Diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at birth and given a life expectancy up until his early teens, we chat to the extreme-endurance athlete, Josh Llewellyn-Jones, to find out how he has used his passion for exercise to stay alive, prolong his life expectancy and achieve incredible feats of human endurance.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a degenerative disease in which the lungs and digestive system can become clogged with thick, sticky mucus. Long-term issues include difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus as a result of frequent lung infections. The disease can also drastically affect your life expectancy. When I was born, doctors only gave me a life expectancy until my early teens.
Back then in the UK, there wasn’t loads of research on how to fight the disease. So, when I was 2-years old, my family took me to America to speak to a CF specialist, Dr Bob Kramer. He advised me that exercise was going to be key in keeping me healthy and prolonging my life expectancy. I just fell in love with sport and fitness from the get-go and over the years it’s really been the driver in keeping my lungs clear.
Growing up, I fell into fundraising through CF. I realised pretty quickly that, if I wanted to raise the money I wanted to raise, then I’d have to do something pretty extreme. So, that’s where the endurance challenges came about.
The first proper ultra-challenge was the World’s Fittest Man challenge. It involved lifting 100-tonnes, cycling 100-miles, rowing 20-miles, running 10-miles, cross-training 10-miles, swimming 2-miles, then 3,000 sit-ups, 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 squats, all within 24-hours with only three 2-minute breaks!
Very quickly after that people started asking ‘what next?’ So then I decided to go for the world record in lifting the most amount of weight in 24-hours. The previous record was set at 475,000kg and I ended up surpassing that by lifting 1,000,000kg.
This took me to last year where I completed an ultra-triathlon, which involved swimming 22-miles at a swimming pool in Dover (the equivalent of swimming the English Channel), then jumping on a bike and cycling from Dover to London (85-miles), and then putting on my trainers and running from London to Cardiff (150-miles). It took me about 5-days without stopping.
View this post on Instagram
The tears came. It’s hard to explain this feeling. The job was done. 755kgs lifted every minute for 22hrs11minutes. The one million kilo barrier broken. The team were with me for every single rep. They didn’t miss a second. They didn’t let me fail. They enabled me to complete a goal that was seen as impossible. Surround yourself with the right people and you can achieve ANYTHING! #MillionKiloMan #MillionKiloTeam #24hrs4cf
When we experience pain, it’s our natural mentality to stop whatever is causing that pain. For me, personally, that’s where I’m comfortable and I thrive. I really enjoy setting a target that many may deem impossible and smashing that target.
When lifting the 1,000,000kg in 24-hours, no one thought that it was physically possible. Even though I performed with a broken hand, threw up several times and even fainted, I wasn’t going to quit until the job was done. I thrive off the discomfort as I know I’m about to achieve something amazing and prove what is possible.
As much as I do these challenges for CF and to show sufferers of CF what is possible, it’s also about showing the average Joe what is possible when you put your mind to something. At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily your physical strength that matters, it’s all about what’s in your head and how much you want it. The only thing that’s going to get you through those dark moments, whether it’s your first 5k or your first marathon, it’s your mind that’s going to get you through to the end.
View this post on Instagram
20 hours in. Family and friends look on with worry. You’ve had plenty of ups but just as many downs. And this dark place seemed like an endless tunnel with no escape! Your body has been well and truly broken and your mind is in a place it’s never been! #RoadTo1Million #24hrs4cf
You can’t be motivated 24/7. Even I’ve struggled with motivation. But, on those down-days, you have to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved since you started your journey. Whether you’ve gained 1kg in strength or knocked 10-seconds off your fastest mile time, you’ve seen progress and succeeded.
During the challenges, I use the fact that I’m fundraising to help children suffering from CF to help motivate me. We print out pictures of each kid and I dedicated every hour to a different child. So, if I ever get in a dark spot, someone would come over and show me those pictures. That’s enough to pick me up and help me realise what I’m doing is nothing compared to what these kids go through. Can I endure just one hour of pain for that child, and the answer is yes!
View this post on Instagram
“Don’t moan about people doubting your words, show them your strength. Then just maybe, they’ll start to believe in themselves.” - Josh Llewellyn-Jones OBE . . . . . #fitness #training #photooftheday #workout #cardio #fitfam #fit #sport #gym #instafit #motivation #fitnessmotivation #gymmotivation #gymlife #photography #picoftheday #fitlife
I think your mental toughness begins when your physical toughness gives up. I have an incredibly stubborn mindset. When my body wants to give up, my mind won’t let me.
During the 1 million kilo challenge, I went through some really dark times. Even though every inch of my body was aching, and even after tearing my pec 16-hours in, I just kept going through stubbornness. Once I’ve set a goal, I won’t let anything stop me getting there.
I think the stubbornness comes down to a couple of things. First off I think it’s a fear of failure. No one enjoys failure if everyone’s watching. We were streaming to 8-million people around the world, I had ITV there making a documentary as well as my family and friends. There was no way I was going to fail in front of everyone. Secondly, I’m never going to attempt the same challenge twice. I only get one opportunity, so I’ve got to give it absolutely everything.
You have to ask yourself the question, if you give up, how much did you really want it in the first place? If you’re willing to give up, I don’t think you wanted it enough.
Visualisation is a big one for me. A few years ago, before I truly understood what visualisation was, I thought that it wasn’t for me. However, once I was taught that visualisation isn’t necessarily looking at yourself but more looking through your own eyes at the environment and how you’re going to feel, I truly understood the power of it.
From the day I announce a challenge, all I do is visualise what that’s going to look like, what it’s going to feel like, until the day it happens. When I was training for the ultra-triathlon challenge, that was something I visualised every single day for 10-months. Every length in the pool, every mile running, every mile on the bike. I visualised what it would be like actually doing the challenge, who would be there and what they would be saying to me. I would then think of the finish line and visualise the sense of elation I would feel by completing the challenge.
Visualising completing the challenge would help me manage the pain I was experiencing and actually give me energy throughout training and throughout the challenge.
I’m currently in talks with my team about a strength challenge. We haven’t yet decided what that’s going to be, but all I can say is that it’s going to be crazy!
I’m going to sound like such a big head now but it’s actually my own, haha.
“Impossible is not a fact it’s just an opinion.”