Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Hi everyone, and welcome back to Pushing the Limits once again. Today, I have another world-leading, actually world-record-holding, superwoman. Now, this lady is Laura Penhaul from England, and Laura is one of the world's most respected physiotherapists. She helps train many of the top athletes in Olympic sailing and in Paralympics with people with disabilities. She's done an awful lot in high-performance sport. But what Laura is really known for is that Laura did a 9,000-mile crossing of the Pacific in a rowboat, you heard that right. Right across the Pacific. Nine months it took and she was the team leader and organiser of this whole expedition. She got four women together to do this epic event. And there is a documentary out called Losing Sight of Shore.
And today we discuss this mammoth expedition that Laura undertook. The funny thing is that Laura hadn't even been a rower before she took this on. But because she had worked so much with high-performance athletes, people pushing the limits of endurance, and people with disabilities doing crazy things. She wanted to understand what is it that makes some people so resilient and strong, and other ones want to give up when they're faced with a trauma. And she thought, 'I don't need to wait until something drastic happens in my life, and my health has taken off me or my mobility, or I have an accident or I have something to wake up. I can actually take on some mammoth task so that I can start to understand what it actually takes and what resilience and strength is all about'. And she felt like she didn't have the right to be leading and guiding other people if she didn't have that experience herself. So she set off on a mission, what she thought would take them a year to do for a status to organise this expedition across the Pacific.
And they knew that taking it four years of preparation, we go into the, all the details of putting together such a high-performance team, it's a fantastic interview. She really is a superwoman. I'm in awe over here, I can't imagine being in a 29-foot boat for anything more than about two hours, I reckon, before I'd start going nuts, so she's pretty impressive, this lady. And before we head over to the show, just want to remind you, we've launched now, our patron program for the podcast. So if you want to become a premium member of our podcast tribe, if you like, we'd love you to come and join us here on over to patron.lisatamati.com. And we'd love to see you over, the, it's all about keeping the show going. We've been doing it now for five and a half years each and every episode takes me a long time to put together to chase these world-leading experts, to do the research that I need to do, especially when it's dealing with scientific topics, and a test takes an awful amount of time.
And to keep it going we need your help. And we wanted to give you lots of benefits too so people who do get in behind the podcast and help us provide this super valuable content to everybody get a whole lot of exclusive member benefits. So we'd love you to check it out. Go to patron.lisatamati.com for more information on that. And on that note before we just hit over to Laura, I just want to remind you about my new longevity and anti-ageing supplement NMN Nicotinamide Mononucleotide. You would have heard a couple of times in the podcast I had Dr Elena Seranova and we're going to have her on more often. She's a molecular biologist and tells us all about the ways that we can help with anti-ageing. And one of those things is by taking Nicotinamide Mononucleotide, which is a very, very powerful supplement. It's an NAD precursor that helps up-regulate the sirtuin genes, helps provide a bigger pool of NAD to every cell in the body and helps on a very, very deep level. The ageing working against the ageing process and who doesn't want to know about them if you want to find out all about it and all the science behind it, please go to nmnbio.nz. Right, now over to the show with Laura Penhaul.
Lisa: Well, hi everyone, and welcome to Pushing the Limits. Today I'm super excited. I have an amazing, amazing guest for you. I really do find the most incredible people and this lady is a superwoman. So welcome to the show. It's really, really nice to have you Laura. Laura Penhaul is sitting in Cornwall in England. Laura, how's your day going? Well, you're not going.
Laura Penhaul: Oh I was gonna say yeah no, it's been great. Do it. Yeah, it's now eight o'clock in the evening. So yeah, no, it's all good. It's been a beautiful sunny day.
Lisa: Oh lovely, lovely. So Laura is an amazing person who does expeditions and as a physio, Laura, can you give us a little bit of background? I want you to tell your story in your words, give us a bit of a synopsis about what you do and what the critical things. I mean I've done a bit in the intro so, but I really want your words, if you like.
Laura: Yeah, no props well, firstly, yes. Thanks, Lisa for having me on the show. It's been an honour because I think you're a superwoman more than me.
Lisa: Hell no.
Laura: But no I mean yeah, my background is I worked in elite sport, in Olympic and Paralympic sport for over 14 years. Sort of went to Vancouver, London, Rio, Tokyo cycles. And yeah during that kind of journey, and that was as lead physio in different sports, whether that was downhill skiing, whether it was with British Athletics Paralympic team. And more recently, I was with the British sailing team. And during that sort of journey as a physio like, the role that we have, as physios, physical therapists are very much kind of, you know, you're seeing somebody through a journey. And like when I worked with them and we've worked with patients in trauma, worked versus kind of, you know, in spinal cord injuries, and then straight to Paralympic sport, I've been surrounded by people that have been faced with significant adversity.
