Cardiff ultra-runner embarks on extreme challenge

Scott, from Cardiff, is an ultra-runner – a growing group of runners who cover distances longer than 26 miles. He, together with his brother, has completed a number of extreme running challenges over the last ten years, which has raised over £100,000 for a variety of charities in the UK & US. Since 2015, Scott has focused his efforts on supporting and raising awareness for Operation Smile. This year, he takes the challenge to new levels – running over 1,000 miles over five events in five months. In the process, he will become the first person in the world to complete all five.

Scott started running over ten years ago in South Wales. “I was working as a personal trainer with cardiac rehab patients at the time”, Scott explains. “I wanted to do something to support them, so I decided to raise money by running 75 marathons in 75 days, over 200 miles, from Boston, Massachussetts to Austin, Texas. It really changed my philosophy in life. When we get older, what do we want to reflect on and remember? I want to look back at the great adventures I had, and how I helped other people along the way. Those will be the things I remember, not the material, trivial things.”

From there, Scott resolved to take part in different challenges for charities he is passionate about. “I heard about Operation Smile, which helps children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, in 2013, and instantly knew I wanted to help. A smile is an international language, and something we all take for granted.”

Scott, from Cardiff, is an ultra-runner who has raised over £100,000 for charity.

From running 135 miles across Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, in 53-degree heat, twice, to a 240-mile race in the Utah desert, Scott relishes extreme challenges.  “More people have climbed Mount Everest than run in the Death Valley race. It was tough going, but it was the 240-mile race in Utah that really pushed me to my limits. It took 93 hours to run, almost non-stop. I slept for three hours near the end because I was hallucinating and ran away from my pacer, who I was convinced was a witch. I thought the witch was trying to make me do the race for a second time, so I scrambled up a cliff and hid under a bolder. The ‘witch’ found me and started shouting at me – it was only then that I realised it was my pacer, who’s actually my wife!”

Scott explains the extreme challenges are a mental test as much as a physical one. “I have found you can’t get through a race without thinking about your motivation, which for me is how I can help Operation Smile. Your mind gives up way before your body, so you have to find the thing that keeps you going.”

In 2015, Scott travelled to Ethiopia to meet some of the people his fundraising for Operation Smile was helping. “I met a small child called Mezarai, who had hiked across Ethiopia with her mother for five days to see if she was suitable for an operation to repair her cleft lip, not knowing if they would be able to receive help. When they arrived to the aid station, they hoped her cleft lip could be treated, but there was no guarantee. Fortunately, she was able to receive surgery. I got to know the pair and even carried Mezarai back to her mother from the operating theatre. To watch someone see themselves smile for the first time and the sheer joy that accompanied it was amazing. I hold on to that moment in the dark times during my runs. I feel very privileged to have played a small role in helping families.”

Scott is training for his biggest challenge yet, five ultra-marathons in America in five months, between May and October 2021. “I’m calling it the Grand Slam, no one else has done all five races in a calendar year. It will be well over 1,000 miles of running non-stop, plus elevation.”

The race course in Utah in particular has an exceptionally high elevation gain for the course (29,467 ft). To put that into context, the elevation gain is equivalent to hiking Mount Everest.

Scott’s Grand Slam comprises:

  • Cocodona 250, May 3rd 2021, Arizona (Covid-19 pending-  UK Alternative in place)
  • Badwater 135, July 19th, Death Valley – an elite race, which is invitation only
  • Bigfoot, 200, August 13th, Washington
  • Tahoe, 200, September 10th, Lake Tahoe, USA
  • Moab, 240, October 8th, Utah

“This is my personal challenge. I am training every day, which includes cold showers and running on a treadmill for six hours, before a one-hour rest, and then running 36 miles. My brother is also a running enthusiast, and will be running in Death Valley with me. If we complete it, we’ll be the first brothers to complete the course together.  I’m doing these races to raise awareness and money for Operation Smile.”

In the UK, children are screened prenatally, with a cleft diagnosis made before the child is born. The first operation is done between eight-12 weeks, and the second at eight-10 months. Children are able to live a totally normal life.

If not treated, infants born with cleft conditions have nine times the risk of dying within the first year of life. They may be rejected by their families or communities. They may be unable to feed or have problems speaking due to the hole in the roof of their mouth. £150 helps one child receive the help they need.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop fundraising”, says Scott. “I may have to tailor what I do as I get older, as I look at the toll ultra-marathons take on my body. But I want to keep going, keep having adventures as long as my body allows. I want to make the most of the time I have, and keep helping where I can.”

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