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Orkney marathon man takes on 3100-mile New York circuit run in wife’s memory

William Sichel is one of a dozen runners taking part in this year's race over 52 days
William Sichel is one of a dozen runners taking part in this year's race over 52 days

IT is the long distance run that can take weeks to complete, and sees competitors run around the same block in the Big Apple a staggering 5649 times.

Ultra-runner William Sichel is preparing to take part in the world’s longest foot race for a second time — less than a year after losing his wife.

William, from Sanday in Orkney, has a claim to be Scotland’s greatest unsung athlete and is the first person aged over 60 to ever complete the gruelling 3100 mile race.

The exhausting run – called the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – sees athletes repeat a street circuit 5649 times.

Competitors have to run at least two-and-a-half marathons a day for 52 days otherwise they are disqualified.

During the race, some of the runners enter a meditative trance, to help them cope with the mental and physical effort.

In a few weeks, 64-year-old William will travel to New York to take part in the race he first completed in 2014.

He had been due to repeat the incredible feat — which he completed over 51 days the first time around —last year.

But he pulled out at the last minute when his wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She sadly died just 24 days later in July.

William, who has had his own personal battle with cancer, said: “I have to admit the circumstances were pretty extraordinary.

“Elizabeth always said I had to cope with a ‘double blow’ with both her bad news and having to abandon such a high-profile event.

“I had spent many months preparing for the run.

“In fact, ridiculous as it sounds, Elizabeth didn’t want her situation to be the reason I didn’t go to New York.

“She still wanted me to start the race even after we had received the news.

“To be honest, as soon as the telephone call came in, my mindset had just changed in a flash.

“In a microsecond I was focused entirely on her care and comfort, with the race a very distant thought.”

William’s late wife Elizabeth

William said the fact she died less than a month later was a hammer blow of gargantuan proportions.

He said: “No one could have foreseen that 24 days later Elizabeth would have passed away.

“Her death will, for me, always be linked with the 3100 and it will be a poignant return in June.

“Long ultra-races are always deeply emotional experiences for me and this year in New York it will be especially so.

“How that will affect my performance, no one knows.”

If he finishes the race he will become one of the few people to have completed it twice.

William was inspired to take up ultra-running 22 years ago.

The super-fit runner found he still had plenty of energy after finishing standard 26-mile marathons. Since then he has gone on to set various records all over the world.

Competitors in the 3100 Mile Race start from 6am and can take breaks, running until midnight if they wish.

About a dozen people have been invited to tackle this year’s event but only around half are expected to finish.

William is hoping to beat his previous time of 50 days, 15 hours, six minutes and four seconds.

And the angora wool dyer also wants to extend his record as the oldest finisher since the event’s inception in 1997.

He added: “I will burn about 10,000 calories a day so I will be eating a lot of ice cream during the race.

“It is the perfect fuel for me. I will get about four-and-three-quarters hours sleep a night and 10 to 15 minute naps every four hours during the actual running.

“The race is as much a mental thing — your mind goes to places you did not know before.

“Mentally I was blown last time. I did not race for eight months afterwards.”