And it's sort of, it's always along my journey of my career, have I been fascinated by understanding the person in front of me and kind of going, there's usually two types of people when they've been thrown a massive curveball, like an RTA or road traffic accident, or something horrendous, that is completely changed their life for the rest of their life. Those two, there's people that can go through the same type of thing. And yet one person wakes up, being so thankful that they're alive, they're now going to make the most of life. And then somebody else that wakes up and they're like, they wish they didn't wake up.
And as a physio dealing with those two people, you've got to have a very different approach. And in the, kind of—to me, understanding that person that wants to give up and actually being able to change their mindset and facilitate, go shoulder to shoulder with them is really powerful. And then those people that do wake up and want to thrive, like they're the ones that have inspired me to do more stuff, because I'm like, why do we wait for adversity? Why do we wait for something to be a curveball before we then, like, start to go, ‘Oh, my God, I need to make the most of life like I’m fit. And I'm healthy. I need to make the most of life because clearly stuff could happen in an hour’s time.
Lisa: At any time.
Laura: Exactly. So that's kind of what then drove me to start to do more and more personally, and kind of a bit of exploratory expedition space. And then the real, so that led me to ride the Pacific Ocean, which is kind of you know what, we're talking about.
Lisa: You said it again, you just rode the Pacific Ocean is, I just dropped it as a, to yeah, and then I rode the Pacific Ocean. So you were into sailing and into rowing and into all of that sport, as prior, this was your thing?
Laura: No. Well, that's the thing, no wasn't in all honesty. I was, I'm kind of a jack of all trades like I love anybody, any athletes, anybody that I work with, I want to understand them. And I want to understand the sport, the environment that they're in. So when I was working with skiers, I went off and did a ski season. I learned to ski when I, and I'm somebody that, yeah, I love to do different sports and outdoors, the sort of outdoor environments. And if I was working with marathon runners, I was like, I can't fully treat them if I don't understand, if I haven't run a marathon like, to me, I need to experience what they've experienced, even in a small way to kind of get a glimpse of the environment.
So I would run a marathon, same with triathletes, and, you know, not to the extent of your, sort of did a half Ironman, and then the point was the Paralympic cohort when I was working with them. I was like, this is an area that I can't untap you know, yeah.
Laura: I can do it, but I can't understand what it is to be a Paralympian.
Laura: However, how can I put myself in a situation which is completely unknown, that's kind of gonna make me want to give up. And I want to understand what it is we draw on when we can't give up you know, we've only got one option.
Laura: So I kind of, that's what I was searching for, for a couple of years of searching for something that was going to be out of my comfort zone completely and was going to be a challenge on multiple levels.
Lisa: Sure must have been.
Laura: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I guess at the time, I was doing, sort of, triathlons. I was enjoying them. But anything that was cycling, running, swimming, I felt like this would be expected and I kind of would already be a bit familiar with it. So when I suddenly heard about ocean rowing, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is ideal'. I've always wanted to row but never did it. Then never got a chance to, so I'd never rode before. I've never lost sight of shore. Like, you know, I've never been out at sea properly, never sailed or any of that stuff. Well, a bar like going on a few trips. But yeah, not a sailor by anyway, shape or form.
So it was, I was, and that just connected, you know, when something, an opportunity comes up and you're like, ‘This is exactly what I've been looking for'. And it was a proper light bulb moment. And the thing for me, it's the one time in my whole life that I've been so focused, like, ‘I have to make this happen'. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, I know what I'm going to get out of this is going to be huge.
Laura: And that basically is why starting point with it, it was kind of, I didn't know how to row, I went from being a marathon weight of like, something stupid, like 58 kilos up to, I had to go up to 72 kilos to grow on mass, you know, to be not skinny, because we lose a lot of weight out there. I had to put a team together, whereas, in my personal sport, I was doing quite individual sports. So, you know, I had to work out the team cohesion, the whole team dynamics, and recruitment. I had to figure out what the boat was, get it built, like then set up this as a business, you know, so. So yeah, so the whole journey it was, I mean, now on reflection, there's so many learnings from it. But I absolutely thrive from the self-awareness piece, how much I've learned about myself, and the different perspectives. And you know, approaching that row, my approach is very much like, this is all brand spanking new. So if I can approach it with a blank canvas, if I can have a real adaptive mindset, and if I surround, if I've now gone on the other side of the table, rather than surrounding athletes, if I surround myself with the relevant expertise, how far can I get? And how far can I really experience that athlete?
Lisa: Yeah, sorry, just my brother's just come in the middle of the podcast it’s all right. There. Come on Mitch, get around the other side. Yeah, this is podcast life for you. Didn't tell your brother you’re recording.
There was so much here that I wanted to unpack. Because there was like, you just skipped over a ton of stuff. Number one, you had no idea. So what gave you the confidence, what was the little voice inside you saying, ‘I can do this’, when you're in a completely unknown sport? Like what was it that made you think, ‘Oh, yeah, I can ride across the Pacific on a row across the Pacific, you know, for nine months, and that all worked out well'. You know, how did you even come up with a concept for something so audacious?
