Simon Kindleysides during walk wearing an exoskeleton suit at London Marathon 2018

When 40,000 people lined up at the start line of the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon on 22 April, there was one participant who was unique.

He wasn’t running the marathon, he was walking. But not just walking. He was doing the 26.2-mile distance in an exoskeleton suit, just months after taking his first steps in four years.

36 hours and 46 minutes after setting off (which included 27 hours 32 minutes of walking), Simon Kindleysides, 34, from Norwich (UK), set a new record for the fastest marathon distance in a robotic walking device.

Simon was a dancer and a restaurant manager. But all that changed in 2013 when a brain tumour and functional neurological disorder left him paralysed from the waist down.

He was in hospital for four months and when he was finally discharged he was unable to return to his first-floor apartment. His health problems have continued since; he's had heart-stopping seizures and a stroke since becoming paraplegic in 2013.

But that’s not stopped him.

"When someone says I can't do something I do it to p*** them off," he said. "I hand cycled from London to Paris in 2015."

Since then the dad of three had started using an exoskeleton suit, before finding one in 2017 called ReWalk that allowed him to climb stairs and go outside.

He filmed his first visit to his back garden in four years. "In the video [of me in the garden] I’m going 'oh my god I’m walking on grass!'. Even though I can't feel it, I was looking down at my feet and walking across my own garden. You can't express how that feels."

"If I compare this suit and my last one, they both have benefits, but this has given me a new lease of life. I walk the park with my children."

While it's not a full-time replacement for his wheelchair it has improved his health, reducing the number of spasms and also helping his bladder, bowel and posture as he’s not hunching so much to propel himself along in his chair.

After that momentous return to the garden, Simon had an idea: walk a marathon.

Seven months later he was at the London Marathon, wearing a £100,000 exoskeleton suit which ReWalk had loaned him for his epic journey.

London Marathon start Simon Kindleysides

Before starting his walk, Simon was due on a national news channel to talk about his marathon and plans to raise the six-figure sum required to purchase his own suit.

"I believe things happen for a reason. I was supposed to be on Sky News at 9.30 a.m. to talk about doing the marathon. When I got there, they got the times wrong; I wasn't on air until 11.30.

"So when I went on, I was talking about how the suit was on loan, I’d have to give it back, then my team and I would start fundraising to raise £100,000 to buy my own.

"While I was on air, a nice rich man saw my story and happened to be on the sofa eating breakfast. He rang up ReWalk, handed over his money and bought me one.

"I've never met this guy."

Simon started his 60,373-step journey on Sunday 22 April 2018. Using a watch connected to his suit, the suit was able to replicate how a person walks, but in slow motion. When Simon leaned to the left, the plates in the right foot of his suit were activated to lift his right leg and move it forward, and so vice versa.

Simon Kindleysides marathon walk

The batteries in his suit allowed him to travel four miles at a time before they needed recharging, which meant a lot of time at the side of the road.

It was a gruelling journey, and one which took more than 36 hours. This meant completing the second half contending with open roads and London city commuters on the Monday, but a team of spotters, a physio and a mechanic helped him march onwards.

One of the spotters was Wayne Howe, one of Simon’s best friends who explained how they helped keep him moving.

"We had to usher them [the public] to the sides,” he said. “We also had to watch out for kerbs. London bricks are quite sharp sometimes, they’re not always level. We had to watch for tree trunks too and make sure he was safe.

"You sometimes had to walk backwards [to look in all directions].

"It was draining by the end of the first half. The second half was ‘we’re going to get through this’."

One of the hardest things towards the end was knowing he couldn’t go any faster; every mile took him 48 minutes.

"The last three miles were horrendous," recalled Simon. "100 ft away from the end this burst of energy came from nowhere."

Simon Kindleysides marathon finish

At 10:46 p.m. on Monday 23 April, he crossed the finish line on Pall Mall, cheered on by well-wishers and police officers who applauded him during those last few steps.

"I'm glorified by the fact I got the record but without the team it wouldn’t be possible," said Simon.

Members of the public also supported his effort, walking parts of the route with him, donating money and offering their homes for comfort breaks.

Because Simon took more than eight hours to complete the marathon, he was ineligible for an official London Marathon medal. But that was of little consequence to him.

The Brain Tumour Charity, which he raised £23,000 for, made him a gold medal while two other runners who also raised money for the same organisation, donated their London Marathon medals.

Simon Kindleysides and his team. From left to right: Sarah Webster - spotter, Tina Smart - PA and spotter, Colin Kindleysides - Simon's dad, Simon, Jon Graham - physio, Wayne Howe - spotter, Sarah Moore - Brain Tumour Charity Challenge Events Manager

It’s been quite the journey for Simon.

After getting his first exoskeleton suit, the most emotional moment for him was being able to have a photo standing up with his three children for the first time.

The support he’s had from his kids has clearly touched him.

"My two-year-old would stand up with my wheelchair and take it away and play on it. Then if I needed it she’d bring it back to me.

"Or if I’m transferring from the sofa to my chair my son will just get up and help me. I don’t ask them, they just do it and that’s humbling.

"Recently we were in KFC and he said ‘I wish I could take the pain away, if I could be a scientist I’d help make you walk again’. I don’t make him say that."

Simon Kindleysides record certificate

But what next?

Well he’s got ideas. He wants to climb a mountain for starters.

He’s also after a stairs challenge. Having a suit that allows him to tackle steps, he wants to climb the world’s tallest building.

But for now, it’s about seeing his achievement in Guinness World Records 2020.

"Opening the book and seeing myself, I don’t think I’ll be able to put it into words. I’ll probably cry my eyes out knowing a little guy like me from Norwich is in a world-renowned book that everyone talks about and looks at.

"I'm honoured to be part of the record-breaking world."

Simon's achievement will feature in Guinness World Records 2020 which will be released later this year. Find out more about what else you can expect in our next annual.