Monday, July 14, 2014

Inspirational Role Models: Part 2 - Richard Bowles

The first instalment of Inspirational Role Models featured Sydney ultra-endurance trail runner Shona Stephenson. Part 2 looks at another Australian trail runner, Richard Bowles. Aside from their athletic abilities, the two have a lot of other things in common – an incredible talent for gathering online followers, unstoppable self-promotional skills and a gift for writing nauseatingly clichéd and barely intelligible prose. They also possess a curious knack for squeezing the meaning out of well-known proverbs, reducing them to oxymoronic catch-phrases or simple statements of common sense.

“Pain does not last forever……only a little while.” – Shona Stephenson 2012 
“MORE IS BETTER - Because if you are not getting MORE then you are getting LESS.” – Richard Bowles
Despite being a loosely cycling-related blog, Part 1 of this series postulated that, as cyclists, we need to look outside of our own sport for role models – mainly because doping scandals have shattered so many dreams in recent years. This piece investigates the idea that achieving difficult personal goals and never letting yourself down are important qualities that cyclists do not inherently possess. As any cyclist knows, quitting is something that we are extremely good at, hence the need, once again, to look outside of our sport for a suitable role model.

Quitting is something so prevalent in cycling that often it is not even questioned. Just last week, defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome pulled out of the race on only the 5th stage. In almost every single cycling race, you will find riders pulling out. The reasons might vary from a serious injury like a broken collarbone to more minor ones like saddle sores or illness. Some riders pull out simply because it doesn’t look like they’ll have a chance to win or so they can get ready for another race. Sprinters have a history of pulling out before a multi-day race reaches the high mountains where they are likely to suffer. Even when they want to keep riding, in disciplines like Cross Country mountain biking, riders are forced to pull out simply because they’ve fallen too far behind the race leader. Indeed, if you are involved in competitive cycling, quitting is so ingrained in the sport that it’s almost inevitable.

But if you want a sport where pushing on and simply getting to the finish is considered a victory, then ultra-endurance adventure trail running is probably worth considering and Richard Bowles would serve as a very worthy role model.

The image above is the header from Richard’s nauseatingly self-promotional Facebook page where he describes himself as a “Public Figure” and proudly boasts about how:
“The Media coin Richard the Forrest Gump, Bear Grylls Hybrid. The man who knows how to not just achieve huge goals, but exceed them mentally and physically.” 
Trawling through his (very much public) Facebook timeline, you find over 50 motivational posters in the last 18 months alone. It’s certainly a test of endurance, but as with everything that causes pain and suffering, there is a reward at the end.

Heading with trepidation back through Richard’s timeline, even 2013 seems like the distant past in an incredibly testing and excruciating lesson in self-promotion and egotistical record keeping. Immediately, I’m thinking about giving up. It seems impossible that I’ll even make it back to 2012, the year that Richard became the first person to run the 5000km+ Bicentennial National Trail. I just don’t possess the desire or the will. This is where I need one of Richard’s slightly confusing yet still incredibly motivational quotes to help me push on through.

And then it appears, as if summoned up by the Norse God of Motivational Clichés:

Here Richard finds a way to get over a wooden fence. Truly inspiring.

I’m not sure what it is about these inspirational ultra-endurance trail runners, but for some reason they possess an extraordinary ability to spew forth words and phrases in ways that not only defy most conventions of the English language, but whose power overwhelms even the automated spellcheckers that are built-in to almost every online publishing application.

Taking a critical look at Richard Bowles and Shona Stephenson, one might ask why their incredible ability for self-motivation and achievement has not translated over to their writing – or simply why they haven’t worked out how to turn on their spellchecking software. Shouldn’t these qualities have enabled them to triumph over the basic hurdles of spelling and grammar that is hindering their very ability to communicate this inspirational message to a mass of eager followers?

There must surely be a fairly large segment of, at least partially-educated, potential readers out there who are missing out on the powerful message of these sporting prophets simply due it being almost indecipherable to anybody with a Grade 4 reading level. What is going wrong here? Why is there such a paradoxically large gap between what these people are able to achieve and their ability to communicate? Has the running, the suffering, the single-minded focus on achieving such tough physical goals, affected their brain in some way that medical science would be interested in finding out more about?

