Esquire Network's newest reality series is pushing the limits. Boundless follows lifelong friends Simon Donato and Paul Trebilcock as they take on five months of what the network calls "extreme challenges" around the world, and in the second season, things get even bigger. BFTV recently touched base with the pair between adventures to ask them about their eyebrow-arching, body-breaking experiences.
"Boundless is a show about Turbo [Paul] and I, and our mission to take on some of the most challenging ultra endurance events in the world," explained Simon. "These challenges include 250km ultra running races, 210km mountain bike races, stand-up paddle board races, 100 mile winter skiing and cycling races, and more!
"So far, we’ve travelled to 15 countries and five continents. In season one, we raced over 1,100 human powered kilometres in a little over four months, and in season two we doubled the distance and raced over eight months."
What makes an event worthy of being included on the show? How do these two decide what they want to - and what they can feasibly - tackle? "I give Simon my wish list of races I would like to participate in. He and our producer [Stephen Bray] put together a larger list and then work out a schedule," said Paul. "Once the races are set, we can adjust our training to suit the schedule of the upcoming races. We generally train between 10 and 20 hours a week to keep fit enough to do these races."
"The goal is to pick tough, interesting races in amazing places," added Simon. "We’ve also learned that the human story (not just Turbo and I) really can enrich an episode - so that’s a huge consideration too. In training for Boundless, I typically put in big mileage on road and mountain bikes, hit the trails to run, and spend time in the gym, and on my SUP.
"Average weeks are 10 - 20 hours of training. The bulk of training is done in advance of the season, which typically begins in July for us. Once we start filming, there is barely any time to train - it’s about recovering, managing injuries, and working technique for any events that aren’t in our wheelhouse."
"I’m personally proud of the Charlie Ramsay Round in Scotland, the Amazon rafting race in Peru, and the Yukon Arctic Ultra race," he continued. "They were all very different, but extremely challenging races. I won’t give any spoilers here, but they were all special to me for different reasons."
"Win, lose or draw, I am pretty proud of all the experiences I gain in this show," agreed Paul. "They are all huge endurance challenges and you always have something to take home with you afterwards. I must say that I am proud of my performance in the Yukon this season."
And unlike most people who are participating in these major challenges, they're doing it all with a TV production crew surrounding them. We asked them if they've settled into having their journey documented by now. "You definitely get used to the crew's presence," Paul commented. "It does make the races a little tougher. We have a lot of shooting to do before these events, so you usually are racing to get to the start line instead of resting and getting in the zone."
"Having a camera crew like ours is fantastic," enthused Simon. "The team is hard working, and very capable, but the real plus is that we are all great friends - I have known Josh and Jordan for over 10 years - and get along even in the most difficult situations. That said, it does add another level of challenge to these events, as your focus is obviously on racing, but you also have to deliver content. There are times in a long, gruelling race when you just don’t want to talk to the camera.
"When I was racing in Egypt last year, I had a period on the long day - [an] 85km stage in a 250km five-day running race through the Sahara - where I barely spoke to the director, and wouldn’t answer his questions," he continued. "I was running in a group of four, with the race leader, and the next fastest runners. I was in second place, but suffering badly, so when Josh would ask how I was feeling, I didn’t want to say 'I feel like crap and want to walk,' because that would be the cue for the third- and fourth-place runners to attack me.
"So there are times when we shut ourselves off to the camera and just focus on racing. There are other times when we focus on the camera and forget about racing - it’s give and take and we’ve figured out a pretty good system."
Once the finish line has been crossed or the results tallied, how do Simon and Paul personally keep score? Is it based on how they perform, or something bigger than statistics or a trophy? "It really depends on the event," Simon said. "If it’s an event that I am well trained for, then typically my expectations are high and I want to push hard and do well. In those instances, yes, finishing on or near the podium is the icing on the cake.
"In some other events, or when I’m extremely fatigued, it’s battling my demons and overcoming my doubts and fears that gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, the best feeling is when you earn your finish by travelling through the depths of self doubt, consider abandoning, but persevere instead."
"Seeing the finished product of the episodes gives me the most sense of accomplishment," replied Paul. "We have quite a crew who work behind the scenes. I constantly get feedback on how inspiring the show is, which truly lights me up. I love to see it get people out there to push themselves a little harder."
And that's ultimately what these two ultra-athletes are hoping the viewing public takes away from Boundless. "When we race, it’s natural to struggle, and think about quitting - this is the nature of racing," Simon said. "I think about it often while I’m suffering during a competition, and I don’t begrudge myself for doing so. It’s healthy to be able to have a discussion about quitting with yourself. I keep going because I know how much I hate the feeling that lingers after you quit…it’s the worst!
"I’d rather push through the low points just to avoid dealing with being a quitter. I know I’m capable of doing anything I put my mind to. I take these aspects from the competition and apply them to my daily life - this lets me push through on tasks that need to get done, but that I don’t enjoy doing. It also reminds me regularly of how resilient we all are."
"The human body is an amazing piece of machinery," Paul reflected. "You can push it and it will just adapt. It will adapt to nutrition, lack of sleep, punishment day in and day out. The only limiting factor is in between the ears."
Boundless airs Tuesdays at 10 PM ET/PT on Esquire Network (check your local listings for specific channel).