Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Georgios-Ioannis Tsianos is a UK-based medical doctor and extreme environment physiologist. His latest endeavour, part of his 'Ice, Water, Fire' challenge, is running the 250km Marathon des Sables across the Sahara, in support of biodiversity charity, the Opwall Trust

My first exposure to ultra--whether swimming, climbing or running--began when I was living in San Francisco. I was driving along the Golden Gate Bridge and saw people swimming in San Francisco Bay. My first swim was to see if I could get to Alcatraz, around and back. That was fantastic.

I wouldn't go as far as saying I became more competitive, but I became quite interested in difficult things. Although they've been done before, just because someone else is able to do something doesn't mean that we're able to do those things as well.

My project, 'Ice, Water, Fire', is a combination of physical challenges under different extreme environmental conditions. The Ice is represented by Mount Everest, the Water by the English Channel, and the Fire by the Marathon des Sables. They are all challenges that humans have to endure extreme suffering in order to complete.

My research background in physiology and medicine also had me interested in what actually happens to the human body during those challenges. The scientific angle behind the event in the Sahara is to study the physiological adaptations under such extreme heat stress on the human body. I want to know what it feels like. Theory is great, because we depend on theory and laboratory testing, but I think the actual experience is another thing.

It helps that I don't have to go through any ethical committees about doing testing on myself. I'm okay with suffering a little bit more pain, in pursuit of how much more I can push myself. It would be a little bit difficult if I had to make someone else do it for me.

I think everything in my life has been a step for something else to come afterwards. When I swam the English Channel, I had already completed a masters dissertation on cold water hypothermia. So the knowledge base was there, it was just a matter of actually trying things out for myself.

My PhD was on high altitude medicine, so I was invited to become the scientific advisor on a Everest expedition, and I had the opportunity to get on the climbing permit. I was the medic on the expedition as well, and was lucky enough not just to get up Everest, but to come down as well. It's the coming down that is the hardest.

I've been fortunate in that the voices in my head have never told me to stop, but they do ask me 'Why am I doing this? …

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