You can watch a full-length video documentary about my journey to the 24-hour chin-ups world record in the link below and you can also read about it in the event report which follows…
Event Report: 24 Hour Chin-Ups World Record (25th-26th September 2020)
It’s hard to know where to start, having just completed my assault on the 24-hour chin-ups world record a few hours before I started writing this report…
Some of you will remember that in 2019, a few months after setting the Double End-To-End world record for riding an ElliptiGO bike twice across Britain, I had announced my next endurance challenge would be an attempt at the 24 hour pull-ups world record. I wanted to take on this challenge on 16th November 2019, which was my late brother Garai’s birthday, but setting myself that date only allowed me a little over 5 months to train for it.
I knew 5 months would be a very short time to prepare for something so epic, but I was drawn to the challenge as a fitting tribute to my late brother Garai – and also as a true test of my skills as a fitness coach. It was very important to me that I took on this world record attempt on Garai’s birthday despite the short preparation time I had. This target date led to me pushing myself quite hard in training; trying to get the fastest possible progress in my fitness conditioning.
My elbows developed weaknesses due to the heavy training and especially because of the lack of adequate recovery between training sessions (tennis elbow) but I had quickly learned new techniques to get around those recovery issues and had built my training up to 1,600 pull-ups per session by October of 2019 (a training load which I had felt would be sufficient to allow me to do thousands of reps and get all the way to the 24 hour pull-ups world record).
In my final training session before taking on the pull-ups world record I had injured my right shoulder, slightly. It wasn’t actually very sore, but something negative seemed to have happened. In the week of rest leading up to the world record attempt that shoulder issue had seemed to completely resolve and I had gone into the world record attempt on 16th November feeling well prepared and optimistic.
The world record attempt was a pretty brutal experience and after 10 hours of pacing comfortably ahead of world record pace my shoulder had started to hurt in that same area that got injured during training. Within two hours the shoulder injury was so bad that, coupled with fatigue, I was forced to pull out of the world record attempt at 3,856 reps – after barely being able to execute any more reps from 12 hours onwards.
I already wrote a detailed update about my unsuccessful pull-ups world record attempt on my fundraising page so I won’t go into too much more detail about it in this report. For a month after my pull-ups world record attempt I wasn’t able to do any pull-ups training (not that I’d wanted to) and instead I had got back to my ElliptiGO cycling and my electric muscle stimulation (EMS) general whole-body fitness conditioning sessions. But I avoided pull-ups because I still wasn’t recovered from the injury.
In the middle of December 2019 I had attempted to add pull-ups back into my training but I noticed that my shoulder still hurt whenever I tried them. However, if I turned my hands around into the reversed (chin-ups) grip instead of using the forward-facing pull-ups grip I realised the reversed grip brought my elbows forward and aligned my shoulders much better, allowing my chest muscles to play a more stabilising part in the movement. And, importantly, there wasn’t too much discomfort if I used the chin-ups version of the exercise.
So I had substituted chin-ups for pull-ups as part of my rehabilitation from the end of December 2019. I had also started doing more push-ups in my full body workouts, to help strengthen and rehabilitate the injured shoulder. By January 2020 I realised I could do pull-ups again and I had wondered if I should try to rebuild myself for a second go at the world record. But whenever I tried to do ‘meaningful’ numbers of pull-ups my shoulder didn’t feel right.
So I just kept increasing my chin-ups reps and hoped that would sustain my fitness until my shoulder was strong enough to do more pull-ups. But by February 2020 it was clear that I could increase my chin-ups training volume much faster than my pull-ups training volume. And, because the exercises are almost the same, I figured I could target the 24-hour chin-ups world record instead of the 24 hour pull-ups world record (knowing that my body could handle the chin-ups exercise quite well).
I had gradually built up to doing up to 700 pull-ups in a single session, but it was clear that my right shoulder felt weakened whenever my training exceeded 600 pull-ups in a single session. However, in the same period of time (by the end of March 2020, when the first UK lockdown had been imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic) I’d built up to routinely doing 1,000 chin-ups in a single session.
At that point, when the coronavirus lockdown period was declared, I had set up my bar in the garage and decided I would pursue the 24 hour chin-ups world record instead of the corresponding pull-ups world record.
Even though the total numbers of chin-ups I was doing in my weekly training sessions were now more than double my pull-ups numbers, I had noticed my chin-ups pace was still nowhere near as quick as my pull-ups pace. However, all the chin-ups world records have lower rep numbers than the corresponding pull-ups world records, so that gave me hope that the chin-ups 24-hour world record of 5,094 could be attainable – despite my comparative lack of pace in that exercise.
