Going the distance with Emma Timmis

On June 9-16, Christchurch’s Emma Timmis will attempt to break the world record for the greatest distance covered on a treadmill in one week. For the three-time Guinness World Record holder, it’s a game she’s played before. Emma tells Metropol Deputy Editor Nina Tucker that it will be no mean feat.

She set her mind to the challenge after witnessing a friend attempt the seven-day record. Emma jumped on a treadmill next to her for three hours. “I thought, this is the most mentally demanding thing. This is awful. This is terrible. Why on earth would you do this.” Soon, she switched it on its side. “If I really wanted to test my mental strength, this would be a fantastic way to do it.”

Photography by Paul Petch

The current record sits at 833.05 kilometres, which breaks down to 119 kilometres per day. “So I’ve just got to try and beat that within the seven days,” Emma laughs. With support from the Christchurch City Council, Sport Canterbury, and some Crusaders running beside her each day, Emma hopes to see a good turnout at Ngā Puna Wai Sports Hub.

Such commitment seems to perk ears up. “People gravitate towards it, they see this adventure happening and they love it.” When running the length of New Zealand, Emma received messages from those tracking her every step, then wondering what they would do once the run finished. “It creates this sense of community.”

Having battled with the treadmill before, with the record she now holds for the longest distance on a treadmill in 48 hours, Emma’s approaching this one as a completely mental game. “It’s going to be hard, even just trying to picture being on day five. I’m doing a lot of mental training being on the treadmill.” Emma explains how contrasting running on a treadmill is to a typical run outside. “It’s a whole different ballgame. I’m trying to test out different games in my mind to encourage myself to stay on the treadmill and stick with it. Your mind is constantly telling you to get off.”

It’s all for a charity called Speed Freaks that she hopes to raise $50,000. Upon attending some of their sessions, Emma says she’s learnt a lot about the importance of what they do. “The Speed Freaks use running and walking beyond being outside and moving your body, they use connection and community to aid recovery and mental distress. Demand is growing, and the Speed Freaks need funding, so Emma is lacing up once again.

It’s also a charity that hits close to home, having experienced her fair share of depression and anxiety amongst injuries and tough times. She says she wouldn’t change it. The resilience gained was worth the struggle. “It was so terrible at the time. But I learned so much about myself and a lot of empathy for other people.”

During those times, with a leg that couldn’t take her running and a mind that couldn’t bear to see others doing so, Emma found a different way to incorporate the sport into her life. “I thought, I’d love to inspire young kids to believe in themselves and live adventurously,” so she wrote a book. The Girl Who Ran Across Africa was born, and Emma used her other love, art, to illustrate it.
Emma was often told how motivating her story was, although for her, it was only a matter of deciding she wanted something and then chasing after it. Soon, with an authentic character and extraordinary life, she started speaking at events. “I love sharing my story and getting the feedback from people that they believe they can go do something. Inspiring people is such an amazing gift.”

Photography by Paul Petch

It might seem that Emma is in a constant state of ‘runners high,’ and that is exactly how she explains it. “It’s just an overall state of feeling happier, more positive, and enjoying life a lot more.” She explains that it’s not instant gratification for her, just a continuous, subtle joy. “My mental state is so much more elevated and enthusiastic about life when I am running.” The benefits of other habits that come with waking up for a run at five in the morning snowball too. “You need to go to bed early. You need to be relaxed before you go to bed. You need to be eating foods. It’s all the other elements that feed into it.”

Emma also has a lot to feel good about. She’s the Guinness World Record holder for the longest journey on an elliptical bike, which she completed in 2017 across Australia, and in 2022 she set a new Guinness World Record for the fastest female to run the length of New Zealand, in 20 days, 17 hours, 15 minutes and 57 seconds. Add to that the 48-hour treadmill record, and a list of other athletic achievements no less notable, including running across Africa. When UK comedian Eddie Izzard, at 57, decided to run 43 marathons in 51 days for charity, Emma realised she could do the same. She started with a run across South Africa, and a few years later ran Africa from coast to coast.

The support network that lifts Emma up each day is paramount, and something that ties in with how important communities like the Speed Freaks are. “It’s people giving up their time to give to another person. That’s one of the greatest gifts, and it’s exactly the same for my crew,” she adds. Emma couldn’t do such monumental things without a team encouraging, record evidence gathering, and showing up to support her. “This will be the last one, however, I have said that before.”

Feeling inspired?
Set up your own challenge fundraiser through Emma’s donation page, and see how you can push yourself to a goal by walking or running from 9-16 June.

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