Adventureman Jamie McDonald

Introduction

This is the Cotswolds People Podcast brought to you by Alastair James Insurance Brokers.

My name’s Alastair and throughout this podcast, I’m going to be speaking with a variety of very special guests from the worlds of business, sport, music, literature, politics, and many more, all of whom have a connection to the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty.

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This week, we hear from Adventureman and double world record holder, Jamie McDonald.

Jamie’s adventures include

  • Cycling 14,000 miles from Bangkok, back to his hometown in Gloucester
  • Running 5,000 miles across Canada, without the aid of a support crew
  • A 5,500 mile cross country run across America, including desert temperatures of 50 degrees centigrade

Jamie’s two World Records are for the longest time ever spent on a static bike - 268 hours (more than 11 days), and spending 7 days on a treadmill, surviving off less than 3 hours sleep a night, running the most amount of miles humanly possible to this point in time; a record breaking distance of 524 miles.

Jamie has raised more than £1 million for charity and continues to give back through the charity he founded The Superhero Foundation. In November 2019, he was awarded the Pride of Britain, Fundraiser of the Year award. He’s a best selling author and travels the UK and overseas to speak at conferences, giving motivational talks and entertaining keynote talks across the world. Jamie grew up around the Cotswolds, being from Gloucester, something he’s really proud of….

Jamie:

Yeah, I’m Gloucester born and bred!

Alastair:

And I’m sure just having heard that back, you’ve heard all those achievements regaled to you numerous times. It is phenomenal; do you ever look back and think, wow, have I done all that?

Jamie:

Sounds a bit daft really, doesn’t it, when you’re reading it like that, Alastair? But it’s just like a memory now, just a nice memory. And the weird part is you kind of block out all the tough times like “yeah, it’s great”. Great time.

Alastair:

You’ve met some amazing people as well along the way. I guess a lot of that is what’s kept you going in some pretty dark times I imagine?

Jamie:

Yeah. And I remember on the last adventure I was running every single night for about three months in the Arizona desert. It was probably about 55 degrees in the day, so it was just impossible to run in the daytime. It was completely barren. So I had to run at night, even though it was 40 degrees. And for about two months I was kind of going at it. And then I stayed in this fire department in the middle of nowhere during the day to sleep. And then when I woke up, they were closed down, so I had to leave. So I got going, I started running through the night. It got to about one o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t seen a car all night. This car kind of drives up and drives past me. Oh, okay. That’s quite … it’s nice to see something. But then I hear it turn around… It starts driving back at me and I’m like, huh, humans! And then it pulls up next to me and the window goes down and it was a woman. And she said … and she was acting awkward… I was like, “Are you alright, love?” And she said, “I don’t know whether to tell you or not.” I said, “You go for it, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” And she said, “Are you running that way?” And I said, “yep.” And she said, “Okay, well, I think it’s best that I let you know that where we just drove, where you’re running, we spotted on the side of the road a mountain lion.” I said, “Right, what does that actually mean?” And she said, “I’m not really sure.” I said, “well I’m not really sure either.” And then she said, “Right, well, I think it was best that I let you know. Okay, well, good luck, bye.” And then just drives off!

Alastair:

And what do you do with that information?!

Jamie:

Exactly, Alastair. What the hell do you do with that? So I went into pure panic mode. I started to think maybe I should run back, back to the fire department, but I mean, it was another half marathon back. In the end I just thought, right, well, there’s nothing back there. It’s closed anyway, and I’m going to have to run this stretch. So I need to just go for it. So I took out the biggest, meanest pen knife known to man that would have probably done more harm to me than the mountain lion! And then I got running and I had my head torch on and it was pitch black, apart from the head torch, and of course, as I’m running I’m just listening to the desert.

And Alastair, I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to the desert, it’s like every single noise wants to kill you! So every time I heard a rustle, I’d quickly look left and look right in pure panic. Then an hour went by and then I spotted something on the side of the road where I heard a noise. So I looked and I thought, no, it can’t be. And then I went up closer and I was like, it really is. And there was a big, massive tarantula on the side of the road! So forget the mountain lion, I am petrified of spiders! So I thought, right, I need to capture a video of this because it was doing vlogs along the way to help with fundraising. So I went over and I put my foot next to it because I wanted to capture the perspective and the size of it. I mean, it was half the size as my foot. So I put my foot down, but the tarantula must have heard the vibration because it turned around and then started chasing me. So then Alastair that was it, I was off. I started pelting, screaming my head off! No one could hear anyway. But as I started to run it got even weirder because I saw another tarantula and another one and another one and literally they were all across the road. So I’m screaming my head off and as I’m pushing - I had a pram, his name was Caesar -while I was pushing it I was actually hitting them. Bam! Bam! You know, you could almost hear the crunch. I’m pelting it. In the end I just pelted it all night until sunrise. I mean, it was dark. It was a dark night and then made it into this tiny little town and there was a cafe and I walked in. Of course, I’ve got my superhero costume, my Adventureman suit, which I always wear day and night - I’ve actually got it on now!

