THE CHALLENGE: break the world record for the longest doubles match – official record time 57 hours 32 minutes 14 seconds / unofficial record time 60 hours 00 minutes 14 seconds
LOCATION: Fitzwilliam LTC, Dublin, Ireland
DATE & TIME: 8am, Friday, 13th July to 8pm, Sunday, 15th July
1. Normal Scoring
2. 25 seconds in between points
3. No 90 second changeover allowed
4. 5 minute break every hour (these 5 minutes can be banked for later usage - 4 hours of play = 20 minutes of break time)
James Cluskey & Dave Mullins vs. Luke Maguire & Dan O’Neill
THE GOAL: 60 hours 15 minutes - raise $20,000 for “Enjoy Tennis” - a tennis initiative that provides free coaching and competition for players with disabilities at tennis clubs all over Ireland
James Cluskey (formerly 145 ATP doubles ranking) came to me last year with the idea of going for this record. I agreed immediately to take part as I knew I would be challenged in some new ways and learn something about myself in the process. I have done some marathons recently that I have not enjoyed very much, and I was searching for an endurance event that captured more of my interests. This ticked all the boxes - tennis, endurance, teamwork, suffering….
We got Dan and Luke involved, and all we needed now was a charitable organisation that could benefit from what we were attempting and could help with the logistics. Enjoy Tennis was the obvious choice as it got to the core of what myself and James are passionate about - tennis. Enjoy Tennis provides coaching and competition for people of all ages with disabilities - visually impaired, cerebral palsy, spinal injury, autism, intellectually disabled and wheelchair users. You can donate to this great cause by going to the following link - ENJOY TENNIS GO FUND ME
We set the date for July 13th - 15th. We thought there would be a lot of interest in tennis around this time due to Wimbledon but we forgot we would be competing with the World Cup coverage also! After months of preparations, a fundraising dinner, and over 60 volunteers recruited to help out on the weekend, it was time to take on the challenge. Here is a journal of what I went through:
THURSDAY, 12th JULY
Just another day, only this was the day before the epic event. I did not get to put my feet, take some naps, maybe a massage and a bubble bath; it was work as usual, drop my son to camp, go to work, prep some things for the next day, pick up my two sons from their football tournament, come home make some food, pack my bag for the weekend and finally to bed. I slept soundly from 10pm to about 4am, but due to my eagerness to stay hydrated the day before I had a strong urge to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, one of my big fears came to be, and I could not go back to sleep, I tossed and turned, counted backwards from 100, visualised my happy space, but none of it worked and I finally got out of bed at 6am.
FRIDAY, 13th JULY
I had to accept the fact that I only managed 6 hours of sleep instead of 8, and keep my nervous system nice and calm. After a shower, 2 pints of water and a big bowl of porridge, I was out the door and arrived at Fitzwilliam by 730am. The next 30 minutes went by in a whir. We went out on the court to take some pre-match pictures but before we knew it the 15 second countdown had started and we were scrambling to get into our positions. I had hoped to go back to the bathroom one more time before we started…. oh well.
We did not do any type of warm-up and just eased our way into a rhythm of play at a relatively slow tempo with rallies of anywhere between 2-5 shots. It would not be possible for us to play anywhere close to our full speed for 60 hours so we were very disciplined with our approach and exerted little strength chasing down balls. I spent most of my energy trying not to focus on my bulging bladder.
By 12pm we were due our first 5 minute break and we were all dying to get to the bathroom. Fortunately, the court set up allowed us easy access to relieve ourselves in the hedges behind our rest area. If we did not have that luxury we would have to eat up at least 2 minutes of our 5 minutes getting to the indoor toilet and back. Every second of rest counts when taking on something like this. The conditions were perfect on Friday, cloudy but warm, no wind and low humidity. We could not have asked for a better start but that would inevitably change over the course of the next two days. By the time our next break came around at 4pm we were starting to feel a little stiff and sore. By now we had settled into what was ahead of us and we felt like we were making some progress. By 8pm we were getting hungry. I had some plain pasta and sweet potato and was still nibbling on it as play resumed eating the sweet potato like you would an apple. At one of the stadiums close by we could hear the Paul Simon concert kicking off and it felt like a typical Friday summer evening in Dublin, with everyone making the most of the great weather.
SATURDAY, 14th JULY
As we ticked past midnight into Saturday the sweaters were on and it was dawning on us just how difficult this challenge was going to be. With only a little over ¼ of the way complete, it did not seem like we had much to show for a full day of tennis. We had different groups of people come in at different times, people on their way in to the city for a night out and people on their way home from a nice meal and a few drinks. All comers were welcome and the discractions were comforting at times, helping the time pass, until it didn’t. The Police paid us a visit at around 2am to break up the party and have us turn off the music. Fortunately they allowed the lights to stay on so we could continue our efforts!
By 430am we were due our first extended break of 70 minutes. I cannot overstate our excitement about this long break. We could see a little bit of dawn appearing in the sky and knew we would be waking up into a new day. We raced into our makeshift bedroom wasting no time getting into our sleeping bags to shut down. Unfortunately sleep alluded us as our minds were racing; we simply did not have enough time to find some peace. Either way, it was nice to get off our feet and not see a tennis ball for a little while. After 55 minutes our trusty volunteers were getting us up to regroup and prepare for another 23 hours of tennis before our next long break. I spent 10 minutes sitting on the disabled seat in the shower soaking up the warm spray, appreciating it as much as any shower I’ve ever had. The minutes were ticking down quickly again, time appeared to be speed up considerably during our breaks and slow down to half speed when we were on the court. I towelled off and changed quickly and laid down with my legs up against the wall until the 60 second countdown.
We knew going into this attempt that Saturday would be a tough day, not quite at the half way mark and the end still no where in sight. The first hour flew by as we got reacquainted with the court, put in our breakfast order and enjoyed the sun rise to the new day. Leo, our expert performance coach (visit Leo's website here at THE HEALTH COACH) was there to check on our bodies and state of mind. He took us through a stretching routine we could do every few hours to try and stay ahead of the pain and tightness that was to come. Before we knew it, 4 hours had passed and we were back to another 5 minute break. From there everything slowed down, our feet started to get sore and you could already feel the heat from the sun. We only have a handful of days each year when you don’t find a cloud in the Irish sky and this was one of those days. This is the type of day we live for here in Ireland but for this challenge the timing could not have been worse. The sunscreen came out, the cold water barrel was filled with ice and we had bottles of water and electrolytes just a few steps from the baseline. Today was purely about survival, physically and mentally. We went into ourselves at times and withdrew from the conversations as needed. We had the TV on in the background with Wimbledon and the World Cup along with some music at times to help distract us and keep the volunteers entertained, as the tennis we were playing was far from riveting. Volunteers came and went, I felt terrible for them having to be out in the heat watching this less than inspiring tennis when they could be at home enjoying Wimbledon on the telly with a cool drink. The volunteers throughout the weekend were phenomenal and did everything they could to ease our burden. We can never thank them enough.
One hour bled slowly into another and by 2pm we were at the half way mark of the challenge. You would think this would be something to celebrate but it was quite the opposite. We had to go ahead and repeat what we had just done on no sleep and tired legs! It wouldn’t be until we got to about 48 hours that we had a sense of making progress and having the end in sight.
We started to get some shade on the court around 6pm, but the heat had already done its damage . My feet were really bothering me by now. Every 8th game I was taking off my shoes and rolling my feet out on a tennis ball in between points, maximising my 25 seconds before serving. This was a painful exercise but seemed to be the only thing I could do to stop my feet from giving up on me completely. The rest of my body hurt but had not deteriorated further since the aches kicked in after about 12 hours of play.
The hours ticked on and as the sun went down we started just hanging on for our 80 minute break scheduled for 4:10am. Or what we thought would be an 80 minute break…..
SUNDAY, 15th JULY
The midnight darkness was a welcome break from the hot day we had just endured but our bodies were now ready for sleep and screaming at us to stop. Dan started to struggle with his calf and back and was having a hard time moving around the court. A debate ensued as to whether we take the 60 minutes we had banked now and take our sleep break or stay on track until 4:10am and take our 80 minutes. The downside of stopping now would be having to wake back up into the dark of night with still 19 hours left on the timer. This sounded extremely unappealing but better to do this and take our chances that we could grind out another 19 hours than have to quit altogether. My wife, Laura, got on the phone to Leo to get his opinion, and he made it clear we were not stop until he arrived. He would be forfeiting a night of sleep on his wedding anniversary to come down and get us through the night….What a stud! We agreed to wait for Leo, and for the next four hours we took our 5 minute break every hour. This ate into what we had hoped would be an 80 minute break but was the perfect compromise, and ultimately turned out to be the correct decision. You can see on the video footage that Leo had a volunteer work on each of us, taking us through some stretches and massage while he worked on Dan on his training table. He also gave us several exercises to do in between points to keep our muscles ticking over until the break.
We finally made it to 4:10am, and we were asleep before our heads hit the pillows. The complete opposite to our break on Saturday night. By now we were too tired to think of anything, we just needed sleep. We agreed to sleep for 40 minutes and then take 20 minutes to shower, change, and get our bodies going again. I heard the volunteers coming up the hallway to wake us up at 5am and I thought I was dreaming, surely 40 minutes had not passed by already? I got out of my sleeping bag expecting my feet and legs to feel better but they had completely seized up and did not want to move. I stumbled to my place in the shower and sat on the chair questioning how I could possibly get on court and keep going for another 15 hours. I begrudgingly left the shower and slowly got dressed, struggling to get my socks on my feet with the doubts about the day swirling around in my head.
We came out to some grey dreary weather, but at least the night had passed and we were one step closer to our target. The quality of tennis hit an all time low those first few hours after our break. It was like our bodies thought the mission was over and had started to go into recovery and repair mode during the 60 minute break. Despite my doubts in those moments, I managed to take it one point at a time and stay very present, not trying to fight what I was feeling both mentally and physically. I just accepted this was how I felt and that nothing was going to stop me from getting to the 60 hour mark. We passed the early hours requesting our favourite songs, and giving each other a hard time about our musical tastes. It took about 3 hours for my body to realise that it was not time to start the recovery and repair process and that it still had a job to do! By then the rain had started, but it helped keep us awake and we found it very refreshing given the hot temperatures we had to deal with the previous day.
By 10am our moods had perked up, we were still struggling but had a sense that the worst of it was behind us, and that some catastrophic event would have to take place to prevent us from getting to the elusive 60 hour target. Personally, I expected to have another dip in energy and some painful moments but they never came. I was surrounded by friends and family and I was astonished with how many people stopped by throughout the day to check on us despite the miserable weather. By now we were taking a 15 minute break every 3 hours and it felt like a lifetime. I spent that time with my eyes closed and my feet in two hot buckets of water. It felt like I was at a 5 star resort!
At 5:32pm we broke the current official record. We did not celebrate or have it affect us in anyway, our focus had always been on reaching the 60 hour mark, and we were still a few hours away. Shortly after this point something strange started to happen, the quality of tennis and our movement around the court was starting to improve! Rather than dragging ourselves over the finish line we were starting to sprint! By the time we got to 60 hours we were playing at what felt like full speed. The crowd counted us down to the 60 hour mark and let out a big cheer as the clock ticked over to that magic number. We agreed to finish out the set we were on rather than putting a time limit on how much further we would go. It took another 24 minutes and 19 seconds to finish out the set and it was only fitting that it finished with a tiebreak with the young bucks beating the old fellas 7-5! After 60 hours 24 minutes 19 seconds and 149 sets of tennis we were done!
We spent the next hour taking pictures, signing autographs, eating pizza and cheesecake and drinking champagne. We were overwhelmed by the level of support and excitement.
I slowly made my way across to the hotel, took a 10 minute bath and passed out in bed. 10 days later I am still recovering but could not be happier or prouder of what we accomplished. I learned a lot (Click Here to read about WHAT I LEARNED BREAKING A WORLD RECORD) and I am very grateful I was asked to be a part of this unique experience.