Not quite conquering the world, but claiming a very small piece
Sometime before Christmas 2017 I saw a video on YouTube of someone completing 12 hours of burpees and setting a world record in the process. I can’t tell you how I came across it, I’m not sure if I searched for it or if it was just one of those suggested videos on the side. Nevertheless, I watched it (it wasn’t 12 hours long) and for some strange reason, although I thought it looked tough I thought it looked achievable. A few people have said why would it cross my mind to try this particular challenge. I had done 2 or 3 (I really can’t remember how many) Great North Runs (half marathons) between 2005 - 2008, I had also done 2 x 10km obstacles races between 2014 - 2016 and I believe my running days are behind me. A bleep test now and then seems to highlight knee and ankle issues, so honestly, I just don’t run much. I knew I wanted the challenge to be an endurance type event as I figured that a long timed event captures people's attention and is more relatable than lifting a particular weight or obscure exercise. But I think it came down to the fact that I include burpees fairly regularly in my training whether it’s for clients or myself and people tend to love to hate them as a muscle burning, lung busting exercise.
What made me think I could achieve it? It was a handful of training sessions that I did during December. I thought I would just test the water so I did an hour of ‘Guinness standard’ burpees, which is to start standing, jump your feet back behind a measured line, go flat on the floor with arms out to the side, push your chest off the floor, jump your feet back forward, stand up and jump. The hour felt OK, so I then did around 90 minutes and there were no niggles or pains. Now I know that 90 minutes is very different to 12 hours and bearing in mind that I have never trained for more than 1 hour 45 minutes (Great North Runs) but something clicked and I thought that I just might be able to do it. So I committed. I’m always talking and spreading the word of goal setting and training with purpose and for a while leading up to this point I had been floating through my training being quite generic in my progressions. This was what I needed. So in January I posted a Facebook live video explaining what I was planning on doing and the seed was sown, there was no turning back. I tell people to write down their goals and aspirations as I believe it makes them more real and concrete, but posting a video for the whole world to see literally is putting yourself out there to be accountable.
Over the next 16 weeks I was to execute my training plan. The plan itself was based on an ultra-marathon training plan. My thinking was that if I based my burpee time on similar running hours then I wouldn’t be far off. The plan consisted of various length sessions, multiple daily sessions and pace variations. The idea was to get the volume through my body and to push me mentally. The ultra-marathon plan suggested 8 hours as the longest session, within a very high mileage week in around week 12-14. That was my initial plan as well and I don’t know when it changed but it did. I wanted to go for as long as I could to get anywhere close to what it may feel like on the day. But when the weeks came around I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was a combination of a scheduling issues and the fact that I was experiencing wrist and big toe pain and didn’t want to risk pushing it too much before the event.
So I ended up doing 2x6 hours in the space of 10 days. They felt ok, now I know that may sound strange but they did, 6 hours of burpees, twice. The second session was tougher than the first because I wasn’t fuelled or prepped well enough but by managing the rests I got them done and most importantly was on course for the reps I wanted to achieve.
I do remember at this point speaking to a few people reference the challenge and telling them I was only going for 6 hours in training and they were quite surprised that I wasn’t going longer. But I was as happy as I could be that I was on course and sticking with my plan.
Let’s talk strategy. There was a number of options that were open to me. I had 12 hours to do as many burpees as I could. Did I go fast, slow, 1 hour sessions, go for as long as possible in each set? I did some maths and based on the small practice sessions I had done I went for a rep count. It had roughly been taking me twenty four minutes to complete two hundred reps. Granted that was over shorter sessions but they felt sustainable. I would then take a 3-4 minutes rest and go again. If I stuck to that plan, it would give me 4800 burpees in 12 hours.
The big day (Sunday 29th April) was nearly here, about three days away actually. I had been training almost exclusively based on the two hundred reps plan. But the week leading up to the event I had been tapering my sessions and doing steady sessions without breaks. It was then that I had a thought to change my strategy. I decided that if I went for thirty minutes straight, no matter how many reps, then rested for four minutes I would essentially get more burpee time. The extra 6 minutes didn’t seem too much to handle. It would then hopefully get me ahead of my target over the course of the twelve hours.
So with the training done, a day of rest had, it was the big day. I had a not so perfect nights sleep with feelings of excitement and nervousness flowing, a 4:30AM wake up followed by peanut butter on toast. I took on my first batch of a pre-workout drink to give me a kick and headed to the village hall. I arrived at around 5:20AM and started to set up the matts, measured out the taped lines on the floor and set up the cameras and laptops (all part of the guidelines for the record).
My first two volunteers arrived (Glen and Del) at 5:30AM to help finalise the set up. The support I had so far had been amazing and I had a team of helpers scheduled throughout the day to make sure I stayed on track. Just before we were ready to get going a friend of mine (Jon), who I hadn’t seen in a long time turned up as a surprise. He was there to support and help for the day. It was such a great shock and a massive boost to my already high level of anxiousness and excitement, I was even more raring to go.
