How controversy hit Norfolk man Dave Reading’s world record LEJOG attempt
- Credit: Mark Hewlett
A Dereham father's attempt to run from Land's End to John O'Groats ended in controversy in April and accusations continue to fly - a bizarre story of a failed charity event, race times and online abuse.
On April 6, Dave Reading from Dereham set out from Land's End to run the length of the country.
He had hoped to cover the 837 miles to John O'Groats in world record time, walking and jogging 100 miles a day to reach his destination by April 14.
But just before he began the Land's End to John O'Groats run – known as LEJOG – he dropped the world record bid, claiming he, his family and sponsors were victims of cyber bullies.
Before he got to the start line, he had faced four days of accusations on an online running forum and on social media that the run was a 'scam'. Doubts were even cast about his previous running times at marathons, including the City of Norwich Half Marathon.
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The challenge suddenly ended on the second day, with Mr Reading blaming the failure on internet 'trolls'.
Despite the event receiving lots of coverage on social media, this newspaper and the BBC beforehand, nothing was heard from Mr Reading and his team – until now.
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On the face of it, Mr Reading's story for the LEJOG was inspiring. The 50-year-old is an RAF reservist with eight children.
He claimed he had smoked 60 cigarettes a day from the age of seven until 2014, but had been motivated by his children and a meeting with Sir Mo Farah to run. Now he was going to attempt a world record.
Money from the challenge would go to two military charities – the RAF Association and Walking With The Wounded, with a fundraising target of £10,000.
He attracted sponsors, including endurance clothing company Seal Skinz who selected him as a 'Trailblazer', meaning he appeared on their website with a video about his event.
Local firm Mattressman also gave him support including a fuel card, while a car hire company gave him a van. He said he paid for much of the event out of his own pocket.
But after the run suddenly ended on the second day with only around 90 miles completed, nothing was heard from Mr Reading for weeks. He says he was using that time to gather his evidence in the face of his accusers.
The LEJOG Facebook page was closed, the Twitter account was locked, the website taken down.
The only evidence left of his attempt sits on a website called followmychallenge.com.
It shows he covered around 90 miles from Land's End until the challenge ended near Tavistock at Dartmoor.
But not all of this was on foot – at one point he was travelling 30mph.
Mr Reading says this was because he rode in a van for around 11 miles on the morning of day two to get off the A30, which was too dangerous to run along. That meant the LEJOG attempt was officially over 24 hours after starting.
Mr Reading says that after getting the van they came across roadworks on the A30 which meant they could not run or cycle along the road.
He carried on walking for the rest of the day along a different route, the A38 towards Dartmoor, but he says his blisters were getting worse and worse.
The team, which included a driver and a photographer, as well as one of Mr Reading's sons, stopped just before Dartmoor to go to a walk-in centre and get treatment for the blisters. After that he rode his son's bicycle for some of the way.
'My feet were in a bad way. By that point everything had gone wrong. We agreed as a team we'd get on a bike and get the job done,' he says.
He claimed his training had gone well with long runs completed, so why did he develop blisters by day two?
'That's the million dollar question,' says Mr Reading, adding: 'I had never really trained in the heat.'
According to the weather forecast it was around 14C on the two days of the challenge, but Mr Reading says he was 'horrendously hot'.
But he says the real reason for the failure of LEJOG was because the online abuse he was receiving got too much to cope with.
He added: 'Anybody that had a connection with me, with LEJOG was getting abuse. It was evil.
'I'm all for freedom of speech but when it starts crossing the line and it gets nasty and abusive… you are a bully behind a screen.'
The team called it a day and drove back to Norfolk, arriving in the early hours of Saturday, April 8. He said sponsors were fine with him ending the run and money was still donated to charities.
Rachel Huxford, director of fundraising at Royal Air Forces Association, confirmed they received money through the website Virgin Money Giving and were waiting for money raised offline to come through.
Walking With The Wounded said they had received £1,248.
Andrew Cook, director of fundraising at the charity, said: 'We have spoken to both Dave and his wife Terrie to discuss the event and taken measures to ensure all those that donated to the event have been treated fairly and with complete transparency and as such, where possible, they have been given the opportunity to retract their donation in lieu of the challenge not being completed as intended.'
Four days before Mr Reading left Land's End a post appeared on US running forum LetsRun.com entitled 'Potentially Suspicious Runner To Run 836 Miles in 9 Days for 'Charity''
Suspicions were aroused on the forum about Mr Reading's world record attempt because they said he wasn't a very fast long distance runner.
His time for the London Marathon in 2015 was over five hours. His half marathon times were more than 2 hours.
And some claimed on the forum the money wasn't going to charity. As we have made it clear, the charities have confirmed they received the cash. Mr Reading refutes all the accusations.
Andy Tavin, who first raised suspicions about Mr Reading on the forum, said: 'It piqued the interest of the sleuths on LetsRun.
'What they saw was an average runner with bad running form proclaiming to be able to beat a world record that many prominent elite runners have failed at.'
Ultramarathon runner Robbie Britton, who has represented the UK, added: 'There are only a handful of runners in the UK ultra running world who could be capable of this.
'Running LEJOG is a fantastic achievement for any athlete, no matter how long it takes and it is a shame that runners feel the need to embellish their own attempts.
'If Dave intends to go back and run the LEJOG without talking about the record then he will get the support of the ultra running community, but it seems he either showed great disrespect to the runners before him or just really didn't understand the task.'
But Mr Reading insists he was well prepared.
'I was genuinely going to give it a go,' he says. 'We had some great interest, people were willing to support us and sponsor us. The training was going well. We had everything in place to do a world record attempt.'
Before the run, he claimed he could break the record by walking for 20 hours a day and getting four hours sleep a night.
He says he trained by doing long runs, including running and walking a total of 30 hours from Norfolk to London, although he admits taking a van for some of the distance.
'I was confident,' he says. 'This was never going to be about speed. We were covering about 5mph. The idea was to go without the sleep.'
But he said social media abuse then became 'vile'.
At the heart of the accusations was controversy about his previous stated running times.
He told sponsors and the public that he ran the London Marathon in April 2016 in 3 hours 12 minutes – almost two hours faster than his last marathon six months before in Bournemouth.
But the official race result records his finish time in London as 4 hours 19 minutes.
Mr Reading says this was because his chip did not work – something he complained about to the London Marathon organisers at the time. It meant there were no split times recorded for the race.
'There was doubt and quite justifiable doubt of previous runs and it didn't look good,' he says. 'You've got a chip timing which didn't work, no splits, you've got photos of the London Marathon which are in the last two miles. It looks like I got the number 36, got off at Westminster and went for a little jog.'
His wife has now found a photo of him at nine miles which she sent to the race organisers. They say they are happy to confirm he completed the course, but the timing remains unknown.
He says he is no longer telling people he ran it in 3 hours 12 minutes. He says he got that time from an app on his phone but admits there is 'no evidence' of that now.
His Norwich Half Marathon time for 2015 was also scrutinised by those on LetsRun.com.
According to the half marathon website, he completed the course in one hour and 42 minutes. But he is photographed crossing the finish line next to runners who completed it in around 2 hours and 10 minutes.
And his time has disappeared from the official results of the 2016 Bournemouth marathon after commentators on LetsRun.com raised concerns about his split time.
Unusually for a runner, he ran the second half of the marathon much quicker than the first half, according to his chip time, commentators on LetsRun.com pointed out, recording a total time of 3 hours 43 minutes.
He says he has contacted the organisers of the Bournemouth Marathon about why his time disappeared but has not heard back.
The questioning of his running credentials and times got Mr Reading down on the LEJOG but he has refuted all suggestions that he has done anything wrong.
He says all the issues with his racing times are down to problems with his chip or the event.
Next year Mr Reading says he is going to return to do the challenge by bicycle and on foot, this time from John O'Groats to Land's End to raise awareness of cyber bullying.
'I won't be beaten. They have made into 'potentially suspicious Dave the runner'. I've got to prove we're not cheating,' he says.
This time he says he will not be raising money for charity or attempting a world record.
But the accusations continue to fly on the running forum and social media. The LetsRun.com thread debating Mr Reading is now 104 pages long.
•Running sleuths keep an eye on the times
As long distance running has increased in popularity, concerns have been raised about people exaggerating running times.
The challenge of running LEJOG in world record time has previously attracted controversial runners.
Last year runner Mark Vaz was reported to have abandoned a claim he had broken the world record from Land's End to John O'Groats by 31 hours.
His time was described as 'inconceivable' by other runners. He claimed he was a victim of trolling and had received death threats.
Cheats have been called out on forum LetsRun.com, including one runner who was banned for life from all events after recording suspicious split timings.
The availability of split times for runners in race results pages online, as well as photos from the races, make it easier for suspicious runners to be identified.
Former marathon runner and business analyst Derek Murphy also runs a blog called Marathon Investigation which calls out those who have been cheating.
•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 77 2834