This week, Athletics NSW had the opportunity to hear from new world record holder, Luca Turrini. Luca recently broke the Guinness World Record for distance run over 24 hours on a treadmill. Turrini ran 261.18 km, breaking the previous record of 260.40 km. This is the equivalent to continuously running 6 marathons and a little more. Furthermore, Luca Turrini was motivated to run by using the event to raise money for his charity which raises money for cancer. After losing his mother to pancreatic cancer in 2011, Luca talked about how running played a big part in helping him cope with his mother’s death. From then on, he has continued to use this motivation to run and raise money for cancer research.

We asked him several questions regarding his record breaking performance and how he was able to overcome some of the mental aspects in such a tough challenge to undertake:

When did you first start considering an attempt to break the world record, and how did it all fall into place to become a reality?

The seed for this record attempt was planted on Saturday February 18th 2012. The day before I had run a marathon on a treadmill for charity and I woke up sore and mentally drained wondering how far people go on treadmills. 24 hours! 238km (record at that point)! In 2015, I gave in to the curiosity and staged a charity fundraiser in Martin Place in Sydney and went for 24 hours. In that occasion I covered 210km and the hours during the night were absolute hell. I bonked and walked for ages, hanging on to the treadmill handles to save my life. Deep inside I knew I could have done better.

Then in 2016, I was moved to raise funds for a children’s cancer charity, Camp Quality, and felt ready to up the stakes and attempt the record: 260.4km. I successfully pitched the idea to the director of the Fitness Show and Technogym and started working on it in October. The idea was to attempt 3 Guinness World Record for the furthest distance run on a treadmill in 24 hours by a female team of 12 (Laura James, Cassandra Fien, Lauren Hamilton, Renee Everett, Fiona Yates, Cathy Liu, Jacqueline O’Connor, Ruth McGuinness, Ellen Waterman, Emily Donker, Sophie Ryan, Lidia Scotto di Vetta), a male team of 12 (Jeff Hunt, Ben St Lawrence, Martin Dent, Dani Andres, David Criniti, Brendan Davies, Matthew Cox, Luke Schofield, Jayden Schofield, Tim Watts, Jason Ibrahim, Andrew Heyden), and a male solo (me).

The event took place on April 29th & 30th at the Sydney Convention Centre as part of the Sydney Fitness Show.

Furthermore, Luca Turrini was motivated to run by using the event to raise money for his charity, Outrun Cancer, which encourages people to take action against cancer and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

After losing his mother to pancreatic cancer in 2011, Luca talked about how running played a big part in helping him cope with his mother’s death.

From then on, he has continued to use this motivation to “Run, Prevent & Inspire”.

What inspired you to start running, and how did you decide to do it as a way to raise money and awareness for cancer?

Sydney and its running community inspired me to run. I started running when I moved here in

  1. I got immediately hooked by the beauty of the Sydney harbour and parks, accessibility of the spectacular trails, the positive energy and welcoming of the running community, the sense of achievement and mental peace you experience after a run.

Running played a big part in helping me cope with my mother’s cancer and it seemed a natural progression to use it to make my contribution to the cause, particularly around prevention through lifestyle choices. I organize annual events, the OUTRUN CANCER Corporate Treadmill Marathon, in different gyms around Sydney and we raised close to $600k to date.

Next, we asked Luca about what he did to train for an event of this and how he aimed to achieve his goal distance. He explained the rigorousness of the training all together and illustrated just how much of a sacrifice he made to be able to break the world record. Luca outlined his physical training schedule, and offered insight into his diet and nutrition leading up to the run.

What was training like? How did you prepare yourself for a run that long and that far? What was your diet like?

Training was borderline monastic obsession. No fun or social recreational runs, every session was focused to one single outcome – to run 261km on a treadmill. From January onwards, 95% of my running was on a Technogym Myrun treadmill in my garage, averaging 150km a week plus strength classes, running at every hour of the day and night to become attuned with how my body and mind felt at different times and how it responded to nutrition and fatigue. Nutrition wise, I tested several combinations of foods, fluids, electrolyte and caffeine to provide me with 350 calories/hour and give me enough variety in case I got sick of a flavor. The big discovery for me was the difference a teaspoon of sugar x hour made to my clarity of mind. My long runs were typically 5 to 8 hours and I did one 12h dress-rehearsal – which I am not grateful it was a disaster: I basically thrown my nutritional plan out of the window. Most times I ran without music or entertainment. “Just run” – I told myself – “it’s all good mental training”

The ultimate goal for the training was to put together a hour by hour schedule for pace and nutrition and an arsenal of tools I could use on the day, for my support crew to follow.

Following this, our next couple of questions for Luca regarded mental toughness and keeping focus during the run. He talked out various strategies he used to keep his mind from wandering and insight into his mindset while running. Additionally, Luca provided us with some advice he would give to other distance runners both new and experienced.

What was your mindset throughout the duration of the run? How did you keep focused? Was there anything specific you were thinking about to keep you motivated?