I had plateaued at a maximum of around 1,200 chin-ups per session in my training between March & June 2020 because I was developing new injury problems (this time it was golfer’s elbow). But I realised that mixing between the two exercises, by alternating from chin-ups to pull-ups in each successive training session, would protect my body because the weak point for the chin-up is different to the weak point for the pull-up.
So, by doing each exercise just once a week, I was still getting two solid endurance training sessions on the bar every week and I was still giving my body a full week to repair the weak spots caused by each exercise I was doing. I had also started taking an anti-inflammatory medical grade omega 3 oil supplement which had rapidly resolved the joint inflammation injuries I had been prone to and from June 2020 onwards I had been perfectly healthy and was able to increase my training volume again.
This gave me a clean run of about 3 months to build up to peak endurance training on the chin-ups bar, but I still needed a more personal source of motivation for this challenge and I decided to target my Mum’s 70th birthday for my chin-ups 24 hour world record attempt. I slowly built up to 1,500 reps per session in my heaviest training month (August 2020) with one of my chin-ups training sessions reaching 1,825 reps.
But my weekly pull-ups training sessions never exceeded over 500 reps during this period, in order to keep my shoulders and elbows strong. So I would do 2 training sessions on the bar each week – one with high reps of chin-ups and the other always restricted to ‘just’ 500 reps of pull-ups. And I had spent a whole month tapering down my training from the end of August, reducing from a peak of 1,825 reps to ‘just’ 500 reps per session in the week before the world record attempt.
In the days leading into the challenge I became unusually tense and introverted. I couldn’t tolerate other people’s company for very long and my sleep was regularly disrupted by feelings of anxiousness (meaning that I was lucky to get 6 hours of sleep each night and I’d often wake for no reason at 3am in the morning). I felt like a caged tiger…
On 25th September, my Mum’s 70th birthday and also my world record attempt day, I woke up and got out of bed at 4am – having had about 6.5 hours of sleep. I tried to be as normal as possible that morning, taking my son to school before heading to the Bodystreet Milton Keynes Fitness Studio where the world record attempt was to be staged.
My support team was split into daytime and night-time groups. The daytime group consisted of Katherine (a Bodystreet fitness client), Alistair & Phil (fitness coaches from Bodystreet Milton Keynes), Alan (who rode with me in the double End-to-End world record in 2018) and my buddy Tim (who is a very experienced and very accomplished ultra-endurance athlete). The night-time group consisted of Steve & Stu (two extremely experienced and accomplished ultra-endurance athletes) and Jack & Rupam (also Bodystreet fitness clients).
Because of his elite endurance cycling background (and also because of the fact that I couldn’t imagine how I could keep churning out hundreds of chin-ups to beat the 24 hour world record target of 5,094 without hitting full muscle failure first) I had held a number of strategic planning meetings with Steve from my support team, in the weeks prior to my 24 hour chin-ups world record attempt.
Based on Steve’s suggestions in those meetings I had gambled on a pacing strategy for the 24 hour chin-ups world record attempt which was very similar to how I’d pace my energy expenditure in a very long and very difficult cycling challenge. Because we’d both done numerous 24 hour cycling events it was the only real data we both had for how I should expect to perform over a sustained 24 hour period of exertion. So we’d made the decision based on my cycling performances and I was happy to succeed or fail by it.
We’d started the world record attempt at exactly 10:30am on Friday 25th September 2020…
I was extremely focused and still very nervous, so I didn’t want to speak to anyone – unless I absolutely had to. I had even asked my helpers not to speak to me unless I specifically asked them something and I had played relaxing music to keep the atmosphere in the room calm. For variety, I had also played an interesting Audiobook about the 1953 Mt. Everest Expeditions which most of us in the room had found quite interesting (and also quite pertinent to the pioneering ‘feel’ needed for a world record attempt like the one I was engaged in).
The first 6 hours of the world record attempt had passed quite ‘fast’ and I felt relaxed and calm. The next 6 hours had involved a lot of media work with a television crew from ITV. I also did some radio interviews with the local BBC radio station (BBC 3 Counties Radio) which has supported and covered all my world record challenges in memory of Garai.
But going into the night had been mentally hard. I had started the challenge feeling sleepy, because of the lack of sleep I had experienced all week, but that sleepiness had really intensified after the sun went down. For the first 14 hours of the challenge I had eaten a diet of only sausage rolls, pies and pastries. I had nibbled on them almost constantly, in between the large gulps of water I was taking during every interval between my sets of chin-ups.
