The Running Nurse (but looks can be deceiving!) - by Steve Bazell

“Guinness World Record for Fastest Half Marathon in Nurses Uniform - Male”

Steve with support crew Tom Hendricken (No. 295) and Dean Richardson (No. 327)    Image courtesy Gary Poulton/MarathonFoto

Steve with support crew Tom Hendricken (No. 295) and Dean Richardson (No. 327)

Image courtesy Gary Poulton/MarathonFoto

You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest or most talented person in the world to become a Guinness World Record holder.  I should know, I’m the current Guinness World Record holder for the “Fastest half marathon in a nurse’s uniform (male)” and I’m no superhuman.  For me, what makes a Guinness World Record holder, isn’t about being the fastest or strongest person in the world, it’s about personal motivation; having a reason for taking up the challenge. 

My personal motivation came with the birth of my second son Thomas in 2013.  Born with a complex congenital heart condition, he would undergo two major open heart operations and one key-hole heart procedure at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the first twelve months of his life.  During this time, he would spend over three months in hospital on four separate occasions on the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Neonatal Cardiac Ward (ward 11).  Spending such a long time at the hospital and with free accommodation provided by the Ronald McDonald House Charity next door to the hospital, I wanted to give something back to the people who helped us.

I decided to set myself a 12‑month fund raising challenge, to raise money for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House Charity and the British Heart Foundation.  As a keen runner, undertaking a run was an obvious choice for part of my fund raising challenge; however, simply running a marathon, which I’ve done twice, didn’t seem like a big enough challenge!  I wanted to do something different - something that would raise the profile of my fund raising.  I probably got the idea of the fancy dress / Guinness World Record from watching many London Marathons on TV.

I’m no stranger to running in fancy dress, having completed the Staffordshire Moorlands Christmas Cracker in 2007 dressed as Santa, complete with a Santa sack to raise money for the North Staffs neonatal unit, where my eldest son Christopher spent the first few weeks of his life.  However, this would be a totally different challenge, as I’d be running against the clock and had also set myself a target of raising £1,000. 

When I first had the idea of entering as Fastest Half Marathon in a Nurse’s Uniform (male) the existing record stood at 1 hr 30 min which I was more than capable of beating.  However, when I got around to registering my interest, the record had been broken and now stood at 1 hr 25 min 56 sec.  This would be more difficult.  Having chosen my running challenge, there was only one venue - the BUPA Great Birmingham Run.

Taking on a Guinness World Record, isn’t simply a matter of turning up and attempting to break the record.  You have to register your interest in advance of the attempt, after which Guinness World Records provide a list of terms and conditions as well as any specific conditions for your attempt.

The main condition applicable to my attempt concerned the nurse’s uniform:

For the purposes of this record the nurse’s uniform must include: A blue dress, a white pinafore apron, a traditional white nurse’s cap.  Tights are optional.  The costume must be pre-approved by Guinness World Records.

Getting hold of a fancy dress nurses uniform proved difficult.  None of the local shops had anything suitable and it was not much better online.  I eventually found a fancy dress costume which matched the Guinness World Record guidelines.  I sent a picture but, although Guinness World Records approved it in principle, my wife didn’t!

I’d been looking at fancy dress costumes yet my wife found a more appropriate one straight away in the form of a proper nurse’s uniform.  I hadn’t thought of that, but it made sense and it looked much better than what I had found.  A chefs’ white apron and a white nurse’s hat from a fancy dress shop would complete my uniform and be approved by Guinness World Records.

One of the other conditions, which would cause much head scratching was:

The event must be made on a pre-measured course that is perfectly level or as part of an annual half marathon race.  The course must be measured and marked out by someone suitably qualified, such as a professional surveyor.  This person should also confirm that the average gradient over the entire course is no greater than 1:1000.  If the gradient is steeper than this, the record attempt must be made “uphill”.

A call to Guinness World Records would clarify this.  This meant that the course had to be flat or have more uphill sections than downhill sections.  I had nothing to worry about as the BUPA Great Birmingham Run is an undulating course with the infamous ‘The Hill’, which takes the runners back into the center of Birmingham and the finish line and goes on for over a mile.

Now I needed to start training seriously and start my fund-raising.  Running round Talke in a nurse’s uniform didn’t appeal.  I didn’t have access to a treadmill, so I needed to find a way to simulate running in a nurse’s uniform without actually wearing the costume.  I solved this by wearing two heavy t-shirts and tracksters to simulate the extra weight and to acclimatize to the heat. 

As part of my training preparation I ran the Nuffield Health 10k at Hanley Park in full fancy dress.  This allowed me to make sure there were no issues with my costume as I didn’t want any costume malfunctions on the big day.  Finding out the dress was too long so it restricted my running on the day of the race wouldn’t be good.  I’d heard a story where someone made a costume, only the frame was too small, so he was continuously banging his knees on the frame during the race.  The race would gave me an idea of how my training was going and help me raise the profile of my challenge and increase my fund raising total. 

Standing on the start line in the nurse’s uniform, but minus the tights, I had the usual pre-race nerves; however, I also felt very self-conscious.  Once the gun went and I started running, all that disappeared.  I was in a race and it didn’t matter that I was in fancy dress.  The uniform didn’t restrict my running or cause any chaffing, which could be uncomfortable.  I got lots of cheers round the course and a fantastic cheer as I crossed the finish line.  I would finish 5th in a time of 36 minutes and 10 seconds and win the vet 40 age category.   

