Bonita Norris - "You have to start somewhere"

From not being able to run more than 30 seconds, Bonita Norris conquered Everest after two years' training.

GetOutside champion Bonita Norris was the youngest British woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 22. She has since skied to the North Pole and become the first British woman to summit Mount Lhotse, the world's fourth highest mountain. She talked to us about starting from nowhere and how the British outdoors inspired her adventures worldwide.

1) What, for you, are the benefits of being outside?

Something we don’t get enough of in modern life is time with nature. It releases endorphins. Sometimes when I’m climbing or running, it seems arduous at the time but when I come home, I’m happier. My mood is lifted.

2) What are your favourite things about being outside?

I love the seasons changing. When it’s nice weather I love running around the tracks where I live near Bracknell. I enjoy seeing the flora and fauna changing.

I love being outside. I take stock and relax. The outdoors can have a miraculous effect on people.

3) Any favourite places to go?

I love climbing down on the south coast - in particular the Diamond Slabs on Portland. They’re 5-10 minutes off the beaten track and hardly anyone is there. When I returned from the extremes of climbing Everest, it was wonderful to come home and go climbing there on summer days.

“OS has been with me in some ways since the start of my journey to becoming a mountain climber. I have used paper maps ever since I first stepped out into the hills as a novice hill walker and climber, so to be able to actually work with the brand is such a privilege and makes me realise how far I've come."

Bonita on OS maps


4) Favourite outdoor pursuits?

As well as climbing I love trail races. Trail running is excellent training for an expedition. I also think it’s important to have short term challenges and goals.

When I went out on my first run when I was 17, I only lasted 30 seconds, but the next day I went out and managed one minute! You have to START SOMEWHERE.

Since then, I’ve never stopped running. It has been a constant in my life. But it all started with that 30 second run….

5) Memorable outdoor challenges?

The Exe to Axe – a 20 mile run along the Devon coastline – was probably my favourite race I ever did.

6) What are your main motivations for Getting Outside?

If I don’t get outdoors my mood changes. It really is the best medicine. Even if it’s just setting up a slackline in the park.

Sometimes it’s hard to motivate myself. But I say to myself: ‘You’ll love it once you’re out there. In the long run it’ll be good.’

7) What advice can you give people who aren’t particularly outdoorsy or motivated?

Step outside for five minutes. If you hate it, you can always come back in.

Run to the end of your road. You can get back if you really need to, but once you’re out you’ll probably love it.

Just one minute is better than nothing.

It’s good to be outside even in the winter. At this time of year I like to go on long dog walks with my family. It’s always good to go out with someone as it turns it into a social occasion.

8) What makes many of us couch potatoes?

Sadly, people don’t realise what’s on their doorsteps. It’s a HUGE issue. I’m outdoorsy and even I’M still discovering places in my area I didn’t know about.

Sometimes I’ll see a path and stop the car and go down it – and find something like an amazing pond.

We need to have our eyes more open. While you may feel surrounded by concrete in towns and cities, they often have nearby farms, paths and lakes. If you say you have nothing to do – just look around.

9) What’s your favourite place in the world?

I have travelled the world and have seen some beautiful scenery – especially the Himalayas, but the Jurassic coast on a lovely day is just as beautiful.

People sometimes think of England as grey, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. Some parts of this country are the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. There’s lots of colour here.

10) What’s your favourite outdoor terrain?

Agggh! I can’t answer that! I love the coast, I love the mountains, I love the woods. I can’t choose between them.

11) What do you like about GB?

I’m a bit of a spring geek. It’s lovely to land back in the UK after an expedition. It’s so green!

Because I was away in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, I missed four English springs on the trot. In 2014 I was home in the springtime and I was like: ‘OMG this is amazing!’

12) How did the Everest climb come about?

Two years before, I was a total novice. I signed up on impulse after going to a lecture on Everest at the Royal Geographical Society in 2009.

I read everything on Everest. Every book, every blog. What got me there was the fact I built up a strong emotional attachment. You have to be obsessed.

Though every day I said to myself: ‘ What am I doing?’

Those thoughts beat you down. Sometimes you don’t see any progress. But even at my lowest point, it was too much to give up.

You have to have a belief in yourself – a visualisation that it will be OK in the end. There were some tough times. I was close to giving up, and I had £50,000 to find on a part-time disability carer’s wage.

13) Who inspires you?

So many people inspire me. I’m constantly inspired by other women: Business women, friends, athletes and other climbers. Especially female climbers such as Alison Hargreaves who was really pioneering and fearless and the best female mountaineer in the UK. But not satisfied with being the best woman mountaineer, she wanted to be the best mountaineer full stop.

In 1995 she scaled Everest with no help and no oxygen. That went down as one of the best Everest climbs ever.

14) What’s your essential outdoor gear?

I tend to be quite minimal. With regard to clothing it’s a case of be bold – start cold. I don’t really like to rely on anything. I like it to be just me and the outdoors where possible – apart from just a mobile phone and a map.

15) What is your life mantra?

No matter how slow the progress, you’ll get there one day if you keep moving forward.

16) Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I’m a normal person. I sit on the sofa with my boyfriend and watch rubbish TV. I sometimes eat junk food – but don’t beat myself up if I enjoy a chocolate bar now and again.

17) What do you eat to stay healthy?

I try to eat as much fresh food as possible and not too much processed food. I’m obsessed with salad and raw veg.

So I have things like nuts and cereals, homous and avocado, salad and protein, jacket potatoes and rice. I’m almost a vegetarian and believe that a lot of your wellbeing comes from your gut.

I’m low on iron, so I take an iron-rich supplement (water from Wales).

18) What’s your next adventure?

In spring 2016 I’m leading an expedition to Everest Base Camp to raise money for Nepalese. I want to show support in person.

I’ve set myself a series of mini challenges too - including climbing in the French Alps in the summer, and Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye

After the Base Camp trek. Want to be the first British woman to climb any 8,000 metre peak without oxygen since Alison Hargreaves achieved it 21 years ago. I’m climbing Cho Oyu - a mountain 20km to the west of Everest.

19) What is your Get Outside pledge?

I do a lot of climbing and running and I’d like to try a different sport. So I’m going to learn to sea kayak! That’s on top of my other planned adventures.

My goal for the next few months is to get outside as much as I can. I think we should all pledge to get outside more this summer.

20) Parting shot?

You may ask why get outside? I say, why not?

The outdoors is a place you can build so many memories. Some of my favourite moments ever are running along watching a fantastic sunset. If I were stuck inside, I wouldn’t have seen it. 

“I'm pleased to endorse the Get Outside campaign because I spend so much time working in schools with young people, encouraging them to do exactly that! The outdoors is the ultimate playground- it's right on our doorstep, open to all, and it's free!”

Bonita on #GetOutside
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