Transcript: Andy North – Endurance Athlete (Max#31)

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Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential. Brought to you in association with the award winning recruitment group Jenrick.

Welcome to episode 31 of the Maximise Potential podcast. In our last episode with Bremont Watches Andy English used an expression which I believe is the perfect introduction to our guest on today’s episode. Nick was referring to the Bremont Ambassadors when he spoke of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. Andy North is a perfect example of this. This fifty year old Yorkshire man is about to embark on one of the most intense endurance events I have ever heard off. What I find particularly inspirational about Andy’s story is that he has managed to train for this incredible event whilst juggling family commitments, running a business and also attempting to reach his goal of raising £50,000 for two Armed Forces Charities. As you can probably tell I am resisting revealing what Andy’s actual challenge is at this stage and also the challenges he has already completed however what I will say is that anyone who is interested in understanding how someone like Andy prepared mentally for taking on an event like this is in for a real treat with today’s interview. Please enjoy.

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Andy North welcome to the Maximise Potential podcast.

Andy: Hi there Kevin.

Kevin: I’ve been introduced to you, I gave you a random phone call just because I was informed that you are undertaking pretty much the most incredible endurance event that I’ve heard of and it involves you leaving Yorkshire and ending up in Gibraltar and yet you are not using a plane or a boat or a car or anything. Do you want to just introduce exactly what you are doing?

Andy: Yeah sure usually we fly from Yorkshire to Spain, in south of Spain and I am always looking out of the window and wondering you know wouldn’t it be amazing to do it in different means. So what we decided to do this year is to run each morning and to cycle in an afternoon. So we are going to run 20 miles each morning and we are going to cycle 45 miles in an afternoon from Catterick Garrison down to London. We are going to do some kayaking on the Thames we are then going to continue with 20 miles in a morning 45 miles in an afternoon down to Dover. We are going to then kayak over the English Channel and then continue through France running and cycling. We are going to cycle two of the Tour de France peaks one of them is called d’Aubisque which is 6,000ft high and then we carry on through Spain cycling and running which is a total of 25 marathons and 1500 miles of cycling and the kayaking over the channel.

Kevin: How long is this going to take you?

Andy: About 42 days. That’s actually allowing a few days leeway for the channel crossing because of the weather.

Kevin: That’s incredible and where the heck did this come from?

Andy: It’s built up basically over time I would say. But you know over the years bringing your family up just going out jogging on a weekend or on an evening when you get back from work you know 1, 2, 3 miles over many, many years. Going through busy periods in your life where it phases out and then you bring it back in. You get a bit of a focus because somebody you know might be doing a 10k or a half marathon. And then really what I have realised is there is a stack of books underneath my bed that I have read, people like Jim Fix who was in that late 1950s and he popularised a book called ‘The Complete Book of Running’ and somebody gave me his book to read. And then reading Mark Beaumont who cycled round the world, broke the world record but actually cycled Lands End to John O’Groats when he was only 14 years old. Stuart Mickleman the first guy to run across America, he ran two marathons each day. You know reading all these books over time you don’t realise but there is a little pictures going in your mind and you are building these images up. Bit by bit you begin to realise that some of these guys are not all international athletes.

Kevin: See this is the interesting bit where we are coming to now because I think just through talking it through all of a sudden it is not just something that has come from nowhere that you have just thought okay I will do this. It sounds like something that has almost been a fire that has been stoked over years and years and now all of a sudden it is rising to the surface.

Andy: Yeah I guess it is really and you know I was flying out to Spain about three or four years ago now and I was reading a newspaper article and ironically I buys the paper and opens it up middle page is about this guy Ray Mountie, one of his children was ill and he started running in his late 40s realised he quite like it, had this old pair of shoes, smokes, drinks Guinness, doesn’t drink water, started running and decided to run round the middle east. I think it was he ran 12 marathons one after the other. Ran through Death Valley, did all these amazing things and he had never run before and he’s not an athlete. So it just leaves you to believe can ordinary Joe do these things.

