I wasn’t there at the beginning and it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps the best place is the bare facts about Pyllon Endeavour’s challenge, Out of the Wild, completed earlier today.
Nine runners, between them, have run the entire length of the Scottish National Trail — Cape Wrath to Kirk Yetholm. That’s 102 hours and 20 minutes continuous running for 870 kilometres.
Oh, and the other variable. They have done it in the depths of a Scottish winter. Why would they do it in the summer? This was all about degrees of difficulty.
Heroes by any standards. Yet there were no heroics on display here. Just endeavour — bucket loads — in the cause of Scotland’s mental health.
These nine are not new to this — they are some of our finest ultra runners. They have skin in the game. Thick skin.
Just over a year ago — the previous winter — seven of them ran the West Highland Way, both ways, in 24 hours. Apparently not satisfied with that level of effort, they had to put themselves to a bigger test.
But to complete the challenge in January was also to make a statement about the team’s core motivation:
‘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.’
Each of them 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.
When my Edinburgh Athletic Club teammate, Robert Turner, one of the nine, contacted me on 2nd January to let me know about the challenge, I scarcely needed reminding. The year had started with more than a hangover.
As the team put their final plans in place — meticulously because they are hardy but not foolhardy — I tried to work out where and when I might be able to join them along the way.
As chair of SAMH’s board, dark winter or not, it was the least I could do.
I wanted to see them off at Cape Wrath but for various reasons, not least its remoteness, that wasn’t practical. And, of course, I wanted to see them arrive at Kirk Yetholm. But, alas, a work commitment prevented that.
So, by luck as much as design, I ended up joining them for two night stretches — Blair Atholl to Loch Freuchie on night three and Ratho to West Linton on the fourth, and final, night.
And it was during those hours of darkness that I got to experience, entirely vicariously, of course, the heart of this extraordinary challenge. What a privilege that was.
Hours before the first of those stretches, just how powerful the connection between physical and mental well being is, came home to me in a way that could hardly have been more prescient.
I had completed my first Saturday morning training session with the club in the best part of 22 months.
Last summer I had surgery to realign my left knee which, the previous spring, had ballooned to the size of a melon one Tuesday morning after a training session on the track.
It’s been a long and painful journey from there — not least the emotional impact.
As I sprawled in my chair on Saturday afternoon, endorphins released, I felt unmistakably euphoric. My leg muscles ached deliciously. A better antidote to my recent mental state I could not have wished for.
Running had been my friend for 46 years until that Tuesday morning. We’d had our fallings-out before. But nothing like this. My broken knee had precipitated the cruellest of break-offs.
My Saturday morning session saw me at the back of a group I’d previously have been near the front of, running at a pace which would have left me scunnered in days gone by.
But I was back. Me and my pal, running, who had seen me through some rough times, were best mates again. I could scarcely have been happier.
My legs still feeling the effects, I sped up the A9 just after midnight on Sunday morning to meet up with the Pyllon Endeavour team at Blair Atholl. They would be a little over halfway through their journey.
As I drove, from the warmth of my car, the enormity of what the team were doing hit home. Out there, in the dead of night, Paul Giblin, Pyllon’s founder, was running on top of the Cairngorms on the twentieth of forty sections of the trail.
It was during the next six hours, as the relay made its way down through the next few sections, that I got to witness the deep commitment and abundant joy of the challenge.
It was beautiful. Even as the rain lashed on the roof of the car, the sheer exhaustion around me was strangely exhilarating. Now it was their muscles which were aching off the scale — but I felt it in my bones.
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 motor homes they travelled in will stay with me — forever.
When I exchanged messages with Paul earlier on this afternoon, he said he hoped they’d ‘have positively impacted just one person by doing this.’
Well, Paul, you did.
That person, the chair of the charity Out of the Wild is raising money for, is writing this. I know he’s not alone.
‘Endeavour’ — to exert oneself, to make an effort, to strive — has long been one of my favourite words. Ever since I started running. And Team Pyllon remind me why.