Running a marathon is an impressive feat all on its own — but as one woman discovered, adding a pair of three-inch stiletto heels to the mix may be the perfect recipe for a Guinness World Record (and maybe a broken ankle or two).
After reading about a woman who attempted the stiletto marathon a few years prior in London without completing the race, 27-year-old Irene Sewell took on the challenge while running the 7 Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She completed the event two minutes ahead of her required time limit of seven hours and 30 minutes.
“I had a year to train — which I needed both physically and mentally,” Sewell told People. “I began running all my runs in heels, but quickly learned that was an easy way to wear my feet out and toed the line of possibly getting injured.”
In order to avoid the likelihood of an injury, Sewell consulted with a podiatrist who recommended she train in normal running shoes, throwing in the heels every once in a while.
“The dangers of running in high heels all stem from a lack of mobility at your foot and ankle, as well as the weight shift that heels cause,” Philadelphia-based personal trainer Henry Halse said. “Heels aren’t made to be comfortable or to support the jostling motion of running.”
According to Sewell, picking the perfect heels was one of the most difficult aspects of the process. Guinness posed very tight parameters, requiring shoes with a heel height of 2.75 inches and a base of 1.50 centimeters. In deciding on the right pair, she also needed to think through what effect her choices would have on her feet.
“I couldn’t decide for the longest time between open- and closed-toe shoes because they both have pros and cons,” Sewell told People. “Closed-toe shoes would protect my feet, but I was worried after multiple miles my feet would swell and not fit in them.
Feet are not the only body part affected by the choice of heels — the stiletto run affects one’s entire posture, giving way to back pain. “When you wear heels, it shifts your hips forward, arching your lower back,” Halse said. “That creates more pressure between the discs of your lower spine, putting you at greater risk of a lower-back injury or, at the very least, some aches and pains.”
Logistics were also an important part of race day, as everything needed to be meticulously documented, and a Guinness representative was not available on site. During the race, friends of Sewell’s filmed her every step, and the marathon’s race director and timing crew members took extra care in documenting her metrics after originally miscalculating the race distance.
“They did all they could to make sure I still had the most correct measurements and time,” Sewell told Runner’s World. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
According to Runner’s World, the Guinness World Record jury is still out on whether the victory is truly Sewell’s, but she believes she checked all the boxes. As for advice, she learned a thing or two from her experience:
“Even if you’re not trying to run in heels, get out and set goals,” she said. “Your mind is so much stronger than your body, so if you think you can do it and you’re mentally prepared, you should be able to do it.” And, most importantly, wear moleskin on the bottoms of your feet — both for running and dancing at the clubs, as Sewell is excited to try out.
If you want to make like Sewell and unleash your inner stiletto (or regular marathoner) badass, read about 22 of the World’s Best Marathons and 19 Boston Marathon Runners Share Their Running Advice.