I don't know ANYONE who didn't grow up fascinated with the Guinness World Records! The dude with the longest fingernails? The lady with the crazy long hair! The tallest man or even the guy who had the World Record for THE MOST WORLD RECORDS! I for one loved it and thought often throughout my childhood "what could I do to get in that book?" I remember searching through the book as a youngster, scanning for potentially "breakable records" and eying up "The Longest Distance Ever Crawled By a Human" as a potential candidate haha. However I was young, and 56km on your hands and knees was not in the cards! I didn't even try!
A quick back story:
I'm sure I'm not alone in my desire of pushing harder, running faster, or lasting longer than anyone else on the planet. I certainly grew up extremely competitive however most of my races or competitions were against myself. I have always been my own biggest opponent! Whether it's trying to convince myself not to get up in the morning to run or to slow down on the bike because I can't breathe, or to stop pushing such an extreme distance because my body is ill-prepared! While I LOVED winning against others in track and field or Mountain Bike races in my youth, I was always more obsessed with my own limits rather than comparing my current state against others.
A TSN turning point for me came via a slight change in the wording of something my Mother kept saying to me as a youngster. "You have such potential Graham!" She'd always say, followed by the challenge of: "You need to live up to your potential!" I always hated that concept as I had no idea what a quantifiable level of "potential" was, and how would I know if I had "lived up to it?" Ultimately, the slight change in wording that set me on a completely different path in life was to stop trying to live up to some "undefinable, unquantifiable level of potential" but rather to "Spend the rest of my life CHALLENGING the limits of my potential" What if I just said, "holy frig that seems impossible, WAY out of my league…..I'm IN!!"
This horrifying internal battle with myself is what led me to Afghanistan to live in a war zone while working on projects that were WAY outside my education or pay grade. It led me to quit my job and start a business with next to no money or experience while government regulations opposed my plans, and most recently it led me to accept the challenge of setting a new Guinness World Record for the most money ever raised for charity while running a marathon…During a global pandemic! From conception to completion this challenge was truly an incredibly fascinating journey and the realization of an awesome childhood dream.
End of Back Story!
Those that know me, know that one of my greatest passions is public speaking about overcoming the incredible challenges we face in our lives. I've certainly overcome my fair share however I was truly left feeling afraid and completely exposed when the pandemic shut down the vast majority of my customers and the front-facing side of my business. I lost my entire income as did my wife and I wasn't confident that the business could survive. I began taking radical steps to cut costs and doing everything I could to pull through like everyone did and yet there was a horrible nagging thought in the back of my mind. The thought that I spend my days speaking to thousands and thousands of people every year about overcoming the impossible and I sure as shit better find a creative, outside the box solution to this, or I'm nothing but a fraud! It was a pretty rugged time!
At the same time that we were suffering, many other businesses were experiencing SO MUCH growth they couldn't keep up. (This is equally as dangerous to a business.) At the time I was trying to get my guitar worked on and my guitar tech stated it would take MONTHS before he'd be able to get to it since the entire world seemed to be taking up guitar!! What a light bulb moment for me!! The key shift in thinking I needed was to stop feeling sorry for myself and find local badass businesses to collaborate with and to deploy the tool shed facility in support of others. I needed to find a way to get through this time by helping other local businesses rather than just fighting for my own life. We started working with an incredible local company SPUD.CA who couldn't keep up with the massive increase in orders for great local organic groceries. They needed more warehouse space, cooler space, a forklift etc…all things we had that we could deploy in support of a great local business during an unprecedented time. THIS was the thinking I needed and yet I was still missing something….WHAT ABOUT CHARITY SUPPORT!?
