Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Running 850 miles in 9 days – Can James Williams beat the Guinness World Record from Land’s End to John o’Groats?

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Thomas Kaiser

On Saturday May 25th, 2019 at 4:30 a.m. James Williams will embark on a grueling journey by foot, from Land’s End to John O’Groats with a mission – to break the Guinness World Record.

In other words, Williams has nine days, two hours and twenty-five minutes to run approximately eight hundred and fifty miles to become the fastest man to ever run from South West Cornwall to the tip of Scotland.

When I asked Williams’ wife, Catherine, how she felt about her husbands’ decision to attempt this challenge, she said, ‘I think he is crazy, but I was not shocked at all, this is the kind of thing James does, and loves to do. He loves to push himself.’

Pushing himself is what James has been doing to get himself in the best possible shape to accomplish his mission, leaving his house at 4:30 a.m. and commuting to work by running a marathon every single day for months. But, why?

‘My main motivation is the Guinness World Record, but there’s also another couple of reasons I’m running it as well. I just want to generally inspire people to show that you can go out and chase your dreams, and no matter how big that dream is, you can go out and get it’.

Land’s End to John o’Groats

‘As well as inspiring others, we are raising awareness, and money, for Hope for Children. This is a charity that aims to improve children’s access to education and healthcare and empower families to support themselves.’

Williams is not alone on his quest, just like the cyclists of the Tour de France have their crew, so does he – Williams has three of his best friends, Jamie Riddet, Jack Donaldson, and Ben Cooper accompanying him.

‘That’s going to make a huge difference because first of all they know me, and second of all the psychological part of it is going to be probably the biggest element. They know what makes me tick, they know what they’re going to need to say at certain times, so they’re going to be absolutely great.’

Williams’ crew believe he has what it takes to beat this record, otherwise as Cooper said,’ I don’t think any of us would be giving up our time, effort, and support if we didn’t think he could do it.’

When I interviewed Riddet, Donaldson and Cooper, one word came up in abundance to describe Williams, that word was – dedicated.

But, Williams is not the only dedicated person on this challenge, so is his crew. His best friends have taken nine days off to be with him every step of the way.

When I asked Donaldson what he wanted in exchange for helping Williams he jokingly said, ‘it all depends on how famous he gets, he could obviously like buy me a house, like its nine days sacrifice’.

He then added, ‘but to be honest I haven’t done it for any kind of reward, I’d do anything for him.’ That spirit between Williams and his crew is what could help him break the World Record.

In addition to being devoted, Williams is talented. Cooper said, ‘When James sets his mind to anything generally, he’s better than 99% of the people out there, and he’s just got to be better than 100% of the people out there on this one.’

Back when Williams was at university, Williams tried to do an ironman triathlon because he always dreamed of doing one after seeing them on television at the age of six and thinking those people were like gods.

Williams in Richmond Park

‘In six months, I went from not having cycled for probably fifteen years to doing an ironman triathlon, which includes two and a half miles of swimming, 112 miles on a bike, and then a marathon at the end of it.’

Williams, however, is not letting talent alone decide his fate on this challenge, he is putting every chance he has on his side. Riddet said, ‘he is very structured. He is very well thought out.’

Catherine added, ‘He will have thought of everything he loves a spreadsheet, there won’t be anything that he hasn’t thought of and I think that will be massive in his preparation.’

Williams spent countless hours studying the roads he will have to take throughout his journey, carefully selecting what foods he can and can’t eat along the way, and making sure he added a physio to his crew for when he needs massages, or in case he gets blisters.

A key part to Williams’ preparation in his pursuit for the Guinness World Record is his psychological approach. Williams has been working with Evie Serventi, a sports psychologist in order to prepare himself mentally for this formidable task.

Serventi discussed the mental techniques her and James have been working on.

‘The big one with any endurance athlete is purely being able to cope with not the boredom of running but the monotony of those long hours of running, so it’s a case of staying focused.’

‘How do you do that? Thinking of things that give you motivation, thinking of people that are behind you, also having strategies for when things perhaps don’t go right, if this happens then I’ll do this, so planning those things before the event, having those checklists.’

Williams has been able to work on these aspects during specific training weekends before LEJOG challenge (Land’s End to John O’Groats), where he ran 140 km on a Saturday, and 140 km on the ensuing day to put himself in a similar mindset to the one he’ll be in when he runs towards Scotland next week.

Crew meeting

In these events, experience matters and Williams’ running coach is no other than Mimi Anderson, the ‘World Record holder for ‘fastest confirmed journey from Land’s End to John o’Groats on foot and by a woman’ in 12 days 15 hours and 46 minutes.

Additionally, she attempted to run from Los Angeles to New York and she told me how she kept herself motivated during those long runs; information I am sure she has shared with Williams.

‘If I want to go and do World Records, I treat it like work. I knew that I had to get from Los Angeles all the way to New York, now that’s just under 3000 miles so actually quite a daunting distance, so I literally took one day at a time, and in fact I broke it down even further and I would have my day broken up into two sections.’

‘The morning section I would do the longer mileage and then I’d do the shorter mileage in the afternoon, and again without realizing it, I found that I was counting up the miles in the morning, and then down the miles in the afternoon.’

Anderson also highlighted the importance of the crew during her run across the United States.

‘I knew that I’d get to my recreational vehicle at the end of the day, and I would have fantastic food and a great crew, and everything was in place, and I’d then go to sleep and that was it, so for me it was like going to work.’

‘I had to get myself dressed, and have my breakfast, which my crew did all of that, everything was setup for me, and I was out of that door whether I liked it or not. At 5 o’clock I was running, pouring with rain, winds, snow, didn’t matter what it was, I was out there, so James will do the same.’

Williams on a training weekend

Anderson will not be there during the event, but she is active in the crews WhatsApp group to give as much advice as she possibly can before the challenge begins.

Plus, if Williams does hit dark patches during his World Record attempt, his wife Catherine, and his two girls will be present after a couple of days to cheer him on, and to give him that extra motivation he might need.

‘My wife is my biggest supporter and the biggest reason I can do any of this.’

If James Williams arrives at John o’Groats before 6:55am on Monday June 3rd, he will have broken the Guinness World Record.

Follow his progress here.

Featured Photograph / Thomas Kaiser