You had me at rowed. But rowing the Pacific Ocean solo? Unbelievable. But that’s exactly what athletic event planner John Beeden recently accomplished. And he’s the first ever to do it. And in case you’re wondering (and I know you are) that’s 7,500 miles/14,000 km. John’s trip from North America to Australia took 209 days at sea to accomplish. He reached his destination on December 27, 2015. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2011 (from the Canaries to Barbados in 53 days).
Born in England (now residing in Canada) John is now back to his event planning work. His first event, organizing the London Marathon Expo is in April. It’s safe to say that John isn’t taking much downtime. Other athletic events that John is working on include the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
MasterTheEvent reached out to John Beeden to talk about his accomplishments and what exactly does one do to get back to a normal routine.
MasterTheEvent (MtE): Welcome John. When did you decide that you wanted to row solo across the Pacific Ocean?
John Beeden (JB): I rowed the Atlantic in 2011/12 (November to January), I thought this was going to be the test of a lifetime, push me to the very edge of my capabilities. While each individual day was hard work and I was proud of the achievement I knew straight away that the test I was looking for had not been present. I also felt a bit of a fraud excepting the plaudits of friends and onlookers as it was perceived to be an almost unachievable goal. So in looking for a new challenge a tougher Ocean crossing was the obvious place to start, the Pacific being the biggest ocean on the planet the obvious choice. Only one other solo rower had previously managed to get across the equator after leaving from North America but had not made landfall in Australia despite coming close. This however left a nice opportunity of leaving a world first if I could get all the way. The route was very challenging being a non trade winds route and passing from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere.
MtE: Obviously it takes a tremendous amount of training to achieve such an accomplishment. How did you mentally prepare?
JB: I’m a lifelong runner, competed on the track (5000m and Steeplechase) until my late 30’s, on the roads and cross country. I believe my experience as an athlete since my late teens was a great advantage. So in essence I had been training for over 30 years to undertake something along these lines. 3 years before the Atlantic I bought a scull and taught myself to row, rowing 6 hours a day before the Atlantic crossing, combined with daily runs. Leading up to the Pacific, because the bulk of my training was in the winter, I had to rely on my rowing machine.
MtE: Was there ever a point where you thought to yourself: what the hell am I doing?
JB: I never thought what am I doing, however on a couple of occasions I did consider abandoning the row. First time was Hawaii. My wife had taken over my work commitments, my eldest daughter graduated from high school and was heading to university, I basically felt like I was being a poor farther and husband. With encouragement from my family I eventual made the decision to carry on. The second occasion was Vanuatu. I was basically a month behind our slowest scheduled arrival time and running into the beginning of the cyclone season. Because it was a stronger than normal El Niño year the advice was that the chance of a cyclone before the first week in January was slim. However it was a close call and in the end there was a cyclone forming in the Gulf of Carpentaria and even though it petered out it did affect the weather for my arrival. In retrospect I probably made the wrong decision to continue.
MtE: Are there any experiences while at sea that stand out in your mind?
JB: My fondest memory at the moment is from my resupply. As I was a month behind my latest estimated arrival time in Australia if I intended to continue I needed to arrange a resupply of food. I diverted via Vanuatu (which while sounding simple added some 100’s of miles to the journey and made the route even more challenging) and my shore support arranged a resupply at sea so as not to affect the nonstop nature of the crossing. We met just in the shadow of Mere Lava, an island that is the tip of a volcano. As part of my resupply my wife had arranged for a box of cornflakes and some ice cold milk to be delivered. After the resupply team left I ate two large bowls of cornflakes with ice cold milk (the first refrigerated product I had consumed for 6 months) in the shadow of the volcano. It re enforced how it’s the simple things that you miss when you are away for a long period of time not the modern electronics and other things we fill our time with.
MtE: What type of physical toll did it take on your body?
JB: It was hard work but in reality not a lot harder that someone with a physical job, I did row 14/15 hours a day with no days off so that is a little different. But in reality I just got really fit in the early weeks of the trip and got stronger as the journey progressed.
MtE: What did you do to combat loneliness?
JB: This may sound strange but I didn’t experience loneliness. I received messages everyday from family, friends and followers of the story. I was probably more connected to people on the journey than I am when on land over busy with work. I think the fact that I had a story to tell also created genuine interest and my communications with people were not just small talk which when you are in the real world fills a lot of our time.
MtE: As a facilitator of athletic events, are you finding it difficult going back to a day to day routine?
JB: Not really, I haven’t had time to worry about it, I had 3 days in Australia, 4 days at home doing prep work and then travelled overseas again for business. After 7 months away I have a lot to get up to speed on and don’t have time to worry about motivating myself to get back to real life.
MtE: How has this experience affected your professional life moving forward?
JB: Too early to tell I guess. Everyone I know on a personal and professional level seems to have shown interest in the journey and have been very nice, offering compliments on a job well done. The planning and execution of the row are right in my wheel house I guess, as running an event requires true same skill set.
MtE: You’ve stated that the London Marathon will be your first event. Can you say that you have a different perspective when planning athletic events now?
JB: I’ve organized the London (UK) Marathon expo for 24 years now. I don’t think the row will affect my planning of the event, I do think you are a product of your experiences but being involved with London for such a long time it’s difficult to tell if I will take a new approach to any of the elements. It does make it easier to break the ice in meetings with new clients if I’m introduced as an ocean rower. But that won’t last long, as with most things you are judged on your last performance.
MtE: Has the notoriety affected your business volumes?
JB: I’ve not been back long enough to make a judgement.
MtE: If there’s one piece of advice that you could offer people, from your experience, what would that be?
JB: Make decisions based purely on the information and advice you have at the time you make them and not on personal emotions or prejudices.
We appreciate John taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. To find out more about John Beeden and his incredible journey visit SoloPacificRow.com.