So it began, at 6:06AM (six minutes behind schedule) I started twelve hours of burpees. I’m not going to go through each rep, don’t worry, but give you an overview of the twelve hours.
I was sticking to my new plan of 30 minutes work, 4 minutes rest and my toe and wrist niggles were being kept at bay. What did start to happen though is at around hour four both elbows started to feel tender. I think it was a combination of compensating to avoid wrist pain and over extension of the arms at the top of the push up part of the movement.
Energy was good, refuelling was going well and I was ahead of schedule in my reps. I tried to keep the thirty minute work rate going for as long as I could. I was hitting around 230 reps per session. I think at around hour 7 though I changed tactics. My reps were dropping and my rest was increasing each block so I changed to doing 200 reps as fast as possible and then resting. It helped to maintain my rhythm and keep me on track.
Fuelling. I had planned to eat bagels and flapjacks as they thought they would sit well and add some fuel. But early on the only things I could stomach were jelly babies, carbohydrate gels, my workout mix drink and sugar tea (how English is that). The tea was the surprising thing for me, I really hadn’t planned it but the sugary warmness really helped in between fresh cold drinks. I tried to chew a few bites of a bagel but it felt so stodgy and dry I just couldn't do it. I had done some maths in regards to the amount of carbohydrates I was planning on consuming so had multiple bags of jelly babies laid out which helped me ration them over the day. What I did need towards the end was a couple of emergency caffeine gels to get me to through which were supplied by some willing onlookers (thank you!). I have also been asked about toilet habits over the 12 hours baring in mind I drank around 5-6 litres of water but I can remember only going once I think. The body is a marvellous thing and when doing something like this pretty smart so preserves and uses everything it can to assist.
The final countdown. The last hour was here. The crowd in the hall was growing and I could feel more and more eyes on me. I had people dropping in and out throughout the day which was an amazing boost. Some were unsure if to talk to me or to each other but when I could I would reassure them to please talk as it was a big distraction and any break from me just grunting and sweating face down on the floor helped. As the crowd continued to grow I could hear beer bottle lids popping and the level of general chat increasing. It felt strange but good that so many people were there supporting me.
A moment of despair. At no point throughout the whole day had I asked for a running total, I was trusting my plan and my team to ensure the numbers were being hit. I think with about 20 minutes to go I was on a break and Jon came over as I was resting. I asked the question, how many have we to do. I watched as he looked at his notepad was clearly doing some maths and then he said a number. I honestly can’t tell you what he said as all I know is that in that moment I did my own maths and I knew I couldn’t do it! I had 30 minutes to go and I’m sure he said we needed over 270 reps. I remember saying “I can’t do it, I’ve only been doing 220 reps all day and now you want me to do 270 at the very end!” I felt sick. After all this I was going to fall short. He then looked away and did some more sums and I said just tell what I’m on now...He then laughed and said you need 20 more and you have done it. I smiled and laughed too and have never felt so relieved. I know he was trying to get me to smash as many as possible by giving me a lower number but in his motivational plan he had over compensated. But we were set to do it.
As I started the next block I knew the moment was coming soon but I was going to go for the full 12 hours. So 20 reps in to my last block and at around 6PM on 29th April 2018 I heard the words announced “And that’s a new world record!” It was met with cheers, shouts, party poppers and streamers from the crowd. I kept going and with the 1 minute warning given I stepped it up a notch to squeeze in as many as possible. Finishing with a 10 second countdown from audience, it was done. I lay motionless flat, face down on the matts that I had been staring at for 12 hours. I came to my knees and felt overwhelmed. It was emotional. I stood and was greeted with another cheer, was handed a beer and took a sip. Thanks were given and hands were shaken. 4696 burpees completed in 12 hours.
I will say at this point that I literally could not have done it without every single one of my helpers, counters and fuel suppliers. To everyone who came throughout the day to support and keep me distracted thank you so much you kept me going. Also thank you to every single person who donated to the event and raised over £5000 for 2 local charities in the process you are so generous.
That night with a mixture of euphoria and caffeine running through my system I didn’t sleep well. I was expecting a crash but it didn’t come, even after consuming 2 Domino pizzas. The next day though was a different story. It felt like jet lag but swollen elbows and achy joints all over your body. I moved and did what I could but it was a day of mainly rest.
The ending. So by now you may or may not though that it was not a Guinness World Record. After all the planning, measuring, timing, counting and filming unfortunately the evidence wasn’t adequate. During the day one of my laptops crashed and missed around 15 minutes of burpees from one of the angles, rules are rules, so this meant that after reviewing the evidence they couldn’t give me the Guinness certification. It is still a world record, on film and witnessed by many people, so without a doubt I am claiming it.
Now onto something new, I’m not quite sure what that is yet but I’ll figure it out.
If you would like to watch the final 3 hours of the day then please click below:
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