Well, yes, as it turns out.

A medical study available on the Bio Med Central website showed that during the 4,487km ultra marathon TransEurope-FootRace in 2009, a sample group’s “GM [Grey Matter] volume decreased in brain regions normally associated with visuospatial and language tasks.” In this paper the authors “…hypothesized that ultra marathon athletes might have developed changes to grey matter (GM) brain morphology due to the burden of extreme physical training.”

Although these “visuospatial and language” changes were found to be reversible and normalised after around 8 months, it is possible that Richard Bowle’s intense program of ultra marathon events (some undertaken only weeks apart) has caused irreparable damage to the language centre of his brain, or at least prolonged the effects. This would go some way to explaining his inability to grasp many of the most fundamental aspects of spelling, grammar and punctuation, but it still does not explain why he is so adverse to using the spellchecker.

Interestingly though, despite these obvious struggles with the written word, reading over his website, it turns out that he’s actually in the process of writing a book. Obviously Richard does not ‘…want to write just another adventure book along the lines of "I started here, I did this, and now I’m here.” ’
“The question Richard is always asked is, why?. Why does he do what he does?...this gave Richard the idea for the book. Richard decided that he wanted to write a book about finding his 'why?'…The real question isn't why, but, how?. How does an ordinary guy achieve extraordinary goals....and how can you achieve your extraoridnary goals?.”
Obviously, I can’t wait to read this book. Hopefully it enables me to achieve extraoridnary goals like incorporating Question Stops (?.) in to my own writing.

There’s also a link on the page that allows you to send in ideas for the title of Richard’s upcoming book:

Note the use of Richard’s trademark Question Stop (?.) in my suggestion.

His website’s Media page describes how “When it comes to media there isnt much Richard Bowles isnt across.” – obviously this excludes apostrophes, as he clearly has a deep aversion to those. In fact, this particular phobia has surfaced before, and when I questioned him about it on Twitter, the natural comedy that materialised was a pleasant surprise.

Sometimes, it’s just too easy.

In his Columns page, Richard makes a very generous offer:
“If you would like Richard to write something for you monthly or something one off, be it for your business, club or public publication contact his team here”
Wow, what an offer! Keen to take Richard up on this, I immediately sent him an email:
From: <>
Hi Richard,  
Firstly, let me say that I am a big fan of your motivational speaking and writing. There’s a lot regular people could learn about improving their lives from your inspiring stories.  
Anyway, I’d love for you to write a column for my cycling blog as I think there’s also a lot cyclists could learn from you about motivation and achieving their goals. 
Could you perhaps write something inspiring from a ultra-endurance trail runner's perspective for my (admittedly small) group of cynical cycling readers? After all, you’ve taught so many people how “to exceed not just their goals, but their limitations.” And in my opinion, the cycling community could do with “a general kick up the backside.” 
Reading over your website, I’ve noticed that you have an amazing ability to use language in interesting ways and it is this that I’d love you to focus on – specifically, the way your unique brand of spelling, punctuation and grammar effectively communicates your passion and enthusiasm for success, goals and achievement in all aspects of life. 
My blog, while loosely related to cycling, shares many similarities with your writing in that we both write “across a variaty of topics from business to sport and everything inbetween.” I think we definitely have some crossover and I’d be keen to connect with you on a professional level as there’s plenty we could learn from each other.  
You could definitely teach me a lot about perseverance and exceeding my goals and limitations, while I could teach you where to put apostrophes and how you can’t simply form compound words by joining together regular words like you can in German.  
For example, one of the longest German words is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which literally translates to "beef labelling supervision duty assignment law" and it is actually a compound word made from the following components: 
Rind (cattle), Fleisch (meat), Etikettierung (labelling), Überwachung (supervision), Aufgaben (duties), Übertragung (assignment), Gesetz (law). 
But obviously this sort of word would be gibberish in the English language. 
Anyway, all subtleties of German and English grammar aside, I’m really keen to develop a professional relationship with you. I find some of your messages profoundly effective – the idea that 'There is no “I” in team, but there is in WIN!' is something that I’ve taken on board recently. Actually it’s been extremely useful at those infuriating work meetings about achieving corporate goals, assigning roles and managing workloads for team members who all have different personal agendas. 
Whenever I disagree with one of my stupid colleagues' dumb ideas, I just remind them how there’s no I in team. And when I want them take one of my great ideas seriously, I’m quick to remind them how “I have a great idea, and that there is an I in WIN!” – this method of argument has definitely given me a powerful edge in workplace negotiation. I really want to thank you for this gift. 
Also, regarding your upcoming book, I hope you got my suggestion for the title – Bowles’ Movements. I think this works on many levels. Firstly, it conjures up images of all the incredible places around the world that you’ve travelled and run through – from Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail to the entire length of Israel to circumnavigating an exploding volcano in Sumatra. But this title also hints at how you are always moving as a person – how you are never satisfied with what’s been achieved, how there’s always something more to get out of life, and always keeping in mind how “life is a race against time.” 
I look forward to hearing from you soon. 
Yours sincerely, 
The Private Cyclist
Richard’s blog includes a great collection of video posts and stories about his amazing achievements. But while one might easily label him as a blindly focussed egomaniac whose own self-promotion seems to be his true guiding force, he balances this out with an entire blog post dedicated to thanking his support crew.
“there is literally a mountain of people that not only support my efforts in accomplishing trails that span the length of entire nations, but support me way before my feet hit the trails.”
It might just be me, but I find it almost impossible to read the phrase “literally a mountain of people” without envisioning a massive pile of bodies from some horrible genocide. Either that or the Kylie Minogue music video All The Lovers.

