- Sharon Gayter
- 12:11:6 day(s):hour(s):minute(s)
- United Kingdom ()
The fastest journey from Land's End to John O'Groats on foot (female) is 12 days 11 hrs 6 min, and was achieved by Sharon Gayter (UK), from 21 July to 2 August 2019.
When Sharon first achieved this record in 2006, with a time of 12 days 16 hr 22 min, the first thing she said to herself was “I now know how to do it better… but I never want to do it again.”
She was understandably frustrated when a few years later her record was broken by just 36 minutes, and spent the next 11 years knowing she could achieve a better time if she were to give it another go. Finally, in 2019, Sharon was able to try for the record once more, and at the age of 55 (only 5 years younger than the record holder at the time for ‘Oldest person to travel from Land's End to John-O'-Groats on foot – female’) was able to knock off over 4 hours from the previous record, held by Marina Anderson (UK) since 2008.
Despite being a faster athlete in 2006, Sharon credits her experience in ultra-distance running and a change in route as what helped her achieve a much faster time than her previous record.
After two years of planning the route for her attempt – this time opting to start in John-O'-Groats and finish at Land’s End – Sharon completed two long-distance practice runs in early 2019: a 6-day race in Athens and a run along the River Severn from source to mouth. This was an opportunity to get used to running in blocks with limited sleep and recovery time.
For the attempt itself, she travelled with a small support crew, who helped with gathering the required evidence. Her nights were spent inside the little VW campervan, although she only slept for a few hours each night. For food she ate high-carbohydrate meals, including muesli with yogurt, flapjacks, pasta, rice, beans and meat balls. She also enjoyed fish and chips, chicken curry, Irish stew and McDonald's along the way.
Everything went to plan until day 6, where Sharon lost her support crew after trying to find the subway to negotiate the M6 and A6 roundabout. Without any signal she had no choice but to retrace her steps and eventually found them again a while later. Later that day she reached a bridge on her route which had been condemned. Despite wanting to give up for the day at that point, her team helped her to find another one two miles away, but this did mean finishing in the early hours of the morning. She faced similar issues at Tintern Abbey and the Severn Bridge.
Her attempt also happened to coincide with the hottest day of the year – when she was doused with buckets of cold water and ran with a bandanna filled with ice - as well as a few very rainy days either side. Luckily her experience from years of being an international standard ultra-runner meant she was vastly experienced and prepared for all conditions.
Despite all this, Sharon never thought of giving up. “I was on a mission and had to stay focused and committed the entire way” she explained. At no point during the attempt did she listen to music or podcasts while running – instead focusing her attention on navigating and listening out for approaching traffic.
Highlights from the journey include a guard of honour from motorcyclists at the campsite at John-O'-Groats, crossing paths with another record attempt for LEJOG by penny farthing, a yoga session in a pub car park, meeting up with Ricardo – a man who was walking from Land’s End to John O Groats who she happened to bump into on a C road north of Inverness – and a few surprise visits from friends, including her previous crew member Alan Young.
One particularly surreal moment came when Sharon was given right of way along a busy road outside of Carlisle, with workers stopping traffic to let her run through a section of roadworks while they cheered her on!
When asked what being a GWR title holder means to her, Sharon said the following:
“In 1994, while in my first year as a Sport Science student at Teesside University, I was asked to write down my short and long term goals. It was my first year as an international athlete, having finished 6th in my first GB vest. I wanted to gain a medal at the next event for my short-term goal (I did, a silver team medal) and my long term goal, the biggest dream of my life, was to break a world record. I wrote down in that assignment that I would like to break the record for running from Land’s End to John O’Groats…
It took me 12 years to gain the confidence to attempt this record and it will always remain the most iconic event in the UK for an ultra-runner in my eyes. As a runner, it is one thing to be the best in the country to represent Great Britain, but to break an athletics world record is to be part of history. Even though I know this will be broken some time in the future, it is such a satisfying feeling that you have achieved the ultimate goal and been part of the journey of this event. So being a GWR title holder is the epitome of a sports record.”
Sharon, who works as a lecturer at Teesside University (she took annual leave to attempt the record, and was back in on Monday morning) had planned for this to be her last record attempt; however during COVID-19 lockdown she did find another record title she may try to attempt in 2022! As well as re-claiming this record for personal achievement, she also used the record attempt to raise money for the mental health charity MIND.