At the end of August, coincidentally the same weekend as last year’s UTMB, I challenged myself more than I ever have before and took on the attempt to break not only the 100 mile World Record, but the 24 hour World Record. On a treadmill.
This year has not been easy for the majority of us. Despite loving watching Logan grow up and seeing him nearly every waking second, we have also gone through tremendous hardships. Debbie was – and still is – in and out of hospital (all on her own to make it even worse), her work is going through major redundancies, and her anxiety levels as a result have been higher than ever. My work also underwent a huge restructure which added to my stress and anxiety.
Both of us [understandably] lost our mojo after about a month of lockdown, and we decided to do something about it. Debbie couldn’t race (not just because of cancellations but because of her health), so she was keen to support whatever I thought of doing and – thanks predominantely to the Tartan Running Shorts podcast and the need to speak about something given a lack of training and racing – I decided to do something completely out of my comfort zone, but what I thought I would be capable of, should I have the right build up.
For those of you who know me, know I hate the dreadmill. I was raised in the hills and started my athletic career mainly in hill running. I went to the World Mountain Running Championships in Alaska as a junior, have won the National Trail Running Championships and was 1st Brit at the World 50km Trail Championships back in 2016.
None of which were remotely similar to running on a treadmill.
Then I made the all time list for the 100km last year, running around a 2.4km loop in Perth and actually enjoying it. That is probably when I got the idea, and lockdown was the perfect opportunity to execute this challenge.
I was able to get motivation and chat about my progress via TRS which was hugely uplifting. The support I got (and have continued to get) is incredible, but I needed to do it more than for the running community. I decided to ask two charities close to my heart, CHAS and the Gathimba Edwards Foundation, if I could attempt the chalenge jointly for them, to help children both in Scotland, and in Kenya. They were really thankful for the support in these difficult times, and that got the ball rolling.
Then Zach Bitter took the record for the 100 miles in May. This was disheartening but still achievable. I used his time as the carrot, and set out to do my treadmill runs at around 7.10/mile, to be slightly faster than his WR pace. The longest I did on the treadmill was 5 hours, a couple of times per week, as I was nervous that too much treadmill running would cause some repetitive injuries, so I supplemented them with a few long runs outside, all which went really well and gave me huge confidence to beat the 100 mile record.
In the midst of this all, Debbie was in hospital and, at around the same time, I was told I was at high risk of losing my job. Not exactly perfect prep. But I started doing more buggy runs with Logan when Debbie wasn’t around (we weren’t allowed in hospital at all) – which also acted as my therapy – and when he slept (around 2-3 hours in the mornings) I would hit the treadmill.
In typical fashion, I was told two days before the set challenge date, that I had kept a position at ASV albeit a very different one.
After a chat with Coach Lewis, he encouraged me to keep my head up and so I arrived at the facility ready to do the challenge at ASV at 7am that Friday morning.
The room was not set up.
The national press were there for me, the charity representatives were there, as were my support crew (only 2 due to COVID restrictions), and despite several visits that week to check the area and layout of where I would be running – ensuring the toilets/water fountain etc were as close as possible, air conditioning functioning etc – the elected room was empty.
Anyway, the facilities guy was amazing, and took through a couple of treadmills within minutes and my support/witnesses gathered everything else through while the press took some photos of me.
Later, I found out Debbie went to the storage cupboard to “bring through a couple of tables” and just sat and sobbed!
We switched the treadmill on at 9.28am!
A live stream was set up, which I envisaged would be like watching paint dry, but at one point several THOUSAND people were tuned in, all over the world! The Guinness camera was facing the official clock, out of sight of the live stream which was focused on the treadmill, so people had to update Facebook with how many miles, elapsed time and average pace I was running at.
The 1st hour actually felt like the longest to be honest! After all the stress, it was too easy just to hit stop. But I had people watching me all over the place and 2 charities I was raising money for, so I had to think of them. Although that 1st hour I had to stop to pee twice!! And whenever that happened, someone else had to wind down the treadmill, I had to wait until it did a complete stop, run to the bathroom, then wind it up again. This wasted so much time!
My first marathon was completed in 3.11ish, and I was finally feeling good. It was feeling effortless and the anxiety was starting to pass. The 1st round of supporters left at 4 hours and having a couple of fresh faces really gave me a boost! Every single helper was unbelievable – giving me gels at the exact time, calculating my average pace including all my stops to get off the treadmill, saying words of encouragement… I can’t thank you all enough!
Then, at 5 hours, my right hip started bothering me. It was like a stabbing sensation every single step. I have had a left glute/hip injury but this was the opposite side and something I had never experienced before. The pain made it too tough to eat and I could tell I was limping in the mirror.
