Georgie Akin-Smith has decided to break out of her comfort zone in a big way. She has set herself a challenge a month throughout 2017 which include extreme endurance events on foot, bike and skis as well as in sailing boats and kayaks. Laura Winter hears about her motivation in the second of our series She Who Dares. To find out how you can take part in the initiative, click HERE
For former international sailor Georgie Akin-Smith, living in London and working full-time wasn’t enough. Until now she had played it safe, but her “mundane” gym routine offered little in the way of satisfaction. It was time to break out of the comfort zone. And Akin-Smith is doing just that.
She has set herself a programme of 12 challenges in 12 months. “I’m starting to realise how ambitious this is, and my friends all think I’m mental,” she says. “To be honest, so do I. I know I have taken on a lot, but I am super-determined to achieve it all. I am really enjoying having a proper focus for the next 12 months. This time next year I will have learnt more about myself, met new people, learnt new skills and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.”
First up on Akin-Smith’s punishing schedule is the Windsor Duathlon on February 19 – a 10km run, 40km bike and 5km run. In March, the 26-year-old will take on the Engadin cross-country skiing marathon – 26 miles through Swiss mountain passes. She is hoping to take both of these challenges in her stride, while simultaneously training for the London Marathon – April’s challenge.
“I’ve skied, but I’ve never done cross-country. I’m doing Engadin with a friend, so that will help. But I don’t get any style points for training – we are doing cross-country roller-skiing around Hyde Park! It’s the closest you can get without snow.
“And I’m running the marathon for MAC, a charity for children with underdeveloped or no eyes. I’m following the Nike marathon training plan so I have the next four months of training mapped out.”
Just days after the marathon, Akin-Smith will be taking on the epic Majorca 312km sportive, despite only getting on a road bike last September. In May, she will be cycling from London to Paris in 24 hours. “Cycling is probably the hardest to train for,” she said. “I haven’t ridden since being on a mountain bike when I was 10 years old – and it’s so close to the marathon, too. I am doing longer, endurance-based rides at the weekend, but they do take up a lot of time, half a day to a day and, of course, I work full-time as well.”
Next up is the Three Peaks Challenge with her dad and brother, before a kayak challenge with her younger brother. “There is still lots of organise, and we are working out where to kayak. It would be in July or August and we could camp overnight somewhere. I have suggested Lake Windermere, but my brother suggested Weymouth to Swanage as I grew up in Poole. My family are very supportive. If they are worried, or aren’t sure about it, they haven’t told me! All I’ve had is support and positivity. They do a lot of CrossFit, too, so they are into sport and fitness.”
July also sees Akin-Smith take on Man versus Lakes, a marathon obstacle race in the Lake District where runners have to carry their own supplies. This, alongside the marathon and the Majorca 312km sportive, is Akin-Smith’s toughest challenge.
Another obstacle event, this time through mud and on a military-style course, the Tough Mudder, beckons in August, before Akin-Smith competes in the J70 World Championships in Sardinia as part of a crew of four alongside 70 other boats.
The final two events have yet to be confirmed, but Akin-Smith has big ideas. “I need inspiration for the eleventh challenge, but for the 12th challenge I want to get lots of people involved. I hope along the way people will become interested in what I’m doing and in December I can do something London-based which will let them take part, too. Maybe something like a 24-hour bike ride around Richmond Park. And it will be for charity, too.”
Why would anyone put themselves through 12 months of intense challenges, pushing their body, mind and soul to the limit? Akin-Smith went to an all-girls boarding school where sport was always second to academia. She started sailing aged 10 and grew up racing dinghies, eventually representing Great Britain. She carried on sailing while studying marketing and management at Newcastle University before moving to London to work for US marketing company Houzz. From there, a grand idea was born.
She explained: “Since moving to London I have wanted something else. I started thinking, ‘What can I do? What challenges can I do?’ I spoke to lots of people. I did some research and some reading and it opened up a whole world of endurance sport and adventure I didn’t know existed. You don’t see all that in everyday life. I listened to Sarah Williams’s podcast Tough Girl and that really inspired me.
“There are all these amazing women doing incredible things, climbing Everest and rowing the Atlantic. I wanted a piece of that, but it had to be something I could fit around work, and so it went from there.”
Training is pretty hectic. The challenges require her to do four to five training sessions each morning, usually in the gym where he does strength and conditioning work. The weekends are spent running, sailing or cycling. But she is having to learn – and fast.
Akin-Smith admitted: “Recently I learnt I need to train smarter, rather than train every day. I can train less, but train better. I have realised the importance of having a rest. It almost got to the stage when I felt guilty resting, but it’s as important as training. I have a habit of doing too much, so I have to make sure I’m not overdoing it.”
If undertaking these 12 tough challenges inspires just one woman or girl to push themselves out of their comfort zone, it will all have been worth it for Akin-Smith. She said: “I would like to inspire girls and women. We are under-represented in sport. Women can lack self-confidence. They don’t go out and say, ‘I can do this’. Men do. Girls will take a step back and say, ‘I’m not sure, I’ll see if I can’. I would love to be able to inspire people. I am nothing special, I’ve done the usual school, uni, job thing. I’ve followed the crowd. If I can do it, anyone can. You should break down your goals and find something you are excited about it. Anyone can get out there and achieve much more than they think possible.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.