Kevin: And so when you started breaking it down did it just take away this fear, this myth, this impossibility do you think?

Andy: Yeah because you just think that running a long way or cycling or doing these amazing things is just meant for these elite athletes, the younger ones and people that are just getting into that at an early age. And what you really realise is it doesn’t it just takes a little bit of planning and organisation and building up. You know building up your knowledge understanding diet, food, nutrition and just writing bits down making it real.

Kevin: And just talk to me I am going to ask you to try and cast your mind back a bit actually. At that moment where it went from being something that you thought other people did to something that you then realised that you could do. And whether it was opening that paper, because it sounded to me that that was that moment where you are on the plane, you have got nowhere else to go, you are captive at that moment, your mind is switching off and you are reading this. Something tipped over the edge from going someone else to me.

Andy: Absolutely I think that is a good point. I think it was that newspaper article and I got, I have kept it and I have got photocopies of it now and when I talk to people and I show them I am not making this up. That was inspirational for me and it was like a ping moment where you think yeah I can do something like that.

Kevin: That’s interesting because there is a book which you have heard me speak about which was ‘Bounce’ by a gentleman called Mathew Syed who we had the pleasure of interviewing and he spoke about trigger moments. Trigger moments when all of a sudden something goes, clicks in, you go I can do this, I can do this.

Andy: Yeah I think my first point was probably about eight years ago. There is a marathon called ‘The Yorkshire man off road Marathon’ which is run in September. And I came back from holiday and thought I am going to do this and entered it and did quite well with it and really enjoyed it. It was 4,000 ft of ascent if I remember rightly but it was just amazing countryside and I did that.

Kevin: How come you enjoyed it so much had you trained really hard for it or was it just a mindset of why you were entering it or what was it?

Andy: I think it was partly the mindset I think you are right. I think the mindset was where it was at. It was a nice day across the Yorkshire Moors you know there are a lot of hills involved. I was at the back, I was not at the front at all but I actually completed it and finishing it was amazing. And then followed by another one that follows on from that which was an Ultra marathon and this was stepping up to a 33m. That again just sort of stepped it up to the next level.

Kevin: And how did you feel inside yourself when you were achieving each one of these?

Andy: It is just building that picture all the time. Once your mind knows I can do a 10k, I can do a half marathon, I can do a marathon, I can do a ultra marathon or the smaller ultra marathon which is 30 odd miles. If you carry that training on and use that level that you have now reached and you carry on at that level so you keep your training moving you can then nudge it up to the next level. If you leave it two or three months and drop back and loose it you are starting again but if you can keep that level rising all the time you are able to stretch, your mind accepts it, you have got the muscle memory and you know you are able to move it on.

Kevin: So you are just building on what small foundations all the time?

Andy: Absolutely and I think the next one after that was the Dales Way which is 90m over three days. And again this was just a chance meeting with a retired postman outside a pub in village nearby. He explained that the next morning he was getting up at two or three in the morning and he was off to the Lake District. And I said why are you getting up so early when it is only like two hours drive away. And he says that’s because I’m walking. And I said well what do you mean you are walking. And he said well lucky enough our house is on the riverbank and there is a path from there, this is Ilkley in Yorkshire to Boness in the Lake District. Right your walk how long is that going to take you. He said a day or something, you know a day or a half or something and he enjoyed doing this. So that set, I just can remember that setting my mind on fire really thinking right 90 miles, 30 miles a day, Dales Way, bed and breakfast two nights right summer I am going to do it on my own.

So about three weeks later I bought a map, booked a couple of B&Bs, bought a bum bag and then off we went. So I took three days then running most of it and walking the last bit of it on each day but I was fantastic, it was amazing, it was out you are in the fresh air you know and you get there and that is the most amazing feeling. To do it on your own as well and getting there and finished it and met my wife at the end and we had a couple of days in the Lakes then, that was brilliant you know.

