There are few men in history and almost none alive today, who can be compared in the same breath as Sir Ranulph Fiennes. For those who are hearing his name for the first time, Sir Ranulph is one of the best polar explorers in the world, in addition to being a writer and a poet. I first read about him when I was reading something about Antarctic expeditions and the more I found out about him, the more respect I had for the man. But like him, my thirst for knowledge and understanding was not quenched, and so I decided to read his autobiography- Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know. The unusual sounding title is how he was referred to by his father-in-law when he asked his daughter’s hand to marry him.
The book begins with an account of the author’s childhood-the death of his father in World War 2 before he was born, his childhood in South Africa and how he dreamed of someday commanding the Royal Grey Scouts, which he ultimately did. After graduating from university (where he was taught German by John le Carre, the famous author), he served in the army of the Sultanate of Oman, and once his commision expired began looking for alternative employment opportunities. What followed was a series of expeditions in Canada, Transglobe (where the team started from England and went to Antarctica, the Arctic and back to England over a course of three years, travelling entirely on land and sea), the Antarctic expeditions and countless others. But the one expedition that I was really impressed by was the 7*7*7 marathon challenge.
In 2003, just three months after suffering a heart attack and undergoing a bypass surgery, Sir Ranulph completed 7 marathons in 7 days across 7 continents. While most of us only dream about running one marathon, this sixty-year “young” man completed seven over a period of six days actually, taking into account the different time zones. And in addition to that, the sponsors had one more condition-each marathon must be completed in under six hours, which both Sir Ranulph and his partner managed to do.
Sir Ranulph writes the book in a no-nonsense style, meaning if he doesn’t like someone, he will say it. And that is what makes this book so interesting. Readers expecting high drama and adrenaline pumping action will be disappointed. The author does not glorify himself or the expeditions, rather he simply states the facts, his preparation, the journey itself and finally the outcome. Towards the end of the book, the author described his failed attempt to climb Everest and successful one to climb the north face of the Eiger.
Ginny, the author’s first wife features predominantly in the book. He described her as a rock in his life, taking care of all the planning and communication for his expeditions, in addition to managing a farm in his hometown. Her death due to cancer affected the morale of the author, but he subsequently remarried.
Having raised over 10 million pounds so far for charity, the author pens down his “wishlist” at the end of the book, where even at the age of seventy, he wants to plan and go for a few more expeditions in order to reach the magical figure of 15 million pounds.
After the release of the book, the author succeeded in his third attempt to climb Everest and thus became the first man to cross both poles on land and climb Everest. When one journalist asked him about his plans for retirement, he joked that he would never retire as he thought playing golf and bridge are ways to reach an early grave.
There are many things that one can learn from this man and his book, no matter what your profession. Never give up is the foremost lesson. Strive hard to achieve what you want, and ultimately you will get it. And lastly, age is just a number. If a man in his sixties can run seven marathons in seven days barely three months after having a double bypass, we in our twenties can finish at least one.