Laura: Well, I mean, it's all about small pieces, isn't it, and kind of reaching out to those that have done stuff and those that you respect and have the expertise. So it was basically breaking it, breaking the journey down. First of all, one is that route even possible? So initially, somebody had asked me to be part of the Indian Ocean, and they were putting a team together and then I evolved it into the Pacific. And then somebody, I was like, well, actually, originally, it might have been the new ocean wave race, which just goes from San Fran to Hawaii. And I was like, well, that's not the Pacific. That's a third of it, like so if I'm going to say I'm going to row the Pacific. I want to row, can I row all of it?
Yeah. So it was then reaching out to somebody from a logistical point of view and a support structure point of view saying, ‘Is this even feasible? And what would it look like?’ And when they said, 'Yes'. I was like, right, okay. So that's route can get involved, this is what it's going to look like. We're going to need to start, we're going to need to replenish, but it's doable. But it's going to take this time frame. And then it was kind of like right, in order for me to get prepped and the team to get prepped, what's the time frame that it's going to take to do that? Let's be realistic. And I wasn't realistic. I was naive, I thought it would only take us about a year to get to the start line. And hell no. It took four years to get to start, like four years.
Lisa: Four years. That’s massive.
Laura: Yeah, so it was. But interestingly, there's so many parallels, you know, like working in Olympic sport, everything's in four-year cycles for the Olympic cycle. And so there's so much that I learned through that process of, I thought I was only going to go in a year's time. That didn't happen. We didn't have the funding. I didn't got the team, the boat wasn't finished, you know, it was like, right, I need to go again. I need to reset. I need to sort of keep the ball rolling. But I need to learn from what failures have had here. And how do I overcome them?
Laura: The second year, I didn’t quite have to win I thought it was but it's all that sort of stuff. You go, yeah, you can give up why it's such a clear vision with it. And the question in my head was, ‘There's going to be an all-female team that is going to do this at some point. Like, why can't it be me? And I'm sure that will happen in my lifetime'. So what am I missing? What are the things that I can't see? That's in my blind spots. And that's where I started to reach out, to pull in different people to say, right, ‘This is the problem I've got, how can you help me’? How can you see and it was that reaching out for help with the right expertise that got us to the start line? It wasn't me. It was the collective bigger support team around us.
Lisa: How did you even, like the resources and the money in the financial and the sponsorship, when you didn't have a—I mean, you had a backstory as a high-performance expert, and helping other people in training and so on. But, you know you didn't have, you weren't—there were no huge amount of resources behind you. How did you—I know what I had to go through to get to the races that I did. And that was probably a heck of a lot less than what you had to go through. How did you face that? And what did you learn on the business side of the journey, the marketing, all of that sort of stuff?
Laura: Yeah, I mean–
Lisa: Selling the idea to people.
Laura: Yeah, the money. It kind of—it’s exactly that. I think it's showing the belief, like the absolute dogged determinedness, that this is going to happen, and you know, like, I put in my own swag to it. I paid for the boat built in the first place. So I'm like, I'm gonna do this, like, do you want to be part of it or not? But I want to do this regardless. Yeah.
Lisa: So basically, how I did too.
Laura: This is not my approach. But you know, I mean, I say that, but let's face it, I was useless at kind of asking for money, like, you know, it's great, you're doing it for charities. But to ask to support me, and like our journey. I was crap. You know, I'm a physio, I like to help people. I don't like asking for help. You know, at the time, I was very much in that poor sort of leadership style. And that's a big, that was a big learning point. But then reaching out to people that do work in business and do work in sponsorship. And they were the people that then helped me to shape sort of your sponsorship deck and how you need to brand it, what's your, you know, the colours, the language, all of that type of stuff.
Laura: And I loved it because I mean, I love learning. So suddenly, I was entering a snippet of a different world that I knew nothing about previously. Same with like the PR side of it, I had no idea but that was great fun, and, and the business model itself, like yeah became a business and I thought it was all about the physical and that was totally not it was 10% of like the project. And then yeah, so like you say, setting up a business no Scooby-Doo about and so simplicity was reaching out to people that had been successful had done it before. And the likes of, you know, Mark Beaumont, that we've talked about before like Mark. Mark is somebody that's an elite athlete, expedition athlete, he'd actually at the time rode the Atlantic, and unfortunately, they nearly died at sea. So I'd reached out to him to learn from his experiences from the actual failures, more, I don't want necessarily the successes, but, and he then was great at providing me with a bit more of the structure for you know, the timeline, the budget that this, that in the other room.
Laura: How you sort of need to get the sponsorship. And yeah, so I think to me, it's about as you know, if you hold, if this is a new space and you hold an ego thinking you're going to, then you're never gonna get anywhere.
Lisa: You’re gonna get your ass kicked.
Laura: Yeah, basically, just whereas for me, yeah, well, I don't mind. I don't mind saying I don't know something. I'm happy to ask why and how and who can help…
Lisa: You can be very humble, we can tell that five minutes of talking to you, you know.
Laura: Thank you very much.