Kevin: And talk to me about that feeling, you said it felt fantastic but break that down a bit if you can.

Andy: Well it’s just motivational. It’s just to be outdoors and be doing these things, being free. You know it is just that sense of being out there.

Kevin: There’s this expression you have used a couple of times I don’t know whether you have used it consciously or not but you have actually said about completing the picture. What does that mean, what is that picture?

Andy: Well the picture is just the memory, I think it is just the memory of it, the event of what happened and the things where you go through and the pain barriers you go through on days where it is a challenge. You know you have broken that barrier I think you have been through it, you have gone through that pain, you have gone through that barrier, you know your mind accepts it and then you are ready for another one or you are ready for the next challenge because life is full of challenges and once you have achieved one. It is not the end is it, it is not a stop it is just a journey, it is part of the journey that you are going on. But the Dales Way for me is the benchmark it is a beautiful route and you know.

Kevin: Like you said the fact that you did that by yourself that must have given an extra special twist to it mustn’t it in terms of what did you learn about yourself?

Andy: What did I learn about myself? You are just focused on the task, on what you are doing. Your mind goes into wandering mode I think a lot and you create a lot in your mind. And this might sound stupid but I can remember creating this song in my mind and then as I was getting tired later in the day singing this song.

Kevin: Just repeating it to yourself.

Andy: Just repeating it to myself this sort of song and it was berserk. And I just remember I was walking a long and jogging a bit and it was quite sunny it was nice you know. Your mind just wanders off a lot. And the other interesting thing is when you are in that thought process for that period of time you feel no pain and you feel no aches or anything, you are not out of breath but as soon as you come out of it you start feeling the aches in your muscles and it starts, it is quite an amazing thing really.

Kevin: If I was to have spoken to a 30 year old Andy North do you think 30 year old Andy North would have thought that he was capable of doing any of these events that he has either done or is about to do in the near future?

Andy: Absolutely not, no way.

Kevin: Because the reason I ask that is you know there is a lot of people who probably think you know what if you have not already set something in motion by the age of 30 just forget about it, it’s too late.

Andy: No that is absolute not right that at all. You just, well I am 50 now, I have just gone 50 this year and we are entering into this challenge.

Kevin: So what would you say to someone who is 30?

Andy: Well what I have learnt now and what I can see clearly now is that by giving yourself your own challenge outside. There is three key elements in your life – your career, your work, your family who give a natural momentum, a natural routine, a natural pull, a natural demand. They will pull all of your time, 100% of your time just naturally if you allow it. But if you, as you do at work focus, and focus on yourself, give yourself a focus, give yourself a little challenge. Give yourself something that you want to do. Take the picture; get the image, read a book, little bit or research, start writing it down you can make it real. I don’t regret not doing those when I am 30 but I think if I had know what I know now where could I be now, how far could I be going this time.

Kevin: Yeah and that is hopefully what we are trying to show on this podcast aren’t we. That is hopefully what we are trying to do. You said it again take the picture. Are you taking a picture of where you are now or where you want to be, or where you see yourself?

Andy: You are taking a picture of your end product.

Kevin: Right that is what I wanted to get to. So you are actually seeing yourself. So if I say to you what’s this picture you have taken with regards to your Yorkshire to Gibraltar what is the picture?

Andy: Well I see myself setting off at Catterick Garrison in Yorkshire on 19 August when we set off with the Garrison Commander and about 200 – 300 soldiers because that’s what he has promised us when we set off.

Kevin: And you can see that?

Andy: I can see that. And we have got two Landover lead vehicles. We have got family and friends and anybody else who wants to join in whether it is people walking their dogs, roller-skates, cycling whilst we are running whatever. I have seen that picture, I can see Gibraltar. I have never been to France or Spain but I see it in my mind. You have to see it; you have to make it real. You know people say take a picture.

