“And the union workhouses, are they still in operation? The treadmill in full vigour?”

– Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol.

The workhouses may be redundant, the poor no longer with us, but in Middlesbrough these past ten days the treadmill has never been more vigorous, more unrelenting or more utterly ineluctable.

It has been another world record attempt – ten treadmill marathons in ten nowhere-fast days – by the extraordinary Sharon Gayter, 54, an athlete who takes ultra to extremes.

Had Mrs Gayter been around in Dickens’ time, indeed, the industrial revolution may never have happened (though the pace of penal reform might considerably have been accelerated.)

Each day at 11am she has stepped onto the treadmill in an upstairs lounge at Teesside University, the machine able to identify her heart rate, pulse, speed and elevation – pretty much flat out – but unable to offer much in the way of lunch.

The only concession to creature comfort may be that she faces the window, looking down on the student concourse 20ft below. An A-board outside advises of the record attempt, urges passers-by to give the lass a wave.

The only change in the inexorable routine may be that sometimes she waves back with her right hand and sometimes with her left.

Each day at about 3.25pm she steps off again, seemingly little affected save – once – by motion sickness, the only sign of trouble at’t mill.

Another literary line flits fleetingly to mind – “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”, W B Yeats – before escaping, embarrassed, down Linthorpe Road.

For ordinary folk this would be a car crash of never ending nightmares. For Sharon Gayter it’s the first of three world record attempts this year, the last one aiming to beat 12 days from John o’Groats to Lands End. It’s what she does, isn’t it.

She’s a former bus driver, lives in Guisborough with her ever-supportive husband Bill – a tanker driver and parkrunner – now lectures in the sports science department at the university where, once again, she is an enthusiastic human guinea pig.

One of her social media pages talks of her curiosity about the physiology of endurance but it’s as much about the mental as the physical and physiological.

Andy, one of two invigilators approved by Guinness, taps his head. “Up there,” he says, “she’s steel.”

The column appears on day four, a brief diversion in the whirring, blurring pattern, though the patter of tiny feet – Sharon has very tiny feet – continues without interruption.

Though the scenery may be rather less remarkable than, say, the Cleveland Way she makes the most of what’s on offer.

“It’s lovely to watch the seagulls, they do a little dance before pulling up their worms. Fascinating,” she says.

Other sights are less appealing. “I’ve been amazed at the number of people smoking, quite horrified by that.”

There are no headphones, no music to the ears. What does she think about when not dancing with the seagulls? “Most of the time nothing,” she insists. “People say that the treadmill is easier than ordinary marathons but they couldn’t be more wrong.”

A range of video and timekeeping equipment follows her every step. University bods look in to monitor and to test, but it’s about much more than the appliance of science. It’s about the human spirit, and that can’t be measured at all.

“We’re not looking for dramatics,” says one of the monitors. “We’d far rather watch paint dry.”

Periodically she’ll have a mouthful of clear liquid from a bottle at the side – almost certainly not gin and tonic – very occasionally eat a grape. “I started with 15, I’ve maybe had about ten,” she says at the end of another hard shift.

“She might talk for a few minutes but then she zones off into Sharon-space,” says Andy.

Students occasionally wander by on the way to the loo. Few pay the world record attempt much attention, perhaps acknowledging that the learning curve has become vertical.

Still the treadmill maintains its vigorous course, running to a standstill. Facing the wrong way, she won’t even notice the framed Hartlepool United shirt on the wall, donated in 2007. If they don’t pay that laundry bill pretty soon, the poor old Pools might want it back again.

The first two runs were completed in around four hours 21 minutes, the third in 4-24-30, this one a few seconds quicker. Moments after it steps she steps onto terra firma, no more gingerly than a Fentiman’s shandy.

For the first time in a long time, or so it seems, the earth doesn’t move at all.

On June 16 last year, Sharon had her gall bladder removed. Two weeks later she ran 40 miles and by the end of July, the time of the post-operative check, had run seven marathons in as many days.

“I guess,” said the surgeon, “that the operation was a success.”

This record breaker will be followed in April by an attempt to beat the treadmill record for 1,000,000 metres and to overtake her own world best of 833k in seven days, still 6k better than the men’s record.

In August, probably, she will attempt to become the first woman to run from John o’ Groats to Lands End in under 12 days, backed by huge logistical operation and a three-shift support crew.

After that, Sharon supposes, she might slow down a bit. All things are comparative.

Back in the sports science labs, Nick Berger, senior lecturer in exercise physiology, carries out a range of tests once the day’s exertions are complete. One of Sharon’s own students acts as masseuse.

In the course of those four-and-a-bit hours, says Nick, she has lost 1.1 kilos from 49.81 frame. Translated, it means she started at about seven and three-quarter stones.

“I’ve worked with ultra athletes before but she is quite exceptional,” says Nick. “Because she’s so small her energy expenditure is quite low and she doesn’t have to eat and drink much.”

Mentally? “Oh yes,” he confirms, “most people couldn’t hack that at all, it’s much more mental than physical.”

Throughout the whole thing she remains characteristically cheerful, always accommodating. “There are all sorts of people running around after me,” she says. “Why would I be rude to them? It’s me who owes them, not they who owe me. I don’t want to let them down.”

Deadlines’ demands, today’s column must necessarily be completed before the world record attempt is. Doubtless its conclusion will be reported elsewhere in today’s paper. The hope was to finish in 45 hours, slicing just over an hour from the record.

None, least of all the Marvel Woman forever running on the spot, doubted that she would do it.

n Sharon was hoping to raise sponsorship for New Hope Uganda, a charity supported by the parents of her lab technicians. Details on www.newhopeugandauk.org