We've all thought about taking our life in a new direction at some point. Seek out adventure, try new things and push our physical and mental strengths to the limit. Well, get ready to feel inspired, because that's exactly what Anna McNuff did.
She's done it all, marathons, Ironman's, competitions, sportives, public speaking and mega challenges that would break most people.
In 2013, Anna set off on her first mega challenge, a solo cycle through all 50 states in the US. Over the 7 month challenge, Anna's 11,000 mile journey took her through beautiful landscapes and bustling cities, whilst stopping off at the local schools to speak with young budding adventurers.
Feeling energised and inspired to do more, Anna set herself the mammoth challenge of running along the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand last year. Nearly 2,000 miles of road, forest, mountain and snow with just herself and her pack of worldly possessions.
Being passionate about the outdoors, Anna speaks at schools and public functions to encourage and promote individuals to find their own adventure and enjoy the world we have available to us.
We caught up with the thrill seeker, to find out where it all began, and what she has up her sleeve for her next mega challenge...
You could say that it's in Anna's genetics, that she was destined to achieve great physical feats in her life given that she's the daughter of two British Olympians. Following in her mother's footsteps, Anna began rowing when she was 16 years old, and took the sport to an international level where she represented Great Britain. Anna tells us: "I loved the dedication needed to compete at that level, it really suited my work ethic, but there were also a lot of sacrifices that had to be made to stay there. And I honestly think I was too much of a ‘life fidget’ to make them."
"One day I realised that the closer I got to my dream of being an Olympian, the less it looked the way I thought it would."
Her fidgeting nature, and insatiable thirst to experience adventure took Anna away from the sport to pursue other paths of life. Despite giving up her childhood dream of becoming a British Olympian, Anna explains that she has "never regretted it, not for a moment. It’s led me to where I am now, and that’s a very happy place". Knowing herself to be an experience seeking woman, Anna has allowed herself the time and freedom to explore what she enjoys doing, and what she wants to achieve. The birth of the mega challenges weren't far behind...
Five years after her retirement from the competitive rowing scene, 28 year old Anna was sat at work, dressing up her spreadsheets when it hit her. “Is this it? Is this me from now until the end of time, sitting here trying to make spreadsheets look pretty?" I realised that I wasn’t giving everything I could to the world."
Spending her precious holidays satisfying the itch of adventure, Anna realised that she was at her happiest and most comfortable when exploring new places, pushing herself to achieve something. Knowing that Anna had a choice in life to either stay in her career, or seek out a new life path was the epiphany she needed to kick-start her journey for adventure and inner happiness.
"That everything I did was my choice, that this was my life and I could change it if I wanted to"
That night she went home, pulled out the maps and made the hardest decision of her life: Where to start? America had always interested Anna with its diverse landscape, rich history and sheer vastness, and so the 50 state cycle challenge was born.
The 50 State Cycle Mega Challenge
To prepare for the 50 State mega challenge, Anna worked 7 days a week and saved as much as possible. A second job at a bike shop provided Anna with a wealth of knowledge about bike maintenance and assistance with the necessary kit. Despite the long build up, the saving and scrupulous planning, Anna says: "Once I’d made the decisions to go, even though it took me a year to get on that plane, I had never felt so focussed and happy."
With just a six month visa for the US, Anna's biggest challenge was scheduling her route carefully to make sure she hit all 50 states, whilst allowing time for school stops to speak with local children. As for the physically training aspect: "because I was working every hour God sent I hadn’t done much cycling in those 9 months before I got on the plane. So I went to Canada for a month first to ease myself into it gently, and then I just cycled myself fit.
"Our bodies have an amazing ability to adapt, it’s what they’ve evolved to do after all."
Can you imagine riding solo in a foreign country, in blizzards, floods and torrential storms? Anna's biggest physical challenge in the US was Mother Nature. "When I rode through there in December it was minus 15C, with a windchill of minus 22C - that meant it was colder in the southern US that it was in Alaska!"