Kevin: why, why?

Andy: Because that gives you the image of where you are going to go. It shows you your end product. You can see yourself, visualising yourself achieving whatever it is you want to achieve.

Kevin: I know this and I am sorry if what I am asking almost sounds I don’t know like sucking eggs to you but this is what you have that enables you to achieve what you do. And this is the little bit that I am trying to extract to just bottle into this interview because it is this bit that you have managed to develop over the years from starting off just reading those books, you have been able to plant these as you rightly say you plant pictures in your mind and somehow those pictures relate to something in you. And then you manage to turn those pictures into somewhere where you are going to be.

Andy: I am a great believer in writing things down, cutting pictures out of magazines. If you see something and think oh I love that, I’d love to do that, I’d love to be there, I want to be that. If you cut the pictures out stick them in a book, stick them on your fridge you start to get the pictures in your mind, you begin to make it reality.

Kevin: Have you got scrapbooks and things like that, do you do this?

Andy: I have got boxes under my bed with magazines in and runner’s world and you know tear the pictures out if it’s like one that is awesome. You know I will tear it out and put it on the fridge or I’ll just put it in my pile on the desk.

Kevin: So it just stays around you.

Andy: Yeah I’ll give you one example I bought a triathlon magazine. There is two of these guys running they have obviously come off doing their other exercise they have gone through transition they are in the running and their figures, the bodies, I mean these guys are not young they look like they are 40ish something like that but the figures on them are physically fit. I like the kit they are wearing you know the peak hats the shoes everything you know. And I think actually when I am running in Spain I’d like to look like that, I want to feel like that and look like that.

Kevin: Interesting.

Andy: So I have actually cut that out and that is next to my PC on a little thing.

Kevin: So all of a sudden you are turning that into a picture.

Andy: So I am starting to see that now.

Kevin: Sorry I did interrupt you we were talking about finding that inner drive.

Andy: A few years ago now Dave Edwards, Dave and I, we call ourselves the Yorkshire Duo, we both met and decided about the running and about sort of getting things together with that. And we had this idea of doing Lands End to John O’Groats. Not that that’s unique and thousands of people haven’t done it but it was a good challenge. And I remember thinking with him yeah let’s do it but we won’t be able to do it will we. Will we be able to run from Lands End to John O’Groats?

Kevin: How far is that?

Andy: Well you can do it in the shortest route about 750m, or 760m. We did it in 1000m because we wanted to come through Yorkshire and go through the North East.

Kevin: 1000m of just running.

Andy: That was the original thought and I am also a member of the Academy of Chief Executives which runs throughout the UK in groups which you have come out of your business and you meet other business owners and Chief Execs, CEOs and you have a retreat each year and in that retreat you do personal goals and business goals. I plotted this with the team and you set your goals and then they are absolutely pulled to bits and analysed and regurgated into some realistic plan. So my challenge was wanting to do Lands End to John O’Groats want to run it all. But the challenge was I didn’t really have three or four weeks to take off to do it. So the suggestion, well one of the guys was why don’t you cycle some of it. To which I answered but I am now 47 and I have not been on a bike since I were 14 or something like that.

So I made that plan and that lived with me for a couple of years we reviewed it the year after and I put the same thing down again and the same challenges were there. And in the end that became the plan that we would cycle. We would run in the morning, we would do a marathon each morning and then we would cycle 60 odd miles, 65 miles in the afternoon to do the 1000m.

Kevin: Every day?

Andy: For 12 days consecutively yeah without a days’ rest. And we did raise £31,000 last year.

Kevin: That’s phenomenal.

Andy: Yeah we just did various different things. We got some sponsors. The challenge with this as ever is because you are working and you have got a family. You know you have just got to focus your time. You have got your to do list for home, your to do list for work and your to do list for the charity and the challenge you know.

Kevin: And is that the art to it just really focussing, making sure that you are paying attention to each part of your life as it is and having those to do lists. How does it work?