Luckily, a couple of physios were present to give me some stretches/massage and running techniques to vary while on the treadmill (big shout out to Hamish and Gavin who then wrote them up on a white board so every minute or so I would try “knee kicks” or “side steps” to make the pain subside. All while trying to maintain a 7.10min/mile to try and catch up to 100mile record pace!
At 7 hours the pain was just unbearable and running in the low 7s was really tough. I also hadn’t taken in anywhere near enough fuel and was lagging. I got Debbie over and told her we were sacking off the 100 and going for the 24 hour record, and I immediately slowed my pace down to the high 8s. It was easier but still excruciating.
I was probably running for 30 minutes over a 4 hour period, then getting off to stretch and get back on again. Myles calculated that if I were to get off and sleep for 70mins at the 7 hour point, I was still ahead of 24 hour world record pace, which gave me some confidence. I also started using the massage gun on its highest setting on the hip area for 10mins at a time – it helped tremendously.
At 12 hours, everyone applauded and the new total raised for charity was announced. I dont remember the exact number but it surpassed my original goal (which I thought would be pretty tough) of £5k, and I remember getting pretty emotional.
What also got me emotional was every 30mins Debbie played a video of someone wishing me good luck. This was a huge surprise and really got me excited to get to the next one! Some of the videos included family, Olympians, athletic friends, non-athletic friends, a Kenyan family I was helping saying “thank you Greig” was unreal (they use last names over there)… there was even a collegiate athletics team in the States that follow TRS that put together an amazingly edited video with jokes and everything. I had friends pretending to run with me and people telling me I was stupid. And they all turned my grimace into a smile, so a huge thanks to all who contributed.
At 14 hours, the pace had really slowed down and I was getting off more regularly. I was still under WR pace but the lack of fuelling had really caught up with me.
I remember being told at 16 hours I was still bang on WR pace, despite going about 11 min miles for the previous hour excluding all my stops to stretch. That was when – unbeknown to me – Debbie and Coach Lewis had decided we were stopping the treadmill at no longer than 18 hours. Lewis came to watch and I told him I didnt care if I was injured for the rest of my life, I needed to get to 24 hours to make more money for these children.
During that hour, I had to come off and lie down. Mentally and physically I was broken. However, when I got back on, I couldn’t ramp up the treadmill to anything over 2.5kph. That is not an exaggeration. I was getting colder and more tired by the second, and needless to say the WR was no longer on.
We all made a compromise that we would get to 18 no matter what. If I had to crawl I would make it to 18. I had to do it for those suffering more than I was at that moment. It was hugely emotional and every time someone announced we had reached a new £1000 mark, I would cry (in a manly way, of course).
The last hour was one of the hardest of my life. I was so cold that I was wearing Debbie’s Speedhub Swim Parka – shameless sponsor plug – which is designed for swimmers who do a lot of open water and need to warm up; not really practical for running on a treadmill, so good job the treadmill was now at a whopping 2.8kph.
At 17h57 mins, Caledonia was playing to see me into the end of the 18th hour, where the treadmill was stopped and I attempted to give a speech about the charities I had helped. The total was now over £10,000, so I felt I had to say something. Debbie came on to give me a hug and I used her for support to get off. And by support I mean to hide my sobbing face from everyone.
To reiterate, this is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and it has left me with a niggling hip, but I don’t care at all. I also don’t care that I never broke either of those records. I do care that I managed to press start despite the months I had had, and I do care that I raised over £11,000 (and still going!) to help children in Scotland and Kenya. I have never been more proud in my life, after marrying Debbie and the day Logie was born.
For example, in the Kenyan village of Kabaru, the families now have access to their own tap of running water for farming, cooking, cleaning and bathing. How huge is that!? The money you guys donated also gave two families solar panels on their houses! When Myles put this into perspective for what we have achieved (I am including you guys too, because without you, there wouldn’t be any money raised), it blew my mind!
So I want to say thank you! Thanks for following my journey and for supporting me. I truly believe that 100 mile WR could be mine but for now I am enjoying having no races for the remainder of 2020 and time with my family.
I am certainly not short of things to do – next month I am race director for the Speyside Way Ultra Marathon, and TRS Coaching has been launched and I am overwhelmed at the interest you have in being coached by little ol’ me!
Neither me nor Debbie are posting very much these days but we hope that in little posts like this, it has inspired someone to set a challenge to better themselves.
Stay safe, everyone.
PS a HUGE thank you to my socially distanced support crew: Old Man Dave, Daniel, Sarah, Claire, Myles, Emma, Hamish, Jason, Irina, Callum, Dino, Jayne, Lewis, Wendy, Nicolle, Gavin, Barry, Campbell, Harriet, Cameron, Doug, Tom, my parents, Debbie’s Mum, Keith, Debbie and Logan. And the dozens of people who made videos just for this!
PPS If everyone would still like to donate, the link is: