|Marathon runner Mark Vaz. Is this a case of too good to be true?|
Chariots of Fire or Walter Mitty? Doubts raised over runner's incredible Land's End to John o'Groats claim: Taken at face value, it ranks as one of the all-time greatest feats of human endurance. On Sunday Mark Vaz, a 32-year-old window cleaner from Staffordshire, completed an 860-mile charity run from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and posed proudly with a sign showing his time of 7 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes, a staggering 31 hours faster than the 14-year-old record for the journey.
Shortly after reaching his goal, he submitted an application to Guinness World Records to have his achievement ratified, and his place in long-distance running history seemed assured.
|Mark Vaz pictured towards the end of his run.|
But the tightly-knit community of Britain’s ultra-distance runners has now challenged his claim, describing his time as “inconceivable” and branding him a fantasist.
One respected running blogger said it was “just not possible” for a “middle of the pack social runner” to knock more than a day off a record that top-class athletes had failed to beat, while another pointed out that Mr Vaz’s own updates on social media suggested he had run the last 156 miles in little more than 24 hours.
Mr Vaz’s response has been at times contradictory. In the past week he has said he is the victim of jealousy; that he will prove his doubters wrong by repeating the feat; that he is withdrawing his application to Guinness World Records; that he is taking legal action, and that he is giving up running altogether.
Mr Vaz’s Land’s End to John O’Groats run was part of an attempt to run 400 marathons in 400 days, which would also be a record.
Prior to his run, Mr Vaz had a poster made, which he put on his support van, which read: "World Record Attempt, Lands End to John O' Groats.” During the run he kept followers updated with his progress, tweeing: “On target for the world record.”
After the run he changed his Facebook profile picture to an image of himself standing underneath the John O' Groats sign pointing at Land’s End, with white writing which read: "LEJOG 7 days 18 hours 45 minutes." The official Guinness World Record for the run is 9 days 2 hours 26 mins, set by Briton Andrew Rivett in 2002, who ran for an average of 18 hours per day.
Other runners were incredulous. Ross Woodward, whose father Cavin Woodward held the world record for the fastest 100 mile run on a track in 1975, said: "If he hasn't done it in that time, then he hasn't done the full run at all – there's no middle ground.
"If it turned out he had done it, it would be fantastic and he needs to show credible evidence of this."
Mr Vaz, who claimed he was being trolled on social media and subjected to death threats, released a statement on his Facebook page before later deleting it.
It said: “In regards to running and this record I never once stated I beat it or wanted to beat it, I did it for charity which is close to me to raise money. Unfortunately I won't be doing any more due to it affecting my health.
“I will not be going to Guinness now and making it official as I have been hounded by a number of people and it all makes it now all very bitter. Either way I can't win.”
The following day he said he was standing by his stated time after all, and was in contact with Guinness World Records.
“All I feel now is sour grapes,” he said. “I do not even need to comment on the allegations, I know my time and so do my support team who were there with me. If people do not like what I have achieved then that is up to them.”
Andy Nuttall of ULTRA Magazine, who has donated money to Mr Vaz’s fundraising page, said: "I have been following the Mark Vaz story with interest over the last year, and in particular the last week where his running has become less and less credible.
“There is doubt about his attempt – but I’m afraid it’s more than that.
"A performance of this magnitude would, in my professional opinion, propel Mark to the status not only of the greatest UK ultra runner, but probably they greatest ultra runner who ever lived.
“I have already spoken with Guinness about his World Record submission, giving them detailed pointers, if not evidence, as to why this is incredible.”
Dan Park, another ultra-running blogger, said: “It would be the ultimate Rocky storyline. Sadly it appears that this questionable run is beginning to unravel before Mark’s eyes and there is no Rocky script to be played out on the big screen. It seems far closer to a Walter Mitty spin off.”
Mr Vaz took to marathon running after his wife Tammy suffered a series of miscarriages, and has raised more than £3,500 for the baby charity Tommy’s and for Katharine House Hospice.