The New Zealand Run
"Adventures are an opportunity to explore a place I’ve always been curious about, and a chance to test myself physically and mentally at the same time."
Upon returning from the US mega challenge, Anna allowed herself some much needed down time, but all the while pondering what her next feat would be. Never considering herself to be a "runner", Anna thought this would be a great way to explore a new country, and push herself to the ultimate physical limit by running across New Zealand.
In order to understand her body, knowing its strengths and weaknesses, Anna ran 70 miles a week for 4 months until she left. She explains her physical training: "On a 1,900 mile run that I knew I was bound to pick up some injuries, so it was about preventing them as best I could and knowing my body well enough to deal with them when they happened."
"Life should always be about having time to stop for tea and chats - it’s what makes travel special"
"I prepare to a point where I feel comfortable and mildly confident, but I know I’ll never be 100% ready." says Anna. Mentally preparing for these massive feats can be daunting for anyone, even the most experienced and hardcore explorers. For Anna, she learnt to know her fears, befriend them and even use them to guide her through the difficult times.
The biggest challenge for Anna in NZ was her lack of back country expertise. Going for days without seeing a single person gets lonely, and isolation began to set in...
"After a few months the isolation really started to get to me. I might see a few people on a the trail one day, but it’d be for maybe ten minutes at a time... When there’s no one to chat to except the birds and a few possums, it all gets a bit much for me."
Telling her Story
Having carried out the ultimate adventurer's dream of quitting your day job, and pursuing something so awesome, is a story to share and inspire the masses. Anna's passion for the outdoors and finding your own happiness has led her into the spotlight of public speaking.
"I cannot express how important it is that adventure serves a purpose purely beyond personal satisfaction"
Speaking at large public events, shows, schools and even writing her own book, Anna believes whole heartedly the importance of finding the confidence and strength in yourself to do amazing things. The World has so much to offer as Anna says: "In my experience this planet is full of kind hearted people who will bend over backwards to feed you, clothe you and introduce you to their grandma. The more I can spread that message, the better"
"Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without struggle, but it’s a struggle we are all capable of entering into, should we choose to."
There are a number of brilliant women pushing the boundaries of physical and mental achievements. Anna is one of these inspiring women, so pro-active and positive to spread the word and get more women involved with finding their own challenges, no matter how big or small.
What's Next for Anna?
Starting the year a little differently, Anna is kicking it off with a new social experiment beginning on February 16th. Equipped with nothing but a backpack of essentials and a bivvy bag, Anna will be walking out of her London home and will just keep going, guided by you.
She aims to walk between 20 - 25 miles per day for one month. At the end of that month, she'll catch a flight home. Her aim is "to encourage people to live every day as it comes, to put me way out of my comfort zone because I like to plan, and to show people that all you need is an intention to explore and the rest will take care of itself."
Anna's next mega challenge is set to begin later this year, but still a carefully guarded secret, Anna's told us that she won't be running or cycling, but it will be human-powered. "Naturally I have no idea what I’m doing, and no idea how I’ll afford it yet. Sounds like a perfect recipe for adventure if you ask me."
Feeling a fresh sense of adventure and excitement, I asked Anna for some top tips on how you can get involved and begin your own quest. Here's her Adventure Planning Guide:
- Just Start
- Create a folder on your computer titled "Adventure Plan"
- Get out a map and mark places you want to explore
- Start saving, even if it's £20 a week
- Tell 3 close friends about your crazy idea
- Be honest with yourself about your goals
- Take a step further than you've been before
- Ignore the haters
- Take a deep breath, and go for it
Anna McNuff is certainly a strong and inspiring female role model for budding adventurers. It's refreshing to hear the hard work and struggles to that she's gone through to achieve these feats, rather than seeing the polished end result.
Like Anna said, if you have an itch... scratch it!
Anna McNuff will be appearing at the Outdoor and Adventure Travel Show, alongside the London Bike Show which takes place at ExCel London from 11th – 14th February.
TWC readers can get 10% off tickets here using promo code: FAC1610
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