Lisa: And how did you get a team together? Because you get four ladies, you rode the Pacific and people were talking like nine months and a rowboat unsupported, like from California to Cairns, wasn’t it? It's great. Yeah. There's a documentary out on it. If people want to find out we'll work out with it with the link sir. And how they can get hold of it perhaps afterwards. Four ladies in a rowboat, rowing across the lake. I mean, to the average person who doesn't know anything about rowing? It sounds absolutely insane. And I, like, I said to my husband, I was interviewing this morning and I said I couldn't last 24 hours in a rowboat. I probably couldn't last four hours in a rowboat. How do you comprehend nine months like that for me? Is, I mean, I've never done anything on that scale, of that long. You know, like, the longest thing I ever did was run through New Zealand which was a sustained effort over 42 days. And that well nearly bloody killed me, you know. But that's not nine months, you know, little logistics and all that. Wow.
Laura: Yeah, but you know what, I've been, flipping heck, you know. 40 odd days that you're running the lengths of New Zealand, like that is insane. So you could have...
Lisa: That’s a hell lot easier than rowing.
Laura: It’s not though! I mean, it's all about perspective, isn't it? And it's all about the context that you're in. And this is the thing that I get really passionate about is, I want to optimise people's own elite performance, like, not comparative to anybody else, like, what's your—so what you're really is your achievement of like, 42 days and everything else you've achieved is huge. Whereas somebody else's 42 days of running, will be running a marathon like that will be—it's about that gap analysis, like, where you'd got yourself to, to then be able to take on the 42-day sort of challenge. Like that was a big old leap, but you're already like, sort of—your experiences, and you'd prepped yourself for that.
Lisa: Yes, years and years.
Laura: Yeah, and where is somebody who's on a couch, but then is setting their sights of running a marathon. That's their 42 days, like, that's their elite performance for them. And the row for us? Yeah, it was a big old leap, but it was fundamentally, it was broken down. Like I think sometimes you must have found this with the run, you're talking about there and everything else. You've got to break it down, like you certainly in the preparation phase, you've got to plan every inch and every sort of crook of it within its life so that you don't leave any stone left unturned. You feel like you're best prepared, that gives you confidence, to then have capacity to deal with the unknown when you're faced with it. So to me, that sort of, I always wanted to leave, like, at least 30% of capacity in my headspace to make sure I can react to when I need to.
Lisa: You can handle it.
Laura: Exactly, and deal with the unknown. If I mean, if we'd gone on that row in that first year, Jesus Christ, like most of it was unknown, like that. I was so naive, it was ridiculous. But by the time you know, it's four years down the line, I felt so confident in actually we've trialed the boat, we've done 72 hours, we've done a couple of weeks. We've done team testing, we've done routines, we've done steep depot, we've done the training, we've done the site support, you know, all of those, every aspect of it. I feel like we took out and then it was a case of right, well, then we just need to do this on a day and day out. And then however long that's gonna last for it's just sticking to routines, which you know, the same in whatever you do.
Lisa: The more you do the more it becomes normal.
Laura: Exactly. And then it's kind of like, Well, actually, once you lose sight of shore, whether you're out there for five days, five weeks, five months, actually doesn't make much difference.
Lisa: You’re in this shit anyway. Too far from home anyway, you've lost sight of shore!
Laura: Yeah, you kind of just got to crack on and then, you know, there's no going back, you can't row backwards, sort of, it's only about, you know, having the confidence to step into taking on the Pacific. And for us, you know, yes, we rowed the Pacific literally, but to me, it was the essence of everybody's got their own Pacifics to cross like...
Laura: ...our film’s called Losing Sight of Shore because it's about having the courage to lose sight of shore, like, have that sort of courage to just step away from the comfort, step away from the knowns. And like, Oh, my God, you know, that's where life just opens up and expose.
Lisa: Because you know, I had Paul Taylor, who's a neuroscientist, and ex-British Navy guy, and exercise physiologist on the show last week, and he's talking about the small bubble where you can live in or the big bubble. And the big bubble is where we all want to be, you know, where we’re reaching our potential and we are filling and where are all these amazing things that we could do. We know that that bubble was there. But we're all scared living in this little comfort zone. And how do you push outside because that outside is risk of failure, and in your case risk of dying. You know, there was so much that you put on the line physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, relationships, you know. You name it, you put it on the line for this one thing, and that is living in that big bubble and scaring the crap out of yourself and doing it anyway.
Most people have this tendency to want to be comfortable in and I see this as a massive problem in our society today is that we are all cozy and comfortable and sitting on the couch watching Netflix and we are warm and we don't push ourselves for the gloom we don't push yourself. And this leads to disaster when it comes to resilience and being able to cope because you're been through this amazing adventure and expedition and you've risked everything, you must have an inner confidence that is just—and I know that you won't have it in all areas of life because this is certainly specific. And I know how that works because I'm really good and some things and really crap in others and I'm still working on my mindset in this area and that area or whatever, we're work in progress but you when you've lifted up your horizons to that big, nothing must daunt you in a way. Like he must be like, ‘Okay, whatever is coming at me, I can probably handle it'. Because you know, inside you have that resilience, which is so important.
