Heather Bray was just 10 years old when she got her hands on the Guinness Book of World Records and from that moment on, she always knew she had to find a way to get her name into it.
“I just did not know how,” says Bray. “I tried walking on my hands, holding my breath, but nothing seemed to work. It would take another 20 years before I found a record I could beat – hula-hoop running.”
Bray says she has been running for as long as she can remember and in 2011, picked up hula-hoop dancing.
Her dream was realized on May 22 in the Dutch city of Leiden, where she took part in the Leiden Marathon while balancing a hula hoop around her waist.
Racing under her hoop name ‘Tragically Hip’, a tribute to her Canadian roots and a play on a Canadian rock band’s name, Bray hula-hoop ran 10 kilometres in 52 minutes and 27 seconds.
Originally, Bray was going to run 10 kilometres in under 50 minutes, but it took her nearly two-and-half more minutes to do that.
“The race had over 3,600 participants and it was challenging to run at a sub-50 minute pace along some of the narrower parts of the course,” says Bray.
There are specific rules one must follow to achieve the world record in hula-hoop running.
The hula hoop must continue to revolve around your waist while you run and if you drop the hoop at any point, you must stop and get the hoop revolving again before you move forward.
Bray says the current official women’s 10-kilometre record is one hour and 27 minutes and the unofficial record is one hour and five minutes.
She has now submitted her documentation to the Guinness Book of World Records, but it may take up to two months for her to find out if she is now an official record holder.
But before she could even dream about setting a new world record, Bray knew she had a lot of hard work ahead of her.
Ever since she got into hula hooping in 2011, Bray has been training intermittently for four years, but the decision to challenge the world record didn’t come together until November of last year.
Bray says the real challenge was incorporating the hula-hoop running into her busy schedule.
She’s a 32-year-old lawyer, PhD student, wife and mother to a two-year-old toddler. Bray has been hula hoop running three times a week on top of her regular running for the last five months, which meant running in excess of 20 kilometres on certain days.
Bray says hula-hoop running can be quite a workout, but is easily to get into, as it only requires a hula hoop, running shoes, and a little patience to figure out a workable hula running gait.
And maybe a little bit of self-confidence, too.
Bray says training in Amsterdam, a city where “just about anything goes,” alleviated her initial fears about strangers giving her questioning looks.
“It seemed almost expected to catch a glimpse of a hula-hoop runner training around such an eclectic city,” says Bray.
But Bray says the most challenging part of her training was the weather.
“Rain and wind were horrible inconveniences, but both helped me learn how to react quickly to save the hoop from falling to the ground, which proved very useful during my world record attempt at the marathon.”
Bray says her family and friends are very supportive of her unusual hobby.
She says she regularly had friends and her husband run or bike alongside her while she trained.
“My two-year-old son even loves to give it a whirl. My journey has also prompted my mom and mother-in-law to begin hula hooping, but not running and hula hooping just yet,” adds Bray.
More than anything, Bray says hula-hoop running gives her the break she craves in her busy law career.
“It also creates laughter for those around me,” says Bray. “There is something quite entertaining about watching someone trying to hula hoop and run at the same time and I am happy to be the source of such entertainment.”
While Bray is happy with her attempt at the world record, she says her hula-hoop running days are not over.
She plans to attempt her record one more time in a more controlled environment on a 400-metre racetrack within the next month to try to achieve her original goal of running 10 kilometres in under 50 minutes.
“Only once I get my name in the Guinness Book, will I officially hang up my gear, or rather save my hula hoop for the dance studio and my running shoes for the pavement. My hips deserve a break!” says Bray.