With my training and fund raising go well, it very nearly came to an abrupt halt.  Reading through the ‘Materials and Evidence’, one piece of evidence required by Guinness World Records was:

Video footage of the record attempt.

Another call to Guinness World Records to clarify what was required, as getting video footage of the entire half marathon wouldn’t be possible.  The reply from Guinness World Records was:

For records of this nature, you will need to provide full video of yourself during the entire race. It is your responsibility to find the best location to allow you to do this.  This is so we can see that the full costume is worn for the duration of the attempt. If this is not possible, you must get two witnesses to run the entire race with you and testify to you having completed the full distance in accordance with our guidelines.

Witnesses were the answer.  Thankfully a clarion call to my fellow runners at City of Stoke AC would be answered by Dean Richardson and Tom Hendricken.  Both agreed to run the race with me.

After months of training, the big day had arrived and I’d already broken one record, having already raised over £1000.  Trying to get myself ready and go through my pre-race preparation whilst getting two young children ready and have plenty of time to walk to the start line proved eventful.  Thankfully, my parent in-laws were on their way down, so they came to the hotel to look after my two sons whilst my wife and I would walk the short distance to the start line.  Walking through the streets of Birmingham I didn’t feel nervous or self-conscious at all, despite being dressed in my full nurse’s uniform.  It probably helped that the BUPA Great Birmingham run is such a large event with lots of people running for charity and in fancy dress that a runner in a nurse’s uniform didn’t look out of place.

Standing on the start line waiting for Dean and Tom to join me, the nerves started to kick in along with feeling self-conscious, but then I was at the very front in the ‘elite’ pen with the other serious club runners and thousands upon thousands of runners behind me, so feeling nervous and out of place was to be expected.  Once Dean and Tom joined me, my nerves started to settle down again as I waited for the race to start.  The gun goes and the clock starts ticking - one, two, three - counting ever onwards to the target time of 1 hr 25 min 56 sec.    

I start cautiously, but with lots of runners passing me, I wonder whether I’ve started too cautiously. Settling into my stride I try to run relaxed and not worry about the clock but it’s difficult during the first few miles.  As I head out of Birmingham along Pershore Road, I start passing runners who had raced off at the start and this would continue right up to the finish line.  The course would take me past the iconic landmarks of Edgbaston cricket ground and Bournville, home to Cadbury World.  However, I would pass them in a blur.  Passing the half way mark and heading back into Birmingham along Pershore Road once more, I pass thousands of runners going the other way on the outward leg.  A quick look at my watch as I pass the 10-mile marker and I’m on for smashing the record, although I’ve yet to tackle the infamous ‘The Hill’.  Now for ‘The Hill.’  Passing under Bristol Road Interchange with the wind howling through the tunnel adds to this particular challenge.

Image courtesy MarathonFoto

Image courtesy MarathonFoto

Having conquered that, the finish is not far away.  The race commentator made an announcement that I was on course for breaking the Guinness World Record which really got the crowd going; the clock stopping on 1 hour 20 minute and 39 seconds.  I’d beaten the Guinness World Record by over five minutes and finished 81st.  I would learn subsequently that race commenter was another City of Stoke AC runner, Tom Gayle.

Crossing the finish line, the local media would interview my wife and I, and we would feature in the local TV news that evening.  My wife is very proud of my achievement but would rather forget the TV interview.  A few months after the race, I would receive a silver medal in the post.  My Guinness World Record time resulted in me coming 2nd overall in the Midland Masters half marathon championships.  More surprises would follow.  My son would be nominated for a ‘Child of Courage Award’ in The Sentinel’s local hero’s awards and my funding raising would top £1,800 with my employer Amec Foster Wheeler contributing another £1,000 taking the total raised to over £2,800. 

Image courtesy British Heart Foundation

Image courtesy British Heart Foundation

My son is now three and to look at him, you wouldn’t believe that he’d been through two major open heart operations.  Unfortunately, he will need to have one more major open heart operation in the next few years, so the running nurse may well make a comeback or I may consider a different fancy dress costume and go for a second Guinness World Record and raise more money for charity.

I think there must be something in the water, because Stoke - the European City of Sport 2016 -and the surrounding area seems to produce a large number of Guinness World Record holders.  Whilst training for my own record and in the months after my run, I would read in The Sentinel and hear on BBC Radio Stoke, about other people who had broken Guinness World Records.  The ‘Fastest time to complete a 5k course carrying a 40lb pack’, ‘Longest marathon CPR session - team of two’, ‘Fastest man to run a marathon in a wedding dress’, ‘Largest gathering of people dressed as dogs’, ‘Longest recorded goal scored in football’, ‘Heaviest gooseberry’, ‘Most worms charmed’, ‘Fastest speed achieved by a backhoe loader’ and ‘Most clothes pegs clipped to face’ are just some of the many varied Guinness World Records held by people locally.  With so many Guinness World Records held by local people, I wonder if the area may even hold the Guinness World Record for the most records in a single area?

If you don’t think that you can be a record breaker, then think again.  Go online and have a look, as there are plenty of records to choose from as an individual or even as a group.  You can even suggest your own records.  So what are you waiting for?  Set yourself a challenge and join a unique club.

Image courtesy British Heart Foundation

Image courtesy British Heart Foundation