Last year Mr Vaz featured in national newspapers after running 53 marathons in 53 days, which he also said was a record. He managed to run his marathons while still completing his daily window cleaning round in Penkridge, near Cannock.
Guinness World Records said Mr Vaz did not hold any official running records. A spokesman said: "It would be great to ratify this amazing achievement. We welcome Mark to continue with his application and submit his evidence for review to achieve the Guinness World Records title."
When The Daily Telegraph contacted Mr Vaz, his wife said: “We are taking legal action. I’m not speaking to anyone.”
In the process of his mammoth challenge, the Penkridge window cleaner would also smash the world record for consecutive marathons on consecutive days, which stood at 52. To continue on the 90 theme, Mr Vaz was also aiming to raise £90,000 for Tommy’s. He said he would continue with his window-cleaning round while undertaking the challenge and that he would begin the task on July 7.
Starting in Wolverhampton, his runs would take him through the likes of Walsall, Wheaton Aston, Rugeley, Rochester and Falmouth before finishing in Balloch in Scotland, the scene where he got married to his wife Tammy. He had the route mapped out so he would be able to hand the information over to Guinness and claim the new world record.
By August, Mr Vaz claimed to have run more than 800 miles and it was understood that he had broken the record of number of consecutive ultra marathons run on consecutive days – a record that he does not hold according to the Guinness World Book of Records. They say the record is held by American JC Santa Teresa.
Then it was reported that he had beaten the world record for consecutive marathons on consecutive days after he crossed the line at the Black Country museum to finish his 53rd marathon. Again the Express & Star can reveal that Mr Vaz does not hold this record. The Guinness World Book of Records have Akinori Kusuda from Japan down as the record holder with 52 consecutive marathons – not Mr Vaz.
As October rolled around, Mr Vaz finished his ‘90 in 90’ challenge in Chester – not Balloch – as he then proudly announced that he would be attempting a new challenge, 400 marathons in 365 days. Around the same time he also announced that he would be penning a book on his experiences – although no book is yet published.
Fast forward a week and Mr Vaz was again celebrating, this time as he crossed the line of his 100th marathon in just 97 days. He completed the challenge in Royal Parks, London.
He was due to take some time off from running after the challenges to rest up, but by November he told the Express & Star he had run his 130th marathon. He added that he had not quite worked out the logistics for his 400 in 365 challenge as he continued to run marathons locally.
But there was no slowing down for Mr Vaz, who said he reached the 170 mark in December and then the halfway point in January earlier this year. In the same month he also featured in a promotional video for Microsoft’s new fitness band, which has been viewed over 177,000 times on YouTube. The tech giant have now distanced themselves from Mr Vaz, saying: “Mark Vaz featured in promotional activity earlier this year. “Microsoft Band was not involved in his recent record [LEJOG] attempt. Beyond that, we have nothing else to share.”
In February Mr Vaz allegedly broke the record for the number of marathons run in a year when he completed his 240th, but again Guinness has a separate runner listed as the record holder.
Mr Vaz had previously said on numerous occasions he would be running from Lands End to John O’ Groats in an attempt to break the world record. He said he would complete the challenge in March, but had to pull out due to injury. It was around this time that his coach, Steve O’Brien, said he developed doubts as Mr Vaz would not discuss the injury or reveal any data that he requested, something Mr Vaz strongly denies.
He reattempted the challenge this month and claimed to finish it in world record time, but has now said he will not be submitting the information to Guinness to claim the world record as all he wanted was to raise money and awareness for charity.
Despite the damaging questions over Mr Vaz’s achievements, he must be given credit for the money he has raised for charity – something he has repeatedly said was the core reason for taking on these challenges.
At the time of writing he has raised over £2,000 for Make A Wish, the charity he picked for his LEJOG run. They say they are receiving the money in ‘drips and drabs’ as that is how money is released by Virgin Giving and they have no doubt that ‘the money will come’.