Laura: Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. It's about context, isn't it? Like I—you know, I'm a risk-taker, but I'm a really calculated risk-taker, right.
Laura: Exactly. So kind of the Pacific seems like it's ridiculous, and it's life threatening. I mean, I didn't leave any stone left unturned. I had military guys helping us to make sure we'd sort of not left stuff unturned. We went through survival practice. We, I mean, there was everything and the amount of sort of, you know, routines we had on the boat, leashes, and kind of safety equipment was next to none. Because I was like, the risk we've got is getting separated from the boat. So I'm risk-aware, really risk-aware. And, and kind of, and make sure that sort of don't leave any stone unturned so then I feel confident to go forwards. I wouldn't just leap into it like blindly.
Lisa: Yep, you shouldn’t.
Laura: Yeah exactly.
Lisa: Because you will die.
Laura: Yeah. But I mean, it's no different if you watch, I don't think like, you know, you watch Alex Honnold, climbing free solo, you know, the El Cap, sort of the climb, if anybody’s seen that film. I mean, it's phenomenal. And anybody would, you know, you watch it. You're like, ‘Oh, my God, that's insane. He’s free climbing that like, what if he just slipped’? What if this? What if that? But look at his meticulous approach to it.
Lisa: Yeah, one hand wrong.
Laura: Exactly. But then his meticulous approach, he hasn't just woken up that day one, right. So I'm going to climb up, you know, sort of freestyle at this thing. He's like, he's been off top-roping with it, he is kind of lead climbed it. He's, kind of, known every single holding place he's written it, he’s drawn it, he’s visualising it. And he's only done it when he feels completely ready, prepped. And that actually, there's no move in that that is going to be a risk. So, therefore, he's a calculated risk-taker. And it is extreme when you watch it, but the preparedness is totally there.
Lisa: I couldn't do it. I didn't put the parachute on as I'm halfway down. You know, you do learn from that, you know. I remember going out into the race in Niger, which was 353Ks across one of the most dangerous landscapes in you know, places on Earth, countries on Earth. And we were meant to have food come from France, and it didn't arrive. And I wasn't prepared. I didn't have my own stash, I didn't, my husband at the time, my ex-husband there. He did, you know, like, and when you're doing things like that, and you end up with food poisoning, and you're, you know, vomiting and shitting your way across the Sahara. And you realise, you know, you could have avoided that. That’s sort of a big lesson and do your preparation better, you know. Don't be so cavalier with your, ‘I am going to go and, you know, run 100 miles, and I haven't even trained for a marathon yet'. No, no, you know, and I had to learn those things the hard way because I had a tendency just to dive in. And this is all exciting. And let's do it.
Laura: But then you learned that didn’t you?
Lisa: Yeah, but it's not a good way to learn in the middle of the Sahara. It’s better to learn previously.
Laura: Yeah, that is sure. But yeah, I mean, you still but you learn and I think that's one of the biggest takeaways, of whenever we talk about failure and stuff. It is not a failure, if you, unless you don’t learn from it. And leaping sometimes is exactly what you need to do, and it's just not being scared to fall, like just knowing that, you know what, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It's got you one step further. And one step closer to finding what the next thing might be.
Laura: So yeah, just it's having that like you say, that the sort of the robustness, the resilience or whatever it is to bounce back to kind of jump back up to ask the questions. ‘Well, why didn't that work? And let's try it a different way', or learn from it and do something.
Lisa: Yeah, like you said, You reached out to Mark and he'd had, you know, nearly died and had actually failed in that particular expedition, done lots of other crazy stuff, but you know, and that one and it is those things like you are risking failure and you have to understand it from the outset. That you can take care of all the things you can prepare. You can get everything and you're still risking because, if this was easy, everyone would be doing it. And you have to be okay with the—this is something I try and get my athletes to understand. When you're actually done the work, you've done the boulder, you've done the—all the hard stuff that you knew now standing at the start line, that's actually to have time to celebrate and go, you know, ‘I've done the hard work. Now it's up to whatever's going to come my way'. And like you say, being able to adapt and to have the flexibility to take whatever's coming at you, which isn't always easy, but you have to sort of give up those—I think the consequences of what if, what if, what if, because if you’re constantly asking yourself, for ‘What if I don't make that time?’ You know, say you're running a marathon, or I want to do it in under three and a half hours, or whatever the case may be, and then you're so like, ‘Oh, no’, and then it takes you three hours and thirty-two and you know, ‘I'm a failure’, you know, like, hang on a minute, no, hang on. That's not how it works.
Lisa: Yeah, you've got to understand that there are things you can't control. So you've done everything you can control. And now the rest is up to the gods, basically. And you're going to have to be able to be adaptable and flexible. And that was one of the things in your website, talking about adaptive, being adaptive in your performance. And I think that's a really good thing because we cannot control like… You can be having a bad day at the office and get up and you feel sick and your immune system’s down and you've got your period and you've, you know, whatever the case may be. And you weren't bargaining with that, you know, so you have to be able to work, ‘I need to still go because there's no way back. How do I deal with it’? You know?
Laura: Yeah, and I think it's a really valid point. Because I mean, even in the row halfway through, and it's in the films, it's not kind of confidential stuff. One of the girls, like, she just completely changed her personality, right, because that was exactly the problem. She thought she could control the boat. She thought, you know, she was a rower. Out of all of us, she was somebody that actually had rowed since she was a kid and stuff. She thought ocean rowing was, you know. She didn't want to lose the passion. Unfortunately, yeah, it killed her passion. She didn't know then, she lost the sense of identity, all of that stuff.
Lisa: Oh yeah, real tough.
Laura: Yeah, awful. And, but because she was trying to control the boat, you know, like, the current, the wind was against us, like, those are things you cannot control. It’s a one ton boat, not one person is going to be able to control moving that in the direction you want it to go in. And so, but it was the collective of the team that enabled us to be able to rally around and understand, first of all, recognise the change in personality, it was a behaviour, it was yeah, there was something underlying. It was not her—well, it was, but there was something emotional that she couldn't verbalise straightaway. So hence, she just changed her personality type.
Laura: And then it was like the strength of the team to be able to rally together to support that. So kind of come at it from the right approach that she was able to share it, to then collectively go, we just need to see a different perspective on this stuff. And I think that's where, you know, a vast dynamic sort of team, you know, a diverse team sorry is what I meant, has got so much strength in it, because you know, what, when you see it through your own lens, there's only sort of one way. Whereas if you've got some diversity there, I just think it brings a different perspective. And suddenly, you're able to see, you can't control the uncontrollable, you know, you can only control the controllables. You can't control what's out of control.
And those things are the weather that is, you know, yes will prevent being ill or injured. But that might well happen. That, you know, is what it is. And if the boat sort of fails, but you whatever, then those are only three things that are going to be out of our control. And if anything happened there, then I wouldn't be. I would have been upset, I would be upset, but I wouldn't be throwing my toys out the pram because it isn't something we could control. And if the row didn't happen, we didn't finish because one of those three things, that is what it is.
Lisa: Yeah, it is what it is. And you've done your utmost. And I mean, I've failed on different expeditions and things that I’ve done, like really fallen on my face, you know, with, you know, documentary crews there have captured all on film as you just absolutely completely faceplant. And, you know, and it takes a long time to get up again, and it knocks the crap out of you. And, you know, but it's part of that, okay, well, this is the game wherein, you know, we’re pushing the limits, and sometimes, you know, you are human and you don't have the resources or one of the things that I find really, really I'd love to and I think this probably needs its own podcast is the whole team dynamic thing. I mean, it's one thing to be a solo athlete that does things, you know, but it's a—couple of times when I've had to be in a team situation. I find it really, really tough because you were reliant...
I did one in the Himalayas, and we're trying to do the world's highest marathon ever done. And I was with a guy who was a mountaineer and used to altitude and very at home in that space. And I wasn't. And I don't—I've done a couple of things at altitude and sort of survive by the skin of my teeth. I'm an asthamtic and I don't really do well on the mountains. So take on, you know, the world's highest mountain. Good idea. And we'd be in shape. And I got sick. I got altitude sickness, and I couldn't even start my body. I couldn't even tie my shoelaces.
But the worst thing was that he changed. The person that he was down here was not the person that he was up there, and, it ended up being quite nasty, and quite, detrimental. And he's not here to defend himself. So I'm not gonna say anything too much. But it wasn't a nice situation to be in — I did not trust that if I was in the shutout there, that we would work together as a team to get through it. I felt like, now, he wouldn't do that.
And then so now I'm like, very, very always aware of if I'm teaming up with people like we've got at the moment, this weekend in my hometown, that Oxfam 100, it's 100-kilometre event where lots of just normal everyday people are doing 100Ks, which is like amazing, walking, and they're doing it in, you know, teams of four, and the staff are going to go through... And there'll be people that are, you know, expeditions bring out the worst and bring out the best in people. And you don't know until you're in the situation with them, which way are they going to go, and which way you're going to go. I mean, I can become, I've been a really horrible person on some of my, you know, with my crew on different occasions where I've just lost my shit because I'm in so much pain, sleep deprivation, motions are up the wazoo. And you just, you know, you're snappy, irritable, you know, just horrible. Afterwards, I’m heading to go and say, ‘I'm very sorry'. You know?
So how did you deal with that over nine months like that on steroids? Like the dynamic—four women—everybody's having their highs and lows at different points in there. How did you cope with that? I mean, you're obviously, you've mentioned the one person and how you helped pull together, it takes incredible leadership to keep a team like that together for nine months, no matter how wonderful you all are.
Laura: Yeah, that I mean, don't get me wrong, you still have arguments and stuff, but it was all in the preparation. And it was, we knew I mean, so it is a 29th version rowing boat, right. So it's kind of the size of Greg Rutherford's, it's got the world record for the long jump, right? So it is, kind of, his long jump is the size of our boat. So it's a really small space. And then when you're cramped into the cabin, there's two of you. And if it's stormy, then all four of you are either in that or two in each cabin. So it's a tight, confined space. So it was really clear from the outset that this team had to be, we had to be cohesive, we had to be really transparent. And something I was particularly pedantic about was, I never want to leave a permanent issue. Like if there's an issue, we need to confront it, we will have to step forward into it. We can't, I don't want any bitchiness like, there was, that was always been, sort of my approach to most things. Like, I can't stand the whole talking to other people, rather than talking to the individual that you've got an issue with. You just need to step into that as much as it might feel uncomfortable.
And I guess, working in a performance context, we're scrutinised on a daily basis, you know. We're kind of everybody's asking you why what are you doing, you know, type stuff, you've got to justify, you feel like you're under a spotlight all the time. So you start to feel this kind of separation, you know, look kind of right. No, this is they're asking me that because of the person in front of us or the, you know, the end goal, that's what it's about. It's got nothing to do with me personally. We're just trying to optimise what we need to do. So when, my, I pulled this, the sort of the team came together, a lot of it, I was like, how do we stress test this, like, we have to stress test it because–
Lisa: Hell yeah.
Laura: –exactly. And that's where I, you know, I started working with Keith, the performance psychologist. I reached out to him so I was like, there's got to be more depth to this, you know, we need tools we need to I need to know what I'm going to draw on when I'm wanting to give up like, what's going to be my go-to’s, I'm going to, I need to know how I can respond and react to different personalities and stuff and how they're going to react to each other.
So Keith was the absolute rock to the success of our journey, in all honesty. I worked with him for four years and I still worked with him. I still work with him, sorry, to this day. And Keith, sort o—he enabled us to sort of understand the differences in our personalities from the basics of just doing psychometrics and stuff, but pretty in-depth ones. And then analyzing that a little bit more and playing it out in different scenarios, and then really forcing us to kind of do the round table. Yeah, because—and the girls hated confrontation. They weren't used to giving and receiving feedback. That was always felt like a personal threat. Yeah. So I just had to put myself in the barrier first. So I be like, ‘Right, cool, okay, if you're not going to give it and you're going to say everything's rosy when it's not, I’ll pull it out'. ‘So this is what's not going so well. And this is not going so well. Right now give it back to me, hit me’, like because then as soon as I've given it they're happy to give it back to me because I think I'm being—yeah exactly. That's fine.
And then I would show them that I was learning from it because I was. And there was— I— they would call me, I would have Laura number one, Laura number two, my personalities. And they—I didn't realise that until sort of, you know, going through the row and they're like, ‘Oh my god, it's Laura number two'. And Laura number two is somebody that when she starts getting, like, tired, hungry, all of that gubbins and, and sort of just a bit over it, I start getting really assertive. I'm very tunnel vision, and my empathy just goes. Whereas normal time, like I've got heaps of the empathy, until it gets to a point…
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So like me.
Laura: And so they’d be like, all right, Laura number two. Because we then had a language that was a little bit disconnected to the personal and it made a bit of fun of it, then we sort of were able to sort of take a pause, hear it and stuff.
But we had loads of loads of methodologies that we built, we'd worked on to try and get to that point. And that was sort of to the point with there, though, is that is not to say we didn't have any arguments, because we did like, I mean Nat and I, in particular, completely different personalities. She is like a, she's a beautiful character. She is Miss Mindful, she is in the moment, and she is just totally there. She's talking about the sky and the sea and the colours. Whereas I'm Miss Planner. Like I'm already in Cannes, I'm thinking about fear, I’m planning, and what do we need to do, what do we need to sort out? So, you know, when we did the team testing before, this was during selection of the team. I remember when I met Nat, I was like, ‘Oh, god, no, we are poles apart. There's just no way', you know because I was trying to see it through. I was only seeing it through my own lens of who I was getting a rapport with.
But I brought her onto the team testing weekend, which was, I'd gone to some ex-military guys. And I said, ‘Look, we need to be tested. I need to see what we're like when we're cold, we’re hungry, really sore, in pain. You need to physically push us. You need to mentally push us'. Well. And so we did like a 72-hour sleep depot type thing, you know, in the Brackens in Wales, yeah. On reflection that was like, yeah, that was it was great fun and obviously hated it during. I remember, like during it, sort of Nat in particular, as a personality that stood miles out because when she came on to it, I was thinking oh she can come along. But she's, I don't think that I’m going to be selecting her. And then Nat was the one that, you know, she might not have been the fittest. But even when she was struggling, and she was in pain, she had a sense of humour. When I was starting to struggle, she made me laugh. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, there's not many people that can do that while I'm in that space'.