Around 1am (on 26th September) I had become extremely sleepy and the support team had suggested that I start drinking coffee and try eating sugary foods (both of which I had tried to resist up to that point). But things were now quite tough-going so I had requested a large latte and I had started eating biscuits with it.
From that point I’d stopped eating anything that resembled ‘real food’ and I’d only snacked on biscuits (every half hour, or so) and I systematically drunk large lattes every 5 hours after midnight. Doing so did pick me up (somewhat) and I had also changed from not wanting to speak to anyone to wanting to talk constantly – which was actually hurting my very dry throat after a few hours! The laser focus I had needed to get myself through the daylight hours didn’t seem necessary at night and talking to people had then felt more useful to me.
When the sun rose again my spirits rose with it. That was one of the toughest nights of endurance I have ever experienced. When I do long bike rides I quite enjoy riding into the night and then into the morning. But being enclosed in a fitness studio on a chin-ups bar is less enticing and is not enjoyable. There was no part of doing chin-ups that was enjoyable, except the realisation that I was getting closer and closer to my goal. My strategy was very simple and I had remained very disciplined through the whole challenge. But as we hit 4,000 reps the magnitude of the endeavour had really weighed on me.
The support team was very good at keeping me motivated and focused through the night, even though they were suffering as much as I was from sleep deprivation. They had somehow managed to help me conceptualise my success by focusing on bite-sized chunks of the task and not being overwhelmed by just how far away the world record still seemed to be – even after 19 hours of systematic pursuit. At 4,700 reps I had a scare when a new blister had suddenly appeared between the two last fingers on my left hand and then popped.
Until then we were just dealing with blister problems on the right hand, which had got more and more uncomfortable until we bound it in physiotherapy tape. But the left hand was intensely more painful when that first blister had developed and the physiotherapy tape wasn’t enough to protect it. So we added duct tape as well as the physiotherapy tape and bound the hand lightly, to avoid creating any pressure and restricting my blood flow. I wasn’t able to fully hold onto the bar from that point and although I was ‘just’ 400 reps from the world record I was worried that the blisters might be painful enough to prevent me from reaching it. As is customary for me in such a situation, I had just prayed for my success and believed that I would make it.
By the time I reached the 5,000 chin-ups mark I knew I had it in me to break the world record and I knew I deserved to break it, because I had prepared correctly and I had chosen the best strategy. But success was delicately hanging in the balance due to the pain in my hands, which I later discovered were both covered in various shapes and sizes of predominantly painless blisters. But when I hit 5,000 reps – with the sun now shining, yet another coffee in me and also another ITV reporter in the studio making a news report – I had suddenly shaken off the pain in my hands and I felt exactly how I’d felt when I had just started. I wasn’t in any pain and I wasn’t tired any more!
We all knew from about 4,000 reps onwards that I could comfortably pass the world record, but we never took it for granted. I knew a muscle or tendon could still tear unexpectedly, or I could get ill, or the blisters could become so bad that they would be unbearable. So I leaned on my Faith knowing I was in God’s hands and believing that if it was the Will of God I would break the chin-ups world record, which I had been training for since December 2019. It was just a waiting game for us in that room. We knew I was ahead of schedule and Steve’s strategy for the pacing was working well.
But I was impatient as I drew up to the 24-hour chin-ups world record of 5,094 reps which was last broken in 2016 and had now stood for four years. After what had felt like being stuck in a ‘time-warp prison’ I had exactly matched the world record of 5,094 reps and paused at that number to ‘conjure up’ the spirit of the late Garai Makaya. There had been no emotion for me until I finally reached that point. Then something had compelled me to get my t-shirt (which had a message in memory of Garai) off the nearby hanger and I had put it on so that I could break the world record while wearing it…
After I completed my next set of chin-ups and broke the world record I had immediately taken to one knee to make the sign of the cross and acknowledge God for bringing me through this ordeal. Immediately after breaking the world record I’d felt a huge wave of emotion. I had thought about my brother Garai. I had contemplated the fact that I was only here, breaking the world record, because he was gone. And he’d never return…
I had momentarily reconnected with the hidden grief that must have been suppressed deep in my brain in order to allow me to lead a normal life after experiencing this type of loss. The grief had bubbled out as if it were new. Maybe it was just a combination of fatigue, caffeine, sugar – and relief… But I’d needed a good few minutes to re-compose myself in the back office of the fitness studio before coming back out to finish the remainder of my task.
