Escape to brilliance


I’m often asked the same question by people…

“Why are you so motivated, focused and driven to be so successful and want to be the best?”

And I normally just give them the bog standard response:

“I just want to win or break records.”

However the truth is a very different story….

My life has, how can I put this, been very colourful! And when I thought about writing this I knew some people will be amazed or even inspired and some people may decide not to like me. But I’m going to be totally honest. This is no sob story or me feeling sorry for myself. This is what drives me everyday of my life. I want to do things few others ever will in their lives, like row across the Atlantic Ocean and attempted the fastest crossing record and break other world endurance records. I will continue to do these things after I’ve completed my goal of winning my place at the Ironman World Championships at Kona in the next few years.

I believe in life that there is a defining moment that can be an awakening of the spirit or a moment of truth that can change the rest of your life forever. It could be the death of a loved one or having a life threatening illness or some other major incident in childhood like being extremely poor. These things have the potential to change the course of your life forever. I’ve found over the years from the many books I have read that people who achieve exceptional things in life normally have these types of things in common. And these things can drive them to do extraordinary things.

So my moment. Was it a death? Yes it was, but that happened a few years down the line from my initial,life-changing incident.

It was just another normal day for me on Wednesday 7th September 2004 at 9.18am on a South London back street just sitting in the drivers’seat of a car. I never even saw it coming. Well, in hindsight I did see it coming when I look back. At the time I thought I was totally untouchable and damn good at what I was doing. But at that moment I found myself staring down the barrel of 20 Heckler and Koch machine guns being pointed at every part of my body. They were being wielded by the serious and organised crime agency. This was my life as an armed robber. I was labeled by the Metropolitan Police and National Press as one of the most prolific and dangerous armed criminals in the UK. This is not something of which I am proud of today. I will not make excuses for my actions. I chose my path in life and made every decision that lead me to being in that position on the morning I got arrested. I was totally responsible.

From an early age I grew up around organisedcrime and criminals were my role models in life. Money, fast cars, big houses, boats. Basically cashwas never a problem in life. The people I admireddid what they wanted, when they wanted and I thought why am I going to be just a regular guy working 24/7 365 days and have nothing to show for it. Why would I want to pay tax and be screwed by the government every day of the week. So I left school at 15 and started hanging around with much older criminals and doing small jobs. Slowly Imoved up the ladder of crime as I gained their trust.I was first arrested at 18 for nine armed robberies on security vans and was found not guilty at the old bailey. Needless to say the police were not happy with my escape from justice.

So, back to me being caught and arrested and charged with a string of offences. I was initiallyremanded into custody and went off to prison to await my trial. But because I was considered such a high risk of escaping, due to all my contacts in the criminal world, I was put in the most high security special unit in Britain – Belmarsh. I walked onto this small high security unit and my wing was like a submarine. It was very small, with no natural light and I was faced with 7 other men to live with for the next two years. They included London suicidebombers, an Islamic bomb maker and a contract killer – just your normal next door neighbours J

I had to wait 2 full years before my court case finally arrived however I had no chance of being found not guilty this time. Everyday it was like a scene out of a movie with armed police and helicopters escorting me to court to prevent people helping me toescape. The jury were in 24/7 armed protection to prevent me tampering with them. So the obvious happened and I was found guilty and sentenced to a long time in prison. They got me.

I worked it out in my head whilst standing in the dock, as the judge sentenced me, that it would take me 8 years to get out. That was goodbye to my 20s – game over, lights out. I was thinking of every way I could escape, trying to get messages out of the prison to my friends but the authorities made this impossible. And the reality then sunk in and I knew I was in it for the long haul.

