The Ultimate Challenge?
Athletics Weekly 20/11/02
March, six people will attempt the Mount Everest of athletic
by the London Marathon and first completed almost 200 years
ago by the legendary professional runner Captain Robert Barclay
Allardice, participants must cover 1000 miles in 1000 hours,
a gruelling six-week footrace designed to test the very limits
of human endurance.
Gayter first in line
ultra-distance international Sharon Gayter has been the first athlete
formally unveiled as a contender to tackle the gruelling Flora 1000
100km and 24-hour runner, the 39-year-old New Marske Harrier admits
the undertaking is 'a journey in the unknown', but she is totally
confident in her ability to withstand the incredible physical and
mental demands of the unique challenge.
She said: "I'm
99.9 percent certain I can complete the course, my biggest fear
is not being woken up to run the next mile."
Gayter has eight
years experience as an ultra-distance international but views the
feat of emulating the accomplishments of Captain Barclay almost
200 years ago as her greatest challenge.
my country is not as appealing as it used to be, the buzz and excitement
is no longer there. "The 1000 mile challenge is a journey into the
unknown and the incentive is to see how far the body can be pushed."
lecturer, who also has her own sports massage company, has established
a reputation as a positive and bubbly personality - and that positivity
will be needed every step of the way as she faces living in a double-decker
bus with five other athletes for six weeks.
on a double-decker bus is another of her fears. "Ideally," she admitted,
"I would not like to see six athletes on one bus. You can imagine
with frayed tempers and everyone going out to run and probably going
to the toilet at the same time, it could be very difficult. You
can imagine how cramped it's going to be."
She jokes Captain
Barclay had it easy, as he completed the task on peaceful Newmarket
Heath, unlike the modern-day contenders who will be up and down
the busy and noisy London Marathon route 38 times.
She hopes to
run one mile at the end of the hour and one mile at the start of
the next hour, which she believes could give her a maximum stint
of one hour 25 minutes of sleep before having to wake up to complete
the next mile. Naturally, sleep deprivation is the most difficult
part of the challenge, and Gayter admits she becomes very irritable
during a 24-hour race.
"When I'm tired,
I can't tolerate anything which isn't perfect, if I have a drink
which isn't at the perfect temperature I become irritable. I've
spoken to Peter Radford about the challenge and he says the tiredness
does not necessarily escalate two times as bad one day and then
three time as bad the next day. You can be four times as tired one
day and the 16 times as tired the next."
can be completed by walking or running, and although Gayter intends
to run, as this will allow more time for sleeping, it could also
exact a greater toll on the body with a greater potential for injury.
She hopes to
carry out a five-day dummy run under the rules of the challenge
at her home in Guisborough, in the North East with the support of
her husband Bill between Christmas and New Year.
was keen to add: "I'm not doing this for the fame or to be remembered
as the mad person who did 'that challenge'. I love my running and
what I want, is to be given recognition as an athlete.
"I think I'm
the right age for the challenge. I don't think anyone in their early
to mid-twenties would have the mental ability."
to climbing Everest
1000-mile challenge has been completed on several occasions since
Captain Barclay's march into immortality in 1809. Yet the author
of the book that tells the story of Barclay's feats, Professor Peter
Radford,says this should not detract from a challenge which he likens
to climbing Mount Everest.
it is not diminished simply because someone else has done it, "
said Radford, "This is, after all, a challenge. There are no
records and cannot be any. It is a bit like climbing Mount Everest."
There are reports
that the feat of completing two miles every hour for 1000 hours
has been completed, plus similar challenges. Radford says the first
attempt to go one better than Captain Barclay started barely before
Barclay had finished, with someone trying to cover one-and-a-half
miles an hour for 1000 hours.
"Disputes and disagreements seem to follow this event. One
of the difficulties is the length of time it takes. Many claims
are merely that - unsubstantiated claims. Very few have been watched
day and night for six weeks, and contemporaries were often scornful
of claims that were made some were merely stunts.
of course, hugely difficult to arrange the logistic support to convince
everyone of the legitimacy of an event that takes place every hour
for nearly six weeks. This is still the case. One infamous attempt
in Victorian times involved the athlete completing his night-time
miles in a large marquee 'for his protection'. The trouble was that
no independent person could verify that every mile had been completed
at all, let alone on time."
next March's challenge might be 'won' by someone who is 'not necessarily
an athlete in the conventional sense'. He said: "Broken sleep
is as much of a challenge as completing the miles, that is what
makes it such a puzzle to work out. It is obviously not conventional
track and field or road running or race walking.
the 1000 miles in 1000 hours is still a significant challenge, particularly
as in this case it is immediately followed by a marathon."
challenge could be like 'Big Brother'
The Flora 1000
Mile Challenge could face Big Brother style coverage should TV decide
to screen nightly updates of the epic.
Dave Bedford admitted: "We are currently in talks with the
BBC and Independent Television to screen the event and we will announce
the TV details at the press conference to unveil the contenders
on December 17th."
make-up of the television format is still shrouded in mystery but
there is every possibility that nightly bulletins of the event,
which has already attracted huge media interest could be screened.
six challengers could become media stars in their own right.
The event starts from Buckingham Palace at 4pm on Sunday March 2nd.
background of the 1000-mile challenge
When the gruelling
feat of walking or running 1000 miles in 1000 hours was first attempted
in 1809, the Prince of Wales was among the thousands of gamblers
who laid side bets amounting to the modern-day equivalent of £40
million. Such was the huge interest surrounding the event.
The man at the
centre of this bizarre challenge of sleep deprivation and physical
endurance, the flamboyant Scotsman, Captain Robert Barclay Allardice,
stood to win a staggering 16,000 guineas. Or in layman's terms,
his prize for covering a mile every hour, of every day and night,
for almost six full weeks, was an amazing 320 years' worth of wages
for a normal working man of that era.
It took an extraordinary
man to tackle this extraordinary challenge. Born in 1779, Captain
Barclay led a colourful and energetic life. With a physical appetite
that could see off an 8lb leg of mutton in 10 minutes flat, he had
a sexual appetite to match, not to mention an ego that saw him build
a classic, nude statue of himself in the hallway of his baronial
home near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.
In those days,
before the advent of the railway, and long before the automobile,
he routinely walked long distances and was thus well prepared for
his marathon of marathons around Newmarket Heath.
and field' athletics as we know did not begin to develop until midway
through the 19th century. Instead, crowds flocked to see pedestrians
- or professional runners - such as Captain Barclay race over classic
distances such as one mile or 10 miles, or attempt to complete huge
feats of endurance.
Barclay was not simply competing against the ticking clock and the
formidable distance of 1000 miles. His very life was at danger during
the hours of darkness, when betting gangs took potshots at him in
an effort to thwart the challenge. In an effort to counter this,
he marched with two loaded pistols in his belt.
Further tactics involved starting at 10 to the hour and walking
briskly before the hour struck, before continuing for another mile
before enjoying, at most, a one-hour-and-40-minute break.
Often, his supporters
had to bash him around the neck to wake him up. Eventually, after
successfully completing the challenge amid great jubilation, he
discovered he had lost more than two stones in weight.
undeterred and in keeping with his indomitable spirit, Captain Barclay
enjoyed a mere week's rest and then headed to Deal on the Kent coastline
to board a ship bound for the Napoleonic Wars.
he returned to a hero's welcome and went on to father a child at
the age of 70.
for this challenge came from a book by Peter Radford, the former
world record holder for 200m and Olympic bronze medalist in the
1960 who went on to be chief executive of the British Athletic Federation
and currently lectures in sports science at Brunel University.
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