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Fastest female to run 50km on a treadmill - A Guinness World Record: How much can you write about running on the spot?

by Editor
Sunday 8th March 2015

Athlete feature: On Friday 6th March, Watford-born Ultra Runner, Gemma Carter attempted to become the fastest female to complete 50 km on a treadmill. Here is her story:

Don't fall off, don't fall off, don't fall off. DONT. FALL. OFF. I said to myself in time with the beat of the music playing in the background over and over again. I looked down at my feet as if to double check they were doing as told and still working. My mind drifted in and out of concentration, staring at the blank white wall in front of me. I worried that I might drift off, lose my footing, fly off hitting the array of video cameras, lap tops and technical paraphernalia behind me, and possibly take a few people out to boot. Oh and my chance of getting the Guinness World Record.

Let's rewind. About a month and a half ago I seriously considered having a crack at this record; the fastest female 50km on a treadmill. Previous attempts had been made by some talented ladies and an unofficial record stood at 4:15 by Tracy Dean, but no official Guinness World Record yet. The challenge really appealed to me, more for its mental and logistical factors on top of the physical feat itself.

With my race season proper kicking off in April with a 50 miler and a strong winter season of shorter 10km and half marathon speed behind me, a fast 50km seemed like the perfect challenge to attempt for the early months of the year in the build up to longer races.

Applying to set an official Guinness World Record is no easy task and takes a LOT of planning and patience. The usual time for an application of an attempt to be approved is 6-12weeks but a quicker fast track can be paid for. After some nail biting I received my acceptance email and not only that but quite a lot of documents to read on the rules and regulations I had to specifically abide by. Gosh this was looking like a harder task than I expected!

With two weeks to go, my planning skills were put to the test with some frantic organisation. To mention just a few of the rules I had to follow, 4 officials had to be present (for time keeping and as official witnesses), the treadmill needed to be serviced and recalibrated back to manufacturers settings, I needed full video footage, photography and a form was filled out. Amongst that there were rules on how I could run, what 'aid' I was allowed and if/how I could take toilet breaks.

My long time friends at CHHP (a performance centre in Harley Street) had come to my rescue and generously allowed the attempt to be held in their lab. We excitedly went about planning (and deciding on the music of choice for the event - bring on the party). I honestly couldn't have done it without them and their help and support throughout was wonderful. We really wanted to raise some money for charity, doing the attempt for a good cause so what with Comic Relief coming up, it seemed the perfect opportunity to really help such a good organisation and get some money out to deserving places. 

With a few days to go, I tried to switch off from the planning, as it was getting overwhelming and tiring. Taperitis was setting in and I was getting fidgety! It was finally here. With so much publicity I was nervous, I didn't want to let anyone down - my support crew, CHHP, all the people following and especially the charity I was raising money for.

The 4pm start time posed a new set of problems, as being so late in the day I had to plan my fuelling strategy as well as pre race preparation. The temptations to fill the day busy bodying around tiring yourself out was there. Cue a day of lying of the sofa watching box sets! 

The lab at CHHP is in a basement with little ventilation so we did our best to keep it cool opening a window. I knew I was going to be hot and that cooling, thus hydration, would be a factor.

We arrived, briefed all officials who had so kindly given up their time on a Friday afternoon to stare at me running on the spot for three plus hours. Before I knew it, the countdown had begun and the cameras were rolling and I was off, I caught myself saying inside, 'oh my god, this is really it, don't f*ck up!'

I felt like I was on display, the lime light shining as such, with a room full of people watching, analysing, noting my every movement. It was distracting. There was a hum of commotion behind me as people passed by our open door. Some probably knowing what was happening, some probably wondering what this mad woman was doing and others thinking who on earth chose that awful music (Wham, Black Box, C+C music factory, The Clash, Deee-Lite, Prodigy, Beats International, KC& the sunshine band, Warren G, Stereo MC's - I have no shame in admitting!)

I tried to detach myself from it all, concentrate on myself, my rhythm, form and breathing, but at the same time I couldn't help feeling at the centre of everything.

The plan was clear as was the goal: Obtain a Guinness World Record. My objective was to keep a steady pace and to run conservatively, without pushing too hard needlessly just for a better time, risking disaster. With so much to lose, the stakes were too high.

The first hour, felt good, too good even. Is this pace really correct?! I allowed myself briefly to savour the thought that this might be easy, that yeah, maybe I could really do this, before I sensibly returned to the reality that I had a LONG way still to go, calling out to my supper crew: "Well that was the easy hour done". They knew what I meant.

Into the second hour and time begun to suddenly slow down. It was as if each minute took twice as long, the monotony of the task was creeping up on me and the battle with my mind had begun.

Right in front of me I had a wall clock on the left and the treadmill timer on my right. The rest of my field of vision was a blank white wall. Nothing else. I couldn't risk turning my head for fear of swerving so it became a battle to resist clock watching. Everywhere I looked was a stop watch or clock! So that blank wall became my entertainment and friend for the next three hours. I could probably tell you the number of marks and scratches on it, I stared at it so long.

Problems started after 2.5 hours when I was struggling with stomach issues and cramping and needed a comfort break. What to do? Should I hold out and hope it would pass or go but risk losing so much time (the treadmill has to be fully stopped before you are allowed off and then started properly). I battled this decision for another 30 minutes, feeling desperate and uncertain. Running at such a pace, it became just too distracting, so I went for it. Let the toilet procedure commence! Good grief! Someone just grab me a she-pee? Heck maybe I should have just done what triathletes do, on the fly?!

Relieved and now much more comfortable I had lost 2/3 minutes and knew I had to catch up, so racked up the treadmill to between 13/13.5kph for the last hour. However, the cramps increased and I struggled to keep fuelled because of this. Every sip of water caused pain and the gel turned my stomach. I was treading a fine line and needed to ensure I didn't risk the attempt through a practicality such as a dodgy stomach. I had to try and zone out.

The home straight was in sight and I knew now I would do it. Excitement was building inside me and also in the room. More friends had come to watch the finish and I really was drawing energy from their support. I tried to distract from the pain I was feeling, not in my legs but in my stomach and head. '10km to go!' Someone shouted, I zoned out, blocked everything out. '5km to go!', I kept shouting to myself, 'focus! Just focus!' 4k, 3k, 2k and then the last 1600 metres! I was suffering now. My plan for a sprint finish was thrown out the window and I was now running on fumes and nothing else. The pain was etched in my face.

'Run through 50km! Don't forget to run through it!' Being an official attempt I couldn't stop immediately so as I crossed that imaginary finish line to cheers and whoops I gasped to someone next to me 'please, slow it down now, please!'. I slowly came to a stop, and collapsed on the treadmill belt. Happy, relieved and exhausted I looked 'Am I allowed off now?!'

The clocks stopped with an official time of 3:55:28 (including pee break!!!)

I did it. The realisation that I was now a Guinness World Record holder was sinking in as I looked around the room. Wow. I did it, it's over. Thank god for that!

Champagne celebrations commenced as I sat there, a sweaty, salty and red faced mess, too tired to muster much more than a feeble 'yay' as way of recognition of my pleasure.

Before long , we bundled into a cab and were off home. Surreal really as I looked out the window at the passing revellers in Central London - what a way to spend a Friday night.

CHHP have worked closely with Comic Relief and Sport Relief for many years and welcome donations to Comic Relief to show your support for Gemma’s challenge. Please contact CHHP to make a donation: www.chhp.com


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