Laura: And I'm like, this isn't just about me. But for the comfort of the team, like we need that. Because otherwise, I will make this too serious. I will. When it gets into it, it will be too boring and serious. I need a sense of humour in this. And she is, she's got it in abundance. And she kept us at the moment.
Lisa: Wow, yep.
Laura: As well. Like, I needed that mindfulness when we're out to sea because otherwise, I wouldn't have remembered half the things that went on and I wouldn't have recognised and seen it.
Lisa: Isn't that amazing? So looking at the strengths and differences can actually end up being the thing that holds you together rather than pulls you apart.
Laura: A hundred percent.
Lisa: And I just think in this space I have to connect you with Paul Taylor, he will love you. He's a resilience expert that I was mentioning before and yeah, I think it when you have characters and I've started to do this just with for myself even now I have these different characters, you know, there's the good me and there's bad me and the good means like Wonder Woman, she can do anything and she's amazing.
And he has all these character traits that you know I aspire to and want to have and that side of me and then the other side's a real bitch, you know, she's a horrible, cynical, selfish person and those are both of me. And I know when you put this on—Paul talks about doing like cartoon characters and putting speech bubbles on them and actually giving them life and because it puts you outside of these characters that are fighting in your head, and you're trying to be that good one you want to be, but when you're hungry and cold and freezing, and you haven't slept in three days, and you're struggling somewhere, and God knows where. And you just want to go home and cry and hide under the covers and get mummy to give you a chicken soup. Well, you—it puts it outside of you, and it helps you see what you're doing.
And even in daily things like, you know, I've been rehabilitating my mum now for five years, seven days a week. And you know, beginning first three years, it was like eight hours a day. So it was just, it was full, full-on. And then even longer than that in the first year. And I catch myself sometimes being so short and irritable because I'm like trying to multitask and trying to run my businesses and she's waiting for me and you know, like, you just find yourself snapping at somebody when you just feel like, you know, that asshole is sure is present, you know, and you're just like listening to yourself going, ‘How the hell do I get a grip on this?’
We're all human. And we're all working on this. And, you know, I go to my mum and I put her in bed at night time and a cuddle. And tell her, I say, 'You know, I'm sorry for being a bitch today, Ma. I’m sorry for snapping at you'. And she's so lovely. She's like, 'Oh, that's all right'. Like, you know. But we have moments where we're just not nice, and when you're in these extreme circumstances fad, the ones that come out, and this is a part of the dynamic thing that I find really, really fascinating in that whole resilience and teamwork, and how do you bring it all together? So, you know, we're going to have to wrap up this one, because I've really enjoyed talking to you, Laura. But I really would like to have you on a couple of times, because I think there's much more to this actual story because we haven't even got to talking about well, what was it actually like to row? How did you, you know, do, what did you actually do on a daily basis? And how do you plan for such a thing? And how do you have such a big project and deal with it? And so I'm really glad that we've made this connection, and I'm very, very keen to have you on the show again, if you, because we've really just been part one, I think.
Laura: Let's see… No, I’ll be honoured to come back on. There’s so much I think we connect with in, and we can talk about for sure, especially in that headspace how we can be… What we've both learned from the experiences that we faced and continue to learn, I think is always an exciting journey.
Laura: Yeah, I'd be honoured to come back on it. It’s been great.
Lisa: That would be fantastic because I think also the work that you've done with Paralympians and, you know, people that have worked with disabilities and trauma, we haven't even unpacked that either. Because I think that, you know, we can learn a heck of a lot from people that have gone through, you know, all these dramas and so on, me, I learn every day from Mum, like, her mindset is just like, incredibly strong, resilient. And so I'd like to unpack some of that stuff as well. So Laura, thank you very much for your time today. I think you're a rock star, where can people find you? And where can they get involved in what you're doing? And, you know, do whatever you got available? Because you've got some really good lessons to share with people. So tell us where we can find you.
Laura: Yeah, I mean, on usual social media, sort of, the Instagram or Twitter or LinkedIn, just @laurapenhaul. And that sort of, you know, P-E-N-H-A-U-L is my surname. So yeah, reach out to that we've also got our endurance book. So where we've sort of added science behind, kind of some of the endurance sort of focus is on GCN, which is a Global Cycling Network website, or our podcast is Endurance as well, which is where's Mark Beaumont, which I co-author on.
Lisa: So I'm very keen to meet and hopefully get on the show as well. Yeah, hook me up there.
Laura: Yeah, Keith will get you on that as well. I think you've got a lot to add and share their experiences for sure.
Lisa: I'd love to. That would be an absolute honor. Laura, you're one hell of a strong woman. I can't wait to see where you go and in the future in what you know, what you take on. God forbid is probably going to be big, and thank you for sharing. I think you have such great knowledge to share with people and you have a duty to get that information out there because this is the sort of stuff that helps people. So thank you very much for your time today Laura.
That's it this week for Pushing the Limits. Be sure to rate, review, and share with your friends and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com.