If we're going to keep track of lifetime miles, then we need to know who the world record holder is. Both to inspire us all, and to set an standard for those who want to go for the gold. I'm not a stat nut, an Excel genius, or even very picky about precise mileage totals. I'm willing to accept anyone and any claims that seem reasonable.
But I don't think Gordon Pirie's supposed world record for total lifetime miles is reasonable. On various web pages, I've read that he accumulated anywhere from 215,000 to 241,000 total lifetime miles. I've also read that the Guinness Book of World Record people accepted his 215,000 as a world record.
However, it seems highly unlikely to me. Pirie, of Great Britain, died of cancer at age 60. And he lived and excelled--he won a silver medal at 5000 meters in the 1956 Olympic Games, and set 5 world records during his lifetime--in an era where interval training held sway over longer-distance training. By contrast, fellow Britisher Ron Hill has been a prodigious marathoner and distance runner for most of his 70 years, yet says his lifetime mileage total is 151,000.
How could Pirie have logged 60,000+ more miles than Hill?
Here's a comment from Hill himself, received May, 2015: "I just worked out that if you took Gordon Pirie’s lifetime claimed mileage as 215,000 it would mean that he ran 100 miles per week from the age of 19yrs. until his death at 60yrs without missing a week. A tall order. Plus was this figure a guestimate ? What about training logs and other documentation ? In his 1961 book “Running Wild” he details some of his training – a one month build up to a big race and I can’t see 400 miles in that. Regards, Ron."
Until we get more proof, I'm going to take the stand that he didn't. That means the current world record holder might be Fred Herbert, who's listed at 228,300 total lifetime miles at this page of the web site of the U.S. Running Streak Association. I don't know Herbert, but I think I'll try to track him down next.
With regard to Pirie, here are some comments by a British friend, athletics historian, great runner and book author John Bryant. Bryant has written outstanding books about Roger Bannister's first sub-4:00, the history of the London Marathon, and the story of the 1908 Olympic Marathon--the first race over 26 miles, 385 yards.
That figure for Pirie seems like rubbish to me. If you study his
training while at his peak in Running Wild you can see that it doesn't
add up to anything like that. A lot of his training was interval
work, and even if you add up all the warming up etc it doesn't amount
to mega-mileage. There were also some rest days and days spent in
travel etc. Pirie sometimes trained twice a day, but never (rarely)
three times a day as per Dave Bedford.
Take his run up to a world record in 1956....
Aug 25 16 x 330yds. Average 46 secs
Aug 26 No running - had his car stolen
Aug 27 25 min run in heavy rain
pm 25 x 220, 27.5, interval 220 jog
Aug 28 am 4 x 880 yds 2m 06 secs, interval jogs 440 yds
pm3,000m in 8:40
Aug 29 40 mins fast and slow
Aug 31 rest
Sep 1 Rest
Sep 2 40 minute run, travelled to Sweden
Sep 3 am 40 min run
pm 40 min run
Sep 4 3,000m race in 7:52.8 (world record)
OK....this is easing for a race, but if you look at his training a
month before it is mainly interval work - very hard, but not that
mileage hungry. He also did regular weight training.
If I had to guess, I would put his life-time mileage at closer to
140,000 rather than 240,000. He was not a marathon runner unlike Ron
----------------------------- Another John Bryant email, re Gordon Pirie
I got to see Gordon late in his life (he died in 1991) while he was
working as a lumberjack in the New Forest. I saw him occasionally
with Chris Brasher. Pirie ran in the London Marathon in (from memory)
the late 1980s. He planned to run with me, but dropped out at around
22 miles. I used to joke with him that he could keep running for ever
as long as he found things to think about. But he ran out of thoughts
One of the topics of conversation between me and Chris Brasher in the
pubs on Wimbledon Common was how many miles athletes had covered in
their life times. I would always champion Arthur Newton, while
Brasher would go for Pirie and Ron Hill, and of course it was all
open-ended because Pirie and Hill hadn't finished yet. Hill keeps a
remarkable record of every mile he's done. He told me that in
December 2004 he had clocked up over 145,000 miles so far. He's still
running 20 to 30 miles a week so he'll need some catching.
I am sure that Gordon Pirie must have clocked up well over 100,000
miles. He was already running when he was inspired by Emil Zatopek in
the1948 London Olympics. That legacy inspired him not just to run
every day, but to put in big mileages. He kept that up through out
his competitive career, when all received wisdom was that he did too
much mileage, and set a pattern that was carried through much of his
life. So 40 years after he had been inspired by Zatopek, he was still
scoffing at the amount of mileage I was covering (around 70 mpw at the
For my part, I suspect that I have passed the 100,000 mark some while
ago. I started racing in 1958, at age 14, and this year at age 64 I
have run four marathons. My training diaries have been sporadic, but
when I've keep them some of the totals have shocked me with totals of
up to 100 in 60s, 70s and early 80s. I was on a steak of 12 years
(which unlike Ron Hill meant that I had to run at least 3 miles every
day, and occasionally 10 times that). An accident in late 1980s
slowed me down a lot, but I struggled back up to 70. At 64 I'm down
to 25-30, though it goes up a bit before marathons and I still run my
son's age in miles every birthday (he's now 34!) But who's counting?
There aren't any medals for wearing out shoes. But I haven't quite
hit the mileage I existed on 50 years ago at the age of 14....but
there's plenty of time left yet.