Fighting fit at 51, Martin issues a challenge to improve his students’ stamina

Fighting fit at 51, Martin issues a challenge to improve his students’ stamina

Concern for his students, a fascination with the links between physical activity and mental health, and an interest in active ageing all led Martin Barry to decide it was time to practise what he preaches by setting himself some serious challenges.   

Approaching the start of his sixth decade, the senior lecturer in outdoor leadership at the University of Cumbria devised a three-year challenge to see if he could complete three physically demanding exploits either side of his 50th birthday. In June 2015, he completed the Bob Graham Round in summer conditions, tackling it again the following February to experience it in winter, and then in July 2017 he completed the Bolton Ironman Triathlon, having never attempted a triathlon previously.

However, Martin, who works at the Ambleside campus, says: “As a current 51-year-old, I’m surprised and concerned to find that I am fitter than a fair proportion of my students, many of whom haven’t yet reached their twenties. I try to use some of my experiences to encourage them to push themselves further than they presently do, encouraging them to achieve more and to discover that 'they are better than they know'.

“My essential message is, if I can do this stuff, why can’t my students? Being fit as an outdoor leader means that you have plenty in reserve for when things go wrong, and can concentrate on your group’s needs, rather than your own. The good news is, you can make a significant difference to your fitness levels in just six weeks, especially in endurance ability.”

He reflects: “Trying to get your head around the distances and amount of climbing involved in the Bob Graham Round (BGR) is quite daunting, and illustrates the value of both physical and mental resilience.” The BGR is approximately 70 miles, climbs 42 Lakeland mountains and involves over 28,000 feet of ascent, within a 24-hour time limit.

“Although I did the winter round solo, I had support from a number of students throughout the summer round, and for this I was extremely grateful and somewhat humbled. Getting students involved in this stuff is important.”

The Ironman is a well-known endurance challenge, and Martin saw it as a fitting conclusion to his challenge trilogy. “The links between physical activity and wellbeing are well documented”, Martin says. “In my experience, it is impossible to come back from a fell run in anything other than a really good mood. Recent studies having described this as gaining ‘existential capital’.”  

As part of his PhD studies, and in the light of his observations of comparative age-related activity, Martin aims to look further into the correlation between fitness and mental health and wellbeing, particularly in relation to outdoor settings.