The Prof Talks: Achieving The Impossible
Ben @ U Perform: Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode. Another special episode of The Prof Talks, where instead of Greg asking the questions, we are putting our questions, your questions to the Prof himself, put him in on the spot, adding a little bit of an extra challenge.
So today we're talking about how to achieve the impossible. Now for anyone who's familiar with Greg, you'll be very familiar with the work he's done with a number of charity challenges, charity celebrity challenges, where he's taken people who would probably think they're not particularly fit. And they've done some incredible things all in the name of charity, but not only that Greg has decided on his own back to do some pretty incredible challenges for himself.
So, Greg, big question for you, how do we achieve the impossible?
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): That's a hell of an intro by the way. Nelson Mandela coined it beautifully. And that, that was that it's only impossible until it's been achieved. And I think it's absolutely true is I think there's sometimes what we do is we coin things, you know, we love to coin things as impossible that will never happen.
There's no way you can do that. And I think, what, one of the key factors for us as individuals is that invariably it's the people around us who reinforce that.
You know, I'm thinking about doing that event or that particular race or, or that particular challenge.
And as an individual personally, you are stretching yourself and you're pushing yourself. And at the back of that, you sometimes think to yourself. Is it possible? Can I do this? And then of course, if you've got people around you, they layer on top of that, the idea that, oh, it's impossible. You'll never be able to do it.
What they do is that they reinforce that idea. And so invariably, most great challenges are lost at the first hurdle, which is entering, you know, committing to actually doing them. So, I think to some extent, you know, achieving the impossible is actually about taking that first step.
And I think that's the most important step It's actually committing to taking on the challenge. And then obviously being successful in that challenge is something slightly different in the sense that that requires a whole host of, you know, all this stuff that we will talk about. I'm sure. But things like planning and teamwork and all those types of things.
But I think generally I think, you know, if somebody tells you it's impossible, then I always look at that and think, do you know what, in that case it's the right challenge to take on. Because it means that people will respect it. And so, to some extent, I turn that around and think, you know, it's a positive, if people turn around and say it is easy. What's the point?
What's the point in doing it? So, I think it's the use of that word, impossible. I think, I think the bottom line is that if it was impossible by definition, you absolutely would never be able to do it. I think that what it is that invariably what we do is we coin things as impossible when actually they're only impossible until they've been achieved.
Ben @ U Perform: When we talk about this idea of a challenge or high-performance, this is a very different, this appears very differently for very different people. And is that first step going to be then different for those different people?
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): 100% I mean, it, it's a very personal thing a challenge. It sort of comes in three areas, really. One is this idea that somehow what we've got to try and do is achieve what elite athletes, full-time professional athletes achieve. Well, that simply is not the case. You know? I mean, it depends on if we're just chatting about this, about age, you know, how old you are. I think I am almost treble your age.
Ben @ U Perform: I wouldn't do yourself a disservice. It's about double, you're doing okay.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Yeah. This morning, it feels like that. There, there are clear sort of limitations, particularly in terms of things like time. I think distance is something very different to that. But certainly, in terms of things like power output and so therefore speed and therefore time, I think those change with things like age and obviously gender and a whole host of other factors.
Obviously, what's crucial is, is your own personal background wherever you have come from. What have you done thus far? And I think, you know, I always sort of coin that the new year's resolutions in this area, because invariably, I mean the vast majority of new year's resolutions go no further than 21 days, the average period of time to give up on a new year's resolution is 21 days.
And I think much of that is actually based around the planning. It's about the goal itself, you know, that you're selecting a goal and having selected that goal, the way that you structure, how are you going to achieve that goal around it is where the failure occurs. It's actually not, you, it's actually just the planning that goes into it.
So, I think, if you've never run before. Then your first goals, shouldn't be a marathon. Albeit this sort of public perception would be, if you're a runner, you've got to run a marathon. And that's the only thing that counts. Well, it's absolutely untrue.
We just recently published last week some of my best work, I think on exercising during cancer, and I've done a lot of work in cancer, and cancer prehab, and rehab in recent years.