So I’m in this cafe, and then this guy comes up to me. He goes, “It looks like you’ve had a rough night.” So I explained about the mountain lion, and then I explained about the tarantulas and I said there were hundreds of them. And he said, “Wow, are you kidding me, do you know, that’s really rare to come across a nest like that, there are people flying around the world in search of that. You’re really, really lucky!”

Alastair:

That is incredible. And are you a lucky person? Do you believe in that sort of thing and fate, and all that sort of stuff?

Jamie:

That’s a good question. I think I’ve definitely … I play it by a, like a happy go lucky kind of a way really. But I think that’s not me trying to do that, I think I’m naturally not really a planner. So I kind of just roll with it and then ultimately believe that everything’s going to work out. So far it just about has.

Alastair:

I get that impression that a lot of your challenges, one sort of leads to the other, I guess - when you did your first world record attempt, that was just on the back of your first challenge as well, that you just kind of fell into it almost three weeks later that you attempted it?

Jamie:

Yeah. I mean, it’s all about kind of striking while the iron is hot, isn’t it? I felt like I had five and a half thousand miles in the bank of running for a year across America. I kind of felt like I may be in a position then to attempt probably one of the toughest endurance challenges of then running seven days on a treadmill to cover the most amount of miles. But I’m realistic as well, you know. I recognise that if I was going to jump and start that there was a really good chance that I might not make it. But you could say that was quite well planned, really, to clock up five and a half thousand miles to start it!

Alastair:

That is pretty good training. In your first challenge, your bike ride - that’s a bit of a disservice to call it a bike ride, isn’t it - you bought a second hand bike for £50 and off you went?!

Jamie:

Yeah, about eight years ago I was saving up to put a deposit on a house and I saved up £20,000 of my own money. And it was a huge amount back then to me. And I went in to sign the papers and right at the last minute I just got this gut feeling in my stomach that something’s wrong. And I don’t know if you ever get those gut feelings Alastair?

Alastair:

Yeah, I think we all do don’t we.

Jamie:

In the end I just listened to it, pulled out and then I took time out of my life. Actually I stopped working, I was tennis teaching and I just thought, what’s life all about? There’s got to be more, there has to be more to life. With that kind of notion, I ended up going back to Gloucester Children’s Hospital just to kind of see the work they do.

Jamie:

And I went in and I met all those kids and I left and again, I just had that overwhelming feeling of there must be more to life. So I scrapped the house. I didn’t buy it. And instead I bought a terrible bike for 50 quid out of the newspaper. Then I got in touch with the hospital and I said, “Look, I’ve come up with a daft idea. I’m going to cycle 14,000 miles from Bangkok to Gloucester and I’d really liked to kind of give back for all the help that you’ve given me.”

I don’t know if you know, Alastair, but I spent most of my life in hospital as a kid. I used to have a rare spinal condition called Syringomyelia. So an immune deficiency epilepsy, and then sometimes I couldn’t move my legs. So I spent a lot of my early years in hospital. But yeah, I was quite lucky. When I was about, probably about nine years old my mum, she put a piece of string in the back garden. he said, “Jamie, do you want to play tennis?” And I remember feeling like not really mum! But I went out there and I started cracking the ball and just got this love for movement and over the space of a year my symptoms just kind of gradually eased. And I’m lucky to say that I’ve been kind of healthy ever since.

Alastair:

That’s fantastic. And you mentioned your mum; on your YouTube videos and everything that you’ve done, your mum, and obviously your dad as well, they’re incredible. They’ve been a massive support to you.

Jamie:

Yeah. I mean, you might have seen my dad cycle around Gloucester. He’s got a big, massive beard and he’s got his bike and he just peddles around in a pair of shorts and he does it through summer, but he does it all the way through winter as well.

Alastair:

When you did the Pride of Britain and deservedly winning that, obviously you took your dad with you to that and he seemed … I’m not sure who was more excited either you or him backstage during that!