Over the years I moved from one high security prison to another, just wasting the years and wishing my life away so I could get out and flee aboard. I wanted to continue my life of crime in mainland Europe. Then on November 14th 2009 I had news my best and only friend in this world, who I trusted with my life, had died carrying out a robbery in Holland. He was trying to steal 200,000 Euros. The tyre on his car blew out as he was escaping and he crashed on the motorway. To this day I cannot describe what happened to me thatnight sitting in that jail cell. Something just hit me and a light switched on in my head. I looked around at those 4 walls of my cell and thought what have I done with my life? I’ve not achieved anything. I had cash, nice cars expensive watches and wild parties but what had I achieved that was meaningful.Absolutely nothing and I had spent my whole 20s rotting in a cage being locked up for 23 hours a day. If I had been in that car with my friend and died that night in Holland, what would I be remembered for? What legacy would I leave behind? I had done nothing positive with my life. For the first time in my whole adult life I saw what a fool I had been for all those years. Id got caught up in this shit, nasty,negative world of crime. I made a promise to myself that night that I was going to turn my life around and start achieving, being a winner and being successful. The drive I felt is something I cannot describe in words.

So I was lost. I was in prison but wanted to achieve.I’m not academic as my tweeter followers can probably tell! So what can I do? Then one day in the prison gym I saw a guy rowing a million meters over a few months on the rowing machine and thought “I could do that”. So off I went. Now you cancall it fate or even destiny but I found I was not just“okay” at using an ERG, I was actually exceptionally good. One of the prison officers who worked in the gym – Darren Davis – checked on the computer for some of the Concept2 rowing records and came back and printed them off for me to take back to my cell. I sat there and thought “I can almost breaksome of these records now!” So off I went and trained and trained but the prison authorities were very skeptical. Could this inmate really break 10 year old records by rowers or other endurance athletes? However, to be fair and I will always begrateful, they gave me the chance and let me attempt one of the records. And I absolutelysmashed it to bits and even the governor of the prison was shocked and amazed. Then I carried on until I held nearly every British record on the books. Doing that gave me the confidence that I had the ability and showed me I had a gift at something in life. I then knew that my body was going to my tool to break free of the chains of prison and give me the success I wanted.

I finally got transferred to an open prison in 2011 and was allowed to come out during the day to work in a gym. I also joined a local rowing club where I would go on my Sundays out of prison. I wanted to use all my free time productively so I spent that whole day learning to row on water with current GB squad rower, Laura wheeler. She taught me how to row on the water as she had seen me on the rowing machine in the gym and thought I was fast.

Then I finally got released from prison after nearly 8 years and walked straight into a high performance rowing club for light weight men based in London. I was training alongside Olympic athletes on a daily basis. I never told a person at the club about my past other than the head coach who was a hard Australian task master but he was fine with it and gave me a chance as he could see how hard I worked.

I will cut this short now as I could fill a book with the things I saw and experienced over those years. I remember not seeing the sky with my eyes for years because of all the anti helicopter wire on the exercise yard and I will never forget the many different characters I met along the way.

I just want whoever is reading this to know that in life anything is possible. I broke world records that had stood for up to 10 years in some cases and had no sports nutrition whatsoever. I just made my own drinks out of sugar and salt mixed with water. I had no heart rate monitors or compression clothes but what I did have was determination, an iron will anda drive to succeed and to be the best and start winning. I ran my first 100k ultra marathon while I was still in prison on my first home leave with no proper running training. Only 36 finished out of 200. Again this was all down to the belief in myself. It’s all in the mind – if you believe it you can achieve it. That’s why I know with total confidence everything I say I will achieve I will as I won’t stop until I do. You can do anything if you want it that bad.

I’m even sponsored by SERCO – a company who run private prisons. And through that sponsorship I am hoping to give talks to young offenders and show them there are other paths you can travel down in life. That’s also another reason I’m so determined to achieve. To continue to prove that if I can do these things from the person I was ten years ago, driving around wearing a bullet proof vest and robbing cash in transit vans, then anyone can. The only person who ever puts limitations on you isyourself – think big, go big, achieve big.

Like I’ve said before the next couple of years are all about Ironman and achieving the goals I’ve set formyself and nothing will stop me. I will be at those World Championships as an age group winner and I will do it without a doubt. Then in 2018 the biggest challenge awaits with me and 3 other men from London rowing club who are all international rowers. We are attempting to break the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a 4 man crew. Obviously the banter is great between us already asthey know my past.  Obviously this expedition is a very expensive thing to do so when I suggested I had a plan to get the money there faces were a picture 🙂 I won’t go on any more as I’m sure you’ve had enough of reading! So thanks for taking the time to read my story and let’s just leave it like this

“If I can do it so can you.”



Jonathon McAvoy – 24 hour Rowing World Record


Anyone of you who has used a Concept 2 rowing machine in the gym before will say how hard it is to use.


It could be part of your exercise regime to tone up, lose weight, or to reach a personal milestone. For those who want to cut corners during exercising you may opt to choose another piece of CV equipment. In fairness, the Concept 2 rower always gives you the facts.

For Jonathon McAvoy, the rowing machine in the gymnasium is his “office”. It tests his ability, his mental strength, and his endurance.


In 2010 he broke the British/Irish record for rowing a full marathon. That’s 42,195 metres or26 miles and 385 yards. The previous record was owned by a Royal Marine so you can understand this is no mean feat. But Jon didn’t want to stop there. He had other ideas!

Jon’s next aim was to row a full 24 hours. A whole day of strenuous exercising!This may seem quite deep to some of you or even a touch outrageous. I personally jumped at the chance in helping him to achieve his objectives. “In fact I’ll cycle the 24 hours with you Jon”. That’s two crazy people then!


As part of the challenge Jon aims to raise much needed funds for local charity, Rainbows Children’s Hospice.


When we both sat down Jon made it quite clear he wanted the World record. That’s rowing for nearly a quarter of a million metres in one day. I knew all along that he was very capable of reaching this distance, so we put a plan together. His normal regime of training on the rower would include intense workouts covering shorter distances, so for Jon to ease off the pedal is not something he is used to. I informed him he needs to be consistently good or when breaking records, consistently great.  


At precisely 4pm on Saturday 19th February, the challenge commenced. For Jon to break the world record he would have to challenge the current record holder Canadian rower  Nigel Roedde by achieving greater than 244,261 meters. At present, Nigel is rowing as part of a team aiming to make the fastest Atlantic crossing, rowing non-stop and unsupported covering over 5,000 km.


From the off Jon made good headway completing 50,000 metres in 3 hours and 37 minutes. Breaks were brief so the time was taken up digesting flapjacks, bananas and taking on board further fluids such as energy sports drinks. Jon remained focused throughout the event. Even when it seemed he was on the ropes he came back stronger. He admitted “this is the hardest challenge I have ever faced”, “every bone in my body aches”.


After twenty two and a quarter long hours, the world record was eventually broken. All that remained now was create as much distance from the last holder. At 4pm on Sunday 20thFebruary 2011, Jon pulled his last stroke. The total distance he covered was an astonishing 263,396 metres, that’s over nineteen thousand metres more than the previous record. The overall distance he covered is similar to that of rowing from Aberdeen to Hull. The number of calories Jon expended was 15,340. This is six times the required daily average. Eventually areserved jubilant Jon emerged, tired from his tremendous effort of accomplishment.Unfortunately there was no dancing girls or brass bands, just his close colleagues celebrating his success.


This was truly a phenomenal feat of willpower, commitment, drive whilst entering into a physical and psychological journey.


I would like to take this opportunity in congratulating him in an awesome display of character and endeavour, resulting in a remarkable achievement. 


The hardest world record 100.000k.The full report

                                                                  Image 100,000k Rowing World Record

On Sunday 1st May 2012, at 0900 hours, Jonathon McAvoy attempted another Rowing World Record. This time it was to row the distance of 100,000 metre (62 miles). Just imagine, that’s like rowing the English Channel, not once, not twice, but THREE times!! As part of the challenge Jon aims to raise much needed funds for the British Red Cross.

The completed time for this attempt was an amazing 6 hours 32 minutes and 16 seconds. This is not only a NEW World Record but it is also the fastest time ever in his weight category.

Jon currently holds the World Record for the 24 hour individual row and the British/Irish Record for the Half AND Full Marathon. Jon is also in the One Million Metre and Five Million Metre Club, astonishingly five million metres equates to rowing the Atlantic.

