Chris Shirley: the ex Royal Marine and his awe-inspiring seven-peak challenge

WE TALK to Chris Shirley, hostile environments consultant, Harper Performance ambassador and founder of The Hiatus Journal, about his challenge to climb the world's highest mountains.


Chris Shirley has recently embarked on a rowing challenge across the Atlantic Ocean. 

IT WAS joining the British Army and then going on to become a Royal Marine that inspired 34-year-old Chris Shirley to dedicate his life to helping others plan extreme outdoor challenges and expeditions. As member of the BBC’s High Risk Operations team his role role is to aid others in the preparation of their expedition production plans and offer his expertise on travel and survival.


However, Chris has also set himself the huge lifetime goal of climbing the world’s seven highest peaks and linking them together using human power alone (cycling, sailing, rowing, running, canoeing etc). He has just set off on the first part of this journey by attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean. We talked to him just before about the charities which will gain from his efforts as well as what motivated him to embark on such a test.


You can find out more about Chris’ vision and follow his adventures www.thehiatusjournal.com


When did you start rowing for your latest challenge?


I’m a complete novice to the sport and have never done it outside of a gym before!


Rowing the Atlantic has always been on my bucket list, and when I had the opportunity to join a team aiming to set a double world record – I couldn’t say no.


Chris pictured on the bosses ridge up to the summit of Mont Blanc.

What were some of your earliest physical achievements and how easy was it to train and compete at the beginning?


During school and university, I was really into mountain biking – but not really any other sports. It was when I decided to leave my career in graphic design and join the British Army, that I realised I needed to train for the physical demands that would be placed on me. I remember struggling with the 1.5 mile run as it wasn’t anything I’d ever been interested in before.


After I’d got through training, I decided I needed to really address it and so started doing 5km and 10km races, to motivate me to train. These led me on to marathons and triathlons, which became an Ironman and then it took off!


After a few years, I decided to transfer to the Royal Marines and used everything I’d learnt in the years prior to help me get through the 15 and a half months of training to become a Commando Officer.


Chris set a new world record for carrying a 100-lb backpack at the 2016 London marathon.

What inspired you to set yourself the challenge to become part of the fastest team to complete the Atlantic crossing?


The crossing is the first part of a life challenge I recently set myself. The challenge is to climb the seven highest peaks and link them together using human power alone (cycling, sailing, rowing, running, canoeing etc). It’s called ‘The Hiatus Journey’ and will see each component raise funds for charities that I support.


The Atlantic crossing is the first part and titled ‘Rowing for Rubicon’, a fundraiser for the disaster response charity Team Rubicon. I’m a volunteer disaster responder, or ‘greyshirt’ (due to the colour of the T-Shirt the team use when deployed with the organisation) and found this organisation massively supported during my transition from the Royal Marines to the BBC.


Chris and crew pictured on their rowing boat.

What have been some of your other career highlights and where else in the world has the sport taken you?


Endurance and challenge have been a big part of my life ever since I first joined the military.


My biggest achievement so far was at last year’s London marathon, I set the world first record for the fastest marathon carrying a 100-lb (45 kg) backpack. No one had completed it on record before that.


I enjoy diversity in my challenges, in the last few years I’ve ran a solo marathon in remote Afghanistan, finished a triple marathon around London, competed in two Ironman triathlons, summited Mont Blanc and endured the Devizes to Westminster canoe race. Next year, I’m heading to Morocco for the Marathon des Sables.


When I’m not doing these sports, I like to relax with mountain biking, snowboarding and Brazilian JuJitsu however these have also given me some quite bad injuries, so I do them in moderation.


How much and hard are you currently training and which races and events do you have lined up for the months and year ahead?


I try to train five to six times per week – generally in a gym if I have one nearby, however a lot of the time this doesn’t work out as I travel to austere places a lot with my job – so I have to improvise often. Being a former Royal Marine, I’m used to spending a lot of time cramped into the corner of a warship or a Forward Operating Base (FOB), so designing training sessions with very little gear and space has become almost second nature now.


Chris pictured with the team he will take on the rowing challenge with.

What would be your words of advice to anyone inspired by all you have achieved?


Challenges can seem intimidating if you look at what you’ve got to deal with.


There is a great saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time; and the same couldn’t be truer about personal challenges. Setting out to run a marathon if you’ve never done a run will undoubtedly seem intimidating, however by starting with a 5 km and building up to the 10 km, then half marathon – you’ll soon realise that it’s within all of us to do these things; its just about breaking them down into smaller, manageable chunks.

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