Spain’s Josef Ajram has done the toughest races on the planet. His next challenge is even harder.
In October 2013, he’s reattempting the Red Bull 7 Islands – a challenge that saw him last year end up in hospital. We asked fellow adventure athlete and journalist Tobias Mews to find out what drives him to push the boundaries.
What is Red Bull 7 Islands?
The Canary Islands have seven islands, so the plan is to do seven Ironman (IM) distance challenges in seven consecutive days on each island. Every day for a week, I’ll swim 3.8km, ride 180km and run a marathon – 42km. In total, I’ll have swum 26.6km, cycled 1,260km and run 294km.
Sounds crazy. Why?
I first had the idea when I finished the EPIC5, which involved doing 5 IM distance challenges, in five days, on each of the five Hawaiian islands. Red Bull 7 Islands takes that to another level.
Which extreme endurance race are you most proud of?
All of them are very special for me, but I think Marathon Des Sables [a 250km stage run across the Sahara] changed my life in a way that it made me think about what’s most important – to be happy and spend time with my family. Being in the middle of the desert with nothing but a small backpack...that’s when you’re able to understand that we don’t need material things in order to be happy.
What will be the toughest element of the Red Bull 7 Islands?
My mind. I need to be in good shape during the fourth day. That’s going to be the worst moment of the challenge, as my mind will be saying: 'You’ve done four - that’s more than 50% of the challenge. It’s done.‘ But I will still have three more to go - they will be the toughest.
Your first attempt at Red Bull 7 Islands ended in severe heat stroke on the second day.
I’m more prepared than last year. I’ve lost 10kg by following a hard diet. I’m training two to three times per day, up to 30 hours a week. Sometimes I’ll run at midday, when the sun is at it’s strongest, so my mind and body get used to it. In short, I feel like I’m fitter and stronger than ever before.
We’ve also moved the challenge to October, when it should be cooler. The weather is one of the most important factors in my challenge. Last year in May was the hottest day on the Islands since 1980. Two people died from heat stroke, so it was impossible to practice sports during the day, let alone an Ironman. But that’s not an excuse.
I have to be fit. I also need the perfect week: amazing weather, the right amount of wind, good vibrations within my body, not to get injured or sick, and first-class support from my team.
Last year I lost two hours during the first day because the bicycle seat was not correctly fixed. So this year I need a perfect week, because every minute is gold for me.
Are you aiming to complete each day’s mileage in a certain time? How much rest will you get?
You have to remember that there are people in this world that prepare all their life to finish just ONE Ironman. I will try to do seven in a row.
Ideally I’d like complete each Iron challenge in less than 12 hours, as this will give me 10hrs sleep and rest each night before the next race. If I take longer – say 15hrs – then I’m losing valuable time to rest.
I’ve noticed that you have one or two tattoos...
All of them have a special meaning for me - the logo of a competition I finished, the name of my daughter, some happiness quotes, motivational ones. My favourite is the quote I have on my chest near below my neckline ‘I don’t know where the limit is but I know where it is not.’
When I retired from the challenge last year, I tattooed “I will finish the Red Bull 7 Islands’ on my elbow. It’s the best way to motivate me each day.
In my opinion, the ‘limit’ is to lose motivation. Someone that tries to finish a competition is a hero. But someone who chooses not to finish, only to return to their sofa – has found their limit. If you set goals in your day to day life, you will never find your limit.
Ajram will be attempting the Red Bull 7 Islands October 14 – 20.