After finishing the 24 hour rowing challenge, Jon informed me that his next challenge would be to row one hundred kilometres (100,000 metres). The training for this challenge is totally different than that of his previous 24 hour event. This event would last for a quarter of the time but with far greater intensity. Jon knew this and it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest, in fact Jon seemed to relish the challenge. I have always found Jon adopts a positive approach to life, showing an amazing drive and determination to achieve the goals he sets himself for both present and future.

He began his preparation for this event by training with full focus and confidence, but without swagger. After discussions with Jon I made my calculations, if you reduced your training averages, made good recoveries then I believed he would hit a target of around six hours and thirty minutes. Sounds easy, in reality that’s fourteen minutes faster than the current World Record holder. In additional to training for this event Jon managed to break the British Record for the Half Marathon in the time of 1 hour 15 minutes and 56 seconds. This record alone stood for seven years. During the one hundred kilometre event, Jon burnt up 6500 calories; this equates to 22 mars bars!

At sixty kilometres, the tremendous effort Jon was applying had started to take effect. Jon’s back and hamstring went into spasm causing him excruciate pain, but this didn’t break his will to carry on. Ninety kilometres into the challenge Jon became nauseous and though he was physically exhausted, still managed to maintain the same pace. Jon’s body then started to reject the energy gels he was consuming. All Jon says he can remember was a quote from the seven times Tour De France legend Lance Armstrong repeating over and over in his head, “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”. Only one in three men in the World hold both Ultra Endurance World Records in  rowing, Jon making up one of the three.

On completion of the 100 kilometres Jon said “I felt such elation on achieving what I set out to do. All the hard training I did in preparation for this event resulted in breaking further World Records. I feel it is my destiny to simultaneously hold both ultra-endurance records and to continue my targets set out for the future.”

Jon’s hidden talent has clearly been discovered. For me personally it has been a pleasure assisting Jon in achieving the previously unachievable and helping him to put himself firmly on the track for success. I hope that his talent is given the opportunity it deserves, as he looks towards his future and continues to inspire others as a positive role model.

Jon future aims are to compete in his first Ironman event (2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2 mile marathon) and to also gain a place at the World Championships as an age group winner. Jon has also registered for the Marathon Des Sables which is the toughest footrace on earth and consists of a 6 day / 151 mile (243km) endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Another long term goal of Jon’s is to participate in the Woodvale Challenge. The Woodvale Atlantic Rowing race has recently been voted the “Toughest Athletic Challenge” and is widely known to be “The World’s Toughest Rowing Race”.

British Rower Will Horner, of Southampton University has invited Jon to attend Southampton University’s rowing club. It is worth noting that in February this year, Will Horner failed in an attempt to take Jon’s 24 hour rowing World Record off of him.

So what is next for Jon? He has said his next challenge will be to attempt to break the Concept2 World Record for the 10,000 metre and also the longest continuous row which currently stands at thirty hours. Watch this space!

Darren davis



Training blog and 2014 goalsimage

I would like to start by saying that I don’t believe in ‘The off season’ or whatever people call it. I saw this first hand when I was rowing. Fellow squad members would take up to a full month off rowing and say “John, if you don’t stop you’ll ‘burn out’ by summer in the racing season!” However, every single test we had throughout the year from winter to summer, I always seemed to have the best results for my weight class. I’ve had a lot of success with this training philosophy and have broken British and World rowing records which in some cases have stood for up to a decade.

I also train the vast majority of the time on my own- approximately 80%. I believe that you should train your mind as well as your body to take part in solo endurance races. My way of thinking is that you can’t have a chat in the swim leg or bike leg of an Ironman so surely you should get used to it in training and prepare yourself mentally. I do sometimes train with other people but when I do I want them to be a lot better than me so it brings me on and pushes me. I’m so competitive, I hate being the weakest link and really hate getting dropped on the bike or the run. However, saying this I understand training should be fun to continue progress and it’s what works for me. The most fun I’ve ever had training was being on an ERG next to ex Olympic rowers who are tearing chunks out of each other – that’s were I feel I progressed the most in my fitness gains. We all wanted to be the best and get the fastest times, even on the so called easy sessions, which I don’t think ever exist for me! This approach to training is just what I find works for me and may sound completely alien to anyone else reading this. I love dropping people and chasing people down when I see them out on the bike. It’s fun! I’ve taken guys on who are great and will beat me ten out of ten times at the start……..but I won’t stop attacking them and in time I will win one out of ten, them two and so on until one day they can’t beat me anymore. That’s the mark of progress for me.