Richard goes on to thank his massage therapist Lauren Starr, and apparently his gratitude is so immense that in this post he manages to incorrectly spell her name twice. Amazing stuff.

Although, sometimes it can be difficult to see Richard’s message for fog, I’ve learnt that if you’re happy to be tripped up on spelling and punctuation and roll down the mountainside of sentence structure, eventually you end up in the abyss of blind faith. And it’s here where Richard’s message can truly be understood. Actually, understood is probably not the correct word, because often Richard’s messages defy understanding, and even basic logic, it’s more that you come to just accept them as being right and true. In fact, not trying to understand them is probably an important test of faith in the word of Bowles. I’ve come to view it much like a religion, to take his confusing words as dogma, not getting too caught up in what the words actually are or how they are arranged, but more so the fact that they are words written in CAPITALS and set against a background of dramatic photography.

If you ever get the chance to hear Richard speak in public, then I highly recommend it. It’s truly incredible just how simple and powerful his motivational message is: “Just do the things that you know you should do.” His personal philosophy is about following his feelings and never, ever letting himself down.
“There’s no worse feeling, I reckon, than letting yourself down. Let other people down, whatever, but letting yourself down…that hurts.”
It’s little surprise that there are some doubters out there claiming that people like Richard Bowles are nothing more than over-driven narcissists, with an incredible ability to plough on through life, doing whatever it takes to achieve their own personal goals. And there’s certainly plenty of evidence out there to support these views, even on Richard’s own website and social media channels:

I value myself (and my sense of humor) highly, therefore I'm always striving for more!
Know your worth and aim higher!

But if you delve deeper, then you find that he’s someone who has a genuine passion for sharing his own philosophical beliefs, mostly in motivational poster form:

And it’s in harnessing his power for sharing these personal philosophies that has allowed Richard to forge a career out of inspiring others, and he shouldn’t be hated for that. Personally, I think he has the potential to branch out further in to other industries where his fierce drive to succeed in life could realise huge benefits.

I’m sure I’m not alone in anxiously anticipating Richard’s next adventure. In the meantime, we might have to settle for his upcoming book release – let’s hope it’s not too far away. And let’s also hope that he chooses my title.


  1. Very very funny and a good reality check for us all aspiring Facebook ultra runners.

    I can't resist though, it's Stephenson, not Stevenson :-)

  2. Excellent pick up. Corrections have been made. I'll put that one down to World Cup & Tour de France-induced sleep deprivation. Actually, let's be honest, it's really due to typical cyclist laziness.