I was confident and somewhat in control. I kept focused by looking straight ahead at a red dot I placed on a pole straight opposite my treadmill. That focal point allowed me to lock in position and turn my attention inward, instead of being distracted by what was happening around me and being worried by the danger of falling off the back or unconsciously grabbing on the treadmill which meant immediate disqualification. When I was upbeat or in control, I focused on the “HOW” (posture, pace, splits, nutrition), when in the hurt locker I focused on the “WHY” (charity cause, the families we were helping, the teams beside me, my family).  I fed off the support of people to keep me motivated and accountable: the amazing support crew, friends visiting throughout the night, volunteers, my wife Lidia, my running idols running hard next to me and the 45,000 people (!) who tuned in to our Facebook video live stream.

What advice would you give to new distance runners in regards to mental toughness? How important is it for distance runners and reaching their goals?

In my view, distance/endurance running is anything lasting ~3 minutes or longer and the longer you go, mental fitness becomes equally if not more important than physical fitness. My reasoning is that for these efforts we make a conscious decision of how close we are willing to remain to our physical limits in respect to the distance/time left to travel. The result of that decision is based on our previous experiences, perception of ourselves and the value we give to that run. In essence, how we answer the question: How bad do I want it?

For ultra long stuff, everything else being equal (no injury, appropriate training, nutrition), my experience is that mental training counts for 75% of the result. Remaining 20% is nutrition and 5% physical conditioning.

It’s going to hurt for a long time, there is no escaping that. The sooner you accept and embrace that the better. We stop or slow down due to a “feeling” which is totally mental, rather than something physical: the muscle cannot physically contract anymore.

How do you keep your focus and not allow your mind from wandering while you’re running? and are there any specific things you do or strategies you would suggest to other distance runners?

Sometimes it’s good to let our mind wander off. This is why running is so good for our minds! During race or mindful training, in my opinion, the balancing of the “HOW” and the “WHY” is an essential skill to master. While everyone’s WHY is different and very personal and requires self discovery (this is what gets you up in the morning and push through the tough patch), the HOW can be helped along. I am very specific in planning how the race should and could unravel, visualizing my pace and feelings so that for most of the time I have something to go back to when a different thought comes to mind. For this particular run, because of the treadmill, I used lots of sensory aids such as music, two movies, particular people around me at certain times, a set of questions my support team had to ask me every half hour, a focus point and a routine of nutrition, all to help bring me back into the moment. For everyone it’s different and much depends on the type of race. Like everything, it comes down to practice.

Lastly, Luca took us through his emotions throughout the run. He illustrates how the support of everyone at the event inspired him and describes what he felt once he had finally broken the world record.

Was there ever any doubt during the run that you were going to be able to break the record? Take us through the emotions and what you were thinking while everyone was counting down the last 10 seconds of the run.

At no point throughout the whole run I doubted that I could make it.  Even during the toughest time, when I cried from the physical and mental pain of the challenge, I was confident and somewhat in control. There was too much at stake. I was fully invested in the success of this run and the overall event. After the support and trust received from everyone involved, from the team runners to family, volunteers, charity, sponsors and partners, supporters and donors, the only way I could get off that treadmill was with a record distance or if I face plant on the belt and fell unconscious. Or both.

Hitting each of the twenty-four 1 hour splits with pretty accurate precision also helped fueling this confidence.

I cannot recall much of the last minutes or 10 seconds countdown either. The one thing I do remember is that I was very nervous during the last hour. As per my master plan, I had only a tiny lead and I didn’t want to mess it up and let everyone down. I was so nervous I turned the speed down to run the slowest of the whole 24 hours. Only with 500 metres to go and 6 minutes left on the clock I finally broke my concentration and smiled.

When I broke the record it was a total liberation. I could finally get off that damn treadmill!!! Actually not yet – as Jeff running next to me quickly pointed out, I still had 3 minutes to go!

I felt and still feel full of gratitude and pride for what we achieved on the day and the whole campaign which goes way beyond the records. We started the day as different teams: male, female, solo, volunteers, supporters, public and we finished as one single, united, strong team. This is not something you can plan for, it was organic. It is the magic that happens at the intersection of a passion and a worthy cause. This is what successful individuals, corporations and ultimately societies strive for: unity and purpose to make incredible things happen.

Below are a few interesting facts and statistics the Luca sent us from the event involving the other teams that also set world records along side himself.

As runners we are obsessed by stats and fun facts so see below:

Male Team Record Run: 424.63km (10 marathons!) – 3:23 pace. The runners switched every 10 minutes “slowing down” the treadmill to 17-17.5km/h! If we assume they lost 5 seconds during each change, this totals to 12 minutes of “slower” running over 24 hours!

Female Team Record Run: 346.24km (8 marathons) – 4:09 pace. They lost a key runner the day before the event so my wife Lidia stepped in to do half an hour overnight. The runners switched every 30 minutes. The original record distance to beat was 319km but a few days after our event, GWR rectified a new record of 344.95km set a year prior! So the girls just made it!

Solo run: 261.18km (6 marathons) – 5:31 pace. This includes 7×5 minutes toilet/mental breaks.

 

Written by Ben Schram