Well, one of the things that we often use for rehab cancer patients is the 5km. So, we gradually return them back to 5km. Now, let me tell you, once you have gone through chemotherapy radiotherapy surgery, a five Km is, I mean, it's an ultra-marathon, you know, in terms of what you are looking to achieve. That pinnacle.
So, I think it's very much about making sure that you select a challenge, which is; and other factors with it, but make sure that it is achievable. Albeit it might take a huge amount of work and planning and commitment and motivation, but it should be achievable. But I think the one thing that underpins all of it is actually to something that matters you.
I think I've spoken to so many people, so many clients over the years who said, oh yeah, I want to run a marathon. And my first question to them is, do you like running and I would say in a good half of cases, they say, you know what I hate running. You're only doing a marathon because that's what people recognize. You know, when you go down to the pub for a pint you know, think about a challenge that matters to you and in doing that, you're much more likely to be successful.
Ben @ U Perform: Yeah. I think that's really interesting. It's about sort of looking back at what you've potentially already achieved or what you've not achieved and then finding what's going to add most value to, to that journey in the future.
And that kind of informs the way we're able to then motivate ourselves to undertake that challenge. Do you agree with that?
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): A hundred percent and I think it is that. And what you coined there is something that I speak an awful lot about, and that is this idea that I think a lot of people think motivation is intrinsic.
You are a motivated person, or you're not a motivated person, but when actually motivation is created. The structure. The goal that you set, the structure of the training that you place around it, all of that then drives the commitment that is required to deliver success. And then with the right structure, you've got these short-term goals.
As you reach those short-term goals, all of a sudden you start to see success. And of course, that success then drives motivation. So, it's self-generated with the right approach. And I think that that that's the key to remember it. And of course, if you are taking on a challenge that at least at the start; listen. Some of the big challenges I do if you asked me if I, if I'm enjoying it halfway through the answer is probably going to be no.
But I think the point is that it has to be something that really does matter to you. There has to be a reason for it. I often call it the central motivator and there, there are different ways of structuring that. It doesn't have to necessarily be the challenge itself. So, the modality of the exercise, whether it's swimming, running, triathlon.
But I think there has to be a reason to be doing it. For me, the great thing is charity is a wonderful central motivator. Is that you want doing it for a very good reason, to improve the lives of people, much less fortunate than yourself.
To my mind, there's nothing more powerful than that. But having that structure within those goals does move that impossible into the possible.
Ben @ U Perform: I just want to very quickly sort of touch on those charity challenges because what a lot of people might not realize is you haven't just been the coach for example, or the advisor for these people undertaking the challenges. More often than not, you've been doing it side by side with them the whole time, which is incredible in of itself.
So do you want to sort of just touch on a few of those experiences, what it was like for you. To continue to inspire and motivate these people to do these challenges. Whilst you yourself potentially are suffering just as much alongside them
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Suffering more sometimes. I mean, it's an interesting one, you know, my job is one of two things on the big charity challenges that I've worked on worked on, 36 of them now.
I always say there's two things that my job is. Number one is to get from point a to point B to the finish. There is no success until you pass the finish line, but if there's a five-day challenge there's no success in getting to day two. If you're climbing Kilimanjaro, there's no success getting to 4,000 meters and then not making the summit though, you know? So, it's about getting to the end. But then I think crucially on top of that, and incredibly importantly on top of that is to do that safely.
And my job is to make sure that they remain safe throughout that. The charity challenges are always the interesting ones, I think, because there were lots of things that I can create for the people in that sort of training process and the structure and all those things we've just spoken about. But the one thing that is very difficult, one thing you can't do, is give people experience and experience is so very important for a whole host of different things.
Very simply things like pace judgment. How quick do I go? What are we doing? Day one. It's a five-day challenge. How quick do we go on day one? Well, making sure that we're at the right pace on day one is crucial to how day five looks. If it's possible at all.
