When Fay Cunningham and Emma Petrie, from Aberdeenshire, told me in February they were planning to set a new world record for running consecutive daily marathons I was impressed. I also hoped they would do it, but without really knowing who they are it was difficult to judge if they had the fitness, determination and ambition. It turns out they have all three attributes and in ample supply. For, this week, they set a new (unofficial) world record for the most consecutive days to run a marathon distance (26.2 miles). And they have not yet stopped.
The couple, who run a personal training business Match My Workout together, plan to keep going until they have completed 106 marathons, finishing on Saturday June 4 with a “huge celebratory party,” they told me yesterday.
Day-after-day marathon world records
Fay, 36, and 26-year-old Emma, of Aboyne, set a new record on Wednesday May 25, 2022, when they completed their 96th consecutive marathon.
The previous official Guinness World Record was set in 2020 by American high school teacher and professional runner Alyssa Clark, who recorded 105 marathons in 105 days. Some of these marathons were on a treadmill but special dispensation was given to her because it was during a period of Covid lockdown.
The title was previously held by UK runner Alice Birch with 60 marathons.
Guinness World Records record the men’s best for consecutive marathons as 59 days by Italian Enzo Caporaso. However, a Spanish runner, Ricardo Abad, claims to have run more than 600 consecutive marathons. He hasn’t had this officiated by Guinness.
While 100 marathons was the original goal of Fay and Emma, they have decided to continue to 106 marathons in 106 days. Fay says: “Our first goal was to run 100 marathons, with the aim of the 100th being the Edinburgh Marathon on Sunday May 29.
“But in April, we heard that two other women had recorded potentially new records that would exceed our 100 marathons target.”
First, British runner Kate Jayden claimed a new unofficial record of 101 marathons in 101 days. Then, South African runner Jacky Hunt-Broersma, who lost her lower left leg to cancer in 2001, ran 104 marathons in 104 days.
Fay says: “We decided we would just keep going to reach 106 marathon. However, since then we have heard that both women ran some of their marathons on a treadmill and according to Guinness World Records, the marathons must all be done outside to count.
“So, we believe that neither of these records will be verified. That means we have recorded a world record already with our 96 marathons but just be sure we’re continuing and hoping to reach 106 marathons in 106 days.”
What’s it like to run a marathon day after day?
Chatting to the women, it sounds like they challenge has been fun and enjoyable. But surely it’s been tough physically and mentally? Neither of them agree.
Fay says: “It has been amazing how our bodies have adapted. It’s crazy really. We did have some worries in the first couple of weeks and I had sore leg muscles that affected one of my knees. Em had swollen feet and blisters, too.
“But I never thought I wouldn’t keep going. I was sure we would be able to keep going. From about day 15, we have both felt pretty good. The aches and pains mostly went and it has been enjoyable.”
Of course, Scotland’s weather hasn’t always been kind. Fay says: “There has been a lot of wind over the last few months, plus rain and also some snow. But there have been some lovely sunny and warm days, too.
“We have tried to run our marathons in places, or at times, when the weather would make the marathons so much harder. It’s not always been possible to avoid the worst of the weather but it hasn’t been all bad.”
Emma has also found greater self-confidence through the record-breaking marathons challenge. So far, they have run 2567 miles, which is almost five times the distance from Aberdeen to London. They have also worn out half a dozen pairs of running footwear each.
Emma says: “In the early days, I did have sore feet and I was worried about getting other injuries that would make it too painful to continue. That’s when the doubts crept in a bit. But then the niggles went away and the running hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.”
Both runners are grateful for the support of friends and also strangers, who have turned out day after day to support them during the marathons.
Emma says: “It has been awesome to have so many people involved. Meeting and running with new people and also our friends has helped the days to pass. We’ve run so many miles with other people. I think that having so much support around us and from people who believe in you has really helped me to believe in myself.”
Fay adds: “There has only been about five days when we didn’t run with other people. It has been unexpected highlight of the marathons record to run – and get to know – so many people. We are very grateful to everyone for their support.”
The pair has also ensured they set a conservative pace for each marathon. Fay says: “We knew that if we tried to go too fast we would have a greater risk of injury and we might not be able to recover so easily. So, we have been finishing each marathon between five hours and five-and-a-half hours each day.
“If we we’ve been running with people who wanted to do a slower speed that has been fine and we have just adjusted our pace to suit. It hasn’t been about the fastest times but about making sure we covered the miles each day.”
They have chosen to run most of the marathons close to their home. Fay says: “We have run a great variety of routes but usually close to home so that we can get back for proper recovery each day.
“Our favourite has been running to the base of the Munro Mount Keen. We have varied the type of terrain, too, from flat to more hilly, depending in how we have felt. Sometimes, we’ve started with a parkrun or a race and then run on to finish the marathon. We’ve done A to B routes and circuits. We’ve mixed it up to keep it interesting.”
Recovery has been the key to marathons success
A focus on a daily and good quality recovery has helped the women towards success. Fay says: “We planned to take time away from our work as much as possible so that we could simply run and recover every day.
“We have still been offering support to some of our clients who are aiming for the half and full marathon in Edinburgh, but we decided before we started that if we were going to achieve the record we would need to run and recover well each day.
“Good recovery has proved to be very important. We go straight from each marathon to an ice bath for two minutes. Then we either go to our chiropractor or massage therapist, who have both helped massively with the physical recovery each day.
“We also make sure we refuel with plenty of calories and good food. We needed to eat an extra 4000 calories each day although I don’t think we have quite managed that. It’s a lot of extra food to consume and we have both inevitably lost weight – about 5kgs each.
“Plus we sleep a lot. We are in bed by 9.30pm and not up until 7am. The recovery has been a major reason why we have managed to keep going and mainly pain-free.”
The goal is 106 marathons for the record books
The Edinburgh Marathon on Sunday will be the pair’s 100th marathon. Emma says: “I am looking forward to this marathon because I think it will go by very quickly. It will be great to run with friends and to be part of a big event. It will also be my dad’s first marathon, which will be cool.”
They will continue until 106 consecutive marathons.
Emma says: “The whole experience so far has been amazing but I am looking forward to being able to stop. It will be great to have a rest. It will be a relief.”
Fay adds: “It was such an enjoyable thing to do and it is crazy how well the body can adjust to this sort of challenge. Afterwards, it will feel very strange not to be running a marathon every day but I agree it will also be a relief.
“We have spent so much time focused on one thing and making sure we are eating enough and getting enough rest. We are tired although out bodies feel surprisingly fine. I am looking forward to getting back to running just because I fancy going out for a run – and whatever distance, but not another marathon for a while.”
Note: Fay and Emma will need to wait for official verification from Guinness World Records on their marathons epic. They are confident they have surpassed all other records and record attempts.
£21k for two poignant charities
Fay and Emma have been collecting funds for two charities close to their hearts, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Macmillan Cancer Support. Fay’s dad passed away with motor neurone disease just before the challenge, while Emma lost her mum to cancer two years ago. They have raised almost £21,000.
Fay says: “Motor neurone is a debilitating disease that stops you doing lots of things and my dad was a big inspiration to me through my life and encouraged me to do sport. He got me into running and I thought that while I still can run, I want to a challenge.”
Emma adds: “My mum obviously had her ability to be active taken away from her. Her memory is a driving force for me. Fay and I decided we wanted to test ourselves and push our limits, while also raising money for charity.”
To donate see Collection Pot.