Andy: Well you need an understanding wife to start off with and family support on something like this. And it’s just keeping focussed on these things. You know I would say you have got the picture, you have got the dream, you have got the drive, you have got the feeling. I mean what is this going to be like just being outdoors for two weeks, you know doing this in 12 days so that’s like two weeks outdoors getting down to Lands End preparing and then setting off running. And being outdoors which is what you like doing.

Kevin: But you said

Andy: You have got a buzz haven’t you; it’s just like that feeling this is fantastic you know. You are doing it for a fantastic cause, the hard work has been done and the one thing you can’t ever forget is you cannot kid your body you have got to do the training. Whatever you are doing a 10k, half marathon, marathon whatever you can’t do it without the training.

Kevin: And so just before we leave that Lands End to John O’Groats when you were having the downers, not in the best mental place what do you use to try and get yourself back?

Andy: Food probably. What you realise is your body is a machine and it needs to be fed with the right type of, you know you need energy that is important that you are getting the right food. So coming off a big event like running a marathon in the morning and doing 60m in an afternoon on a bike that night it is vital that you get some good food inside you so you have got your protein, you have got chicken, salmon, fresh food vegetables. Two or three different vegetables you know.

Kevin: That’s interesting so it really showed you that for you the relationship between what is going into your body and then how the body responds.

Andy: Fine tuned, absolutely fine tuned is your body on something like this. So one night we are supposed to be in by sort of seven/eight o’clock max but I was getting in at nine/half nine some days when it was a tough day so then you didn’t eat much one particular day and we stayed in, we didn’t get much food out and then you are up again at six the next morning. And within an hour I was shaking, sat on the side of the road thinking I don’t know what’s wrong with me here and we had taken a snack with us each day so we have got running with a bum bag with a scone in it. With a buttered scone or wholemeal bread or something like that with some marmalade in it or something.

Kevin: Just something sweet and stodgy.

Andy: Just something there to keep you going if you need it. And this was planned for another couple of hours so I absolutely devoured this food and straight away I was fine I was right as reign so I was up and off again. I was okay within sort of 20 minutes. So you just begin to realise that this, it is getting the right balance. But you get the right balance and you get into your routine and you know its okay.

Kevin: And has this rubbed off on how you’ve maybe changed or evolved in business?

Andy: Yeah I mean it is very similar you know in business a lot of what I learn in business I use with this. You know a lot of being focussed looking for sponsors, you know taking knocks. It is almost like running a business you know you are having a plan, logging your progress, making sure you have got a focus where you need to be next week with your training. It is very, very similar.

Kevin: We are going to start winding down now but talk to me about Yorkshire to Gibraltar. How are you feeling about the intensity of this because I mean this takes what you have achieved so far in your life to a whole other level doesn’t it?

Andy: Absolutely. Again you know it is an exciting prospect. There is a lot planned in and it’s a big journey that we are going on and we have been on you know. We have just done a big charity event this last weekend. We have just done a series of backpacking with family and friends to help out. We have just done three supermarket collections there with the backpacking and made about £2,000 over those three. Within a week we have raised like £3,500 just with those backpacking the one charity evening that we have done. You know and then in between that it is doing the training and making sure that you’ve, got a log on my computer that sits there all the time I leave it live and you know if I’ve done anything like this morning did a 30m run so that has gone on there you know. And I’ve got it adding up as well so that I can see straight away so far this month look at last months. You know it’s not where it needs to be or it is I’m doing okay. So you keep a check on your progress.

Another key thing with this is I think to have some benchmarks so that going to France next week and we are doing some training in the Alps. And then we are benchmarking again I am going out to Spain in July which is about three weeks before we start the challenge just to get some training in the heat as well there so that will help. And then obviously it is working with the charities now to get you know the strategic planned out through the UK. We have got a meeting this weekend so we are planning the route so we can get collections going along there as well.