And then it's things like hydration and nutrition, making sure that you're on top of that on a continual basis, make sure you're refuelling.
The experience of recovery post exercise if it's a multi-day challenge, post day recovery. Optimizing that in preparation for the following day.
And I think also just an experience. I think one of the key experiences, we've touched on this a number of times, but every great challenge has its misery. You know, the challenge is often in here. Where it just does become really arduous and really tough. And, and actually it was easy, it wouldn't be worth achieving anyway.
So, it is difficult. But actually, managing takes experience. If you've done it before and you've been there before, you sort of know, you know, there is light at the end of the tunnel, whereas I'm sure all of us, you know, anybody listen to this, has done just a piece of exercise before and you get halfway through and you think, gosh, how am I going to get through the second half, how am I going to keep going?
And that that's where the experience comes. But so, kind of to your other point, Doing it with them. It is. I mean, it can be brutal. I mean, particularly things like cold open water. The critical thing about swimming cold open water is making sure you generate heat. Cold water for example, is 25 times more conductive than air.
So, what that means is it strips heat off you so rapidly. So obviously there are multiple ways that you can try and combat that. One, is the output so you can increase subcutaneous fat. So just get a little bit larger. You can wear equipment. So, things like wetsuits, neoprene caps, gloves, booties, et cetera. But the other end of the spectrum, what you can do is just swim faster.
And if you generate more heat, you can maintain a core body temperature a little bit better. But the problem is that when I'm swimming alongside these guys are invariably swimming 20%, 15% of my maximum pace. And so therefore I'm not generating any heat at all. So, whilst they are actually working really hard and actually generating the heat, that's required to maintain that. Effectively, what I'm doing is just constantly cooling and cooling and cooling.
Particularly, I remember some training sessions me and David Williams did in some just brutal conditions. I remember we met in December up in Newcastle. We had a two-hour swim in the North Sea. When we got in the water, we actually could crack the ice or the beach, obviously the seasonal ice though, because it's saline.
But it was in those environments. It is a fight, a mental, internal fight to keep going. So, it's really interesting to some extent, I guess that's why I love it because it really is. It's not a challenge for me going at that pace. But it is a challenge physiologically going at that pace. And so therefore there is a real challenge built into it.
Ben @ U Perform: I think what's probably true in those sorts of situations is when you're doing these challenges, say with David Williams, when you're swimming the channel and the Thames for example, your experience and you’re suffering alongside him was probably quite motivating for him knowing, do you know, it's just as hard for Greg as it is for me.
So, you sort of collectively in that sort of team environment can kind of achieve it together. And would that sort of be true for less experienced people who are looking to take on a challenge, finding a group of people to do it with who are more experienced or who you would trust. And you can kind of go through that journey together, take those first steps and those success stories, steps along the way, together.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Yeah, three different points there. I think.
I think that the interesting one is that on the first point about, you know, whoever I'm working with. People say to me, how fit do I have to be to work with these guys? I would say that probably I have to be 10-fold fitter. My job is not to look tired.
If I'm looking tired, we're all in trouble, you know? I think actually that, that reflects really heavily on, on the guys that I'm working with. Because what they're expecting is, I'm supporting them. I'm not, I don't require any support from them in order to keep doing what I'm doing.
And so actually I think from that perspective, I think it's actually really important that when I'm helping them, I'm helping them constantly. Mind you, my job is to support them on a continual basis. So therefore, you know, I shouldn't, I certainly shouldn't outwardly be showing any struggle whatsoever, which hopefully I never do.
And I think that you've picked up on a really interesting word. I think anybody who is thinking about doing this. I think that actually having somebody with that experience as part of their team is really valuable. But the, the word that you use, I think is the word that I would say that personifies the 36 challenges I've ever done from a sort of high-profile celebrity challenge perspective.
And that is trust. Is that what, what all of the challenges do is that they trust me implicitly to make sure that number one, I'm going to get them to the finish line. And also, most crucially is I'm going to keep them safe in doing that.
