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Team Pyllon runs Scotland north to south in impressive 102 hours

Written by Fiona

January 30 2020

It takes even the fittest of walkers more than six weeks to complete a route of Scotland end to end.

Very few would have the courage to set out on the rugged trail from Cape Wrath, in the far north west, to Kirk Yetholm, on the Scottish border, in the middle of winter.

Yet this week, nine runners pulled off an extraordinary feat covering 540 miles (870km) on the Scottish National Trail in just 102 hours and 20 minutes.

They ran each kilometre on average in just over seven minutes. To put this into perspective, it equates to a 70-minute 10k. 

The team ran a non-stop relay and endured days of rain and strong winds, as well as snow. They each completed in total 3.5 marathons and climbed the equivalent of three to five Munros.

The terrain was rough and the route was at times extremely muddy and boggy.

The  challenge, named Out of the Wild, has so far raised almost £6500 for the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH).

One of the runners, all of whom are coached as part of the Pyllon team, Graham Connolly said: “It was part a personal challenge, with all of us keen to see how far we could push our running boundaries. We pushed them to extremes.

“But also it was showing others the support and community of running and how this sport has huge benefits for improving mental health.”

The 39-year-old from Dumbarton added: “It is only just starting to sink in that we have run the entire length of Scotland in one go.”

The team.

Pyllon Endeavour: Out of the Wild

Last year, Pyllon coach Paul Giblin, dreamt up the plan to run the 96-mile west Highland Way out and back in less than 24 hours. A relay team of seven missed the goal by just six minutes, yet they raised £21,760 for SAMH and raised awareness of mental health.

This year, Paul decided to attempt the Scotland end-to-end run and estimated a target of 100 hours.

The Scottish National Trail, devised by Scottish walker, author and present Cameron McNeish, links together many existing trails to create a route from the north to the south, or vice versa, in Scotland.

It starts on the non-waymarked Cape Wrath Trail, then heads through the Cairngorms, Perthshire, and on to the Rob  Roy Way, the West Highland Way, the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, the Southern Upland Way and St Cuthbert’s Way. 

As well as raising money for SAMH, Paul, who has also achieved many ultra running successes and taken part in the infamous Barkley Marathons, was keen to spread further awareness of support for mental health.

The Pyllon website states: “January can be a very difficult time of year for many people in Scotland. Depression levels can peak after the Christmas holidays and many suffer without ever asking for help. 

“So, we will again be running to support our local mental health and wellbeing charity SAMH. 

“They do incredibly important work and we hope to raise awareness of what they do, the support that is available to people who are struggling with their own mental health and raise vital funds for them to continue their work.

“The sport has done so much for each of us, so tackling this incredible challenge as  team, is our way of celebrating the challenges we face individually every day.”

Out of the Wild proves wild

The Scottish National Trail is one of Britain’s toughest and most varied routes and a fastest completion has never been attempted before in winter. Most people would split the route into 40 days.

Running in pairs for safety for the first 200 miles of the relay, until around Fort Augustus, Paul and Graham set off from Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on mainland Britain, at just after 8am on Thursday January 23.

The first part on the Cape Wrath Trail requires good navigation. The severe weather meant that for safety reasons the runners stayed in pairs.

The next pair was Graham’s brother, John, 42, also from Dumbarton, and Kaz Williams, the only female runner in the relay. She described it as brutal. 

Kaz, 47, who lives in Chamonix, France, and is originally from Swansea, is an experienced endurance and ultra runner. She has also taken part in the Barkley Marathons.

She said: “It was my first time running in Scotland and although I thought we were prepared with great planning and experienced Scottish runners, the weather made the run very tough.

“We had numerous river crossings that were very tricky, there was so much mud and bog and the rain and wind was unbelievable.

“I think I realised then the enormity of what we were attempting to do. However, there were good things, too, such as when we could see, the beautiful views of the landscape.”

Graham agreed that the first 200 miles were the toughest. He said: “All the runners are tough and they are experienced at managing pain and digging deep over long distances. 

“But the first part of the end-to-end run was something new for all of us. The terrain, weather, mud and river crossings made it frustratingly slow.”

