Erica Clarkson of the Orkney Islands, located off the northeastern coast of Scotland where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea, has set a Guinness World Record (unofficial) for the most consecutive days running an ultramarathon distance (female). Clarkson ran 50K a day (124 laps) for 10 consecutive days on the 400m Pickaquoy Track near her home in Orkney, breaking the previous record of seven days, set in 2014 by Maria Conceicao of Portugal.
Clarkson had a couple of false starts to her record attempt (originally scheduled for October), but posted this on December 8: “Between 12-23 December, I’ll be doing my damnedest to set a new women’s World Record for the Most Number of Days to Run an Ultra-marathon Distance on a 400m Track. Yup! In Orkney. In the middle of winter.” In the process, Clarkson raised more than £2,000 for WellbeingofWomen.com, a women’s reproductive health charity in the UK, specifically targeting menopause research.
Clarkson was also going after the record for most marathons run on consecutive days on a track (which stands at 11 days), hoping to run for 12 days, but decided to stop after 10 days. “I’d really hoped to break it by three or four days–to truly to set it in stone,” she told us by email, “but by day nine I was running on painkillers and I knew that I’d need to stop at day 10. I was at peace with the decision to–we’d been adapting our plans throughout the attempt and responding to what came up day to day. Ten days felt OK.”
Clarkson admits to some disappointment at missing the 11-day consecutive-marathon record, but says she doesn’t think this was her first and last record attempt, leaving the door open to possibly attempting that record again in the future.
The pain Clarkson mentions was due to a tendon injury that surfaced on her sixth day of running. “Although we were prepared for some pain, it was pretty excruciating,” she says. “We controlled it with painkillers, taping and massage and a healthy dose of grit–but it felt instinctively that if I was to push my luck too much, that I might do some long-term damage that would throw my 2020 plans into question. It just felt right to call it when we did. Also… my skin was starting to get raw and very sore. There’s a lot of salt in the air on the island combined with the wind and cold and no amount of moisturiser and SPF50 seemed to help.”
Clarkson, who is 49, to use the run to raise money for menopause research as a result of her personal experience. “I really want to make it my mission to show the world that midlifers and older athletes have a lot to offer–that we are entirely relevant and that we can be successful on the road, trail or track.
“I was motivated to run after experiencing some fairly dreadful menopausal symptoms. It’s a cliché, but running saved me, and I want to shout really loudly about that so that other women realize the benefits of exercise as we age. We can all do so much more than we think we can! Also, there are some scary obesity statistics concerning obesity in midlife in Scotland–and I’m an advocate of ‘prevention is better than cure.’ If I can contribute to the health of others in any small way, then all to the good.”
There were several days when the track was covered with ice. But this does not appear to have daunted Clarkson, who had numerous friends and supporters from Orkney’s surprisingly large ultrarunning “family” come out to run with her at various times. “We’re sending some runners to Leadville in 2020, and others are targeting some big races around Scotland and beyond, including the iconic West Highland Way,” says Clarkson. “It can be a hard place to train, because the environment and conditions are often very harsh–it’s almost always windy. But, when the weather is a little more gentle, there’s no place as beautiful on earth as Orkney. Running here can be a joy!”