On the 10th December 2016 I attempted to enter the record books by breaking the Guinness World Record for the maximum number of strict pull up (palms facing away) in 24 hours. The record to beat was 7306 repetitions which equates to 5.07 repetitions a minutes for the whole day.
In February 2016 I was sent a link to a live feed of a Finnish man breaking the 24 hours chin up (palms facing in) world record. This made me rekindle my quest to tackle the pull up challenge.
It was in 2005 that I met a man named Steve Hyland, he had multiple records for both chin ups and pull ups. He was over 50 years of age and was still pushing the boundaries of human potential. He has recently completed over 1000 pull ups in 1 hour in his 60’s. When I met him I felt inspired and I set a challenge, with my best friend Chris Gibbs, to completed 7 chin ups and 7 dips ever minutes for 24 hours back in 2008. This was 5040 chin ups and 5040 dips each. I didn’t have the confidence to do it on my own back then. We completed this charity event and raised over £3000 for Help for Heroes.
However, now the time had come to attempt the solo event and train towards the pull ups attempt in December 2016.
The first goal was to train up to an hour completing 6 pull ups every minute for 1 hour. It only took me 2 weeks to hit this goal; 360 repetitions are nowhere near the 7306 that I needed to beat but I had started the journey. Most of my training was conducted in my garden on a homemade pull up bar.
1000 repetitions was the next major check point in the training. This was tackled in April by holding 8 pull ups for 2 hour and 20 minutes with a few 5 minute rests. This was a huge milestone and started to build my confidence.
Onwards to 5 hours and over 2500 reps and then the last long training session in the middle of October of 8 hours. This session was in a locked gym, at the venue for the record attempt at night on my own. I stuck to the routine that I planned to use; 10 pull ups every minute for 10 minutes then 5 minutes rest. It was a challenging session but 3100 pull ups were completed and I then knew I had a chance to tackle the world record.
Throughout the 10 months of training I tried to remain balanced in my training approach so that I limited repetitive strain type injuries. I had a battle for 6 to 7 weeks in July/August with a problematic shoulder. The support from my therapy team was incredible and they got me pain free, training hard and back on track without too much disruption.
In the past few years I have chosen small charities that are not hugely in the public eye. In 2014 it was the Central Manchester Foundation Trust and specifically the dental hospital charity. I climbed a 15 foot rope for 60 minutes continuously and totalled 2340 feet; a distance only 382 feet short of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and 267 feet higher than the second tallest building, the Shanghai Tower. Over £3000 was raised for that challenge.
For this epic 24 hours challenge I really wanted to push the upper boundaries of my fund raising potential and pick a charity close to my dentistry heart. I had just completed the cleft lip and palate element of learning on my degree and it had caught my attention. These children have such a long treatment plan and the multidisciplinary team is huge. The struggle is not only on the patient but affect the family immensely and for such a long time; I needed to help. So, the charity of choice was the Cleft Lip and Palate Association – CLAPA. I contacted Mike Hey, Head of Fundraising, and they were 100 percent on board. The totaliser target was an ambitious £10,000. I secretly thought £5000 was achievable and anything over that would be a huge bonus. You have to aim for the height of Everest in your goals; the result will usually be beyond your wildest imagination.
The day of the challenge
The venue was all set up 2 days prior in Reebok CrossFit 3D in Manchester, England. Lights, cameras and judges were all ready to go. The judges and recording situation was a tough challenge in itself. For the record attempt to be official for Guinness World Records (GWR) you had two options. First option, to pay for the GWR official judge at a cost of £6600 for the day. This was way out of my budget and I would have preferred to pay that direct to the charity if I had that kind of money. This meant that the second option was my only option. I had to record the whole thing on some sort of recording medium. The data storage for 24 hours worth of recording is insane. I recieved great advice from lots of my friends and one friend from school, who I hadn’t seen for 18 years, sent me a CCTV recording system and gave instructions. The benefit of CCTV is that you can have multiple cameras and it has a huge storage space. One obstacle overcome.
The second obstacle was to get appropriate judges for the entire event. The rules were that they had to be independent from me and that they had to be in the physical training world; so that they know what a valid strict pull up should look like. Oh and I had to have two judges present at any one time and they couldn’t witness the attempt for more than 4 hours at a time. Trying to get 12 independent, suitably qualified people was a huge stress for me. However, the amazing community of the CrossFit world, who I work for as a trainer, came to the rescue in less than one hour after a FaceBook post just 4 weeks prior to the big day. You cannot measure the spirit of community that comes from sharing physical activity together, even if you haven’t met each other. We were all set for the rollercoaster of the challenge.
It was the 10th of December 2016 and I hadn’t slept brilliantly with nerves and fear of failure. So many people had left kind messages on all of my social media platforms and I had too many personal text messages and direct messages that I couldn’t go through them all before I started at 0800. I had to focus.
