Dr Hugh Montgomery
I don't have an ‘off button’, says Dr Hugh Montgomery, sea diver, skydiver, long-distance runner, high-altitude mountaineer, genetics researcher, writer, director of the Institute of Human Health Performance, and Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at University College London.
This month, he is embarking on his latest adventure – a 135km run along the Pilgrim’s Way in northern Spain. He will be raising money for the Safe Hands For Mothers charity, which aims to reduce pregnancy-related deaths among women in developing countries.
Most people walk the Pilgrim’s Way in five or six days, but Hugh will be attempting to complete the entire 90 miles – from Triacastela to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela – in just one day, a daunting prospect for anyone, even for him.
Hugh says: “I used to do a lot of 100k races, but I was younger and a lot fitter, so it’s not going to be easy. But given the suffering that women around the world are going through, then the suffering I will experience on the day is going to be insignificant in comparison.”
Now 46, Hugh has been getting into shape, running in Victoria Park and the Lea Valley estuary. He has been living near the park for nine years, and finds the location agrees with him from the point of view of work and leisure.
He says: “The area is ‘green’ with good cycle routes. In an emergency I need to be at hospital in 20 minutes, which I can easily do by bike from here. Also, it is possible to walk into town along the canal.”
Pushing the human body to its physical limits has been a major focus of Hugh’s medical career. In 2000, he made a major scientific breakthrough when he identified a gene responsible for fitness.
He discovered one in four people are born with a genetic combination that enables them to respond better to training, although he says he does not have the gene himself.
Most people take five or six days to walk the Pilgrim’s Way in northern Spain — Hugh Montgomery plans to complete all 90 miles in one day So what keeps him motivated? A combination of factors. “Firstly I like to push myself. Secondly if you are doing a long race or climbing a big mountain, you get to spend time with genuine, kind, enthusiastic and committed people and share their company.
Thirdly, the aesthetic. Being in these places is immensely beautiful.”
Interestingly, none of his physical feats factor among his greatest achievements, for he is most proud of his children’s novel, ‘The Voyage of the Arctic Tern’ a tale of treason, treachery and treasure on the high seas.
So what next for the south Hackney resident? Locally, he is working with primary schools to engage them in environmental issues. He is also halfway through writing his next book.
Hugh has thought about rowing across the Atlantic or swimming the English Channel, even though he finds the prospect swimming for hours on end ‘monumentally boring’. But you get the feeling he might just do it anyway.
- 1962 Born in Plymouth, Devon
- 1984 Awarded BSc Physiology
- 1987 Awarded Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery
- 1993 Started at University College London
- 2007 Became Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at University College London
Page updated: 15 Jun 2010