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Tim Peake marathon
British astronaut Tim Peake runs a marathon on the International Space Station’s COLBERT treadmill, with NASA astronaut Jeff Williams keeping watch. (Credit: ESA)

It’s amazing that British astronaut Tim Peake just broke the record for a space marathon, but it’s almost as amazing that there was a record to break.

“The run went better than expected,” Peake wrote today in a blog post after Sunday’s 3:35:21 performance on the International Space Station.

Peake put the traditional marathon distance of 26 miles and 385 yards on the odometer of the station’s COLBERT treadmill (also known as the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, with an acronym inspired by talk-show host Stephen Colbert). At the same time, about 38,000 other runners were taking on the London Marathon.

Peake’s time wasn’t close to London Marathon winner Eliud Kipchoge’s mark of 2:03:05, but it was an improvement on the only other marathon known to have been run in space.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams’ 4:24 time still stands as the space marathon record for women, the Guinness Book of World Records announced in an online posting that also hailed Peake’s performance.

“Running the fastest marathon in space, on the only day off from his grueling schedule, is fantastic accomplishment,” said Guinness’ head of records, Marco Frigatti, who monitored Peake’s run via a live video link at the European Space Agency’s astronaut center in Cologne, Germany. “Tim is a true inspiration and someone we can all look up to. Literally.”

Peake said part of his motivation for the record-setting pace was … pain. Ten miles into the run, the harness that kept Peake planted on the treadmill in zero-G started hurting his shoulders.

“I needed to finish the run quicker than planned, and running faster doesn’t seem to hurt the shoulders any more. … So I went to 8 mph for 10 miles, and then for the last 6.2 miles went to 8.6 mph,” he wrote. “My legs paid the price, but my shoulders were grateful. It probably looked like I was having a strong run at the end, but the reality was that I couldn’t wait to get out of that harness!”

Another motivator was the Run Social app that Peake watched as he ran. He said the computer-generated display gave him “an excellent view of streets of London as I would see them if I were running the real marathon.”

Peake is due to finish up his six-month stint on the space station in June and return to Earth with NASA’s Tim Kopra and Yuri Malenchenko.

Another crewmate of Peake’s, Jeff Williams, is in line to set a different type of record later this year. By the time Williams descends from orbit in September, he’ll have put in a cumulative 534 days in space. That’ll be an improvement on the U.S. record of 520 days, set by astronaut Scott Kelly just last month.

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