Kevin: I am just thinking how is it going to feel and how does already feel when you know that you are going to finish this challenge? Because I know that you already know how it is going to feel don’t you.

Andy: I do but again just contradicting what I have said earlier actually it isn’t the finishing that is important with this it is actually the journey that you are going to go on and I have met other people who have said similar things who have done bigger things than this before who have said the same. And it is you have got to enjoy the journey. It has got to be important that that journey as challenging as it is going to be it has got to be enjoyable and you have got to capture that. So it is not really the finishing the Lands End to John O’Groats – we got to John O’Groats and yeah we had a nice reception from some lovely people but the day before was the best day of the whole thing going through the mountains in Scotland you know and that was awesome. It is the journey that you have got to enjoy and it’s the same with any running or racing that you do it’s that journey. Yeah it’s nice to get over the finish line; yeah I’ve done that what a fantastic tick you know.

Kevin: Is there a certain element of it that is an anticlimax because you then know that that journey is over that there is a gap now?

Andy: Last year’s Lands End to John O’Groats it was yeah that was there but straight away my mind had clicked onto this challenge. I hadn’t told anybody but this was planning in my mind then even though nobody knew it this was there ticking. So I have got to try and temper the next one.

Kevin: Interesting. Yeah I know it is going to be very interesting to hear what you say when you finish the next one. I am going to wind this; this is the final thing I want to ask you. I like to ask everybody how they maximise their own potential, what they do that they would like to try and share with others and help inspire them to take that next step in their development in their lives.

Andy: It’s a really hard one this one. I would say think of something that excites you and will stretch you and start to look at it and think about it to make it real and it will become real. If you want it to become real it will become real even as farfetched as it might seem whatever it is whether it is in work business life whatever you can do because there is absolutely no way that I thought I would have thought when I was younger that I would be doing something like this. I know now I can do this even though it is a long way and there are big challenges there.

Kevin: And how do you feel now whenever you now think of something that could be considered a challenge?

Andy: What’s the plan to make it real. And if it doesn’t excite me and doesn’t turn me on then let’s not start going down that road.

Kevin: But if you get excited about it then in your mind that is it it can be accomplished.

Andy: Yeah absolutely.

Kevin: Andy North thanks very much.

Andy: Thank you take care.

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Kevin: Andy North thank you very much for casting such an insight into how you successfully prepare, plan and complete these amazing feats of endurance. The way Andy described how he uses visualisation is incredibly empowering and has actually led to an excellent discussion within the Maximise Potential group on LinkedIn. It goes without saying that Andy is still actively seeking support to help him reach his target of £50,000 for the Children’s Forces Trust and the ABF the Soldiers Charity. So if Andy’s story has inspired you then please just click through to the show notes and you will find a link to Andy’s just giving page. The adventure starts on August 19th and on August 26th I have pledged my own support by joining Andy on one of his 20m running legs. I also know that he is very keen to welcome other people to join him either running or cycling any or as many legs of the route as you may wish. So I have added the route to the show notes with Andy’s contact details for anyone that is interested. So there we go another excellent insight into the life of someone who is truly striving to maximise their potential.

Now a quick news update regarding the goings on at Maximise Potential. Firstly the Maximise Potential podcast has just been nominated for the European Podcasting Awards for best business podcast. The voting is taking place right now so if you would like to see our podcast scoop this highly coveted award please visit the show notes and click on the link to vote. We would really appreciate your support. We would also love to hear your feedback on this episode as well as your suggestions for future episodes. So please come to the site leave a comment, connect with us on Facebook or LinkedIn or pop over to ITunes and leave a rating and a comment there. And please remember if you are considering a career change then check out our sponsors Jenrick who specialise in engineering, IT and commercial recruitment.

Thanks again for tuning in and here is another mellow track from Xerxes to finish on and it’s called ‘Slide’ enjoy and we will be back very soon thank you.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!