The key to high volume training with little rest for me is to look after yourself by ensuring you eat correctly, sleep well and foam roll after every training session. I also take ice baths and it’s all basic stuff really. But I’m surprised how many people don’t do it, get ill and injured then wonder why. I don’t drink alcohol that often, I eat a very clean high carb diet and I rarely get ill. This maintains consistency of training which is the key to my success – no lost days or injuries. I keep my body fat levels between 7% and 9% and keep my weight at approximately 74kg which is close to my  racing weight all year. I do this so it’s no real shock trying to cut weight when racing and risk getting ill.

So, back to the training! I love to train by numbers and always have, which is probably down to the thousands of hours I’ve spent on the machine of truth – the ERG. Or a Concept2 rowing machine for the muggles who are reading 

This is why I’ve made the decision to use the Human Performance Unit at Essex University for my training program. Their track record of success with other athletes was important and I also wanted hard data to work from with regular testing to monitor improvement. I visited Essex University in November to have my V02 Max Testing on my running and biking; as a non tri-athlete, I was fairly happy with the results as the years of rowing had given me a good engine. It’s not as 100% efficient as if it would be on a rowing V02 Max Test as the numbers were not as high obviously. Nevertheless, I had a good base level of cardio vascular fitness. Another appeal for me using the universities program was the absence of a coaching element – I just wanted the testing and the program written by a sports scientist. I’m not a great fan of coaching as I’m self-motivated and can push myself on those hard sessions and it’s quite simply impossible to cheat yourself. I like to use other athletes and coaches as advisors and if what they say makes sense then I listen – if not I don’t – it’s that simple.

So now 2014 has arrived I can finally have my first year as an athlete solely focused on Ironman. Do I see myself as a tri-athlete? No not at all. Ironman to me is just a race and I will condition my body to race it as fast I can and win my age group. I want to get to the sunny island of Hawaii and once I’ve achieved that the challenge is complete. This years campaign is to close the gap as much I can on the top guys in my age group.
 Lots of people are very guarded with their numbers and publicly saying what they expect from themselves as it probably puts extra pressure on them. However I like to let people know my ambitions as it makes me even more determined to achieve. For Ironman UK 2014 I’m looking at a 1 hour swim, a 5h.30m bike and a 3h.20m marathon. These are realistic numbers that I’m using from talking to the Human Performance Unit and also assessing my progress against what I achieved so far from my own personal training. I have timed my 2 week training camp to the French Alps with some great, strong athletes so that it fits into my training program and therefore peak for Ironman UK. I will be using Ironman Wimbleball 70.3 solely as a fitness test to see where I’m at and if I’m on target I will also use the Manchester marathon in March as training. I will also use any other races I have planned as training barometers as the main goal is Ironman UK.

Like I said 2014 is all about closing the gap and making those gains on the top guys. I want to get my marathon time down as much I can and do some real focused bike work and get used to racing. I’m always looking at the bigger picture and 2015 is my real target year. I want to win my age group and race the best people in the most competitive Ironman races. I am dedicating 25 hours a week of my life to this goal so I expect to go up against the best people, challenge them and beat them!

Other events I’m training for in 2014 after Ironman UK are as follows:

I have a 24 hour track run in September: this entails running around a 400 meter track as many times as possible in a 24 hour period. I have set myself a 150 mile target goal.

I also have a 24 hour cycle in August with 600k being my target.

These are two challenges I can’t wait to undertake.

All in all it’s going to be an action packed year for me. I have a feeling I will probably be very skinny by the end of it!