la primera expedición de George Mallory al Everest
George Mallory, 1921 on his first reconnaisance expedition to the Himalayas

Why? Even Milly the spaniel looks at me with raised eyebrows. More exercise? Well I’m not going in the pool with you that’s for sure she says with a shake of her woolly head.

Motivation is a curious thing, the reward is either personal (in my case) or material (earning more usually increases motivation). So what is ‘self motivation’ and why would I push myself to get up early, sweat, drive my heart rate up, wear out my legs?

Because it’s there…

Mallory’s famous reply when asked why he wanted to climb Everest.

George Mallory’s observation of the physical presence of Everest undoubtedly urged him on to climb it. He knew that nobody else had been anywhere near the summit, was that his motivation – the glory or was it the challenge? Would he have said that now? We know the view from the top, we know the perils of climbing earth’s highest peak and we know that 5,000 climbers have summited. What are we going to learn from the 5,001st. person to get to the top? Collectively nothing of course. But personally? The 5,001st. climber has achieved a tremendous goal having costed him or her huge sacrifices in time (training and the climb itself) and money (the average cost is around 45,000$). So to him or her it’s important but to anybody else? Not really. Another book, another documentary, some great tales to be told at the dinner table – maybe.

As a young man I enjoyed running but after my third marathon I gave up and became an avid mountain biker. Occasionally I’d compete in the nascent national mountain bike league, it was so long ago wearing a helmet was optional. I skiied for a living, I climbed on snow and ice, I even crossed the Atlantic in a small yacht cursing the calms and loving the storms. Why? – asks Ellie frequently – do you do this stuff? Because I like the challenge, I reply. And that I suppose is the answer. The challenge is my motivation. If it’s too easy I’m not really interested. After all why would a Scotsman want to open a Moroccan restaurant in a Spanish village? Surely that is an extreme challenge more than one journalist has asked me over the years. Yes, true, I reply. But hey – no risk, no reward. The easy option has never been my forte.

Why take the easy piste down? ‘Unskiable’ I was told by the ski school director. Challenge accepted. First ever descent of what I named ‘Super crack’ on Veleta mountain, Sierra Nevada 1994.

I could have just swum across the bay of Barbate. On a lesser note perhaps just taken a short dip off El Palmar beach. If that was too challenging maybe a quick swim in my pool or (worst case scenario) a shower. On reflection swimming from Europe to Africa seems like a much more exciting prospect.