The pandemic hit charities as hard or harder than any business. The willingness to donate in such a time of uncertainty when so many lost their jobs and needed support of their own had to be at an all-time low. How could a CHARITY push through this time and find unique creative ways to overcome the challenges of the pandemic?…well enter the amazing minds at MITO CANADA! ( mitocanada.org )
A bit about Mito
Blaine Penny ( the founder of the charitable organization ) and the entire, amazing TEAMmito have become world-famous for their incredible world record breaking athletic feats all in the name of bringing support and awareness to mitochondrial disease. From running a marathon with over 100 people all tied together, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/112-group-tethered-calgary-marathon-1.4136499 to the longest distance run on a treadmill in 24 hours https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/dave-proctor-running-record-1.5150352 This overachieving group of athletes are as selfless as they are superhuman! In one instance breaking 7 world records in a single 24hour period!! https://mitocanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/MitoCan-Treadmill-Challenge-Guinness-World-Records.pdf
There's simply NO WAY you could meet these incredible folks and NOT be so inspired that you'd do anything to become part of the movement! From the moment Blaine's amazing son Evan became diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, Blaine set out help everyone else on the planet who has, or whoever will receive the same news. He founded the charity MitoCanada and has since spent his life tirelessly pushing for greater medical understanding as well as much need financial support with the ultimate goal of finding the cure.
I like to think that our paths have ALWAYS been careening towards each other because the velocity of the impact when our paths finally collided was awesome! Haha, I was so blown away by Blaine and everyone associated with him as well as his charity that I now needed to be part of! It's an incredible thing when you see how an authentic, genuine, passionate person inspires absolutely everyone else around.
I started down the road with MitoCanada by signing up for the world record attempt for the most people linked together completing a marathon! I figured it was still a year away and I'd have plenty of time to Train. OOPS!! I guess I forgot how much time running a business requires. The day before the marathon I was at the bar in the brewery, two beers deep, HORRIFIED at the thought of potentially DYING the next morning while trying to run a full marathon without ANY training. Now full disclosure, this wouldn't have been my first time "challenging my potential" at a ridiculous athletic feat without the benefit of ANY training as I had ( on a bet with co-workers ) signed up for and successfully completed a full distance Ironman Triathlon without any training. HOWEVER!!! This time I'd be physically connected to people who actually COULD run the marathon and I would not be able to just STOP running when it hurt! Yet there I was the morning of the Calgary Marathon, not willing to back down, or let the charity down by pushing through the absolute worst, sustained pain I had EVER endured in my life to accomplish this world record-breaking attempt along-side TEAMmito!
I've since completed a 200km Trans Rockies multi-day, trail-running event proudly donning my "TEAMmito" jersey (again with nearly no training) and while a good majority of TEAMmito WIN the races they enter, I've become known as the ridiculously undertrained, mentally tough one on the team, willing to push through anything and everything on my way to the finish line complete with broken feet and my now infamous toenails (you don't want to know and I promise not to include pictures)
Time to set a new Guinness World Record
We all found ourselves scrambling to find new exciting ways to support our families, our business, and our charities in the early months of the pandemic. It seems like a lifetime ago already but it was NOT long before the 2020 Calgary Marathon that we heard it had been canceled in favour of a virtual "pandemic edition." We then heard that Blaine and the gang "had an idea!" What if we could set a NEW Guinness World Record for the most money raised for charity while running a marathon distance? I always love Blaine's passion and creativity but this was a TOUGH one. Who's gonna donate? This could end up being a tremendous disaster! Blaine and the team reached out to Guinness and successfully applied for approval of this new world record attempt and then quickly informed me that I had no choice, but rather was "volun-TOLD" I would be running ANOTHER marathon without training haha. I remember thinking "well at least this World Record attempt will work in my favour as the slower runner who has more time out on the course!"
At this stage, I truly find myself so incredibly inspired by this amazing group of people that there was no question that I'd be out there suffering all day in support of the cause. The real challenge was…HOW WAS I GOING TO WIN!!?? I mean within this amazing group of folks in Calgary attempting this record was Blaine Penny himself, as well as Jeremy Deere (two of our province's most celebrated runners) all eager to cement themselves into history with a personal GWR!! The winner was going to come down to how much money an individual could personally raise and ONLY funds raised while running the marathon would count!
Guinness and the rules for successfully achieving a WORLD RECORD
One of the most fascinating parts of this journey was "The RULES" it was incredible to see what it ACTUALLY TOOK to successfully become named as a Guinness World Record holder! We needed to provide a surveyed route of a full marathon course verified through GPS as well as GPS tracking files of anyone attempting the record. We needed a complete and unedited video of any attempt, photographs at various spots along the way, and a logbook of entries of the day's events. We needed confirmation of registration in the Calgary Marathon and to provide a certified finishers certificate. Any money raised during the attempt needed to be audited by someone with verifiable accounting credentials that those credentials needed to be supplied as evidence. We needed independent witnesses to give full statements of what they observed, independent race results from the Calgary Marathon Race Roster confirming the race results. We need to provide verifiable evidence of the disbursement of funds to the charity, and finally, any media articles that could also verify the accomplishment. PHEWPH!! Honestly, the hardest of all these requirements was asking my wife Tracey to ride her bike in front of me with a GoPro trained on the worst, most grumpy version of me, pushing through excruciating pain for over 5 hours on her day off!!
I'm eternally grateful to my amazing wife who spent the entire day with a huge supportive smile on her face. This is not the first time and won't be the last time she puts up with my ridiculous plans!
The run begins…
As the run began I had a few thoughts in my mind. 1) how was I going to survive past 10k? 2) Why do I keep doing this to myself? 3) Hey this is great!! I get to stare at my beautiful wife for the next 5 hours! 4) This already hurts…I'm an idiot…and how the hell did I EVER think I could out fundraise all these amazing people!? And finally, 5) Hmmmm what if I COULD out fundraise everyone…AND what if I could even finish with a BETTER TIME than BLAINE PENNY in the Marathon as well? Haha, I guess there's lots of time to think when you're trying to ignore the pain of running.
The team behind this attempt was certainly not content with just a bunch of folks hoping to break a record!! No, they set out to accomplish much much more than that and set up a virtual telethon covering the marathon (you can watch in it's entirety below)
They had a full-time host, interviews with doctors to help educate viewers on the charity we were running for, updates of monies raised, and even some trash talk between contenders haha. It was truly an unbelievable amount of work that went into turning this insane part of 2020 into an event for the ages. The hard part for ME was even just holding up my iPhone and trying to talk during "runners update interviews" while I was so exhausted I could barely run, talk, or even hold my arm up! Haha
A few days before the run began it became obvious to me that I couldn't maintain any real social media conversations, texts, phone calls, or any other attempts to rally my network, pull in donations or convince people why MitoCanada needs support WHILE I WAS RUNNING!!! I needed help so I reached out to my incredible friend THE Becca Swanson! Becca is a social media guru and assertive enough to bully my friends and family into donating for charity!! I certainly did NOT need someone politely asking for donations… I needed someone YELLING "Is THAT all your friendship with Graham is worth!!??" haha
And so the day began!! With me out on the course, running and running and running in hopes that, by handing over complete control to my entire social media life to a friend, it would result in something amazing for charity and possibly MORE!! I answered the calls for interviews, I suffered through the structural pain of a body not prepared for a 42.2km run and all the while I kept the thought in my head of the one thing Blaine Penny had said to me to keep me pushing through the last marathon "Graham…KEEP RUNNING for of those who can't!" It's such an awesome powerful message and one of the few things ( knowing Evan Penny and being so inspired by the love and support around his journey) that could keep me going!
A quick side plot
As mentioned above…one of my sinister side plots was the giddiness of potentially finishing the day with a BETTER MARATHON TIME than the world-class 2.5-hour marathon running BLAINE PENNY haha! Full disclosure he does NOT know this story and when he reads it, he might be mad at me!!! I hereby apologize for the way my brain works!
Now I knew Blaine was going to start his race roughly 30 minutes after the rest of us! So the way MY mind works is that if Blaine catches me…and we all get excited to raise a bunch of money and finish the race TOGETHER…he'll have run a marathon 30 minutes faster than me! So I hatched a sinister plot for the sole purpose of ONE-day bragging that once upon a time I OFFICIALLY beat Blaine FREAKING Penny in a marathon! Haha. More on that later!
KM 30!! THE WALL
Those that have run marathons will understand "THE WALL"!! For those that don't, it's somewhere in the mid 30's of km's ran when your body and your mind and your will to live SHUT DOWN!!! You question all of your decisions in life including WHY the FLYING F' you decided to put yourself through this pain. You contemplate quitting. You hate everyone and everything and not even the thought of supporting an amazing charity can bring you back to the light side of the force!
We were in Carburn Lake park heading south on our way to a big fish creek park finish when I hit the wall.
Now during the planning phase of this attempt. The folks at MitoCanada had no idea if We'd raise $25,000 or $2,000 it truly was a complete shot in the dark but they settled on a total charity cumulative goal of raising $25,000 between all the runners. By Carburn Lakes I was personally over $10,000 raised but so was Blaine. Obviously, we were all elated with the success of the money-raising efforts, however, Blaine then quickly received a few huge donations which brought him up over $14,000 and I felt like the win was out of reach! I MEAN COME ON!!! This is the FOUNDER of the charity! Possibly one of the most loved men in all of Calgary! How was I seriously supposed to topple this insane giant? I say this half-joking because it truly didn't matter who won as it was MitoCanada who won this day regardless of which runner raised the must funds. However, the OTHER half of me was not joking haha. Joking half aside the other half is pure competition and I rationalized my desire to smash all other competitors, Including Blaine with the thought that "regardless if I win or not…MitoCanada wins."
And so a quick phone call to Becca Swanson to "turn up the heat" was my next order of business. As I continued down the road mentally pushing through, trying to block out the pain, trudging along like a zombie, Becca took to the phones. She smashed through emails, all my social media channels, and even a list I'd prepared before hand of potential supporters of this cause. And just like that..with Becca's insistent badgering of everyone I know…I caught back up to Blaine and within a few km's more, LEPT past. As we crossed under Deerfoot with less than 10k to go we had DOUBLED the amount of money raised only a few KM's earlier and it was clear that I was very likely to have just achieved a Guinness World Record but I still had one more trick up my sleeve. I still needed to beat Blaine Penny in a marathon!!
"The race within the race" side plot
Occupying your mind while running through intense pain is one of my more important strategies and early on in the race I had set a trap for Blaine with the hopes that I might JUST maybe have an opportunity to beat him in the official marathon race results.
Blaine had started his marathon 30 minutes after me I knew I wouldn't finish 30 minutes ahead of him. I was almost positive we'd cross the finish line together so if I couldn't gain TIME on him, I needed to gain KM's!! The world record attempt was for "raising the most money while running a marathon distance!" So as soon as we covered a full Marathon distance as measured by our GPS devices our money-raising efforts were over and our times would be submitted as 2020 Calgary Marathon Official results!
My plan was as follows: Since it was an out and back, I would KEEP RUNNING beyond the turnaround point by roughly 1km allowing me to achieve MY finish line of a full 42.2km marathon distance exactly 2km before Blaine! THEN as long as I accurately did the math in my head I could calculate how many km's I needed to convince Blaine to WALK with me during the last few km's of HIS marathon distance! I would chew through his 30-minute advantage and My marathon time would beat his!
I know it's super childish and not ANYTHING to do with the amazing task at hand! However, I passed the time and pushed through the pain that day by doing math in my head at how far I'd have to run at the turnaround and the pace I'd have to finish the last two KM's and I'd have to do it secretly and yada yada yada just to be able to say "HEY EVERYONE!! I OFFICIALLY BEAT BLAINE PENNY IN A MARATHON!!" It worked! Haha sorry Blaine, I love you!!
I can tell you that crossing that finish line with the accomplishment of this new Guinness World Record was absolutely one of my favorite accomplishments of my life for a few reasons. For starters, it's truly incredible to be part of something like this. To commit yourself to something selfless. To support others that are less fortunate by way of raising awareness or charity fund-raising is INCREDIBLY satisfying. But there's so much more.
This all happened at a time when everyone on the planet was facing the uncertainty of what the pandemic would bring us tomorrow. We all feared for the wellbeing of our families, our friends, our businesses, etc. It was easy to fall into a pit of despair feeling sorry for ourselves, giving up, or just waiting around at home collecting government assistance.
Together with Blaine Penny, Jeremy Deere, Sabina Lokanc, Tom Taylor, and Ed Bickley the six of us attempted a Guinness World Record that day and raised $71,976 for charity! Almost tripling the goal for the team.
To me, this race was a reminder of the incredible importance of cutting through all the fear, the pain, and WHATEVER else is in our way to clearly find NO CEILING on what our achievable potential is. Instead of waiting around for the pandemic to end, we have the ability to get up in the morning and set a World Record for raising money for charity DURING a pandemic. As the journey to spend the rest of my life challenging the limits of potential, this adventure was an incredibly satisfying step in the right direction. Actually to be accurate it was 45,425 painful steps haha and my genuine hope is that THESE steps will inspire others to do the same!