There was only about an hour of ‘workout time’ remaining after the media interview (and after talking with everyone else who was gathering outside the fitness studio). And, once again, my support team had really helped keep me focused on getting the most out of myself and doing a true 100% effort. We’d initially aimed to complete at least 5,300 reps to give some meaningful space from the old record but when I got to 5,300 we realised there was still a little more left in me, so I then went out at the fastest pace I could sustain and squeezed another 40 reps out of myself before the event was officially stopped at 5,340 reps in total for the 24 hour period.
A new world record!
I haven’t had time to take it all in or process it in its full depth and it seems like the effort of surviving those intense 24-hours of effort has sapped any excitement out of me that I would have expected to feel after I finally achieved my goal (and after 10 months of training and sacrifice). But right now, as I write this report on the same day I finished the challenge, all I feel (apart from extremely sore muscles in my arms, chest, neck and back!) is a huge sense of humility. There is also a little bit of pride and some satisfaction. But I mainly feel humility. I realise I got here because of the people around me and also because of the people that have done this before me and led the way for me.
I probably had a bit of ‘impostor syndrome’ before attempting to break the 24-hour chin-ups world record, because I didn’t know if I truly belonged in such an ‘elite’ group of individuals. But afterwards I know it was simply about putting in the required work. I did enough in my preparation to deserve to break the world record. I’m not better than anyone else. And I don’t think I am the fittest person on the planet, just because I pulled this off. I just happen to be the latest person to work out this ‘puzzle’ and for that reason I got to play my part in advancing the 24-hour chin-ups world record.
To end off, I must thank all the people who have guided or supported me through all of this – my wife, my children, my wider family, my friends and my colleagues. I long ago realised that the people I surround myself with will play a pivotal role in my success. Under pressure, if you are surrounded by the wrong people, you won’t get the right outcomes.
I honestly wouldn’t have succeeded in breaking the chin-ups world record if I didn’t have all these ‘quality people’ around me, for all these years, giving me the right guidance whenever I was stuck. If I was asked what the biggest key to succeeding in something like this was I’d probably say it’s having the right friends and having the right family – having people who tell you what you need to hear, not what you’d like to hear. Only people who really care about you will tell it to you like it really is – and they always do so in a way that you know is genuine, to ensure that you actually listen and act on their advice.
And, lastly, I must acknowledge my late brother Garai for inspiring me (through his own example) to reach further into myself and to strive harder to become the most authentic version of myself. I have always pushed hard to be my best, but after we lost Garai I realised there was still a bit of room for me to push harder. I realised that I wasn’t using my full potential and setting all the goals I really wanted to set for myself.
I’d realised I was cruising nicely, but I actually had more in reserve. Garai always left nothing in reserve. He went 100% in everything. He was completely consumed by whatever he chose to do. Sometimes I thought his all-or-nothing approach was a bit too intense (and trust me that says something, coming from me)! But after he died I realised Garai’s approach was actually a beautiful thing. 98% is terrible if you have 100% in you.
Why settle for a lesser version of yourself? Holding back is a tragedy if it turns out that, like Garai, you only actually had 41-years within which to live out your full life. None of us really knows how long we’ll live, so that’s a good reason in itself to give our all in everything we do and squeeze the most value out of every day we have. That way, you will never feel any regret for not making the most of the time you’ve spent on this planet.
There were so many challenges and adventures I had fantasized about over the years and that told me I was creating a barrier between what I thought was reality and what I thought was fantasy. I realised that many of the things I fantasized about were actually things I had wanted to do and could do – like breaking certain fitness world records. I realised I had been inadvertently holding myself back and picking and choosing which dreams to pursue and which dreams to call fantasies. But after Garai died my dreams and my fantasies had merged…
I was no longer going to be afraid to step out of the plane and jump – knowing that God would land me wherever He wills me to land. I think our dreams are God’s way of speaking to us. Guiding us to set the right goals. An assessment of Garai’s 41 years on this planet had shown me that he had used his time wisely and I needed to make sure the ‘post-mortem’ of my own life would be the same. They should be able to say: “He gave it everything…”
I now realise my life must be lived fully because it is a gift. Much like I experienced during the 24 hour chin-ups world record attempt, the clock never stops once it’s been started. So everything has to be done within the time we have been given. And because we don’t know what will come next, we must not compromise on reaching our full potential in the here and now. Just focus on the ‘set of chin-ups’ you’re doing right now and the future will take care of itself…
May God bless you.