So, I think anybody taking on a big challenge, I think there is a real value in having somebody who has got experience of doing it. Doesn't have to be that challenge, but similar challenges, that type of challenge; can be really valuable. But, but in choosing that individual you have to make sure that you trust them implicitly. And that that relationship sort of works both ways, but it's really very important in terms of delivering success.
Ben @ U Perform: Yeah, I'm really glad you agree with that.
And sort of finding that trust in another person so they can help you identify what those little points of success look like. Because success along those journeys, doesn't have to be going from zero to marathon. That there's the little successes in the middle that inform your motivation and keep you going and pushing to that next level.
It could be simply as just going for one run a week. And that could be to the end of the street and back to your front door again. And so, it's just about finding someone who can help you recognize that and maybe even do it, do it with you, just like you were sort of taking on challenges with your celebrity counterparts.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): What you're pointing out its goal setting and I think its why goal setting is integral to success. I mean, it's absolutely crucial. And I think that that, that progressive approach. And I mean, obviously you can read about this in one of my books, but the way that you structure goals is really important to make sure that they are timely, and they're achievable and all of these things.
But I think actually making sure that you've got those short-term goals, set, so that actually there is a really nice, obvious and achievable progression through it is absolutely crucial to success.
Ben @ U Perform: Completely agree. And just to sort of bring back a little. Which celebrity challenge. Okay. I'm just going to put you on the spot here, which one was the hardest, the hardest for you and for the, and the celebrity or celebrities involved. If it was a group challenge.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Wow. It's an interesting question, really, because I mean, the one thing I love about the challenges that we've done is that they are proper challenges. They're not, if this is not TV manufactured challenge and let's make it look really hard there, we'll inject some fake jeopardy to make it look like they're really hurting.
What you see is what you get, you know, and they are all brutal. And to some extent that they are sort of designed around the challengers. Jo Brand, well, what a legend Jo was, she walked from Hull to Liverpool. Which was actually about this time of year, because most of them were at this time of year and the storms that we're getting today, were actually similar to the storms that we had in those days. We walked over the highest point in England, and we watched a juggernaut being blown off the road the winds were that strong.
And, and for her. And that was a massive challenge. So, these challenges are very personal. But I think for me, my personal perspective, I think probably the toughest challenge was with David Walliams swimming the channel was something else.
Ben @ U Perform: So, I just want to draw on one of the challenges that stood out to me the most, and that's probably swimming the Thames. Because most people look at the Thames and think it's not nice, even on a boat, let alone getting in it and swimming from end to end. So, what on earth drove you all to decide that this was going to be the challenge and why did you choose to get involved?
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): The interesting thing about these challenges is that, as we started our conversation it is about what is impossible. When you sort of look swimming the length of the Thames I mean, the Thames in itself, its total length is 205 miles, but you're not allowed to swim for the vast majority of what they call the tidal Thames.
So, the Thames is split into two. One is the upper Thames which is governed by the environment agency. And then you've got the tidal Thames which is from Teddington lock out to the sea which is the Port of London authority.
And so, we couldn't swim the whole distance. So, we chose a 140 miles length of it, starting at the navigable start. What's called the navigable Thames. So basically, where boats can start it is deep enough to swim.
So firstly, it, it sounds impossible. And that was 20 miles a day for seven consecutive days. So, I mean, it's swimming the channel every day for seven consecutive days. It is iconic, which I think is really important that people can immediately think about it.
It's iconic, so it tells you it's going to be really, really tough. And I think because, because of both of those things, actually, it means that the most important thing about these challenges that you can raise an awful lot of money for people, less fortunate than ourselves, you know?
And so that really what sort of drove it. But it was, I mean, it was a war of attrition. I mean, it is something else. I mean, it’s the upper Thames to some extent the upper Thames is actually relatively clean. We've got now problems with the sewage being pumped into it on a regular basis and those sorts of things, which brings some pretty poor headlines through the water quality.
