If there’s one word that crops up more often than others when talking to Hannah White it’s ‘challenge’. Whether it’s sailing the Atlantic solo, cycling 92 miles in the mountains of North Wales, running marathons, becoming a respected broadcaster or encouraging others to make a positive change to their lifestyle, the 29-year-old clearly doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Sportsister caught up with the action woman to talk all things cycling, sailing, mental strength and why she’s trying to encourage 100,000 members of the public to ‘get active’.
You’ve recently completed the Etape Cymru challenge, a 92mile closed road sportive in North Wales. How was it?
It was pretty tough! I’ve done a lot of challenging things in my life but I haven’t really done anything this big for about a year. About a week and a half before the event a friend of mine rang up and said ‘hey look we’re going to do this will you come? ’ so I thought I’d give it a go. It was tough but it was amazing. 92 miles of beautiful scenery and hard cycling!
It’s quite a different kind of challenge to the sailing events you used to do. Tell us about that…
Well the one thing about cycling is that it’s definitely about endurance. There’s no question that for cycling you have to be super fit. Sailing is one of those sports where it’s better if you are fit but you actually don’t have to be super fit. A lot of the fitness for long distance sailing is strength work, it’s more conditioning your body to prevent injury than having great cardiovascular fitness, whereas if you’re cycling 4,000 vertical metres over 92 miles you need to be pretty fit! So from that point of view, it’s very very different and of course it’s only one day, whereas with sailing it’s three weeks.
However they both are really tough mentally. There comes a point that you’re cycling for seven hours and mental strength has to come into it, that’s very much in keeping with sailing. I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that your body can actually endure a lot more than your mind and your mind stops you from doing stuff way sooner than your body does. So whilst there’s physical differences between the two, the mental challenges are very similar.
What is it about extreme challenges that you love?
I just love pushing myself further that I thought was possible. For sure, sailing across the Atlantic on my own was a massive challenge and then the Etape with the preparation I’d had was a massive challenge. I just love taking stuff like that on.
Tell us about your pledge to get 100,000 members of the general public to take part in a health or fitness challenge…
Based on what I’ve experienced in life, I’ve definitely learnt that by pushing yourself or achieving a challenge you set yourself gives you so much confidence and builds your self esteem. It makes such a difference to all areas of your life. I want as many people to experience that feeling as possible because sadly not many people do. It doesn’t matter how big or how small, whether it’s walking to work for a week or running a marathon. I think on the back of the Olympics everyone is so excited about life and sport and activity. Everyone can do something and there are a lot of people who genuinely believe that they can’t do something and that’s wrong because you can, and I’m going to change that!
How are you going to go about this challenge?
One of the ways we’re doing it is by going to a lot of events that are already happening, so half marathons, 10ks or park walks, and we’re adopting people that maybe have never taken part in that event before. So for example, we’re going to the Bristol Half Marathon that’s coming up and we’ll have a team of people there that will be running the half marathon with them. Before the race we’re offering tips and advice, helping and motivating them. Afterwards we’ll have some hospitality for them, we’ll offer them a massage and tell them about what they can do next or what their family can get involved in. Ultimately it’s about making their experience more enjoyable so hopefully it’s not just a one off thing and they come back! We’re also organising some mass-participation events of our own, we have a TV show coming out, we’ve got a website launching, there’s loads of stuff coming up.
You’re currently promoting run in the dark, could you tell us a bit more about this…
Run in the dark is one of the events we’re going to. I’m doing it for a friend of mine, Mark Pollock, who is one of my huge inspirations. He is just unbelievable, if he can be here still embracing life and still living life despite being blind and paralysed then no-one else in the world has an excuse. So our mission is to promote that event and to get as many newcomers to do a 10k race as possible.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of taking on a fitness challenge?
Just go for it. So many people are fazed by all the information that’s out there. There’s a huge amount of websites and information which is kind of scary and it’s just about saying look, if you want to do this grab a bottle of water, grab a banana and go and do it. You don’t need tons of equipment; you don’t need to spend loads of money just go for a walk in your lunch break, that’s all you need to start. With everything you do you have to start somewhere.
You’ve moved towards a career in broadcasting, how does that compare?
Doing live TV and radio in itself is a huge challenge. I mean I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to achieve in my sailing career and now I’m using my broadcasting career to raise my profile and send out a positive message. If I can use my profile for the better to encourage people to do these challenges then that’s great and that’s what I want to do.
You’ve spoken in the past about being a ‘woman in a man’s world’. Do you feel this means you have had to prove yourself more?
For sure, I mean being a woman in a man’s world you don’t just have to be as good, you have to be better. That is changing all the time; but it’s becoming less and less of an issue. I think the sexual equality divide is getting smaller gradually but I have no doubts that it will always be there. For example, look at cycling, there are so few women taking up cycling and why? Because it’s a fairly daunting sport, you have to know about bikes, sort out your gears and change your wheels and that seemingly is a man’s prerogative. But if you want to go cycling, learn how to fix your bike, simple as that. There’s no shame in asking for help or being a beginner, or being the worst at anything. As long as you’re out there trying then that’s as much as anyone can ever ask of you. Don’t forget, even Mo Farah at some point had to run his first mile. You never know what you’re going to enjoy, what you’re going to love, you might as well try.
Beth Shine, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine