The Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champions are quite the varied bunch. In our midst we have hikers, climbers, swimmers, cyclists, bushcraft experts, TV presents, sailors, paddleboarders, and, in the case of this week’s interviewee, speed flyers…
Matthew D Thornton – Matt – believes that if everyone spent just a little more time outside, particularly the leaders of our societies, the world would be a much more gentle place. I couldn’t agree more.
The GetOutside Interviews | Matthew D Thornton
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you? Where are you based? What do you do (the day job)? What’s for dinner tonight?
Watermelon! We have a solitary watermelon sitting in the cupboard, so it’s my Thursday ambition to finally put it to good use, most likely after an omelette, or some Quorn, as I’m trying to do my bit and not eat so many animals. The rest of my life as a worker and a sponsored climber and flyer based between London, Oxford and increasingly time in the Alps is a little more tricky to explain. I split my time almost 50:50, with one half spent at Goldman Sachs and Said Business School in Oxford, and the other half being somewhere in the cloud, either working on digital marketing projects for GoPro and RedBull or literally being in a cloud onboard a plane, paraglider, speed wing or paramotor. In short, I’m at my most content when I’m flying.
Whilst I’m proud of holding down a ‘normal job’, I have been quite ruthless to make sure I can spend as much time climbing and flying as possible. This extends far beyond guarding my holiday entitlement, it’s about finding any opportunity to help profile the companies I work for, in exchange for time and funding to plan and go on new adventures.
Where and how did you spend time outdoors today?
Today, I’ve cycled for 20 minutes into work; I will probably work through lunch (surely the biggest GetOutside sin!), and then I will cycle home up a long hill for 20 minutes before getting changed into my running kit and heading out for a hilly 5 miles. I’m a really big fan of short, sharp efforts. I used to train for bike racing, but just to lay the foundations of a good cycling base, you need to be doing around 20 miles per day, and between 100 and 200 miles at the weekend. I would often get back from my ride on a Sunday afternoon with 250 miles under the belt, but at the cost of 12 hours throughout the week, maybe 15 hours if you include time getting ready, cleaning the bike and slow commutes. With a lot more going on in my life, I just can’t afford to spend this much time on one sport, so on an average week, I spend 40 minutes commuting each day on the bike, I will do three of four five mile runs, and then my other evenings are ether spent at the climbing wall, playing squash or working. Aside from climbing which is an oddball, I rarely do any activities for longer than an hour during a normal Monday to Friday, and interestingly I feel just as fit as I did when I was racing.
I think the take home message of this is that it doesn’t have to be a three hour cycle or a marathon to count towards your daily targets. I find these short efforts are just as effective as long ones at maintaining fitness, both of body, and of mind.
Tell us about your favourite outdoor activities.
I think I fall somewhere between being specific and an all-rounder. I wouldn’t say no to a kayaking or mountain biking session, however I do try to be as specific as possible. My core activity is flying. This has changed from a few years ago where I focussed solely on high altitude mountaineering, however after a few years of purely climbing, I began to experiment with adding other elements to my main sport, and almost naturally, flying seemed the perfect addition – something to look forward to after the climb, instead of the same tortuous and occasionally hair raising descents. So my favourite activity is speed flying. That involves reaching the top of a mountain, and then taking out what is essentially a very small paraglider and running off the top. Where a typical descent from Ben Nevis might take two or three hours, I can generally carve down Five Fingers gully and reach the landing field in Glen Nevis after about two to three minutes!
After a few years in the sport, I’ve started to add and combine more and more elements of other sports I love to give me more options in the mountains. As a relatively strong skier, I started skiing with my speed wing which is a sport known as speed riding. This has given me so many ideas for future projects, however for now, I’m concentrating on my Riding Giants project. This is essentially an attempt to become the first person to speed ride from an 8,000m peak. No one has ever taken a speed wing into the so called Death Zone above 8,000m before, so I’d like to try. And to make it a little more interesting, I’ll be taking skis along with me to unify all the sports I love into one crazy adventure.
With all the pressures of normal life, how do you make sure you find the time for outdoors adventure?