But it's a really interesting route. I think that the one thing that I found out about the route swimming it is that there's really very few people that you see as you go up it. Amazing group of people's sorts of saw us of at Lechlade. But then you are literally through the countryside for a good 70, 80 miles.
Before we start hitting the sort of bigger conurbations of places like Oxford and Reading and Oxford and Marlow and Henley and those types of places. But it was, yeah, it was something else. I mean. On average, we're sort of in the water for about 14 hours a day. I mean it takes us toll, really takes its toll.
It took its toll on David. If you haven't seen that documentary definitely worth a watch, particularly on day three, as we came into Abingdon when David suffered with diarrhoea and vomiting. And he was in a really bad way. Well, I pushed him in the water the following day, but yeah, I mean, it's tough. I mean, it's tough. It's a tough challenge. All around really tough.
Ben @ U Perform: Yep. And everybody watching it completely agrees, you know, I I'm an experienced open water swimmer, there is a limit even for me, you know, it's even well before getting in the Thames is my limit. If it's, if it's under 20 degrees, I'm sitting there going, that's probably a bit cold, but that's just me.
So, that's certainly a challenge that people can relate to obviously an extreme end. So, I just want to bring it back and go, okay, you've been through this. You've helped people. You've done it yourself. What are your number one tip, maybe even top three tips to help people set a challenge, start that journey and then achieve it?
Whether that's a short-term challenge, whether it's a long-term challenge, what are your top tips for people?
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Wow. I think top tip number one is, enter. Yep. I think it's the first stumbling block. I think it's one of those things that we, you know, it's very easy to talk about doing a big challenge. But that rhetoric never delivered success unless actually you enter the challenge itself.
So, I think, you know, the first thing to do is actually enter and by entering, I mean, obviously some of these challenges, you know, some of the challenges I do aren't necessarily organized. And I think by, by entering what I mean is tell everybody you're doing it. So, tell everybody you know, that you are taking on this challenge.
Now that's a really scary thing to do, but it does create a fabulous motivation. Because now everybody knows you've taken on this challenge. And the interesting thing is that invariably people you haven't seen for a little while will ask how training is going for, you know, the challenge that you've taken on.
And so therefore what that does of a morning, when you wake up in the morning you think I can't be bothered actually in the back of your mind, you think, gosh, someone's bound to ask me how a training session went.
And that, that sort of runs into a second, but similar tip. What we do in our house is, is what we'll often do is put the training program in a public place. So, on the fringe or on the, on a cupboard door, and then with each of the training sessions, you tick it off.
And it's actually a really wonderfully motivating process. Satisfaction of ticking these things off, you deliver your own success by saying a good session done. Fantastic. But also, people who, the family in the house and then people who visited the house, look at it and they will look at it and say, how much training are you doing? Look at that session there that looks brutal.
And all of a sudden that sort of builds that confidence that you're doing the right thing. So, I think, I think entering and making sure you tell everybody, I think is a really important part of success in that challenge.
I think the next real tip is, is that I coined these little sorts of phrases, but success is not a chance event.
It's not just going to happen while by osmosis. You have to plan it. And I think that that planning process is really, really important because what it does is it as well as setting the goals, which are crucial to that. Actually planning, the training that's required is making sure that you bring together a team. So, you get the right people working with you.
And having identified that team it's also important that you bring the team together and make sure that the team can operate successfully, not only with you, but actually together because fractions, it's interesting with some of the challenges we've had, you know, the fractious nature of teams working together can really have an impact on the challenger. So, making sure the team operates successfully.
And I think outside of that, perhaps the third tip is probably less of a tip, but more of a sort of a psychology. And that is, it will come to an end, you know, and, and I think often to me, you know, we often talk about motivation.
Motivation is really important. To some extent the first quarter, it's relatively simple. You've done all this training. Everyone's excited away you go. The final quarter albeit you're incredibly fatigued is easier because actually you're close to the finish. You can see the finish.
You can, you can taste that success. It's the middle section where it's really, really tough. That's where it gets really tough because at that point, you think, can I keep going? How much further to go? Am I going to make it to the finish? All of those things. At that point the important thing in the back of your mind is just keep telling yourself you will finish, and it will finish.