Longer early sections were also required because the remoteness of the trail in north-west of Scotland meant it was difficult to get a support vehicle to hand-over points. The terrain became more “runnable” the further south they journeyed.

Graham said: “I think there was a point, during the first couple of stages, when I wondered if the full run would be possible. We had no idea at the start how it would be with the terrain and weather but it was a shock to begin with.”

The other runners included Grant MacDonald, 41, of Glasgow; James Stewart, 43, of Croy; Robert Turner, 47, of Edinburgh; Marco Consani, 45, of Glasgow; and Chris Cowley, 31, of Aberdeen.

Running through the night

There were several nights for the runners to negotiate, although Kaz describes these as some of the best times. She said: “I love running at night because it feels so magical. While the rest of the country is asleep, you are doing something quite bonkers and running through amazing landscape. It was actually a highlight of the end-to-end run.”

Another highlight for Kaz was the camaraderie of the team. She says: “The team was everything. Each character was different but we were united in an incredible endeavour. We all needed to be bold but it needed to be fun, too, and it was both.

“There was so much support from everyone, too. At the hand-overs and throughout the running sections everyone was there to be supportive.

“There was also amazing support from the local communities as we ran through. People said they would donate to our fundraising cause when they heard what we were doing.

“It’s the people that make this sort of challenge.”

Mental health at the heart

Many of us will know people who suffer from mental heath issues or have been affected ourselves. Running is often seen as a way to help with depression and stress. Some of the team have personal stories.

Kaz lost a friend who committed suicide while suffering with a bi-polar disorder.

Graham suffered a mental breakdown in 2014. He said: “It as a catastrophic mental breakdown and I was off work for a year. I had started running and this served to keep my mental health issues at bay.

“I used running as a way to escape my mental health problems but then that was simply prolonging me dealing with the problems. In the end it all came falling down around me. I couldn’t run for a while and the wheels came off.”

Having recovered, Graham now uses running as a way to process his thoughts. He said: “Rather than running away from issues I think about problems as I run. Once my head has emptied of these thoughts I feel calmer. It is now like an active form of meditation for me and I am more aware of myself because of running.”

On Facebook, Robert said as the team approached the finish point: “We are in touching distance of completing this monumental challenge. We’ve all had to suffer, suffer badly and suffer for a long time, but this pales into insignificance to another’s suffering and that’s why we are doing it.”

Chris Creegan, chair of SAMH, was overwhelmed by the achievement. He joined the runners for part of the challenge.

He said: “Each of the runners knows what running has done for their mental well-being – and what their camaraderie has meant through ‘tough times’ and ‘golden moments.’

“For them, making SAMH their beneficiary isn’t just about clambering aboard the cause du jour. It’s personal, profoundly so.”

He added: “During the two nights I was lucky enough to spend with the team, not for the first time, the strength of their vulnerability got under my skin.

“And the moments of quiet reflection and weary banter in the back of the motorhomes they travelled in will stay with me forever.

“When I exchanged messages with Paul after the run, he said he hoped they had ‘positively impacted just one person by doing this’. Well, Paul, you did.”

Read a blog by Chris Creegan about Pyllon Endeavour.

Cameron McNeish has added his congratulations. He said: “I never cease to be amazed at what people do these days. To complete the 400 -plus miles of the Scottish National Trail in just over 100 hours is phenomenal, even for a relay team effort.

“And when you consider the past few weeks in the Highlands have been horrible, I’ve never known such a wet and dreich winter, then I’m filled with admiration for their efforts.”

An incredible feat

The team finished the Pyllon Endeavour run on Monday January 27. Graham hopes the relay run will inspire others to do the same.

He said: “The 100-hour goal was a guess. We did not really know how long it would take us and to have finished in 102 hours is epic I think.

“I hope that teams from around the world will come to Scotland to take on this challenge. I say to them: ‘If you want a challenge, get from the top of Scotland to the bottom without stopping on foot.”

Please do add to the growing fund for SAMH by going to JustGiving Pyllon Endeavour.

  • Many thanks to the team and friends for the photographs.

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