As previously explained, I think I do a little bit of all these. Except for waking up early, I’m terrible at this unless I’m away on a climbing/flying/skiing trip and the first Gondola leaves at 8am! I’ve stopped travelling on Friday’s and Monday’s as everyone else seems to have that idea, so at least one Thursday a month I’ll be driving up to Wales, the Lake District or Scotland, and occasionally I will take a long drive down to the alps if I can’t fit all my gear in a suitcase. But do I have a strategy which helps me to not get stressed by too much time in the office, and that is to plan my fun! If I know I have a trip coming up in two weeks, particularly a flying trip, I will be planning it down to the last detail to make sure when I’m actually there, I don’t have to waste time wondering what to do with my time, this has the added bonus of gradually building up the holiday excitement even when in the office. Generally, I plan a specific climb which overlooks a line I’d like to fly down, and I then know whether I will do it once, or as often happens, I will make the same flight twice to get different angles when I’m shooting video. This is great in an ideal world, but as per Met Office guidelines when living in the UK, the rain turns up and often dampens out my plans somewhat, but the satisfaction of getting in that flight having just spent a week waiting for the rain to stop and the wind to turn is always worthwhile.
In my year, I like to plan at least one of the following: big trip (Alps/Himalayas), Scottish trip, Lakes trip, Wales trip, micro trip. This takes up a good six months, so then all you need to do is add a few more trips to the Lakes and some more micro trips (single nights out exploring somewhere close-by, or anywhere you’re prepared to travel to and only spend 12 hours or so) and then you’ve completed a full 12 months of adventure.
The last part to mention is that with modern adventure, social media or promotion is often a necessary evil. You might need to spend a few hours a week brand building or editing content which seems to take the edge out of the adventure. It has taken me quite a long time to find what works for me, but a couple of evenings a week along with a few lunchtimes is often enough to maintain a reasonable presence. I also prefer video content if at all possible. Whilst writing is fun, I find that video editing really completes a process for me, and I imagine this is the same for anyone who engages in fast sports or those who are to caught up in the moment to remember it all. For me, 99% of the fun is that flight down, but then seeing that video at the end, regardless of whether I share it or not, seems to add that last 1%, where I’m able to look back and experience the landscape, the wildlife and the environment in a way I wasn’t able to the first time round. I think this is why every time I’m outdoors, no matter whether it’s winter climbing or summer flying, the weight or bulk of carrying a camera is always out weighted by the ability to capture moments.
As you are a GetOutside Champion it goes without saying that you want to encourage others to spend time in the great outdoors. Why do you feel this is important?
My overarching reasoning for joining the GetOutside programme was the shocking statistics that are continually bounced around, such as ever increasing screen time for children which directly influences their life expectancy and their chances of becoming obese or going to a hospital for anything other than a broken leg or something achieved through activity and adventure. I’m also a great believer in the power of getting outside to help with both mental health and just the general pressures of normal life. If I’m trying to be creative but get stuck and feel idealess when sitting in front of a screen, I will always take the opportunity of a short run if I can. Even if I don’t spend the time thinking about my problem, a solution always seems to come to me shortly after. I think this is just the power of the outdoors, it’s like putting your brain and body through a disk defragmenter so you can think just that little bit clearer and perhaps even put things into perspective.
Through content creation (I create video edits and write articles), I try to do my bit in showing particularly the UK in a much more accessible light. I recently wrote an article on the use of the OS mapping app which meant I could go for a walk or run straight from my front door or office. And I also showed that even if you live in deepest darkest London, it’s still relatively easy to escape the city for a short while. At the end of the day, I just try to remember my principle that fun is key. You don’t need to be climbing Everest or trekking to the poles in order to find this, sometimes going for a walk and stumbling on a new path to take you to a new part of the city, or heading out for a lunchtime bike ride and getting back just before the rain can be just the fun you’re looking for.
I think it’s so easy to feel trapped by modern life, stuck in a job you don’t like or in a position where you don’t know what to do next. It’s all too easy to be caught up in this snowball effect that you even forget to look outside and see the bigger picture. To me, GetOutside is a way to give those without the knowledge or motivation, the tools to explore the freedom which the wide world has to offer. The great thing about being outside is that it’s free! How many people pay hundreds of pounds for computer games when you can go outside and throw and axe for free?!
To me, being outside is just so important, it’s an agenda I will always push, and I do believe if everyone spent just a little more time outside, particularly the leaders of our societies, the world would be a much more gentle place.
Thank you to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions. Wow. Just wow. I want a go!
And for more information about the Ordnance Survey GetOutside campaign, you need to be here.
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