Jamie:

Yeah, it is one of those moments that I took mum to the program quite a few years ago. Then this time I felt like it was dad’s turn. We hit the red carpet. My dad was honestly like a little kid and you’ve obviously seen the vlog, Alastair. As he was going down, every single celebrity that was walking by, he just couldn’t help himself. I mean, it was like the biggest stars, you know? Simon Cowell, all sorts. But one of them was Ryan Giggs. And so he comes down and he goes, “Oh my God, Giggs, Giggs!”” He goes, “We got to get a picture with you, you know?” Giggs is like, “Okay, great.” Then he goes, “I can’t wait to get a picture with you Giggs”. He said, “My mate is the biggest Liverpool fan eve!.” And then the Giggs walks off! Like just eyeing my dad up. Like, what are you on? Have you been taking drugs? I’m like, “Dad, please tell me you know, he’s a Man United player.” And he just says, “Minor detail”!

Alastair:

It’s all football!! So with the current situation (Covid), what are you doing; are you climbing the walls back at home at the moment? How are you dealing with being cooped up?

Jamie:

Good question, yeah. I guess I’m just kind of going with the flow of it really. I mean, it took a few weeks to kind of wrap my head around is this actually happening? And once I kind of wrapped my head around the world kind of felt as if it slowed down. And it’s obviously really, really sad with what’s happening to people and businesses and people’s lives. You know, from my side, I think all my work’s kind of stopped because I do speaking at events and it’s slowed down and I’m actually really enjoying it. I’m actually spending time with my girlfriend, who I love dearly. We’re doing walks on the hill and listening to birds and we’re just being.

Alastair:

Anna you’re referring to, she’s equally an adventure person like yourself, isn’t she?

Jamie:

She is, yeah. I met Anna about five years ago and she was attempting to run across New Zealand. She knows how to do this stuff as well. She makes me look like a wussy really, Alastair. Her latest adventure she ended up, you may have seen it in the news, she ran across Britain. She’s the Girl Guiding ambassador, so she was kind of meeting all the girls and doing talks along the way, but she’d done the entire thing, a hundred marathons, completely and utterly barefoot.

Alastair:

And you mentioned in terms of your work drying up, I know you do a lot of motivational speaking to a variety of corporations down to charities and schools. Is there a common theme in terms of people don’t realise perhaps what they’re capable of, that you’re able to relay that message to people?

Jamie:

Yeah. I mean, with speaking, you kind of go with the flow really. You end up chatting to the teachers or you speak to the people that are organising events in the businesses and it’s really, it’s finding out what the challenge within that business or people is and whether they’ve had a big, massive change within the business or they’re just adjusting and need more motivation. So it’s kind of working out what it is. A lot of the things that I’m asked for is just resilience really, you know? Just to kind of be stronger to get over hurdles. So then it’s about cherry picking the right stories for that. So it’s, yeah, I mean, it’s case by case kind of talk really.

Alastair:

And I think people need, especially at the moment.. a lot of people are finding it difficult aren’t they in terms of, obviously worried about people that might be affected by the illness or, like you say, they’re not able to work. Do you think it’s also an opportunity now for people to use this time to try and find a way out in terms of pushing themselves to the next level or trying to find an alternative? How do you think the best way of dealing with this sort of situation, if you are feeling low or feeling down?

Jamie:

Yeah, it’s a good point isn’t it really. I guess if everything’s dried up then now I think is a cracking time to gain perspective and getting time out. I mean, one of the best things I’ve ever done in the last eight years was a) taking time out from my job to think about what is more to life, but then be also whilst you do these adventures, you end up spending that time where you gain more perspective again. So I think it’s good. You can get on the old hamster wheel, can’t you, where you’re just working morning to night and where does it all end? So I think getting that time out is hugely important and the simple things. Do you ever do yoga Alastair?

Alastair:

I don’t. I know a lot of people do and swear by it, but I haven’t done it, no.

Jamie:

Yeah, that’s one thing I’ve started to do over the last year, that breathing, really hard breathing, and it really relaxes your vagus nerve on the inside and then it calms you and you think clearly. So if there’s anyone that wants to get a bit all yoga-y, then I would definitely recommend that!

Alastair:

There are a lot of positives as well coming out of it. We’ve seen with the fund raising that Captain Tom Moore’s been doing, I think over £25 million for the NHS, and also a real community spirit. I feel like perhaps people don’t normally talk, we’re all sort of wrapped up in our own little worlds, but you do see so many examples of communities coming together through this, don’t you?

Jamie:

It’s amazing - what about Captain Tom?! I mean, he’s something else, isn’t he? I love this because I love fundraising and he just went against the grain. A bloke that supposed to be using the NHS and actually draining their resources. That age, 99 years old, and yet he’s doing completely the opposite doing laps in his garden. I mean, that stuff at the minute just lifts me and it brings me to tears.

Alastair:

It’s incredible. I’ve read your book and reading about your story that when you were doing your challenge across Canada… It’s amazing that ou would be able to go and knock on people’s doors and people driving past, would help you out. I mean, that is real community spirit and it’s fantastic, and I wonder if this - it’s a really bad situation - whether we will see more parts of people coming together in situations like that?