And it is whatever the modality, it is one foot in front of the other. It's one arm stroke in front of the other. It's one turn of the pedal after another. And instead of thinking about the, the enormity of the challenge, just think about the present. Think about five minutes, think about the next mile, the next, you know, the next 10 K whatever it is dissect it down into short, more manageable goals.
And from a motivation, from a psychological perspective, it just seems that much more achievable. So, keep going, because you will get there.
Ben @ U Perform: Yeah, and this is something I can relate to as a competing athlete myself, I race over a shorter distance triathlon than most people would generally like to take as a challenge, for example. And although, I love every single minute of it because that's why I get up at six o'clock every morning to go swimming and running and cycling. There are points in those races where, you know, the gas is on I'm up against some of the best athletes in the country of my age. We're sort of going hell for leather around this racetrack. And I go, do you know what? This isn't easy because nothing good ever comes easy, but it is going to finish.
You know, I've just got to get through this next bit, the next lap on the bike, this next lap of the run, chase down that person. Don't let the person behind me chase me, but then it will finish.
And you know, that's kind of become a constant mantra for me when I'm competing. And it's something that I speak to a lot of people who are looking to get into triathlon or looking to just sort of do some physical activity a little bit more often than normal. It's just going to it, it's fun at the end of the day and it, but it will be hard, but it will end.
And it's just constantly reinforcing in the back of your mind, one foot in front of the other, make sure that it's their feet, not in front of mine in particular. I'm very, very competitive, which I guess is another motivator. Again, you know, it's not always about achieving something necessarily just for the achievement’s sake, you know, I'm pushing myself for myself.
Sometimes there's an element of that competitiveness that will drive you. It's obviously not a hundred percent recommendation for your a hundred percent source of motivation, but it's fuel to the fire that every day you can kind of build in that competitiveness that reinforces that drive to succeed and sort of push your yourself to be better.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): It's an interesting one that, I mean, I've got, I've got three young children and they will, they will roll their eyes as I say this to you because I say it to them. But something I absolutely believe in. And I always, you know, whatever that doing, they obviously do plenty of sport and all sorts of other stuff.
And the one thing that I always say to them is, look, there's only one thing, only one thing that you have to do, and that is given it a hundred percent. And that is all you can do. And I think, you know my worry, particularly when I watch elite sport nowadays, I think, you know, there is that sense that unless you win the gold medal, you have failed.
And I think that we have to be very careful about that. Because what you then start to do is you start to lose people from sport and because not everybody can win a gold medal, but there is one thing that everybody can do, and that is they can give it a hundred percent and personally what I'd like to think is whenever I crossed the finish line, whether it's a major ultra-endurance challenge or whether it's a race is that as soon as I've crossed that finish line, I'll reflect on anything. Did I give everything I've got? And if I did, whether I'm first or whether I'm last is irrelevant because it was everything I had on that day.
And so therefore there's nothing else I could have done. And so, I think to my mind, Give it a hundred percent and you will always, always achieve success.
Ben @ U Perform: Yep. And success, achievement is entirely individual and that's the most important thing. Isn't it? It's about identifying what you want to do. And in doing that, what's that going to then mean to you?
What's it going to add to, to your life, to that journey? So, that has been an absolutely fantastic chat. Thank you very much. Greg, I think there's going to be a lot of really, really useful tips for people there. Especially around sort of finding that motivation and finding trusted people to help drive that, to sort of that point of success and success being different for everybody.
So, thank you very much. We will be back very, very soon for another episode. Another slightly different episode of the Prof Talks, where we put more and more questions, more and more topics of conversation, where we're going to sort of help you to achieve your best, achieve the impossible with the help of one of the world's leading experts.
If not the world's leading expert in all things sort of endurance and physical challenge. So, thanks very much, Greg. We will see you very, very soon.
Professor Greg Whyte OBE (The Prof): Absolute pleasure, take care!