The count down was chanted by the many supporters 10,9,8….3,2,1 Go. Holding 5 every 30 seconds for the first 10 minutes before resting for 2-3 minutes and repeating this for the hour. 450 repetitions an hour for the first 2 hours saw me through 900. This was well above the 608 that I needed to be on record pace; had I done too much too soon? I had trained this way and trusted in my training. The internal mental battles are always there when you train or doing any task but it is how you overcome these. Having the overall goal insight and the bigger picture of helping those children is what silenced the mental demons. Having a clear mission statement and overriding core values will be the winning formula in any endeavour. In under two hours and fifteen minutes I hit my first 1000. It felt easy and the time was going fast with the unbelievable support. The money was flying in too; the total has shot past £5000 and was increasing at an incredible past as the hours past.
2000, 3000 and then 4000 reps at 10 hours and 55 minutes. I wasn’t holding in intended 5 reps every 30 seconds but I was holding a decent pace and doing quick single reps. I would do these single reps until I had accumulated 100 and then rest. I had started to get muscle cramps in places I hadn’t expected; my chest, triceps and hamstrings. I had an amazingly dedicated physiotherapy team that worked on me in my rest periods and I seemed to be managing these unexpected events well. It was tough mentally convincing the monkey on my shoulder I was ok and that its negative commentary wasn’t affecting me, but that is what my military training as an Army Commando has taught me well. Keep going until the task is done.
The 12 hour mark and halfway point saw me at 4300 reps and it was time for a quick shower and change of clothes. I was feeling confident that I could break the record being ahead by 647 and this is over 2 hours of work realistically. The shower and clothing change was a boost and I went through 13 hours at 4550 and then bang things started to change.
I was struggling physically with the muscle cramps and they were knocking me off my routine for repetitions and timings. The mental strength was still there but the physical capacity was lacking. I started to doubt myself physically. I was only hitting 150-175 reps for the next few hours but thought I might get a second wind. Nothing changed for the better, it actually got worse. I had to try something; I went for a longer rest in a dark room on my own for 15 minutes. I had so many people there cheering me on and encouraging me but I needed some alone time to try and rally my depleted body. The personal conversation to myself was on reflection something very special. The first 5 minutes was of all thing negative of how I was a complete failure and a total embarrassment to all the people that had supported me. I then stopped and checked the fundraising page; I was over the £10,000 target and it was still going up. The was like a sledgehammer to my negativity, “this thing is bigger than your own personal ego!” I reset my thoughts to my mission statement and core values – “Help others in everything you do and always push yourself even if failure happens, because you have one chance in your life”. With this I got back on my feet, dusted myself off and committed to whatever happens, record or no record you keep going for as long as your body can keep pulling for those children.
Progress was slow but I had lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders and was still having fun. It was at the 16 hours and 5 minutes point that I hit 4900 reps. The painfully slow progress had made the record an unreasonable target and I had announced this to my Army of supporters; no one left they just stood strong. I went for another shower and change of clothing but started to seize up in my entire upper body. I had some physiotherapy but it did no good. I went for a lay down for an hour. This was the wrong thing to do. I didn’t sleep, I just moved my physical battle to a mental battle. I returned to the pull up bar at approximately the 18 hour point. My muscles had totally gone into upper body spasm. I had to try and warm up for 20 minutes before I could even try and hang on the bar. My grip and muscles rejected my efforts and I fell off the bar. My stubbornness wouldn’t allow this and I kept trying to hang, I fell and fell again. I kept saying “I will get my chin above the bar on the next rep, I will. I must”. With each effort I was getting closer; until after 30 plus attempts, boom, I got the 4901st, then 2nd then 3rd then 4th repetition. I then started to fail again, and again and again.
We tried massage and electrical muscle stimulus and I returned to the bar; another 30 plus failures and then I got the final 3 reps before I could not hang on the bar anymore. My body had given up but my mind had stayed strong and wanted to keep going. Those 7 repetitions took a painfully agonising 50 minutes. This was the hardest 50 minutes, physically, I have ever endured. I had been in the Army for 14 years serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan; completed selection into the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, the 10 week Commando course and completing numerous physically arduous charity events but this had topped them all. I had to stop. It broke my heart. My wife quoted “it was like watching an animal not willing to give up when it was dying”.
My team and I stayed awake at the venue for the next 5 hours to finish off the challenge and show commitment to the cause. The support had blown me away and the money was still coming in and did for the next 2 months.
The result and reflection
4907 repetitions in 19 hours. What does this really mean? It meant over £17,000 raised for CLAPA. It meant some of my friendship bonds had grown and welded together even more. I had learnt so much about media presence and fundraising in this modern world of social media. I had also impacted on others, setting their own personal and charity challenges. I have had lots of kind words in the past few months from people I don’t know saying how I have inspired them. This wasn’t my primary intention but I am overjoyed that I can be of some help to others. It is in keeping with my core values and always will be.
I was and still am sad that I didn’t break the world record. I let this dominate my thoughts for a few weeks thinking that the whole thing was a failure and I had wasted not only my time but the time of so many that had helped me. The truth of the matter is that there was only one negative outcome and immeasurable positives from the 10 month journey. I think we can let our failures or the negatives overshadow the successes and positives that happen daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and in our lives. We have to look at the bigger picture and have a bird’s eye view to see that things are usually really ok.
Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat. I am sure I will push my body and mind to the limit again but for now I am just enjoying family life, normal training and my degree.