Jamie:

Yeah, you know what, there is something special. I think that the Canadians, especially when I ran across the country, I really felt a huge community spirit out there. I guess that population stands with smaller towns. But I remember one of the first towns that I came across and I’d been running for about two weeks and it was pretty lonely, it was really early on in the adventure. I thought, you know what, I’m not going to survive if I just do this on my own. I saw this house in the distance and I thought, I’m just going to do it, so I went over and I knocked on the door and this woman answered and I was like, “Hi, I’m running across Canada. I was just wondering if I can camp on your lawn,” but in my brain, I was thinking, please let me in.!

And then this woman, she said, “No, no, you can’t. Off you go will you boy. And I was like, “Oh, I’m really sorry, you know, I didn’t want to disturb you.” And she said, “Well, who are you anyway?” I said, “Well, I’m kind of running and stuff.” And she said, “Well, just wait there will you?” And then she went off and she came back five minutes later and she said, “Right. Now, I’ve just Googled you and you’re real!” And so she let me set up my tent. And then she came back out five minutes later again, she said, “Stop setting up your tent. There’s a motel and a key waiting for you. And it’s all paid for.”

Alastair:

That’s incredible, isn’t it? You just hope with so many things like this, that there are positive stories that will come out of this. And has it given you time to think about what your next adventure is going to be?

Jamie:

Oh, I am allergic to running and the treadmill -the dread mill should I say? So I think the last kind of big run across America and the treadmill, I’m actually now getting that time of perspective. I was rushed off my feet with loads of speaking events, but that’s all gone, it’s looking like for this year, really. So, but that’s okay. I’m in a very lucky position where I’m not suffering financially, so I’m going to take that time out for perspective. And if you can get that time without being so under pressure, then I can’t recommend it enough.

Alastair:

I guess maybe in time, a joint adventure with Anna? I’ve seen a couple of things that you might consider doing; would you like to do a joint adventure? Do you think you would work well together? Or is it like one of those things where some people say, “We can’t work together, it would be a nightmare”! How do you think you would get on in an adventure together?

Jamie:

Yeah, it’s make or break really, isn’t it? Go with your partner on an adventure? Anna joined me on some stints and ran with me in America. One of the first stints that she had done was up in Oregon. Really, really mountainous and hilly. Of course, we’re pushing Caesar, this pram. It’s really heavy, so as soon as you hit a slight hill, I mean, it’s tough going and it was quite early on, so I wasn’t very well conditioned. And she came out with me, and me and Anna we’d never had an adventure together where we actually had to push each other. We were trying to run a marathon a day. And on our first run, we’re going up these mountains and I was just being blown out. Then every time, Anna was like, “Just give me a Caesar, give me Caesar!” It was really weird, I don’t know why she does it, but when she runs with Caesar, she kept sticking her ass out like a rhinoceros! I kept taking the mickey out of her. And every time we got to the bottom of the mountain, she’d like, “Hey, Hey, give me Caesar. It’s rhino time!” And then she’d just launch up the mountains!

Alastair:

It would be really difficult because for a lot of your adventures, I guess you’d have been pretty lonely or you had a lot of time to yourself and doing it with someone would be completely different. And how did you find that time on your own? Just sort of when you’re out doing adventures, and you’re deep in your thoughts. Is there a place that you take yourself? Do you listen to music to perk you up; how did you get through that time on your own?

Jamie:

That is a good question. So I would say, luckily, I don’t know do you run or cycle, Alastair?

Alastair:

Yeah, I used to do a bit of cycling.

Jamie:

Okay, perfect. So, you know when you cycle and if there’s anyone listening out there, it’s almost like when you’re moving, it’s like driving down a motorway and as you’re driving, suddenly 30 minutes will go by and you’re like, Oh, where have I been? How long have I’ve been driving? So I always called that kind of getting in the flow. If you can get in the flow whilst moving, your brain can just go to magical places. You’re not trying to think it’s just subconsciously and whether that sorts out a problem in your life or whether that sorts out you being a bit more of an opportunist to make money for your business or whatever it is, I just find if you move, if you let your brain just go to where it needs to go subconsciously, then you’re in the flow and normally life just gets a bit easier when you’re doing lots of problem solving.

Alastair:

Sounds like great advice Jamie, I think one we could all do with at the moment. I really appreciate you talking with me today Jamie, it’s been really good to hear some of your stories and perhaps if people are struggling a little bit, just a bit of motivation for them to crack on and try and see a better and brighter day.

To find out more about Jamie’s adventures and and his motivational speaking, please click here

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